Posts Tagged ‘Avery Bradley’

Analytics Art: Bradley, Anthony among worst shooters of week


VIDEO: Take a look back at the week that was for the Knicks

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

The NBA announced the 2016 All-Star reserves last week, but even those honored were not safe from criticism. John Wall of the Washington Wizards was named among the best of his peers, but he found his way onto the PointAfter team’s weekly roundup of the worst shooters.

Even the best players in the game are not immune to shooting woes. That trend continued into this week, as one of our three representatives will also represent the Eastern Conference with Wall on Feb. 14.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games between Jan. 29-Feb. 4.

Guard: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics

The Celtics experienced a solid stretch over the past week, going 3-1 and dispatching both the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons along the way. Combo guard Avery Bradley, however, sputtered offensively during that stretch. The culprit for his woes? Long twos.

As you can see, Bradley couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from around 16-to-19 feet — an analytics fanatic’s nightmare. In fact, his long-range shooting abilities in general were completely out of whack. He finished the week’s four games 4 of 21 from beyond the arc (a ghastly 19 percent).

Usually a reliable asset for his tenacious defense and ability to make corner 3-pointers, Bradley had a rough go of it over the past four contests. Interestingly, in his best game out of the trailing seven days (a Feb. 3 win over Detroit in which shot 7-for-15), Bradley wound up with a team-worst -8 plus/minus.

Wing: Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

Khris Middleton inked a five-year, $70 million deal last summer to remain with the Bucks. As one of the premier ‘three-and-D’ wing players in the league, Middleton has continued to improve his offensive output and live up to that price tag.

His scoring has increased to the point that he’s now the team leader in the category. But when your team’s best scorer isn’t shooting well, you’re going to lose games. That’s exactly what happened to the Bucks this week.

Dating back to Jan. 29, Milwaukee went 0-3 and watched Middleton shoot 15-for-53 along the way (28.3 percent).

The swingman’s inability to find his stroke from 3-point range above the break contributed to three straight losses. To date, only the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers are have a worse record in the East than the Bucks.

Forward/Center: Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

Carmelo Anthony was voted in by the fans as an Eastern Conference All-Star starter. It’s the ninth All-Star nod of his career, and while he’s not undeserving, he definitely looked it over New York’s past four games.

Anthony mixed inefficiency with the usual shooting volume to create shameful results.

The 31-year-old could not find his rhythm, shooting 31.8 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from long range. That resulted in a 1-3 record for the Knicks, though they did have to face the mighty Golden State Warriors.

Anthony is shooting 42.8 percent this season, which is the lowest mark since his rookie year with the Denver Nuggets.

If the Knicks are going to have any hope of making the postseason in the improved Eastern Conference this year, they’ll need their superstar to bounce back to form.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players, NBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Numbers notes: Small Celtics, LeBron’s jumper, Spurs bench and more


VIDEO: Evaluating the NBA’s top teams

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Usually, we think of small ball (playing one traditional big and moving a small forward to power forward) as an offensive strategy. It doesn’t only give you an extra guy who can shoot from the outside, but that, in turn, creates extra space for ball-handlers to drive or screeners to roll to the rim.

But on Tuesday, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens went small to start the second half in New York, replacing Kelly Olynyk with Marcus Smart, who teamed with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson (the lone big). And afterward, Stevens said the change was for defensive purposes.

“I thought in the first half, we didn’t have any pressure on the ball,” Stevens said. “And that’s why we went smaller and quicker in the second.”

The Celtics did play better after the change, but the improvement came on offense. That lineup that started the second half outscored the Knicks 27-23 in less than 10 minutes of action (over the first and second halves) on Tuesday.

The next night, though, the same lineup had the desired effect against the Indiana Pacers. In eight minutes on Wednesday, the Celtics outscored the Pacers 26-10 in a little over eight minutes. That included a 17-4 run over the final 5:08, where they turned four steals into four layups and turned a four-point deficit into a nine-point win.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel somewhat foreshadowed that whole sequence, as ESPN.com’s Chris Forsberg wrote

Before Wednesday’s tilt, Indiana coach Frank Vogel noted that Boston’s three-guard lineup of Crowder, Smart, and Bradley was full of “pitbulls.” Added Vogel: “The defensive pressure that their guards bring to the table is unparalleled in this NBA season. They have great defensive guards. It’s a big reason for their season.”

That Thomas-Bradley-Smart-Crowder-Johnson lineup played a few minutes in the Celtics’ first game of the season, but had been on the floor together for just a few possessions between then and Tuesday. The Celtics have a plethora of serviceable bigs on their roster and have played about 75 percent of their minutes with two of them on the floor.

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Those numbers follow the conventional wisdom that small equals better offense. But that small-ball lineup with Crowder at the four may be something that Stevens turns to more often when he wants to crank up the defense.

Tracking LeBron from outside

You probably saw the story where a particular stat about LeBron James‘ outside shooting found its way to the four-time MVP and motivated him to put some more work in.

“I actually saw [it] on my Instagram feed that I was the worst-shooting player in the NBA,” James said. “I actually saw that when I woke up from a nap. I remember exactly when that was. Denver. Right before the Denver game, so I answered the call.”

He was 3-of-5 from 3-point range on Sunday and hit multiple midrange shots. He’s shooting 43 percent from deep since that game in Denver. When asked if graphics like that bother him, James said, “It doesn’t bother me. It puts me back in the gym.”

James immediately started shooting better that night in Denver. And though he was just 3-for-9 from outside the paint in San Antonio on Thursday, the post-wake-up-call numbers still look much better.

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James’ jumper has seen gradual improvement over the course of his career, but still comes and goes and will always be under the microscope in the postseason, when opposing defenses are more likely to play him soft on the perimeter.


VIDEO: The Starters on LeBron’s recent shooting upswing (more…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Thompson looking to make ‘huge’ leap in 2014-15 | Sixers likely to keep Shved, Mbah a Moute | Report: Celtics unlikely to trade Rondo

No. 1: Thompson looking to take ‘huge’ leap — Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson found his name in and out of the trade rumors all offseason as his team toyed with the idea of acquiring Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Thompson, though, has had a good summer so far, as he’s part of Team USA’s 2014 FIBA World Cup squad and is hoping a successful showing there will launch him into a career year come 2014-15. Marcus Thompson of the San Jose Mercury News has more:

All-Star guards Damian Lillard and John Wall didn’t make the team. But Thompson did. Along with his Splash Brother, Stephen Curry. That’s a big deal.

“This is crazy,” said Thompson, who was taking a break from packing and on his way to lunch in New York City. “In my mind, I was going to make it no matter what. For what I can bring — the ability to spread the court and guard 1 through 4 in international basketball, and I’ve practiced on getting into the lane a lot — I was expecting to make it. I thought our first game in Brazil, I was a little rusty. But the last couple games, I think I played really well.”

