Posts Tagged ‘Boston Celtics’

Pacers could take advantage of rough Eastern Conference


VIDEO: Recap: Rodney Stuckey scores 22 points as the Pacers defeat the Knicks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns, New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder are fighting for the final playoff spot. And, unless the Dallas Mavericks continue to slide, two of those teams will miss the postseason.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, we’re going to have two playoff teams out of a group that includes …

  • The 20-25 Miami Heat, who are missing Dwyane Wade for the next 2-3 weeks.
  • The 19-27 Charlotte Bobcats, who have the league’s worst offense outside of Philadelphia and are without Kemba Walker until at least mid-March.
  • The 18-27 Brooklyn Nets, who are looking to trade their three highest paid players and are 3-17 against teams currently over .500.
  • The 16-28 Boston Celtics, who have already traded two of their three highest paid players and just lost to the 8-37 Minnesota Timberwolves.
  • The 17-30 Detroit Pistons, who are 0-3 with a 20-point loss to the Sixers since losing Brandon Jennings for the season.
  • The 17-31 Indiana Pacers, who rank 28th offensively and are 2-8 in their last 10 games, with losses to the Sixers, Wolves, and Hornets.

Oof.

The good thing about the East is that there’s some fresh blood at the top. The top six teams in the standings won a total of one playoff series last year, so we’re going to have a lot of new faces in the conference semifinals.

But who will take those last two playoff spots? The numbers could help us with the forecast.

First, with apologies to Bill Parcells, let’s accept the notion that the standings don’t tell us everything about how well or how poorly a team has played.

Point differential is a better predictor of future success than wins and losses. And there’s a formula to calculate how many wins a team should have (“expected wins”) based on their point differential. That formula says that both the Pacers and Celtics should have about three more wins than they do.

20150130_expected_wins

Indiana has a better NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) than Brooklyn, but is 2 1/2 games behind the Nets in the standings, in part because the Pacers are 11-18 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, and the Nets are 11-11.

The Celtics, meanwhile, have the eighth best NetRtg in the East (just a hair behind the Heat), but are 8-16 in close games.

Among the group of teams listed above, the Pistons, Heat and Hornets have played the toughest schedule thus far. But the Celtics aren’t fare behind. And going forward, the schedule favors the Pacers.

Indiana actually has more games remaining vs. teams that are currently at or above .500 than vs. teams that are below. But they have six more home games than road games and have 13 games left against teams that are playing the second night of a back-to-back.

When you adjust for those situations, the Pacers have the easiest schedule of the six teams that have between 17 and 20 wins in the East …

20150130_future_sched

Of course, the Pacers are just 9-12 at home and just 4-7 against teams on the second night of back-to-back. As noted above, they’ve lost to both the Wolves and Sixers this month.

But when you take into account some bad luck in close games and a favorable future schedule, they have a decent chance of moving up from 12th to seventh or eighth.

Wiggins, Carter-Williams headline BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge


VIDEO: USA vs. World in new format for Rising Stars

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge has always served as All-Star Weekend’s showcase for first- and second-year NBA players, using a variety of different formats from rookies versus sophomores to a fantasy draft.

This year, though, it’s us against them. No matter which team you’re rooting for.

This season, the Rising Stars Challenge introduces a new format, with players from the United States going against a team of international players. The rosters were selected by the league’s assistant coaches, with one ballot for each of the NBA’s 30 teams. Both 10-man rosters include four guards, four frontcourt players and two players regardless of position. Each team also features a minimum of three first-year players and three second-year players among its 10 spots.

This year’s edition showcases 10 of the top 15 picks from the 2013 NBA Draft, and all four participants in the 2015 Sprite Slam Dunk. The Minnesota Timberwolves are the most represented team, with four Timberwolves split evenly between the two teams. The Utah Jazz will have three players involved, and the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic each are sending two players.

Team USA is heavy on perimeter and wing players, including Utah’s Trey Burke, Detroit’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad, and Orlando’s starting backcourt of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo.

The World Team will be heavy on big men, including Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Minnesota’s Gorgui Dieng, Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic and Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. Canada will be the most represented international country with Olynyk and Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins.

The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 13, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The head coaches for the 21st BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge will be assistants from the 2015 NBA All-Star Game coaching staffs. Hawks assistant coach Kenny Atkinson will lead the World Team, and Golden State Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry will coach the U.S. Team. The game will be televised live on TNT at 9 p.m. ET.

USA Team
Trey Burke (Utah)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Detroit)
Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia)
Zach LaVine (Minnesota)
Shabazz Muhammad (Minnesota)
Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia)
Victor Oladipo (Orlando)
Elfrid Payton (Orlando)
Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn)
Cody Zeller (Charlotte)

World Team
Steven Adams (Oklahoma City)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Bojan Bogdanovic (Brooklyn)
Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota)
Dante Exum (Utah)
Rudy Gobert (Utah)
Nikola Mirotic (Chicago)
Kelly Olynyk (Boston)
Dennis Schröder (Atlanta)
Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota)

Rivers duo look to make history in LA

There hasn’t been a father-son duo in the NBA from a coach/player standpoint, but the Celtics and Clippers are working furiously to make it happen.

