Skip to main content

Posts Tagged ‘Brad Stevens’

Morning shootaround — Sept. 20


Paul touched by HOF trip | Report: Smith to skip Cavs’ mini-camp | Report: Meeks set to return in November | Stevens says veterans will push Brown

No. 1: Trip to Hall of Fame resonates with Paul – LA Clippers point guard Chris Paul was honored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this summer with the Mannie Jackson Human Spirit Award for his work with his organization, the Chris Paul Foundation. Initially, Paul was hesitant to come out to Springfield, Mass., for the event, but since then has drastically changed his tone about both the Hall itself and has a newfound respect for his the game at large. Jackie MacMullan of has more:

Chris Paul admits it — he viewed his trip to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last week as a bit of a nuisance.

It wasn’t the first time the Hall had reached out, but it was the first time the nine-time All-Star finally acquiesced.

“They ask,” Paul conceded to, “but you think, ‘I’m busy’ or ‘Oh no, it’s too far,’ or ‘I have too much other stuff going on.”’

During his tour of the birthplace of basketball, Paul was moved by the stories of African-American pioneers who were banned from hotels and restrooms that welcomed their white teammates. He delighted in locating the plaque of Clarence “Big House” Gaines, the legendary African-American college coach at Winston-Salem State, just miles from where Paul grew up.

It prompted a reflective Paul to deliver one of the most memorable and impassioned speeches from an elite player who wasn’t actually being inducted.

“Today was my first day having the opportunity to come here, and it was kind of touching,” Paul told the audience upon accepting his award. “If not for this game, I am not here. If not for this game, my family is not in the situation we are in. And so I’m grateful for this game and what it has done for me and my family …”

With his voice breaking, and tears welling, Paul pressed on.

“It really hit me today being here around all the history that we take so much for granted,” he said. “And I know I do [that] a lot of times.”

Before long, as Paul shared the story of how he pressured his parents to buy him a pair of Allen Iverson‘s signature shoes, he had Iverson — a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee — weeping, too.

“To be here on his special day … man, this game has taken me places I never imagined,” Paul said. “Guys, you gotta come see this, because it’s bigger than any of us.”

“I haven’t never been here before, and as I walked in I actually felt bad about it,” Paul said. “It hit home today, in a big way, what this game has done for me, and the people I love. You walk in and you see all the history and you realize, ‘I need to support this.’

“I’m one of those people who, my wheels get turning. You want other people to see this. You think, ‘Maybe it would be better if this was in New York or L.A.,’ but that doesn’t make sense. The game was invented here. There is where it has to stay.”

Paul, who is also president of the players’ union, said he plans to go back to his NBA brethren and encourage them to see for themselves how the pioneers of the game paved the way — and to spur them to give back.

“Every experience is different for every person, but this place? It got me,” Paul said. “I can’t wait to bring my son.”



Do the Cavs have any worries in the East?

Watching these playoffs, and concentrating their attention for now on the Eastern Conference, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers are somewhere literally sitting pretty right now.

They’re sitting because, after sweeping aside the Detroit Pistons, there’s nothing else to do but wait.

And they’re pretty because most if not all of their internal worries of the past are gone, and meanwhile, their competition in the East has never looked more beatable.

While it’s true that anything and everything is possible in the playoffs, the notion that the East title is Cleveland’s to lose looks stronger than ever. When you combine the good health and good vibes of the Cavs with the flaws of the remaining field, it screams Cleveland dominance. Wouldn’t you be shocked if LeBron James doesn’t make a sixth straight trip to the NBA Finals?

In a sense, the Cavaliers deserved a break. Come again, you say? Remember last year: Kevin Love‘s shoulder was ripped apart on a cheap shot by Kelly Olynyk in the first round. And Kyrie Irving was injured most of the East finals, then was gone for good after Game 1 of The Finals (knee). LeBron carried the Cavs anyway and took two games from the Golden State Warriors, but the health gods owed Cleveland a full compliment of bodies and, in particular, two All-Stars (Love and Kyrie). Hopefully we’ll get to see how good the Cavs are with LeBron, Love and Kyrie on the floor and clicking. And judging by what happened in the last month of the season and the first round, those three are finally playing in harmony.

As for the competition in the East?