There is another reason. Today, the Warriors decision to not to trade Thompson in pursuit of Kevin Love became official.

Love will be traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers today. No, the Warriors didn’t choose Thompson over Love. They chose Thompson, Curry and David Lee over Love and the contract of Kevin Martin. They chose chemistry and well-roundedness over the potential that comes with Love’s superstar talent.

“I’m happy. It makes me feel great,” Thompson said. “The Warriors believe in me. That makes me want to work that much harder. They believe in me and Steph, they believe in the team we have. I believe in us too. I think we have all the ingredients to win a championship.”

A championship? With this roster?

“Absolutely,” he said. “I think a lot of it hinges on our health. Our ability to improve our offense. Me and Curry have another year together. Another year with Andre Iguodala. Another year under the belt for Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. We know what we’re going to get from David Lee consistently. Andrew Bogut’s coming in healthy. If Festus comes back and play like he did his rookie year, that’s huge. We’d have another big body and we need that, especially in the West. It’s going to be a grind.”

Of course, being a productive player for Team USA, being the primary reason the Warriors didn’t acquire Love, Thompson will have a much higher profile entering this season.

“I always thought people already do know who I am,” Thompson said with a laugh. “I want to be great. That comes with pressure. It comes with eyes on you. In year four, I’m looking to take a huge leap like I did last year.”

Thompson plans on making his mark as one who gets it done on both ends.

“Absolutely. One of the best ever, Michael Jordan, was one of the greatest defenders ever,” He said. “I’m not saying I am Michael Jordan. But if you want to be a championship player, you have to play both ends. We’ve got some great players in this league who are two-way players. Kobe Bryant. LeBron. Paul George. Kawhi Leonard. I’d love to be known as a guy who gets you 20 points and locks down the best offensive player.”


VIDEO: Relive Klay Thompson’s best plays from 2013-14 (more…)

Things could still be ugly in Boston


VIDEO: Danny Ainge talks about the three-team trade

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens still has that six-year contract, which is good, because he still doesn’t have much talent to work with.

The Celtics haven’t stood idly by over the first two weeks of free agency. They re-signed guard Avery Bradley and picked up assets (a first round pick and a trade exception) by helping the Cleveland Cavaliers clear cap space and the Washington Wizards sign Kris Humphries.

The Celtics also added to their young core by drafting Marcus Smart and James Young, and adding Tyler Zeller in the Cleveland trade. They now have six first-round picks under the age of 25 on their roster (the others are Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger).

Celtics president Danny Ainge also has a bunch of extra future first round picks lying around. Few teams are as stocked with assets.

The potential is there for a very good team in the future. But the present is still pretty ugly. And though young players and draft picks are keys to trading for a star, the Celtics lack the one blue-chip asset that would make other teams salivate. If the Timberwolves eventually relent and trade Kevin Love, other teams can offer more tempting packages.

Celtics fans can take comfort in seeing the potential of a Smart/Young backcourt. They can anticipate further development from Olynyk and Sullinger. But they will also be watching a team that will rank in the 20s in offensive efficiency for the fourth straight season.

To succeed offensively, you need two things: a player or two that can draw double-teams and perimeter shooting. The Celtics lack both. They ranked 27th in offensive efficiency last season, and it’s hard to see them being much better this year, even with a healthy Rajon Rondo.

Rondo can be brilliant at times, but without potent scorers around him, he doesn’t put much pressure on opposing defenses. The Celtics were even a bad offensive team in their last two seasons with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. And Rondo made no impact on Boston’s offensive numbers upon his return last season.

Jeff Green has size and talent, but is neither consistent nor efficient. And Bradley is the only player on the roster who shot better than the league average from 3-point range last season.

Defensively, the Celtics have a strength on the wings (with Bradley and Gerald Wallace), but lack rim protection. With a season of Stevens’ system under their belt, they should be better than they were last season (when they ranked 20th) on that end, but probably not any better than the league average.

The 2014-15 Eastern Conference is going to be fascinating. All eight playoff teams from last season are still very much in the mix, while Cleveland and Detroit clearly improved with the additions of the best player in the world and one of the best coaches in the game.

Along with the Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics will likely be watching from afar as those 10 teams (and maybe New York) fight for eight playoff spots.

Ainge’s options were limited this summer. Though it’s been a year since parting with Pierce and Garnett, his payroll is still well over the salary cap. He’ll have some flexibility next summer, but also Rondo to re-sign or let go and Green and Wallace on the books for another season.

So, Stevens will have at least another year to learn the league and implement his system. And it won’t be until at least Year 3 of his contract when we find out if he was worth a six-year commitment.

Morning Shootaround — July 1



VIDEO: Ex-NBA GMs Isiah Thomas and Bryan Colangelo explain how front offices woo free agents

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Lakers have busy opening night of free agency | KD opens up on MVP season | Lillard reveals free-agency wish list | Bradley wants to stick with Celts

No. 1: Lakers busy as free agency begins — If you missed it yesterday, go give David Aldridge‘s Morning Tip a read when you have time. In it, he expertly spells out 11 deals that should happen in free agency, including several for the cap room-boasting Los Angeles Lakers. L.A. didn’t waste any time once free agency opened at midnight Tuesday, talking with their own free agent (Pau Gas0l) as well making plans to chat with several other heavy hitters (hello, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony), too. Dave McMenamin and Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com have more here:

The Los Angeles Lakers will meet with free agent forward Carmelo Anthony Thursday in Los Angeles, sources told ESPN.

Anthony and his representatives were one of the Lakers’ first calls Monday night as free agency officially opened at 9:01 p.m. local time. They also placed a call to the agent for Miami forward LeBron James and their own free agent center Pau Gasol within the first hour of the negotiating period.

The Lakers’ top priority is trying to convince both James and Anthony to leave their respective teams and join together in L.A.

Unlike last summer when the Lakers kicked off free agency with GM Mitch Kupchak greeting Dwight Howard at a Beverly Hills hotel, Gasol did not have a face-to-face meeting with the team he spent the last 7 ½ seasons with, nor with representatives for any other suitors. Gasol simply took calls from interested teams Monday night from an office in Los Angeles.

ESPN the Magazine’s Chris Broussard reported the Lakers’ interest in Chris Bosh, but it is believed that the Lakers’ ties to Bosh, much like their designs on winning over James, will have to lay dormant until Miami’s Big Three – along with Dwyane Wade – mutually decide what their fate will be with the Heat.

Kupchak also contacted free agent forwards Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza and point guard Kyle Lowry on Monday night, according to sources.