Nothing has been finalized yet. Still, the Clippers could send Reggie Bullock, the 25th pick in the 2013 draft, to the Celtics, which would unite Austin Rivers with Doc Rivers. The Celtics acquired Austin Rivers from the Pelicans days ago with the purpose of routing him to L.A. once the Clippers and Celtics agreed on compensation. The Celtics even told Austin Rivers to stay home instead of flying to Boston and wait out the process.

Mark Stein of ESPN tweeted this afternoon that the “Suns are believed to want Reggie Bullock. Clips would naturally prefer to make deal without surrendering Bullock.” Stein also mentioned that the Suns could be a third team in the deal so the Celtics don’t have to take back any salary in dealing Austin Rivers to L.A.

Bullock is averaging only 10 minutes a game but he’s a better shooter (42 percent, 38 from deep) than Austin Rivers (38 percent and 28 percent). Would the Clippers make the deal if Austin wasn’t the son of the coach? Unlikely. However, neither player is projected as a heavy-rotation guy anyway, at least for this season. The situation is unsettled at the moment, but that could change in the next 24-48 hours.

 

Morning shootaround — Jan. 15


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks keep on soaring | Lakers may shut down Kobe | Gortat pokes Bulls fans on Twitter | Report: Clippers closing in on Rivers trade | Shaw: Nuggets not actively shopping Afflalo, Chandler

No. 1: Hawks’ winning ways show now signs of stopping — Atlanta rested Al Horford and Kyle Korver last night in Boston,  yet still beat the Celtics by 14 points. That makes 10 straight wins for the Hawks. Are there still doubts about just how good this team is? Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journa-Constitution breaks down how Atlanta just keeps winning, and winning and winning:

For the second consecutive night Atlanta rested several starters and still won going away. This time it was Boston that was run out of its own arena against a less-than-complete opponent.

The list of accomplishments for the NBA’s hottest team gets more impressive with each victory.

The Hawks (31-8, 15-5 road) have:

  • Won 10 consecutive games for their longest win streak since they started the 1997-98 season with 11 consecutive victories;
  • Won 10 consecutive games on the road, improving on their franchise record;
  • Won for the 24th time in the past 26 games as they have lost just twice since Nov. 28;
  • Won three in a row against the Celtics, including two this season.

“You have to give credit to the bench,” DeMarre Carroll said of the Hawks’ past two victories. “That shows you the beauty of our team. We’ve got a lot of guys who can play. That is what we expect. These guys work just as hard and when their opportunity came they took advantage of it.”

The Eastern Conference-leading Hawks continue make believers of those around the NBA. Boston coach Brad Stevens called the Hawks “elite” prior to the game.

Then the Hawks went out and proved it.

The remaining three starters, all of whom sat out Tuesday’s victory at Philadelphia, carried the Hawks. Carroll (22), Jeff Teague (22) and Paul Millsap (18) combined for 62 points. Millsap also had 10 rebounds for a double-double. Mike Scott added 11 points off the bench.

“They stepped up to the occasion,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “When you are feeling fresh and healthy and in attack mode, all three of them, it’s really positive. They can score in different ways and impact the game in different ways.”

“We are happy to grow and develop,” Budenholzer said. “Guys get different opportunities. Different players are put in different situations. To find a way to win on the road is always good. I think where we just want to continue to grow and develop and get better. On a night like tonight, we did that. I think last night we did that. Going forward, we have to continue.”


VIDEO: The Hawks have piled up wins against the NBA’s elite all season long

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 11


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Jan. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Will the Nets move Lopez? | Break up the Sixers | Boston’s drafty future | Amundson joins elite club

No. 1: Will the Nets move Lopez? — Last night’s 98-93 loss to the Detroit Pistons dropped the Brooklyn Nets to 16-21 on the season. And while their NYC neighbor the New York Knicks are in full-on rebuilding mode, the Nets are trying to battle through injuries and still make the playoffs. But as Alex Raskin points out in the Wall Street Journal, the Nets may be open to trading All-Star center Brook Lopez, which could be their best hope of strengthening the roster as the playoffs loom…

Only now, with the Nets’ playoff hopes clinging to a thinning backcourt, the time may finally be right. The emergence of second-year center Mason Plumlee has relegated him to the bench, and not because Lopez has played particularly poorly.

Despite undergoing right-foot and left-ankle surgery over the off-season, Lopez appears to be healthy, even after some December back issues. In fact, Lopez has played two of his better games in recent memory over the last two weeks, scoring 29 points in a spot start against Chicago on Dec. 30 and a 22-point performance in Monday’s loss to Dallas in which he briefly outscored the Mavericks, 18-17.