Atlanta Hawks: Entering Thursday’s Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, TNT), they hadn’t won in Boston in 10 previous playoff games. So there’s a chance the Hawks could be extended to seven games. After winning 60 games last season, the Hawks were then swept by the Cavs without Love and Kyrie in the East finals. What gives anyone the idea things will be different in the semifinals this year? Paul Millsap is having a beastly series against Boston, but he was torched by LeBron last season. Meanwhile, if Jeff Teague has his hands full with Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie is a step up from that.

Toronto Raptors: If not for a few breaks their way in Game 5, the Raptors would be down 3-2 instead of up 3-2 on the Indiana Pacers. That’s not what you’d expect from the No. 2 team in the East. Kyle Lowry bombed in the 2015 playoffs and this time has upgraded to inconsistent. Speaking of that, the Raptors signed DeMarre Carroll to major dollars, hoping he’d be their defensive rock. The first impressions aren’t very kind — injuries didn’t help — and he’s the guy who’ll be assigned to LeBron.

Indiana Pacers: Paul George is averaging 28.8 points, six rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game in the postseason. You have to love Paul George. You don’t have to love the Pacers.

Miami Heat: What a weird situation — and we’re not talking about Dwyane Wade on that last drive in Wednesday’s Game 5 and whether or not he got fouled. We mean Chris Bosh. He hasn’t spoken in public since All-Star weekend and hasn’t been officially ruled in or out of the playoffs. He and the Heat are involved in some sort of stand-off regarding his status — he wants to play but there’s a medical issue — and without him, Miami may not beat Charlotte.

Charlotte Hornets: This is a cool story, how a team that hadn’t won a playoff game since 2002 has won one, then two, then three, and now finds itself in position to win its first playoff series since 2002. Good for Steve Clifford, Kemba Walker and especially Michael Jordan. But they’d get swept by the Cavs.

Boston Celtics: Brad Stevens can coach, and Isaiah Thomas can play. But a coach can’t take a team deep into the playoffs, and the only way a 5-foot-9 player can carry a team far is if he’s Allen Iverson-like. Nice showing by the Celtics, though. Their big moment will comenot next week, but next month at the Draft Lottery show; they hold Brooklyn’s pick.


Celtics’ Bradley ‘unlikely’ for remainder of series


VIDEO: Avery Bradley strains his right hamstring in the fourth quarter of Game 1 against the Hawks

ATLANTA — The Boston Celtics will have to work without Avery Bradley, their best perimeter defender, for what could be the remainder of their first round series against the Atlanta Hawks.

Bradley suffered a “significant strain” to his right hamstring with 6:42 to play in Game 1 Saturday night at Philips Arena and did not return. He left Philips Arena with one crutch and was not at practice with the Celtics Sunday afternoon.

“I would say he is doubtful for any of the remainder of the series,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “And he’s certainly, very unlikely (for Game 2) Tuesday night. As of right now, I’d say he is out Tuesday night. Obviously he’ll get treatment around the clock. And we’ll go from there. But I would say he is very unlikely for the rest of the series.”

Bradley was the primary defender on Hawks point guard Jeff Teague and also scored 18 points before he “felt something pop” in his right leg and fell to the floor. His absence forces Stevens to make adjustments to his starting lineup and rotation for  Game 2 and possibly the remainder of the series.

Veteran swingman Evan Turner is the likely replacement in the starting lineup with Marcus Smart and also rookie’s R.J. Hunter and Terry Rozier in line for increased roles.

“Right now it’s all about stepping up and playing tough,” Turner said. “It’s definitely tough because Avery competes and at the end of the day he’s a teammate and we’re worried about him and his well being. We know we really have to pull together. And over the last month we’ve been shorthanded and we’ve all had to fight through some adversity, so right now it’s just taking it for what it is and fighting and competing and not making any excuses.”

The Celtics are already at a height disadvantage against the Hawks. But without Bradley in the lineup, they’ll potentially be even smaller in the backcourt.

“The biggest challenge is we’re playing small anyways and we might have to go even deeper, ” Stevens said. “And that’s okay. We might have to go with some of those young guys and play four smalls again or we could play more traditional. We’ll look at it and figure that out over the next 48 hours.”


Boston’s Crowder out ‘couple of weeks’

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The Boston Celtics’ efforts to hang on to the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race may have just encountered a bump in the road. Speaking to the media Sunday, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said starting forward Jae Crowder will likely miss time due to a right ankle injury…

Crowder suffered the injury in the second half of Boston’s 102-98 loss to the Houston Rockets on Friday. Crowder had played in all of Boston’s 66 games this season, averaging a career high 14.4 points and 5.1 rebounds. The Celtics have 16 games remaining, and are currently one loss ahead of Miami and Charlotte for third place in the Eastern Conference.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 21

VIDEO: The Fast Break — Feb. 20


Brad Stevens, an ex-college guy, NBA coach of the year?Pacers expecting big things from Myles Turner | Dave Joerger has a new team in Memphis | Jeff Green a difference maker?