Sources indicated that the Lakers also contacted representatives for Houston’s Chandler Parsons, Utah’s Gordon Hayward and Sacramento’s Isaiah Thomas – all of whom are restricted free agents.

And as for that long list of players who suffered through the Lakers’ 27-55 season as players on the team last year and are now hitting the free agency marketplace, the Lakers reached out to about half of them on Monday, including representatives for Nick Young, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill and Kent Bazemore.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses where Carmelo Anthony may end up this summer

(more…)

Luckless Celtics go 0-15 on road vs. West

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Nowitzki, Mavs fend off stubborn Celtics

DALLAS — Not even St. Paddy’s Day could bring Boston a little road luck. This charmless Celtics crew gobbled up 21 offensive rebounds and in the third quarter held the Dallas Mavericks to 14 points, yet it was still only good enough to find another silver lining rather than that elusive rainbow.

The unlucky C’s played without point guard Rajon Rondo, whose surgically repaired right knee still isn’t ready for back-to-back action. Twenty-four hours after losing a 121-120 heart-breaker in overtime Sunday night at New Orleans, Boston clawed and scraped its way back against Dallas from deficits in each quarter and as large as 15 points, but ultimately came up short in the final minute, 94-89.

“To come in here and have a chance, I feel like a broken record talking about silver linings,” first-year Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, “But that would be one.”

The loss burdened this bunch with a piece of unwanted Celtics history as the only club in franchise history to go winless on the road against the Western Conference — 0-and-15.

“It’s not something we shoot for and it’s not something we’d like to do,” Stevens said. “The West is clearly better than the East, I don’t think anybody would argue that, but at the same time we’ve had our chances in a couple of those games.

“It’s frustrating. Most of the season has been frustrating.”

Boston’s best chance to beat the West went down the tubes Sunday night when Pelicans forward Anthony Davis clubbed them for 40 points and 21 rebounds. The chances were there Monday night, too, as the Celtics, wearing their green sleeved uniforms with shorts bearing a clover on each leg, quickly erased a nine-point deficit in the second quarter and briefly led 37-33, their largest lead of the game. They scored six points in the first eight minutes of the third quarter to fall behind 64-49 and then finished it with a flurry, a 12-zip run to make it 64-61 at the end of three.

“I never thought that,” Mavs guard Monta Ellis said when asked if he thought it was over when the lead swelled to 15. “They’ve been playing like this the whole season. They always play the whole 48 minutes so we knew they were going to come back and make a run.”

Before long the Mavs were back up 10, 76-66. But the Celtics weren’t going down without flashing some more Irish fight during their last stand out West. With 5:02 to go, Avery Bradley drained  a corner 3 to make it 78-74. They closed to 82-80 and then 90-89 after Bradley bumped Ellis near midcourt without a call, stripped him and streaked in for the score with 21.6 seconds to go.

Down 92-89 with 19.8 seconds to go, Jerryd Bayless, who scored 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, attacked the basket off a broken play coming out of a timeout. He put up a tough shot between two Mavs defenders, missed it off the glass, but got the rebound. He went back up, but Vince Carter met him with a swat.

“It [the play] got messed up because they switched it,” Bayless said. “They switched the play and they started denying Sully [Jared Sullinger]. But we were able to get, I thought, a good look, but it didn’t work out.”

As luck would have it, it was Carter’s first blocked shot since February. Game over.

The Celtics, losers of five in a row to fall to 22-46 overall and 8-25 on the road, have lost their 15 road games against West teams by an average of 10.7 points. They’ve lost by as many as 31, 24 and 23, but the last nine have come painfully by single digits.

Their previous trip out West could have been soul-crushing, a four-game whitewash that included a three-game sweep by the West’s three worst teams — the Lakers, Kings and Jazz.

“We’re not giving up,” Bayless said.

It’s just with points so hard to come by for this team, especially when Rondo doesn’t play, it makes it extremely difficult to win on the home floors of the other conference.

“I’m frustrated obviously by our lack of success; I am not frustrated by our effort,” Stevens said. “Our effort was pretty high-level again. They’re really giving it everything they have.”

On all days, they just needed a little bit more luck.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron’s game-winner takes Heat into break | Wade’s All-Star status in the air | Rose not thinking about a return | Another scare for Gasol, Grizzlies | Knicks hit another low point

No. 1: LeBron’s game-winner takes Heat into break — The Miami Heat seemingly cruised through the first 50 games of the season, but as they head into the All-Star break, they’re very much in striking distance of the Indiana Pacers, thanks to Dallas’ win in Indy on Wednesday and LeBron James‘ fadeaway, 3-point game-winner in Oakland. It was one of the more incredible shots of the season so far, and it sent the Heat into the break on a high note. Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report was there:

As Andre Iguodala, defiant defender, would say after the 111-110 defeat, “There’s nothing I would change. He just made a tough shot.”

But, for the James and the rest of the Heat, so few words would not suffice. This was a shot to savor, a shot that sent them into the All-Star break on a serious sugar high, with another sweet road win against a strong Western Conference squad. This was a shot by someone who has never made one like this from this range in this circumstance since joining Miami, or at least none that he or his teammates could remember.

This was a shot — this step back 27-footer just before the buzzer — that really shouldn’t have happened, not if the Heat had held a large lead, and not if Erik Spoelstra had stuck with his plan.

***

No. 2: Wade’s All-Star status in the air — That win came without Dwyane Wade, who was a late scratch with a sore left foot. Wade was voted in as an East starter for the All-Star game, but has missed 15 games this season and wasn’t sure what was wrong or if he could play on Sunday. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo!Sports has the story:

The 10-time All-Star said he had numbness in his left leg in warm-ups before the game after “the nerve kind of shut down” and kept him from having feeling in his left foot. Wade said his injury was “drop foot,” also known as foot drop, which causes an inability to lift the front part of the foot.

“It’s one of the most bizarre things…,” Wade said. “Hopefully, the numbness wears off more and more as it started to do throughout the game and throughout the rest of the night. By [Thursday] hopefully it subsides and we will go from there.”

Wade was still expecting to take the Heat team plane that arrives early Thursday morning in New Orleans for NBA All-Star Weekend rather than return to Miami. Wade, who described himself as day-to-day, plans on getting treatment from the team’s trainer in New Orleans in hopes of remedying the injury before Sunday.

***

No. 3: Rose not thinking about a returnDerrick Rose spoke to the media at a charity event on Wednesday. And while he didn’t say anything to absolutely rule out a return this season and Joakim Noah seemingly left the door open on Tuesday, Rose said that he’s just taking his knee rehab step by step. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune was there with the story:

Bulls’ doctors, management and confidantes of Rose ruled him out for the season following surgery to repair the meniscus he tore in his right knee on Nov. 22. But speaking for just the second time publicly since the injury, Rose again couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge that as reality.