And on Friday, Lopez played well for the most part, scoring 18 points and hitting a game-tying hook shot with 25 seconds left. However, Hollins did pull Lopez in favor of backup Jerome Jordan for a significant portion of the fourth.

They might be motivated sellers, but the Nets still think Lopez could fetch valuable players in a trade, according to one league source. His history of foot problems notwithstanding, the biggest issue in moving Lopez ahead of the Feb. 19 trade deadline has nothing to do with his health.

Rather, it’s the $16.7 million Lopez is owed next season, since trading him would normally mean taking back a significant amount of salary.

The Nets, according to multiple sources, are willing to deal Lopez, but they are against taking on expensive or lengthy deals in order to do so.

Instead, the Nets are looking to accomplish the rare feat of shedding a bit of salary while remaining competitive in the East, where sub-.500 teams will have a chance to earn a seventh seed. (The Nets are currently in seventh place).

***

No. 2: Break up the Sixers — The Philadelphia 76ers began this season with a historic 17-game losing streak. Everyone knew the Sixers were rebuilding, but nobody thought they would be as catastrophically bad as they were at the start of the season. But since that streak, the Sixers have gone 7-12, and yesterday’s win over the Pacers was their second in a row and makes wins in three of their four games. As Keith Pompey writes in the Inquirer, the Sixers are gaining confidence by the day…

The Sixers take a 7-29 record into their home matchup Tuesday against the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks. Saturday’s win enabled the Sixers to post wins on consecutive nights for the first time since road victories over the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings on Jan. 1 and 2, 2014.

The Pacers dropped to 15-24.

“This win definitely takes a bad taste out of our mouth,” Nerlens Noel said about the start to the season. “We feel good about the position we are in now and the progress we’ve made.

“We are proving to people that we are a team that is going to fight hard every night.”

Noel had six points, nine rebounds, and a game-high five blocks. Michael Carter-Williams, a second-year point guard, finished with 15 points to go with nine assists. Backup point guard Tony Wroten led the Sixers with 20 points and nine assists.

West had a game-high 28 points and nine rebounds.

“This win definitely builds confidence,” Carter-Williams said. “For us to be in games and to come up clutch in clutch moments is great.”

***

No. 3: Boston’s drafty future — The Celtics have been in rebuilding mode going on two years now, and as part of that project, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has been stockpiling future draft picks as he trades away veteran players. Their latest move, swapping Jeff Green, just adds picks to the war chest. And while they continue playing games with a roster whittled by attrition, looming in the future is a remarkable wealth of picks. Brian Robb of boston.com has a look at what’s ahead

The Celtics would reportedly acquire a future first round pick and Tayshaun Prince in exchange for Green, if the current deal holds. Boston’s small forward was pulled off the floor before Friday night’s loss to the Indiana Pacers and could be dealt as soon as Monday, the earliest any trade can become official.

As a result of these trades, the Celtics added a few new selections to their incredible stockpile of draft picks over the next several years. Here’s a list of what picks the Celtics are likely to own as the focus turns to the future.

2015: 2 first-round picks; 3 second-round picks
2016: 4 first-round picks; 4 second-round picks
2017: 1 first-round pick; 2 second-round picks
2018: 2 first-round picks; 1 second-round pick
2019: 2 first-round picks; 1 second-round pick

All in all, the Celtics are likely to own 11 first-round picks and 11 second-round picks over the next five NBA Drafts once the Green deal becomes official. With the trade deadline still more than a month away, Danny Ainge still has plenty of time to add to this stockpile, as he prepares for plenty of wheeling and dealing this offseason.

***

No. 4: Amundson joins elite club — When the Knicks traded J.R. Smith to the Cavaliers, they received veteran center Louis Amundson in return. After waiving Amundson, they re-signed him to a 10-day contract which, as ESPN’s Marc Stein points out, puts Amundson in select company: Amundson is one of a dozen players to play for at least 10 different teams…

Below are the only 12 players in league history to have played for at least 10 different teams:

12 teams: Chucky Brown, Jim Jackson, Tony Massenburg and Joe Smith.
11 teams: Mike James and Kevin Ollie.
10 teams: Lou Amundson, Earl Boykins, Mark Bryant, Drew Gooden, Damon Jones and Aaron Williams.

Of those, only Amundson and Washington’s Gooden are active, although veteran guard Mike James is on the hunt for potentially his 12th different NBA employer if he can land a D-League call-up. James, 39, is currently playing for the Texas Legends in the D-League.

Amundson is still only 32 years old, which means he theoretically has plenty of time to add to his total of teams and potentially become the NBA’s first 13-team player. But he’s not the youngest player to get to 10 teams. That would be current Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Damon Jones, who was just 29 when he hit the 10-team mark before spending the next three seasons in Cleveland and then returning to Milwaukee to finish his career.