No. 1: Brad Stevens, college guy, NBA coach of the year? — The Celtics are third in the East and there’s a lot of head-scratching to figure a reason why. Boston has no stars but it might have the next coach of the year in Brad Stevens, who by all accounts has done a stellar job just a few years after leaving Butler. Speaking of which, for one night against the Jazz, Stevens was reunited with two key players on those Cinderella Butler teams, Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack, the latter of whom was just traded to the Jazz. Here’s some good insight into Stevens and Hayward from Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:

Mack and Hayward are the only active NBA players from Butler, both recruited by Stevens. That is a source of pride with the Celtics coach, having guided two players to the NBA from a mid-major that was little known before Butler made consecutive trips to the national title game.

Each time Stevens visits Salt Lake City he’s asked about Hayward, how the swingman has developed in the NBA and impacted a franchise that, like the Celtics, is trying to rise from rubble. Hayward is a cornerstone, with the Jazz giving him a four-year, $63 million contract.

Hayward, averaging a career-best 19.9 points this season, is a borderline All-Star. He shot just 6 of 16 in Friday’s 111-93 win but still managed 22 points by making 15 trips to the foul line. He has progressed exponentially since Stevens recruited him from Brownsburg, Ind., nearly 10 years ago.

“When I first met with him when we were recruiting him, we talked about, ‘You actually have a chance to be a pro,’ ” Stevens said. “I don’t know that anybody could have envisioned [this]. At that time, he was a 13-point, six-rebound-a-game tennis player. He was growing into his own. He was a long, skinny kid. He was probably 6-foot-7, 180 [pounds] sopping wet.”

Hayward quickly developed into a top college player and left Butler after his sophomore season in 2009-10, following a 2-point loss to Duke in the national title game.

“I think he’s just gotten better, better, and better,” Stevens said. “His first couple of practices at Butler confirmed what the biggest mark would be with a guy of his talent level, and that is his grit and toughness. From that point on, we had no doubt that he had all that stuff. So you knew he was going to be a pro, it was just a matter of the level. He’s established himself as one of the better players around.

“He had a lot of natural talent. I don’t know if he believed me or not, [maybe] he thought I was just a recruiter that was lying to him. We had never had an NBA pro [prospect] in our time but it was obvious that he could do things other guys couldn’t do.”

Hayward is often asked about Stevens’s success in the NBA, having led the Celtics from a lottery team in 2013-14 to an Eastern Conference contender in just two years. The admiration is mutual.

“He told us he would never leave for another college,” Hayward said. “And that was very, very true; he left for the NBA. I’ve always said no matter where he’s at, he’ll be successful, if it’s basketball, if it’s business. Whatever it is. He’s just that type of person that, he’s going to be successful. He puts in the time. He puts in the effort. A very smart guy. No surprise that he’s successful where he’s at.”

Hayward and Stevens have formed a strong bond because they realize their importance to each other’s success. Hayward may not have reached the NBA without Stevens’s tutelage, while Stevens may not have gotten a call from the Celtics had Hayward not led Butler to the Final Four as a No. 5 seed six years ago.

“He knows how to make people successful,” Hayward said of Stevens. “He puts guys in the right positions. He’s very smart with reading defenses and knowing how teams are going to play and what they’re going to do, switches, whatever. They beat us on a last-second shot last year, on their play. He’s just a really smart coach and he always brings the best out of his players. Like I said, I’m proud of what he’s been able to do.”


 No. 2: Pacers expecting big things from Myles Turner — He won’t win Rookie of the Year and might even face a battle just to make first-team All-Rookie, but don’t be fooled. The Pacers are very pleased with the development of Myles Turner and the potential of the 6-foot-10 post player is enormous. He began getting more playing time earlier this month and because of Turner, the Pacers still like their chances of making the playoffs. Here’s an excerpt of an examination of Turner done recently by Candace Bucker of the Indianapolis News:

In so many ways, he’s just a big kid. The teen-turned-starter still buys H&M clothes off the rack and watches SpongeBob in his spare time. He’s tasked with raiding the freezer in NBA visitors’ locker rooms so his veterans will have enough Gatorade on the bus rides to the airport. Inside his childhood bedroom, he still has a pair of size-10 Starbury One sneakers signed by Kevin Durant.