“I haven’t even had a chance to think about it,” Rose said Wednesday night at the Bulls’ charity gala at the United Center when asked if he’s done for the season. “I’m just worrying about my next stage in this process and that’s running right now. I’m on the AlterG (an anti-gravity treadmill). Hopefully be running without it pretty soon.

“I’m not keeping (a return) open. I just said right now I’m not thinking about it. I’m not running yet. When I get off the AlterG, that’s when I’ll consider coming back or not.”

General manager Gar Forman reiterated the Bulls have no plans for Rose to return this season.

Rose did say that he’d like to play for USA Basketball this summer.

***

No. 4: Another scare for Gasol, Grizzlies — Speaking of knee injuries, Marc Gasol reinjured his left knee in Wednesday’s win in Orlando. The early feeling is that this isn’t as bad as the injury that kept Gasol out 23 games earlier in the season, but the knee will be checked out on Thursday. The Grizzlies won 14 of their last 18 games heading into the All-Star break, but are still on the outside of the playoff picture in the West. Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has the story from Orlando:

Griz center Marc Gasol left the game midway through the third quarter after aggravating a left MCL injury that cost him 23 games earlier this season. Gasol returned to the locker room after he banged knees with Magic point guard Jameer Nelson.

The 7-foot Spaniard didn’t return for the Grizzlies’ second straight victory heading into the NBA’s All-Star break. Gasol downplayed the situation after the game.

He will, however, have an MRI test during the break to determine the seriousness of his injury. There is swelling and Gasol walked with a limp.

“It’s scary when it happens, but I think we’re going to be OK,” Gasol said. “We’re going to get it checked to make sure everything is OK. But it feels a lot better than it did the first time.”

***

No. 5: Knicks hit another low point — While the Heat went into the break on a high, the New York Knicks don’t have much to celebrate. They blew a 12-point, second-half lead and lost to the Kings at home, a result that will only fuel more speculation about Mike Woodson’s job status. Peter Botte of the New York Daily News was at MSG with the story:

No one should have been surprised that the Knicks appeared to have a collective eye elsewhere for most of a game that Carmelo Anthony had declared a must-win heading into All-Star weekend.

Certainly not owner James Dolan, who sat slumped in his front-row seat along the baseline watching Mike Woodson and the Knicks suffer yet another brutal home loss on Wednesday night, falling, 106-101, in overtime to lowly Sacramento at the Garden.

The Knicks’ fifth loss in six games can’t do much to alter the perception that Woodson’s job is in serious peril — or lead anyone to believe that this team magically will be able to turn around its tumultuous season when it reconvenes Tuesday in Memphis.

“I am not thinking about that at this point,” Anthony said of Woodson’s job status. “That has been an ongoing issue, ongoing story. Every day is a new story so he is still here and that is what we are dealing with.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo details Chris Grant‘s mistakes in Cleveland … Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal has some good notes about the Cavs’ turnaround since Grant’s departureAvery Bradley suffered a second ankle sprain last week and the Celtics aren’t sure when he’ll play again … Eric Bledsoe is making progress toward a post-break returnThe Knicks still want Kenneth Faried … and Pierre the Pelican has a new look (video).

ICYMI of The Night: James Harden beat the Wizards with a Eurostep around Kevin Seraphin:


VIDEO: Harden Seals the Deal.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 23


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

CP3 hoping to return for All-Star Game | Bulls get better of Deng, Cavs | Knicks hit new low in loss | OKC’s Jackson feasts on Spurs | Celts’ Bradley out ‘a couple of weeks’

No. 1: CP3 hoping to return for All-Star Game — L.A. Clippers point guard Chris Paul is a perennial All-Star now, but as a member of the (then-)New Orleans Hornets in 2008, he made his debut at the league’s showcase event. That the game was held in New Orleans that season was icing on the cake for Paul and is a memory that has stuck with him throughout the years. Paul, who is nursing a shoulder injury he suffered on Jan. 3, said he hopes to be able to play in this season’s All-Star Game (which, coincidentally is in New Orleans again), writes Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who has been sidelined since Jan. 3 with a separated right shoulder, said he hopes to be back on the court in time for the NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 16 and would like to play in the game.

“If I can play, I’m going to play, I love to play that much,” Paul said Wednesday. “The All-Star Game is in New Orleans and that’s part of me. That’s where I played my very first All-Star Game at. Anytime you have that opportunity, I’m not going to pass that up because it’s not guaranteed to happen next year.”

Paul had been the leading vote-getter to start at point guard for the Western Conference before his injury, but has since been passed by Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, who is expected to be named the starter.

When Paul was injured, the initial timeline for his return was six weeks, which would put his return around Feb. 14, which could mean Paul’s first game back may be the All-Star Game.

“I think the goal is to make sure I get healthy,” Paul said. “Everybody knows how eager I am to get back and play and stuff like that, but at the end of the day you have to look at the big picture. When I’m ready, you’ll know.”

Paul said he’s making progress in his rehabilitation. He stayed in Los Angeles during the first half of the Clippers’ two-week, seven-game road trip but joined the team in Charlotte before Wednesday’s game against the Charlotte Bobcats.

“I feel better,” Paul said. “I’m still trying to get the range of motion where I want it at. Right now, the only good thing about this thing is nothing happened to my legs so I’ve been able to do conditioning.”

Paul said his right shoulder is “still in the healing process,” but was happy to be back with the team after watching them on television for the past three games.


VIDEO:
Chris Paul hopes to be back by the All-Star Game

***

No. 2: Bulls, Gibson get better of Deng, Cavs in reunion game — Just 16 days ago, the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers completed a swap that sent forward Luol Deng to Ohio for some future Draft picks and such. Both teams have done pretty well since making the trade, with Chicago going 7-2 since Jan. 7 and the Cavs posting a 4-4 record during the same span. Last night, Cleveland hosted Chicago in what was Deng’s first appearance against his old squad and, despite some early talk from Deng, it was all Bulls all night long, writes Sam Smith of Bulls.com:

They’d been asked for days, “What’s it going to be like?” “How would it feel?” “What would you say?”

So when Taj Gibson Wednesday in the Bulls anxiously awaited first game against former teammate Luol Deng got a defensive switch onto Deng, Gibson was ready.

“ ‘Lu, I know every move you want to do,’” Gibson chided the new Cavs small forward. “’I know you want to pump fake and make me jump in the air. I know all your moves.’

“ ‘All right,” came Deng the next time down court after Gibson forced Deng into a turnover. “’I’m going to turn it up. I’m about to play even harder.’