Amundson’s 358 career regular-season games, though, are by far the fewest of anyone on the list. His longest stay in one spot in terms of games played was Phoenix, where he played 155 games over two full seasons. His travels around the league include a two-minute stint in Utah, three minutes with the Bulls spread over two stops and his 12-game cameo with the Cavs this season. Those travels technically do not include the Sacramento Kings, who were the first NBA team to sign him out of UNLV but let Amundson go before the start of the 2006-07 regular season.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: During yesterday’s Dallas/Clippers game, longtime referee Joey Crawford went down with a knee injury. They finished playing the game with just two referees … LeBron James helped the Ohio State football team get free headphones, which is not an NCAA violationKevin Seraphin joined Nic Batum in wearing a t-shirt to pay tribute to the French attack victims …

Reports: Pelicans’ Rivers in Green deal, could reunite with Doc in L.A.

The long-anticipated – well, 24, 36 or 48 hours, depending on when you’re seeing this – trade sending forward Jeff Green from Boston to Memphis might have found the third team that had been holding things up.

And apparently, a fourth team.

The New Orleans Pelicans were first to enter the fray, agreeing to send guard Austin Rivers to the Celtics, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein. That transaction would send Green to the Grizzlies, Tayshaun Prince from Memphis to Boston, Rivers to the Celtics and the Grizzlies’ Quincy Pondexter to the Pelicans.

With some additional considerations:

It wasn’t long, though, before the pieces apparently started moving again:

Rivers ending up with the Clippers, of course, adds the storyline of the No. 10 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft being coached by his father, Glenn (Doc) Rivers. The Clippers conveniently were drubbing Dallas in a matinee game, so there was some near-instant reaction available from Rivers the elder:

For the record, instances of a father coaching against his son in the NBA are rare enough; the Rivers family has done it, of course, and so did Mike Dunleavy Sr. and Mike Dunleavy Jr., as well as Butch and Jan van Breda Kolff back in 1976. But coaching one’s offspring? That’s more of a college thing.

In fact, it brings to mind a situation at Doc Rivers’ alma mater Marquette back when Hall of Famer Al McGuire was coaching. In the early 1970s, McGuire’s son Allie played for the team and another player, George Frazier, complained that he was just as good and deserved as many minutes.

Said McGuire: “George, you might be as good as Allie, but to beat him out you’ve got to be better – he’s my son.”

Guys on the Clippers bench like Jordan Farmer and Chris Douglas-Roberts might want to file that away.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: Trevor Booker taps in possibly the shot of the year

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Booker practices those ‘circus’ shots | Tarpley, dead at 50, ‘could do it all’ | Cavs find sunshine through dark clouds | Rock bottom in 5 seconds for Nets

No. 1: Booker practices those ‘circus’ shots — Necessity is the mother of invention, but it occasionally can be the father of ridiculous. That’s how it felt Friday night in Oklahoma City, when Utah Jazz forward Trevor Booker took resourcefulness to an outrageous level and made not just the play of the night but the shot of the 2014-15 NBA season, at least based on rarity and degree of difficulty. Booker’s back-to-the-basket, no-time-except-to-tip, underhanded flip of a field goal attempt stunned pretty much everyone in the gym. Here’s Jazz beat writer Jody Genessey on the play:

With 0.2 seconds remaining on the shot clock, the Jazz got the ball out of bounds on the far sideline. The only shot that can even be completed in that amount of time is a tip, and that’s what Jazz coach Quin Snyder called for.

Booker said he didn’t even know the play that his coach barked out, so he headed to the hoop thinking Gordon Hayward would probably throw a lob. When that didn’t materialize, Booker rushed over toward Hayward and stopped with his back toward the basket.

That’s when, as the NBA marketing department might say, amazing happened.

Hayward made a bounce pass to Booker, who creatively and instinctively tipped the ball with both hands and flipped it up and over his head in the nick of time. It’s a move that might come in handy next summer when he plays volleyball again.

Incredibly, the ball plopped into the net, helping the Jazz take a 50-44 lead into the break.

“We try to cover a lot of game situations. That was not one,” Jazz coach Snyder said. “I have to say they manufactured that.”

While Snyder, Hayward and everyone else was startled, Booker grinned and immediately thought to the hours he and his cousin, Lakers forward Jordan Hill, spent practicing – yes, practicing – such goofball shots and situations. As cited by Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune:

“I know you won’t believe me, but I really do practice those shots,” he said in the locker room afterward. “My cousin [Lakers forward] Jordan Hill, he texted me after the game and said, ‘They’re not going to believe we practiced those shots all the time growing up.’ I guess you could say the hard work finally paid off.”

The Jazz lost the game, 99-94, and dropped to 13-24. But Booker was buoyant afterward about his team as well as that shot.