But in so many other ways, the Pacers need him to be a man, if not The Man. They have Paul George, Monta Ellis and several veterans approaching 30. But they also need 19-year-old Myles Turner, who averages 10.1 points on 53.5 percent shooting and 1.5 blocks per game this season.

“We’ve got a young, really talented, special big man in Myles Turner that is going to be up and down,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “I don’t know how fast and how far he develops in the final 29 games, but it will be a big factor in what our ceiling is.”

Turner has always been this strange brew of a project, a normal, humble child and a rare bird, a player obsessed with shushing his skeptics and yet privately questioning himself. He nods when teammates give him tongue-lashings after mistakes, but there’s nothing they can say that he hasn’t heard from the chorus of critics inside his head.

“I doubted myself a lot,” Turner says of playing in the NBA.

* * *

Turner can take on the responsibility because he isn’t just any 19-year-old. He was raised for this, even if David and Mary Turner thought they were simply bringing up their eldest to earn a free college education and a good job.

So, the family would take part in conversational clashes, the loser getting bounced for using filler words “uhm” and “like.” If Myles slipped up with one of the forbidden words, his mother took no mercy.

“All of a sudden I’d break out and say, ‘I won!’ ” Mary exclaims. “He hated losing. So we had to play again.”

The Turners shut off the television from Monday to Thursday and hid the PlayStation in the garage until summer so Myles could do something that sounds insane to kids of his generation: play outside. Myles was 5 when David purchased a basketball goal, but dad couldn’t install it in the driveway unless the height was adjusted from 7½ feet to 10, regulation size. Mary’s idea.

Turner remembers getting penciled onto the “B” team during middle-school tryouts and being iced out at his first practice with the Trinity High School varsity team. These memories are old wounds that should’ve been patched up by all his recent triumphs. Still, Turner can’t help but to pick at his sutures.

“I’ve just always had to work my way up through the ranks,” Turner says. “I was definitely overlooked in high school.”

Older kids laughed at the way he ran, but Turner loved the game. He was piling up team championship trophies – not those participation throwaways. He had the potential to be great, so he played on. And really, how could he stop and listen to their taunts? Turner kept busy; for a while, he played on four teams at the same time.

He was improving, but not fast enough by his own standards. When Turner did watch TV and saw Shaq and D-Wade winning the NBA Finals, he wasn’t like the other kids who went to sleep dreaming about holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

“I never thought I’d be strong enough. I always got pushed around all the time,” Turner stresses. “As far as the NBA was concerned, I loved watching it … but I never thought I’d actually be able to do it one day.”


No. 3: Dave Joerger has a new team in Memphis — This isn’t the team he saw when the season tipped off. Still, it’s his team because it says “Memphis” across the jersey, so Dave Joerger must find a new playbook for a Grizzlies’ team that has changed overnight. Marc Gasol is injured and gone, maybe for the season if not a lengthy stretch. And the Grizz have welcomed Mario Chalmers, PJ Hairston, Lance Stephenson and Chris Andersen in the last few months. The task for the coach is to keep the Grizzlies in the playoff hunt, which won’t be easy, and make the new faces comfortable. This task was examined by Geoff Caulkins of the Commercial Appeal:

Dave Joerger, this is your test.

You’re going to have to try to win games without Marc Gasol, your best player, the guy you have built your entire team around.

And you’re going to have to try and win games without Courtney Lee, one of the few shooters on a team that has never been able to shoot.

And you’re going to have to try and win games without Jeff Green, your answer to everything, a player you coveted and believed in more than anyone else.

And you’re going to have to try and win games without Ryan Hollins, the backup center, the rim protector you wanted on the team all year long.

And you may have to try to win a game or two without Tony Allen, your inspirational leader, who is questionable with a gimpy knee.

Oh, and in case that’s not enough of a challenge, we’re going to give you Lance Stephenson, P.J. Hairston and a guy everyone knows as Birdman.

Let us know how it goes!

“The last couple of days have been pretty interesting,” said Joerger, because he really couldn’t say, “What did I do to deserve this?”

But he had to be thinking it, didn’t he? Somewhere underneath that Minnesota Nice? Or maybe just wondering when the hidden cameras would be revealed and he’d discover he’d been Punk’d?