“Wow, Lu,” Gibson said he thought to himself.

But there would be no “wow” moments for Deng nor the Cavaliers as Deng had a quiet 11 points while Gibson with 26 points and D.J. Augustin with 27 points both matched career highs and the Bulls pulled away from a three-point game in the last three minutes to defeat the Cavaliers 98-87.

“It’s different than anything we imagined at the start of the season,” said Mike Dunleavy, who with Augustin made big threes down the stretch—four between them—as the pair combined for 18 of the Bulls 27 fourth quarter points. “But not a bad thing. This team has a lot of resilience and is playing well now. It’s all about the journey. It’s been a rocky one and it’s only half way. But we’re headed in the right direction. Which is most important.”

“One of things I respect about our team is they respond to every challenge,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “They have a lot of heart. They play smart and play hard and play together. Each day they have the right approach, not looking ahead or behind but concentrating on what they have to do to win. We’re shorthanded. We understand how hard we have to play to give ourselves a chance to win. Someone is out, the next guy gets in there and does the job and what is necessary to win. So we don’t have to change plays or anything. Just go in and get the job done.”

It was a frustrating night for Deng in many respects. He was barely part of the offense, shooting two of 11 and rarely involved. He was the kid who had to go onto the other side in the schoolyard to fill out a team and play against all his buddies. With the kids who already had a team. Deng and the players had talked about it for days, and Deng went over before the game to hug Thibodeau and some of the players and coaches. Afterward, it was like a greeting line and Deng rushing to catch the Bulls bus before it left the arena for one last farewell. No, he didn’t get to go this time. Nor fare as well.

“Obviously I’ve never been traded,” said Deng. “It was weird. I said I wasn’t going to be emotional, but when I went over to hug Thibs, when I went over to the bench, that’s when it hit me a little bit. But when the ball went up, seriously, I knew what they were running the whole time. I knew what they were trying to do on defense. They just played great D.”

He expected that, however.

“I tried to really play the game within myself,” said Deng, who did look disengaged at times as it’s clear Cavs coach Mike Brown has no idea how to use him as yet. “I missed shots. I’m not happy with my performance. That’s a good defensive team. We’ve just got to keep growing. We’ve got a lot of stuff to work on as a team. I really believe that we can get there. We’ve just got to lock in. In terms of me, I could have played better. It would have hurt less if we got the win. Even if I shot the way I shot or played the way I played.

“As much as my ex-team was hyped up, we’ve got to understand that there’s a next game coming in two days,” said Deng, whose trying to be the Cavs Thibodeau. “What was this, my sixth game? Seventh game? Guys gotta get used to me. I’ve got to get used to some of the guys. When you play a great defensive team like that, they’re going to take away the easy point. They’re going to make you go into you second and third option. I thought tonight we settled for the first option.”


VIDEO: Taj Gibson talks about the Bulls’ victory with NBA TV’s crew

***

No. 3: Knicks may have hit rock bottom — Just when the New York Knicks likely thought things couldn’t get much worse, they likely have. Last night, the Philadelphia 76ers — one of the league’s worst teams — came into Madison Square Garden and delivered a 110-106 loss to the Knicks to send them to their third straight home loss and fifth loss in a row overall. What made this loss worse than perhaps any other, though, was reports of Carmelo Anthony reportedly cursing out a fan mid-game and the team being booed off the court in the game’s final minute. Marc Berman of the New York Post has more:

In the final minutes of another disastrous Knicks loss, a fan shouted at Carmelo Anthony “Nice defense, Melo.” According to an eyewitness, Anthony shot back “Go f— yourself,” drawing a reaction from other fans in the area.

After the game, a fan on Twitter wrote “Carmelo told me to F off. Huge Philly fan and I got in his head.’’

Yes, the Knicks have hit rock bottom. Beleaguered coach Mike Woodson defended his defensive schemes before the game and then the Knicks continued to prove they can’t master them in a horrendous 110-106 loss at the Garden to the rebuilding Sixers.

The Knicks dropped their fifth straight Wednesday as the Sixers racked up 61 points in the first half and held off a Knicks’ charge in the fourth quarter when they took a six-point lead and blew it.

“Right now we are so tight,’’ Woodson said. “I thought we played great offensively, but defensively we weren’t there. We gave up 110 points and that’s too much.’’

Asked about Woodson’s future, Anthony, who did not address any of the late-game heckling, remained ambivalent.

“As far as that, I haven’t heard anything,” he said. “I don’t listen to any of that stuff. Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen and it’s out of my hands.’’

Guard Evan Turner tore up the Knicks defense for 34 points as four of the Sixers’ starters scored at least 18. Meanwhile, Anthony looked disinterested for much of the night. He finished with an inflated 28 points, thanks to two late 3-pointers in the final seconds with the game out of reach.


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony talks about the Knicks’ disappointing effort vs. Philly

***

No. 4: Jackson continues to torment SpursOklahoma City point guard Reggie Jackson has gotten some well-deserved praise for his efforts this season in holding down the fort while Russell Westbrook recovers from injury. Jackson is in the midst of one of those stretches now and his play has been no less impressive than his earlier stint. In particular, though, Jackson has thrived against one of OKC’s nemesis in the West, the San Antonio Spurs. He finished with 27 points in last night’s win and came up big down the stretch time and again as Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman notes:

There’s something about that San Antonio silver and black. It seems to get Reggie Jackson going.

Jackson has scored 21 or more points in five games this season. Three have come against San Antonio. Combined in the three games, he has 71 points on 30-of-45 shooting.

He’s a confident young man,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s taking no prisoners, he’s not deferring to anyone, he’s not doing it gingerly, he’s being aggressive and he’s playing to win. That’s impressive.”
“And then secondly,” Popovich continued, “he’s made pretty darn good decisions. A young guy can come out, try too hard, try to do too much on his own, not find open people, but his decision making has been really good.”

***

No. 5: Celts lose Bradley for ‘a couple of weeks’As we mentioned in this space yesterday, the Celtics got a bit of an injury scare on Tuesday night when shooting guard/defensive stopper Avery Bradley went down with an ankle injury. That scare got a lot worse on Wednesday night as coach Brad Stevens told ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg that Bradley is now slated to be out a couple of weeks with the injury:

Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Wednesday that shooting guard Avery Bradley is “probably out a couple weeks” after spraining his right ankle during Tuesday’s loss to the Miami Heat.

Bradley planted awkwardly trying to defend Mario Chalmers near halfcourt early in the second quarter of Tuesday’s game. He arrived for Wednesday’s game in Washington wearing a walking boot and utilizing crutches.