“That’s a good [team] right there,” he said of the Thunder. “Let’s not forget that they went to the Finals a couple years ago. We’re playing good ball right now, playing hard. I told the group, there’s no group I’d rather go to war with than these guys. We’re still trying to figure everything out, but as long as we keep playing hard the way we are, we’re going to be fine.”

***

No. 2: Tarpley, dead at 50, ‘could do it all’ — He was a child of the ’60s, which meant that Roy Tarpley was a young professional athlete in the ’80s, and while no decade has held exclusive rights to illegal drug use among major sports figures, that one ranks high. Tarpley was the seventh player picked in the 1986 NBA Draft – five spots after Len Bias, the poster guy for squandered dreams and tragic ends even today. Others taken early that day included Chris Washburn and William Bedford, two more whose careers washed out to substance abuse. Other sports had similar tales, and Tarpley’s came to an end with the news Friday that the former Dallas Mavericks forward had died at age 50. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News chronicled the sad news:

Cause of death was not immediately known Friday night, although when the Mavericks arrived in Los Angeles for their game Saturday against the Clippers, several members of the traveling party had been informed that liver failure was at least partly to blame.

The 6-11 Tarpley was the seventh pick in the 1986 draft by the Mavericks out of Michigan. In his second season, he was the NBA’s sixth man of the year before drugs and controversy shrouded the rest of his six seasons in the league.

According to a medical examiner’s report, Tarpley’s death happened at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. It is a sad ending to one of the most gifted players in franchise history. Tarpley had a rare combination of strength and speed that made him one of the best athletes of his era.

“Our condolences go out to the family of Roy Tarpley,” Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban said via Twitter. “RIP Roy. Mavs fans everywhere will remember you fondly.”

Tarpley’s off-court troubles probably followed him into the NBA from the University of Michigan and largely defined his time in Dallas, with the Mavericks assisting in significant ways. When he was right, he was very right; the 6-foot-11 native of Detroit averaged 12.6 and 10.0 rebounds in 280 regular season games over parts of six seasons. In 24 playoff games, his numbers were even better: 17.0 points, 12.8 rebounds and a 20.8 PER. He led the NBA in total rebound percentage (22.6) while winning the Sixth Man Award in 1987-88 and he led in that category again two years later. That’s the Tarpley fans would prefer to remember.

“If Roy had stayed healthy, he could have been one of the top 50 players ever,” said Brad Davis, the Mavericks’ radio analyst and player-development coach who played with Tarpley. “He could do it all, shoot, score, rebound, pass and defend. We’re all sorry to hear of his passing.”

Tarpley would spend most of his career battling personal problems. He was suspended by the NBA after five games in the 1989-90 season after being arrested for driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest. In 1991, he drew another suspension after a second DWI arrest and, a few months later, had a third violation and was banned from the league for violating the NBA’s drug-use policies.

He returned to the Mavericks briefly in 1994 but then was permanently barred in December 1995 for violating terms of his aftercare program.

***

No. 3: Cavs find sunshine through dark clouds — Some of us at Hang Time HQ have chided some of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ knee-jerk critics for ignoring the one thing everyone said that team would need in 2014-15, namely patience. Then again, a stretch of seven defeats in eight games, a four-game losing streak and two weeks without LeBron James – all while nearing the mid-point of January – might be an appropriate time to … PANIC! And yet, there was a calm of sorts about the Cavs after their 18-point drubbing at Golden State Friday and even some rays of optimism, as Cleveland beat guy Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com saw it:

It’s amazing how much the direction of a team can change once its members change the perception of their situation.

Monday in Philadelphia it seemed as low as you could go, with the Cavs blowing an early lead and losing to the laughingstock of the league with Kyrie Irving not making the trip because of a back injury and LeBron James away from the team, also nursing strains to his back and left knee while making a quick rehab trip down in Miami.

Five days later, with the team having pulled off two trades (in essence Dion Waiters for J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, and a couple of first-round picks for Timofey Mozgov and a second-rounder), Irving back in the lineup, and James back with the team for its five-game road trip — and even going through “minor” on-court activities for the first time since sitting out Dec. 30 — there’s some sunshine peaking through the clouds, according to coach David Blatt.

“It’s tough right now and I know it’s tough to see, but when we do get back to full strength, we’re going to be good,” said Kevin Love.

It was particularly noteworthy that Love was waving the encouragement flag because he took only 11 shots — compared to 23 apiece for Smith and Irving — but instead of focusing on his involvement in the offense after the fact, he set his sights on what the Cavs will look like in the near future.

Blatt took the same tone.

“I think you see we’re a better team today than we were yesterday and we were a week ago,” Blatt said. “I’m not even going to talk about the guys that aren’t playing, because we’re a better team today.”