The Memphis Grizzlies may have done the right thing for the Memphis Grizzlies this past week. They may have done the right thing for next year and beyond.

But for their head coach?

“It’s a big motivation,” said Joerger, and also the biggest challenge of his coaching career.

Not that there haven’t been other challenges, mind you. Joerger has seen and surmounted more than few.

It was a challenge to take over for a wildly successful and popular coach like Lionel Hollins.

It was a challenge to overcome an injury to Gasol to make the playoffs that first year.

It was a challenge to forge a working relationship with Robert Pera after some early tensions.

It was a challenge to win 50 and 55 games his first two years as a head coach.

And it was a challenge to lead the Grizzlies through a sluggish start to this season, turning a 16-16 record into 31-22 by the All-Star break.

But none of those challenges compares with the one Joerger will be facing over the next 28 games.

It really should be a reality show. Let’s see what our man Dave can do!

We’ll give him:

Five players who are 34 or older (Zach Randolph, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Birdman and Allen).

Five players who are essentially new to the team (Stephenson, Hairston, Birdman, James Ennis and Brandan Wright).

Six players who are known to be among the roughest and/or craziest in the league (Stephenson, Barnes, Allen, Hairston, Randolph and Birdman).

Two players the Miami Heat gave away just to get under the luxury tax (Birdman and Mario Chalmers).

Oh, and Mike Conley. Because we really do have a heart!

But that’s all that Joerger has at his disposal. Now he has to take that group and — without any extra days off to practice or install plays — win enough games to make the playoffs. And that’s not even the trickiest part. The trickiest part is making sure the players are all in.


No. 4: Jeff Green a difference maker? — One of the defections from the Grizzlies is Jeff Green, and stop me if you’ve heard this before: Green will be a difference maker for his new team. Well, he was supposed to play that role with the Celtics, and then with the Grizzlies, and now the Clippers. In Boston, Green was a solid player, nothing more. In Memphis, which needed scoring from the swing position (and still does), Green was a mild disappointment, a tease if anything. He’s now reunited with coach Doc Rivers, who briefly had him in Boston, and lo and behold, the Clippers need scoring from the wing. There’s no denying the gifts of the 6-foot-9 Green; he can run the floor and comes with a decent mid-range shot. But he often disappears for stretches; his inconsistency is maddening. Anyway, he’s the Clippers’ problem — or steal, whichever he decides to be. It didn’t work out with Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith; has Rivers finally found a solution in Green? Here’s a take from Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

Jeff Green might be happy about joining the Clippers.

He might be happy about playing for Doc Rivers, his old coach in Boston. He might be happy about reconnecting with Team Jordan buddies Chris Paul and Blake Griffin or old teammates Paul Pierce or Cole Aldrich.

But in his first appearance as a member of the Clippers at the team’s practice facility Friday, there wasn’t room for any real emotion.

Green, admittedly, was overwhelmed.

It had been less than 24 hours since Memphis general manager Chris Wallace pulled him aside during the Grizzlies’ practice to deliver the news.

“It never does (get easier),” said Green, who was dealt in the middle of a season for the third time. “You think if you’ve been through it once, it would be easier to go through it again. But you get settled and comfortable in a situation, so it’s tough to break apart from that.”

Green had less than a day to pack up as many possessions as he would need, filling five suitcases and a carry-on with shoes, sweats and suits.

By the time he spoke to the media Friday, he still didn’t know where he was going to be living for the remainder of the season.

“It’s a whirlwind,” he said.

Jamal Crawford, who has been traded in the middle of a season, knows it’s not easy to have your life uprooted.

“I had no idea it was coming and it happened, and it took a little while, it took a few days to set in, like, ‘Did this really happen or am I dreaming?’ That was my first time being traded, so it’s tough,” Crawford remembered. “It’s not just you it affects. It affects your family, you may have to put kids out of school, if you’re renting or whatever, all that stuff. … Where to live, you may go to a city you haven’t spent a lot of time in before, you have to learn that.

“It’s almost like a new kid going to school in the middle of the year, like, ‘Oh, I have to make new friends.’”

Once Green settles in, he knows how he’ll help the Clippers.

“I’m a versatile guy who can play multiple positions and do multiple things on the floor, so I’m pretty sure Doc will put me in positions where I can succeed and help this team out,” Green said. “I’m sure it will vary from game to game, but there are going to be plenty of spots on the floor for me.”