Bradley had started Boston’s first 43 games of the season, averaging a career-high 14.5 points on 43.9 percent shooting over 31 minutes per game. Just three games after Rajon Rondo returned to game action, Boston will again be without its preferred starting tandem as Bradley recovers.

The Celtics have seen their backcourt depth eroded recently. Last week the team traded MarShon Brooks and Jordan Crawford to Golden State and excused Keith Bogans from the team due to his frustration with a lack of playing time. Jerryd Bayless, acquired earlier this month in another trade, is expected to miss more than a week after spraining a toe in his left foot in Sunday’s loss in Orlando.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: More on this later today, but here’s a report on who’s likely to be in the USA Basketball player pool … If you don’t like “Durantula” as Kevin Durant‘s nickname, The Oklahoman is open to your suggestions for a new one … Toronto’s Terrence Ross is already gearing up to defend his Dunk Contest titlePaul Millsap is taking on a bit of a leadership role with the Hawks

ICYMI of The Night: Lots of great dunks on folks last night from the likes of Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Miles Plumlee (x2), Joakim Noah (scream included for free) and, of course, Earl Clark. But we’re going with a guy who was in the zone last night — Jeff Green — and his bucket that helped tie up the Celts-Wizards game late in the 4th:


VIDEO: Jeff Green’s crazy one-footed 3-pointer ties the game late in the 4th quarter

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 22


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant boosts his MVP case | LeBron: ‘Tough’ for Heat when Wade sits | Carter reflects on Toronto days | Belinelli picked Spurs because of Ginobili | Bradley injured in loss to Heat

No. 1: Durant boosts his MVP case with play vs. Blazers — If you’re a regular reader of our Kia Race to the MVP Ladder on this very website, you know that it’s been a back-and-forth battle between LeBron James and Kevin Durant for the No. 1 spot. Durant, though, may have helped get a couple more votes — not just in our eyes, but in the public’s as well — with his monster performance last night in leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a comeback win over the contending Portland Trail Blazers. Our own Jeff Caplan was on the scene and says that KD’s play sure looked MVP-like to him:

They’re piling on the Kevin Durant MVP bandwagon now as it barrels through Western Conference contenders with reckless abandon. Its latest victim, the Portland Trail Blazers, was left to dust off a 46-point onslaught and doff its cap as it rode out of town.

“The guy is the best player in the world right now. What can you say about him?” said Blazers forward Nicolas Batum, a salty defender who fended off the pain of a broken left middle finger better than he could Durant, the league’s runaway leading scorer halfway through the season. “When you watch him on TV, like, he is the best. When you guard him in the game, sometimes you have two guys on him and he makes the shot anyway.

“He’s the MVP. He’s the MVP,” Batum repeated, fiddling with his aching finger. “I mean, six years I have been in this league I have never seen a [performance] like that. Six years.”

Durant’s hot zone is the entire court. He blistered Portland for 11 points in the final 3:23, including a terrific drive through traffic and consecutive 3-point daggers from the top of the arc to give him six long balls on seven attempts. The Blazers’ 95-90 lead went up in smoke as did their lead in the Northwest Division. The Thunder (32-10), clamping down with an underrated or under-appreciated or simply under-talked-about defense, pulled out the 105-97 victory for their fourth consecutive win after briefly regrouping following Russell Westbrook‘s latest setback after Christmas.

They’ve knocked down Golden State, Houston, an improving Sacramento squad and now the Blazers (31-11).

Durant, classically and predictably, downplayed his brilliance and praised teammates for doing the hard work to set him up to finish things off.

“You know Perkins giving his body up for me, Serge [Ibaka] is giving his body up, Nick [Collison] and Steven [Adams] , our bigs are doing a great job of getting me open and, like I always say, it’s on me to finish,” Durant said. “So I have to put in the work before and after practice, shootarounds, in order for me to make those shots. My teammates do a great job of setting me up. It’s far more than just me; it’s a small part actually. What I do is more so plays coach [Scott Brooks] calls and the screens being set and the passes being sent. I think the end result is just on me, just trusting in the work and believing in the work to knock those shots down.”

“MVP performance,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “I mean, to score 46 points on 25 shots, 6-for-7 from 3s; I think he got two of his shots blocked. I mean it was a remarkable performance. He made shots when they mattered, he took his time, he didn’t force it, he just took what was there and made some great shots.”

“I just like our approach to the game,” Durant said. “We’re just playing hard. We’re moving the basketball. We missed some shots, but that happens. We’re just playing for each other. We just have to stick together no matter what. Defensively, I think we’re doing a good job of using our length. They hit some 3s and tough shots on us, but we haven’t gotten down on ourselves, we haven’t felt sorry for ourselves, we just kept playing and tonight is another case.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant dominates down the stretch vs. Portland

***

No. 2: LeBron: ‘Tough’ for Heat to fill Wade’s void — NBA followers are well aware the Miami Heat have made a concerted effort this season to keep the knee of star guard Dwyane Wade as healthy as possible for a long playoff run. To try and make that happen, Wade often rests in the second game of back-to-back sets and, to date, Wade has missed a dozen games this season to rest his knee. But last night’s game against the Boston Celtics marked the first time this season Wade had intentionally missed three straight game. As Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald notes, LeBron James said before the game that not knowing Wade’s status each game is proving ‘tough’ on the Heat:

With Dwyane Wade missing his third consecutive game to rest his knees, LeBron James said Tuesday that it has been difficult establishing a collective rhythm amid the uncertainty about whether Wade would be available from game to game.

“It’s tough,” James said. “Guys think it’s easy, but it’s tough. We have a team built on chemistry, built on rhythm. With so many of the guys being in and out, and the concern with D-Wade, it’s been tough on all of us. We’ve got to go in with the mindset sometimes that he’s not playing, as opposed to: Is he playing?”

Wade has missed 12 games, but this marked the first time he has skipped three in a row. He admitted feeling “a little soreness” in the knees on Monday but wasn’t available to speak before Tuesday’s game. One of the games Wade missed earlier in the season was because of flu, with “rest” listed as the reason for the 11 other absences.

“What we try to do is not predetermine and have expectations about it,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You can’t predict it. You’re going to have some good days and some days where you don’t feel great. We know as long as we stick to the routine, he should get better, quicker and stronger. Now that we’re at home we can get back on the routine of strength training and conditioning.”

Miami entered Tuesday with a 5-6 record without Wade, compared with 11-2 last season and 14-3 in 2011-12.

“We’ve had a little more guys out than just Dwyane this year,” James said. “From a rhythm standpoint, it’s kind of hurt us. We’re a team that is built on rhythm and chemistry, and we’ve had so many guys out with injuries that it’s kind of hurt our performance.