The signs are more encouraging than sappy stuff like playing tough teams close – Houston, the Warriors – without their best player. There are no guarantees, but at least there have been some changes and the LeBron arrow is pointing up:

The new faces are already making their presence felt, whether it was Smith’s 27 points against the Warriors (“I told you coming in; I had nothing but a good feeling about J.R. joining our team,” Blatt said), or it was Mozgov’s nine points and eight rebounds in his debut and his reaction to how he was received (“The guys meet me so good,” the Russian-born Mozgov said in endearing broken English, “make me be the part of the family on the first day. … So, I love it”), or Shumpert’s competitive side relishing the fact he was leaving a sinking ship for a team that’s playoff-bound (“I didn’t want my season to end early,” Shumpert said).

There are no “gimme” games in the Western Conference, but Sacramento should be a winnable game on Sunday; and then, if James comes back just slightly ahead of his two-week rest schedule he could be in the lineup Tuesday in Phoenix, and if that happens you get the lame-duck Lakers next, and possibly have picked up a full head of steam going into the trip finale Friday against the Clippers.

***

No. 4: Rock bottom in 5 seconds for Nets — Realists in this league have a saying they occasionally invoke: “You are what your record is.” Pessimists around the Brooklyn Nets woke up Saturday believing that their team is about 10 games worse than its record, though, because the 16-19 Nets somehow blew a game against the 6-29 Philadelphia 76ers Friday night at the Barclays Center. The blog TheBrooklynGame.com had an intriguing snapshot of the team hitting rock bottom – actually, it was more of a film analysis, second-by-second, of Brooklyn’s best last chance in the game. It began with coach Lionel Hollins‘ admonitions that the Nets really aren’t a good team and then dissected an inbounds play that led to center Brook Lopez launching a prayer from beyond 3-point range on a failed attempt to win or tie:

With may-day approaching after three failed screens and little misdirection, Lopez shot up towards [Alan] Anderson, extending his left arm away from Nerlens Noel to catch the ball, as the only player left who had a chance.

The option was doomed from the start. The seven-footer, who has never made a three-pointer in the regular season, caught a wide pass from Anderson one-handed, spun counterclockwise to the middle of the floor, performed a ball-fake against the long and talented Noel to no avail, and flung a contested, fallaway three-pointer wide right, officially listed at 27 feet away but might as well have been from the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk.

“We’re honestly playing down to these teams these last few games,” Lopez said. “We’re better than this, and we’re doing it to ourselves. And we have to be better than this for the entirety of the game.”

It should’ve never come down to Lopez taking that final shot, because it never should’ve come down to a final shot at all.

“When we executed and made good decisions, and defended, and rebounded, we were ahead. Soon as we relaxed and made some bad decisions on offense, made some bad decisions on defense, they came back.”

Now, the Nets can only look ahead, and the road is ugly. 13 of the team’s 17 games before the All-Star break (and the trade deadline) come against teams slated to be in the playoffs, and that’s not including tomorrow night’s contest against the Detroit Pistons, who had won seven straight games before barely losing to the Atlanta Hawks, the Eastern Conference’s best team, Friday night.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Phoenix Suns considered Brandan Wright the “best backup center in the league” even before they acquired him from Boston. … Skip the soap-opera stuff, Mark Jackson‘s return to Golden State scarcely could have been more moving. … Don’t assume the Boston Celtics are done, even after they spend the weekend working out the kinks of their Jeff Green-to-Memphis trade. … No Kobe, no problem for the Lakers, who got a big boost off the bench from new guy Tarik Black. …

Morning shootaround — Jan. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Unique challenge in Oakland | Pistons keep chugging along | Report: Grizz pursuing Deng, Green | Scott: Lakers ‘soft’ in loss to Clips | Cavs chime in on new faces

No. 1: Kerr’s unique challenge in Golden State Klay Thompson scored 40 points last night in the Golden State’s win over the Indiana Pacers, keeping the Warriors two games ahead of the surging Atlanta Hawks for the NBA’s best record. The good news continued for Golden State in that game, too, as injured center Andrew Bogut returned to the lineup after a lengthy absence. So with so many things going right in Oakland, life has to be golden for coach Steve Kerr … doesn’t it? Of course it is, but finding minutes for so many talented and clicking players could be his next hurdle. The Oakland Tribune‘s Carl Steward has more:

Draymond Green said it best: “Coach has some problems now. We don’t.”

Indeed, Steve Kerr has a pleasant problem of trying to find enough time for all the players who are playing well and want time and need time to continue being effective. It’s not going to be easy keeping everybody happy with a roster that got deeper with Andrew Bogut’s Wednesday night return, and one that will be ridiculous once Festus Ezeli returns soon from a sprained ankle.

“We have a lot of guys that can play and a lot of guys that are playing at a high level, but only so many minutes to go around,” Kerr said after the Warriors’ hard-fought win that was closer for a good long while than the final result indicated. “I told our players the sacrifice that they are going to have to make will not be easy. But they have to make it if we are going to be good. From one night to the next, it might be your night and it might not be. They have to accept that.”