Green should be on the court when the Clippers host the NBA’s top team, the defending champion Golden State Warriors, on Saturday night.

Despite dealing with the ramifications of the trade, Green, an unrestricted free agent this summer, said he likes the situation he’s found himself in.

“This is definitely a team with all the right pieces, and a team that is going in the right direction,” Green said. “The only thing I want to do is win, and that’s what it’s all about right now.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After getting his release, Andrea Bargnani is available and please, don’t all rush at once … The Mavericks remain the clear favorite to scoop up David Lee once he clears waivers on Monday … San Francisco radio station KNBR had an entertaining interview with Warriors coach Steve Kerr … What is it with the Jazz and point guards? They’re still looking for the next Deron Williams and John Stockton … It appears Cody Zeller is the center of the (near) future for the Hornets; not Al Jefferson?

Thomas-less minutes key to Celtics’ surge up East standings

VIDEO: Isaiah Thomas’ top plays from mid-February

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — On the morning of Jan. 13, the Boston Celtics sat in 10th place in the Eastern Conference at 19-19, having lost four straight games.

The last loss in that streak came against the New York Knicks, who have since gone 3-12. The Boston defense, which ranked in the top five, allowed the Knicks to shoot 53 percent and score 120 points in that game.

The Celtics scored 114 points themselves, 65 in a second half they started with a small lineup. At the time, coach Brad Stevens said that small ball was about defense, but it’s been the Celtics’ offense that has improved since then.

The Celtics were a bottom-10 offensive team through that loss in New York. Since then, they’ve been a top-10 offensive team and have gone 13-4 to go from 10th in the East to third.


Isaiah Thomas has averaged 21.8 points and 6.2 assists over these last 17 games, leading the team in usage rate by a wide margin. But it’s been the minutes with Thomas off the floor that have been more critical to the Celtics’ improvement.

Through Jan. 12, the Celtics were downright awful offensively when Thomas sat down, scoring 94.3 points per 100 possessions, which is worse than the Sixers have been this season. Since Jan. 13, they’ve jumped to 107.9 points per 100 possessions with Thomas off the floor.


Improved shooting from Jonas Jerebko, Marcus Smart and Tyler Zeller has been critical. But another key has been Stevens settling on a rotation.

Through Jan. 12 (38 games), no lineup that didn’t include Thomas played more than 31 minutes. But in the 17 games since then, the Celtics have a no-Thomas lineup — Smart, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, Jerebko and Kelly Olynyk — that has played 113 minutes and outscored its opponents by 16.0 points per 100 possessions. Neither Turner nor Smart can shoot very well, but their playmaking is complemented by two shooting bigs. David Lee had played 41 percent of the no-Thomas minutes before Jan. 12, but hasn’t played at all since then.

Some context: Only four of the Celtics’ 17 games in that stretch before the All-Star break were played against teams that currently rank in the top 10 defensively. They’ll face 10 top-10 defenses in their final 27 games, and that doesn’t include two meetings against the Utah Jazz, who rank 14th for the season, but fifth in the six weeks since Rudy Gobert returned from injury.

The first of those two meetings is Friday (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). The game is more important for the ninth-place Jazz, but it will also be a test of the Celtics’ improved, second-unit offense.

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’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.


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.


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 — Jan. 10

VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 9


A kinder, gentler Bryant? | Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn | Stevens rejoins Celtics | NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio

No. 1: A kinder, gentler Bryant? For the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant‘s farewell tour has become the focus of their season. Which may be a good thing, since the Lakers otherwise haven’t been very good, compiling an 8-30 record thus far. Yet despite all the losses, Kobe seems to be enjoying himself as he plays out the string, and the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan writes, has Kobe’s legendary burning desire to win faded a bit in this his final NBA season?

It was bad to be a trash can if Kobe Bryant was mad.

This was years ago, back when there were championship expectations, but Bryant booted one clear across the Lakers’ locker room at Madison Square Garden after a rough loss.

It was also sometimes bad to be toilet paper, apparently. Bryant angrily called his teammates “soft like Charmin” during a rant at practice in which he didn’t feel challenged. This was a little over a year ago.

The smoldering Bryant is now replaced by a smiling one, even as the Lakers (8-30) pinwheel toward the worst season in their 68-year history.

They played well Friday but lost a tight one to Oklahoma City. The new, lighthearted Bryant showed up again in the interview room, just like the previous night after a close loss in Sacramento.

The losses don’t seem as devastating to him.