“Me watching the film, some of the things we’ve been able to cover in the past is off. Last year, when D-Wade went out, we had Mike Miller to step in. Mike Miller was in the system for a while, so we could automatically fill that void. Now, with D-Wade out, it’s given more opportunities to guys that haven’t been in the system as many years or as many situations as Mike Miller.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about the Heat’s victory over the Celtics

***

No. 3: Carter reflects on Toronto days — The Vince Carter era of the Toronto Raptors is one filled with mixed emotions for the player, the team and the fans. Carter burst onto the scene in the 1998-99 season and ran away with the Rookie of the Year trophy. From there came a memorable Dunk Contest performance, All-Star games, the Raptors’ first playoff series victory.  There were lowlights, to be sure, which led to acrimony between he and the team and ultimately led to him being traded during the middle of the 2004-05 season to New Jersey. As the Raptors prepare to host Carter and the Mavericks tonight, the swingman spoke with The Dallas Morning NewsEddie Sefko about his time in Toronto:

He’s as revered as any athlete in Toronto history who doesn’t play hockey, as evidenced by the dozen or so local reporters who wanted interviews with Carter after the Mavericks worked out at the Air Canada Centre practice court.

In short, he was basketball in this pucks-crazy town.

And Carter, in his second season with the Mavericks, has the memories embedded in his mind like snapshots.

“I remember when Vinsanity started, from an article [in the newspaper],” Carter said. “I remember when Half-Man, Half-Amazing started.

“I remember making the first basket here in history [at Air Canada Centre]. You can’t change that. Winning rookie of the year here, you can’t change that. Winning that dunk contest and putting Toronto on the [basketball] map, you can’t change that. Those are all historical to me. I put all three of those as one.”

At 37, Carter still gets airborne as well as some of the kids that have followed in his ozone layer. He threw down a remarkable dunk against Portland on Saturday, and he breaks out those jaw-droppers on occasion.

But when he walked into the Raptors’ practice gym, he could really appreciate the trip back in time to when his aerial “wow” moments were plentiful.

“Of all the times I’ve been back, this is probably just my second time to come back to the practice facility,” Carter said. “This is where everything was created. This is where it was all built. Me, the team, winning our first playoff game — this is where it started. This is where I can say Oak [Charles Oakley] grabbed me over there at the 3-point line and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to make you a player in this league.’ That’s where the memories were made.”

Carter played for Toronto from 1998 to Dec. 17, 2004, when he was traded to New Jersey. Carter’s jersey will be retired someday by the Raptors. It’ll happen after his career is over. It wouldn’t be surprising if Toronto signed Carter to a ceremonial one-day contract so he could retire a Raptor.

***

No. 4: Playing with Ginobili helped Belinelli pick SpursA quick look at the season leaders in 3-point percentage reveals that new Spurs guard Marco Belinelli is fitting in quite well in Texas. Belinelli leads the league in accuracy from deep and is in the top 30 or so of 3-pointers made. His shooting touch has proven key for San Antonio as it is among the West’s leaders in wins as the Spurs are again chasing the No. 1 spot in the conference. Dan McCartney of the San Antonio Express-News details how Belinelli has fit in with the team and explains how he passed on bigger offers because he wanted to play with his idol — Manu Ginobili:

To hear the involved parties describe it, Marco Belinelli’s free-agent signing with the Spurs was less a transaction than a match made in basketball heaven.Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, always on the prowl for smart, competitive players to plug into his hive-like collective, had long admired the Italian combo guard.

“He’s not afraid to take big shots. He’ll make big plays,” Popovich said. “When he became available at the end of last season, that was our main goal to try and sign him.”

Belinelli, meanwhile, said he had more lucrative offers than the two-year, $5.6-million deal he eventually signed with the Spurs. But the opportunity to play for one of the best teams in the NBA, alongside long-time idol Manu Ginobili, was too good to pass up.

“I know money is important,” he said. “But I’m a young guy and I want to improve my game. Money will come. I just want to win.”

In no other area does Belinelli’s hoops IQ manifest itself better than his consistent ability to create space for himself by moving without the basketball.

Nearly 84 percent of his buckets are assisted, while he’s taken just five isolation shots all season — and missed them all. That’s a tribute to the Spurs’ emphasis on ball movement, and their wealth of willing passers. But Belinelli does his part with tireless movement, which results in more than 40 percent of his made field goals per Synergy Sports (defined as off screens, cuts and hand offs).

***

No. 5: Celtics’ Bradley could miss next gameWith a combination of Rajon Rondo at point guard and Avery Bradley at shooting guard, the Boston Celtics can boast perhaps the best defensive backcourt in the game. However, Rondo has played in just three games this season (he returned from season-long ACL surgery and rehab on Friday) and is still getting his bearings on the court. But it seems that Rondo will have to work with a new running mate in the backcourt after Bradley suffered an ankle injury last night in Miami and could miss at least the next game, writes A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com:

The Boston Celtics were having a tough time with the Miami Heat early on, and it only got rougher following Avery Bradley going down with a sprained ankle injury.The 6-foot-2 guard was unable to return as Boston went on to lose 93-86 to the Heat.

While it is unclear if Bradley will play in Wednesday’s game against Washington, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens didn’t sound too optimistic.

“He didn’t seem like he was walking great,” Stevens said. “If I had to guess, I’d say no (he won’t play) but it would be a guess.”

Bradley limped off the floor early in the second quarter and immediately headed to the locker room with team trainer Ed Lacerte next to him. Moments later, team officials said he would not return.The 6-foot-2 guard, who has started in all 43 games this season, has had an injury-riddled career up to this point.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Magic center (and Shootaround fave) Nikola Vucevic isn’t sure when he’ll return to the lineup Ricky Rubio has fun playing catch with little girl during the middle of last night’s Wolves-Jazz game … Warriors forward Andre Iguodala isn’t a big fan of playing in national TV games … Good look at the longstanding feud between Raptors fans and their former star, Vince Carter … Solid profile piece on Commissioner David Stern and his legacy in the NBA … Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is pushing Taj Gibson for some Sixth Man of the Year love

ICYMI of The Night: Nets play-by-play man Ian Eagle makes just about any dunk call sound great and his label for Andray Blatche‘s slam over Kyle O’Quinn gives this dunk a little extra oomph: 


VIDEO: Andray Blatche powers home a jam over the Magic’s Kyle O’Quinn2014/01/21/20140121-daily-zap.nba

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 28


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron suffers strained groin | Beal injures left knee | Kidd losing support | Dolan talked to Knicks | Pacers can get better

No. 1: LeBron suffers strained groin — If Russell Westbrook‘s and Al Horford‘s injuries weren’t enough, there were a couple of more significant ones suffered during Friday’s nine-game slate. And the four-time MVP, one of the most durable players in recent memory, was not immune. In the process of passing Larry Bird and Gary Payton on the all-time scoring list, LeBron James suffered a strained groin, as reported by Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report:

It wasn’t especially apparent when LeBron James made the first three-pointer, or the second, or third, that late spree of nine points in 31.3 seconds of overtime nearly saving the night for the Miami Heat.