Kerr and his assistants arranged their rotations on the fly after it was determined Bogut would in fact play. It resulted in some strange breakdowns. David Lee only played six minutes in the first half — Lee himself said it felt like two — and 11 in the second. Harrison Barnes played 18 first half minutes and only six in the second. Justin Holiday played eight first half minutes and none in the second.

It’s going to be like this for awhile and who knows how it is going to shake out. Kerr noted that he brought Bogut off the bench because Marreese Speights has earned the right to continue starting for now, and after a Speights had a rough start, he finished with 18 points with the strong fourth quarter. It might stay that way for awhile. But at some point, Bogut will be a starter again and then what happens to Mo Buckets, particularly if he’s competing for minutes with Lee? It remains to be seen how Lee handles being a bit player after a decade as a 30-40 minute starter. As he becomes more productive, as he was Wednesday night, will he continue to be happy with 15-18 minutes a game?

The reality is that it’s pointless to make these speculations because as healthy as the Warriors are now, more injuries are bound to occur over the final 49 games that will change everything. Hopefully not any serious ones, but the Warriors are well covered when they do come up. The best-case scenario is that the most indispensable players — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Green and Bogut — won’t be overtaxed in the regular season because of the team’s remarkable depth and they’ll be more than ready for the second season come mid-April.

Our rotations are so deep, it’s going to be a struggle for Coach to figure that out,” Curry said. “We have so many guys who can come in and play and who are hungry to play, too. But we have good character guys in the locker room that hopefully handle it well. Certain nights it might not be a certain individual’s night to go out and impact a game, but everybody needs to stay ready and it’s great problem to have when you can go 11-12 deep and still not miss a beat with how you’re playing.”


VIDEO: Klay Thompson runs wild on Pacers in Golden State’s win

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Blogtable: Struggling marquee teams

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: Thoughts on Cavs’ deal? | Struggling marquee teams | Where will Dirk finish?



VIDEOAre the Lakers better off with Kobe Bryant playing less?

> Three of the NBA’s marquee franchises — Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, L.A. Lakers — are a combined 27-77 and hold little hope for short-term success. If these teams were stocks, which one would you buy, which one would you hold, and which one would you sell?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d buy more Lakers stock, hold what I have of the Knicks and sell my Celtics holdings. The Lakers have the greatest upside because of their culture and their climate — they’re the biggest free-agent magnet of the three thanks to their market and their recent history. Now that Phil Jackson has begun the serious demo work in New York, I think he and the Knicks can build something better, especially as Carmelo Anthony‘s dominance of the team begins to recede. As for that storied franchise in Boston, I’d invoke the phrase familiar to financial speculators: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I can’t convince you to take all three off my hands for, say, the Grizzlies? OK, if you’re forcing me to buy, I’ll take the Lakers. They’re still THE marquee team in the league and when Kobe Bryant finally does retire — looking more and more like after next season, for sure — they’ll have the salary cap space and the cachet that will let them start over. Not to mention a rehabbed Julius Randle and another high draft pick from this season. I’m holding the Celtics because I believe Danny Ainge has the right coach to build on in Brad Stevens, a future All-Star in Marcus Smart and a patient long-range plan. I’m selling the Knicks because, well, they’re the Knicks. After this salary dump this week, Phil Jackson will go into next summer with the space to sign two max level free agents, maybe three. if the cap takes a big leap. Trouble is, he’ll do the usual NY thing and after finding the possibility of luring LeBron James or Kevin Love from Cleveland a pipe dream and having LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol not willing to climb aboard the worst team in the league, Jackson will wind up grossly overpaying the likes of Jimmy Butler or Goran Dragic and merely making the Knicks mediocre to good, but not contenders.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHold the Lakers, hold the Celtics, sell the Knicks. (Why did you ever buy on the Knicks in the first place? No wonder you switched brokers.) Investing in the Lakers now looks bad because not only is it a lottery team, it’s a lottery team with one piece in place for the future and he is injured. (Julius Randle.) But I’d hang on to stock on a team in a destination city and Mitch Kupchak with a loud voice in management. It would not be a surprise if even the lottery Lakers bag a big free agent. The Celtics front office likewise has a proven track record, plus the best young pieces among the three. Boston also has the advantage of being in the East.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Definitely buy the Celtics. They have seven extra first-rounders (some conditional) coming between now and 2018 and there isn’t a sluggish contract weighing down the salary cap. Plus, Boston remains a destination for free agents. Hold the Lakers. I realize they owe future picks to Phoenix and Orlando and Kobe is clogging up cap space, but they’re still the Lakers and somehow find a way to keep their pain to a minimum (I know, I know, GM Jerry West isn’t walking through that door). Sell the Knicks. Phil Jackson deserves a chance, but this team is cursed.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI’m buying the Celtics, because they have the best group of young players (by far), the most future picks, and the GM/coach combination that I have the most confidence in going forward. I’m holding the Lakers, because they have one Lottery pick already on board, maybe another on the way (it may go to Phoenix), and a shorter contract with their 30-plus, former league’s leading scorer who doesn’t fit the rebuilding timeline. And I’m selling the Knicks, because they have nothing beyond a 30-year-old forward they just signed to a five-year, $124 million contract (Carmelo Anthony), an unproven team president (Phil Jackson) and an unproven coach (Derek Fisher). Nothing’s guaranteed in free agency.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’m buying Lakers’ stock, holding the Celtics’ stock and selling all of my Knicks stock. I know that the Lakers never stay down for long. It’s just not what they do as a franchise. They’ll do whatever takes to get back on track. They’ve operated that way and probably always will — provided there is a Buss in charge. The Celtics have some decent pieces and a bright, young coach in Brad Stevens. They just need time to figure it all out. The Knicks have no business being in this marquee mix with the Lakers and Celtics. They haven’t come close to the championship success the other two have enjoyed in recent years. I’m selling on them until Phil Jackson works his Zen magic and convinces another superstar to join Carmelo Anthony in the seemingly eternal quest to return the Knicks to their 1970s glory.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI would buy the Celtics, who are fully committed to rebuilding and are two years into the business of asset (Draft picks, young players and cap space) aggregation. I would hold the Lakers, who — eventually — will draw the interest of free agents. And I would sell the Knicks, who after so many self-destructive years are unworthy of faith until they themselves prove otherwise.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: SELL, SELL, SELL! OK, to really answer your question, I’d buy the Celtics, hold the Knicks and sell the Lakers. Danny Ainge gets the benefit of the doubt in Boston because we’ve seen him reboot his franchise before, plus the Celtics have five first-round picks in the next two Drafts. That’s a heckuva place to start. I know the Knicks are terrible this season, but I like the direction Phil Jackson’s going — bottoming out before building back up. That starts with clearing salary and getting young players in to learn the triangle offense and grow along with the franchise. With the Lakers, I’m not quite sure what they’re doing. They’ve tried to rebuild through free agency but the current management hasn’t shown an ability to recruit the marquee free agents we keep hearing about them going after.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Anthony backs Fisher | Rondo ready for Boston return | Reports: Cavs get $4.9M disabled player exception | Westbrook mum on ejection