“I just hide it a lot better,” he said Friday.


No. 2: Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn Last summer, Brooklyn center Brook Lopez was one of the most talented big men available in free agency. He eventually re-upped with the Nets, and though the team has struggled this season, Lopez has been a bright spot, averaging 19.8 points to go with 7.8 rebounds. The Nets may face an uncertain future, but as Andy Vasquez writes for the Bergen Record, Lopez says he has no regrets about re-signing with the Nets…

The Nets are in the midst of another disappointing season, certainly far from what Lopez envisioned when he re-signed. But the 27-year-old doesn’t regret his decision.

“No, no, no. I’m happy to be here,” Lopez said Thursday at the team’s practice facility.

“Time and time again I’ve said I wanted to see something built here, I see a special opportunity, a great situation to be in.”

The current situation isn’t exactly a bright one. Brooklyn just lost starting point guard Jarrett Jack for the season with a torn ACL.

Rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who showed promise, is at least another month from returning from a broken ankle that has sidelined him since early December.

While the Nets aren’t mathematically eliminated from the NBA playoffs — it’s not even halfway through the season — they may as well be.

Brooklyn is closer (seven games ahead) in the standings to the awful Sixers than to the final playoff spot in the East (nine games behind).

The Nets don’t have control of their first round draft pick until 2019 thanks to the 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

So the franchise’s best chance is to hope free agents agree with Lopez about there being a special opportunity in Brooklyn.

Despite all the doom and gloom, the Nets do have some things going for them.

They should have about $40 million in cap space next summer, enough to offer two max salaries to free agents.

Barclays Center is still the league’s newest arena and the team’s state-of-the art Brooklyn practice facility opens next month. And then there’s the lure of the nation’s largest media market.

“The opportunity to play in New York, first and foremost,” Lopez said, when asked how he’d pitch the Nets. “The facilities we have. I think, for me, it’s all about potential.”

That potential starts with Lopez and Thaddeus Young, 27, two nice players with several prime years remaining in their careers. Both are having seasons worthy of All-Star consideration.

Meanwhile, Hollis-Jefferson was better than expected when he played. And the Nets have an intriguing young prospect in Chris McCullough, who has spent the season rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered at Syracuse a year ago.

Add the right pieces and the Nets could be a good team next season. And Lopez said that matters more than anything.

“At the end of the day, it’s about winning, regardless of where you are,” Lopez said.

“Whether we’re luring free agents or want people to stay or whatever it is, you’ve got to be able to show them that there’s opportunities here for that. We have to have the right product on the court.”


No. 3: Stevens rejoins Celtics Before joining the Boston Celtics, coach Brad Stevens led Butler University to several memorable NCAA Tournament appearances. And with his former Butler player Andrew Smith in the hospital battling cancer, Stevens recently missed a Celtics game in order to spend time with Smith. Stevens rejoined the Celtics on Saturday and, as the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn writes, says the last few days helped put things into perspective…

Celtics coach Brad Stevens returned to the team Saturday, conducting a rather important practice at the University of Memphis in his quest to end the team’s recent doldrums.

He returned from his trip to Indiana with a heavy heart. He acknowledged visiting former player Andrew Smith, who has been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but wouldn’t offer specifics on his condition, only to say he felt compelled to visit him immediately.

Stevens left the club in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, missing the team’s 101-92 loss to the Bulls.

“It’s very tough, not as tough on me as it is certain on [Smith and his family], but certainly emotionally, very challenging,” Stevens said following practice at the Larry Finch Center. “It certainly puts things in a lot of perspective. The conditions [of Smith] were worsening. I’ll let [his family] talk about his condition. I’m glad that I went.”

Stevens returns to a team that has lost four of five games and fallen out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics have been abysmal shooting from the field in their past two losses — 36.5 percent from the field, 25.5 percent from the 3-point line — and are playing with wavering confidence.

“We could have controlled things to give ourselves a little bit better chance,” Stevens said of the Chicago loss. “I told [the players] this today. We’ve got to get better in a lot of areas. But we usually play hard.

“Sometimes we play a little haphazard but we usually play hard, so we need to bottle that up and play a little more controlled at times.”

Isaiah Thomas, who has made just 11 of 37 shots in the last two games, took full responsibility for the Bulls loss, saying his poor body language and frustrations spilled over to his teammates. Stevens didn’t fully agree.