But after he spoke to the media and revealed that he’d strained his groin sometime way back in the second quarter, James’ discomfort became painfully clear.

The simple walk to the shower was a struggle.

“It ain’t feeling too good right now,” James said.

And so, now, after the Heat dropped a 108-103 decision to the Sacramento Kings—their sixth loss this season to a team currently under .500—there’s a cloud over another of the team’s highly anticipated showdowns.

After a day’s rest, James scored 24 points, with nine rebounds and seven assists in a Dec. 18 victory against Indiana. This time, though, only 20 hours separate James and the Heat from tipoff against the team with the NBA’s best record, the Portland Trail Blazers.

Will James play?

“See how it feels tomorrow,” James said.

***

No. 2: Beal injures left knee — Earlier in the night, the Wizards suffered a scare when Bradley Beal injured his left knee in the fourth quarter of a loss in Minnesota. Michael Lee off the Washington Post has the story:

Bradley Beal banged left knees with Minnesota Timberwolves forward Luc Mbah a Moute, spun around and dropped on his back side. He tried to stand but collapsed again. Gasping and grimacing as he looked down, with his hands and knees on the hardwood, Beal kept pushing, telling himself to get up from the floor and walk over to the Washington Wizards’ bench. Until he finally relented.

“I really couldn’t get up,” Beal said. “I just fell because it was no way I could possibly move after that.”

The Wizards were well on their way to a humiliating 120-98 loss to the Timberwolves when Beal caused a panic amongst his teammates and fans with 4 minutes 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Martell Webster had just hit a three-pointer to bring the Wizards within 21 points. He turned and walked away but quickly was running back to check on Beal, who didn’t leave the floor until teammates Trevor Ariza and Jan Vesely lifted him on their shoulders and carried him to the locker room.

After having a precautionary X-ray, Beal moved down the hallway with the assistance of crutches but left the arena on his volition, limping and holding back his emotion. Beal will have an MRI exam Saturday in Washington but was encouraged about his outlook.

“The X-ray was pretty positive,” Beal said before smiling to catch himself. “It was negative. My bad. It was negative. That’s a good thing. I was hoping it wasn’t anything too, too serious or too crazy. Hopefully, I’ll be good moving forward.”

So, as the Thunder and Hawks (and Bulls and Nets and Lakers and Celtics) already dealing with extended absences from their All-Stars, the Heat and Wizards await further word on James’ and Beal’s injuries.

***

No. 3: Kidd losing supportThe Nets ended their four-game losing streak with a comfortable win over the Bucks on Friday, but it will take a lot more than a win over the worst team in the league to get Brooklyn back on track. And Jason Kidd might not have the answers needed. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! reports that Kidd has begun to lose some support within the organization:

The Nets had tried to be supportive of Kidd, but patience is running low on the belief he can deliver the structure and organization desperately needed. As the Nets have devolved into chaos, Kidd has increasingly isolated himself within the locker room and organization, sources told Yahoo Sports. From management to players, Kidd has shown an inability to manage crisis and keep the respect of his players.

Rifts exist between old players and new, trust eroded with every humiliating loss in this 9-19 season.

And yet, somehow, Kidd believes he can keep publicly eviscerating his players’ character and desire and spare himself blame and responsibility. For those around the Nets with a sense of history and irony, they remember Kidd running ex-coach Byron Scott out of his job for offenses born of this failed playbook.

Here’s the question management is grappling with: Does Brooklyn start unloading its star players and stay the course with the coach, or unload the coach and let someone else manage these star players?

***

No. 4: Dolan talked to KnicksThe Knicks may be in worse shape than their neighbors in Brooklyn, but apparently they have owner James Dolan‘s word that they shouldn’t fear for their jobs. As Marc Stein of ESPN reports, Dolan spoke to his players and coaches on Thursday, telling them that he’s not looking to shake things up:

Knicks chairman James Dolan told New York players in a meeting Thursday that there are no trades or changes to the coaching staff forthcoming, ESPN.com has learned.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Dolan gathered the team before the first practice in the wake of New York’s embarrassing 29-point home loss to Oklahoma City on Christmas Day largely in an attempt to hush the growing speculation about coach Mike Woodson’s job security following the Knicks’ 9-19 start.

The discussion came amid increasing signs the Knicks’ effort and focus under Woodson is waning on top of the significant injury issues that have plagued them all season.

It’s believed Dolan took the step in an attempt to persuade Woodson’s players to band together and throw their full support behind the embattled coach to help dig New York out of the sizable hole it finds itself with essentially one-third of the regular season in the books, the sources said.

When an emboldened Woodson met reporters after Thursday’s practice, he promptly announced he still thinks New York can rally from its poor start to win the Atlantic Division.

“We won it last year, and I expect us to win it this year,” he said.

***

No. 5: Pacers can get betterDanny Granger has shot just 5-for-22 in his first three games back from a strained calf, but his healthy return means that the Pacers have room for improvement. Indiana now has a two-game lead in the loss column at the top of the Eastern Conference, but they don’t feel like they’re a complete team until Granger has been fully integrated into the rotation, as Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star writes:

Though Indiana (23-5) has outscored its past three opponents by an average of 25.8 points – and a repeat rival, the Brooklyn Nets, fills the dance card Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse – coach Frank Vogel sees room for improvement, specifically with the full integration of Danny Granger in the rotation.

“I think (the rotation) will feel like it’s complete when Danny’s complete,” Vogel said. “Danny’s going to have ups and downs over the next six weeks where he’s just getting his legs under him, getting his rhythm and timing back. That’s going to be a process. Once he gets up to speed then it will feel complete.”

Since Granger made his season debut on Dec. 20, the Pacers have looked like a mighty force. That’s not to credit Granger as the cause for the three-game winning streak – shooting just 23 percent from the floor, he has consistently preached patience about getting his conditioning and rhythm back. Still, the Pacers have moved Granger from the end of the bench to 20 minutes per game quite effortlessly.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Avery Bradley can put the ball in the basketChris Paul takes the blame for the Clippers’ two-game losing streakComing off the bench has worked well for Danny GreenMichael Kidd-Gilchrist had his cast removed … and Metta World Peace revealed that he’s an alien.

ICYMI: Derrick Favors beat the Lakers with this throwdown on Friday…


VIDEO: Favors’ game-winning putback