No. 1: Anthony gives big vote of support to Fisher — The first half of the New York Knicks’ season has gone about as bad as could be imagined. After yesterday’s drubbing in L.A. against the Clippers, they have lost nine straight games and closed out the 2014 portion of the season at 5-29 (the second-worst record in the league). While some New Yorkers may be questioning if coach Derek Fisher is the right guy to lead the team, superstar Carmelo Anthony says the team would be worse off if Fisher were not the coach. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne has more:

“I think if it was anybody else in his position, I think this probably would’ve crumbled already,” Anthony said after scoring 19 points in 29 minutes. “I think he’s doing a great job of keeping everybody focused on the task at hand and believing in what we’re trying to do.”

This season, Anthony said, has “definitely (been) a test for me.” The Knicks already have had losing streaks of 10, nine and six games this season. Some of that can be blamed on injuries — they’ve been without key players like Anthony, J.R. Smith, Amare Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, and Iman Shumpert — for large stretches of the season. Some of it has been difficulty adjusting to the culture change Fisher and new Knicks president Phil Jackson have tried to instill in New York. Some is a lack of depth and talent on the roster as a whole.

Whatever the case, the losing has been awful for everyone involved to endure.

“I don’t really like doing the New Year’s resolution, but I just want 2015 to be better than 2014,” Anthony said. “We’ve got to find a win. We can’t be thinking about the turnaround. We’ve got to find a win first and see what happens from there.”

Anthony has been dealing with a sore left knee for most of the season. He has openly speculated he might eventually have to shut it down for an extended period if the pain grows worse. Earlier this week, he admitted he might not even make it to the All-Star Game, which is in New York this year.

“It’s tough. Some days you’re able to do some things, some days you’re not,” Anthony said. “Some days it’s tough to even run around and cut and jump. And then other days I come in and I don’t really feel it.

“I’m playing because I love to play and I want to play. I know what I can tolerate and what I can’t tolerate. The games I feel like I can’t tolerate it, I’m not going to play.”

Anthony has said surgery is a “last resort” and that he’s hoping to avoid anything of that nature until after the season. Asked if he’d considered the Orthokine treatments that Los Angeles Lakersstar Kobe Bryant has regularly flown to Germany to have performed on his knee as he aged into his mid-30s, Anthony smiled and said, “I’ve had multiple conversations with multiple people. Regular people, people who have had similar situations as me, and everybody has their own opinion. I take everything in stride and when that time comes, I’ll take it into consideration.”


VIDEO: Derek Fisher talks after the Knicks’ blowout loss to the Clippers

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