“I think it says a lot about him from an accountability standpoint,” Stevens said of Thomas. “And at the same time, that’s an overreaction too, because we don’t feel that way. He’s going to have his moments. Other guys are going to have their moments. Other guys are going to have bad moments. We just all have to be in this thing together. We need to improve.”


No. 4: NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio — The NBA has become a global league, followed worldwide and played by athletes from all corners of the earth. Australia, in particular, has become a hotbed of hoops, with its own popular domestic league and several NBA players who originated Down Under. As Roy Ward writes in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australians in the NBA are looking forward to trying to find Olympic glory this summer in Rio…

The 82-game NBA season engulfs the lives of all players and Australia’s basketballers are not immune from this.

But on planes, buses or in down time, the country’s leading players admit their thoughts turn to the Rio Olympics and the glass ceiling that sits in front of a first men’s Olympic medal.

Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Cameron Bairstow, Aron Baynes and Joe Ingles are all in thick of the action this season while Dante Exum continues to rehabilitate his reconstructed knee.

In Europe, in US college basketball and in the NBL sit the rest of the Boomers aspirants with the final 12-man squad not due to be announced until later in the year.

Since the team qualified for Rio in August last year, they have made public their goal to win the gold medal in Brazil despite Team USA’s long-running dominance in the men’s competition.

What adds credence to the Boomers’ brave stance is Bogut, Mills, Dellavedova and Bairstow are playing on NBA championship contenders while Bogut, Mills and Baynes have won NBA championship rings since 2014.

“There is a lot going on here but while it’s not the every day to day focus it’s always in your mind that it’s coming up and that all the boys are playing well, not just in the NBA but in Europe and the NBL,” Dellavedova said.

“We are all very excited and keep in regular touch through group message, we are going to catch up at All-Star break.

“We are all very excited, focused and committed to trying to do something really special at Rio and we realise the time is now for that.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks got a career night from Al Horford last night in a convincing win over the Bulls … Some changes may be in store for the D-League Showcase … Chicago is hoping to get Joakim Noah back from injury this weekRobin Lopez is starting to focus on his offensive post playIsaiah Canaan pays attention to advanced stats … Powerball fever may have been sweeping the nation the last few days, but don’t expect Dirk Nowitzki to get excited about it …

Larrañaga steps in as Celtics’ Stevens visits ailing Butler player

CHICAGO – Asked about his rare and unexpected stint as Boston’s interim head coach, working the sideline in Brad Stevens‘ absence from the Celtics’ game against the Bulls at United Center Thursday night, assistant Jay Larrañaga said yes, it was difficult.

“Difficult situation for Coach Stevens and people close to him obviously,” Larrañaga told reporters about 90 minutes before tipoff and six hours after learning he would be stepping into Stevens’ role. “So we told him, ‘Don’t worry about what’s going on here. We’ll try to keep the ship going straight.’ ”

Stevens, 39, in his third season with Boston after a successful run at Butler University, reportedly traveled back to Indiana to visit Andrew Smith, a former player in his program who has been battling cancer for two years.

Smith, a 6-foot-11 center, played for the Bulldogs in the 2010 and 2011 Final Fours and averaged 8.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 22.1 minutes in 134 games. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in January 2014.

Larrañaga, also in his third season in Boston, coached the Erie BayHawks in the NBA Development League for two seasons and previously had served as an assistant coach at Cornell University. He played at Bowling Green for his father, Jim Larrañaga, currently the head coach at the University of Miami.

Larrañaga had coached the Celtics entry in summer league but only once before stepped in for Stevens, taking over after his boss was ejected from a game last season against Sacramento.

He had breakfast Thursday with Stevens and was preparing to attend a coaches meeting at noon at the Celtics’ hotel when Stevens called, alerting him to his absence.

“Not a lot of time to stop and think about it once Coach called,” Larrañaga said. “I’m not going to be like Brad, he’s a very special person. I’m going to be my own person. But in terms of just their routine and what they’re used to, I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible.”

Larrañaga said he texted his father about his role. “He told me, ‘Don’t talk to the refs.’ ”

As for any Red Auerbach-type pregame or halftime speeches he’d been saving for just such an occasion, the Celtics assistant said: “I think it’ll be very brief.”

Celtics wing Evan Turner said Stevens’ decision to see Smith might provide added incentive for Boston, which had dropped three of its previous four games. It also told them something about their coach.

“That’s unreal. I think that speaks volumes in general,” Turner said. “Guys are lucky to be able to play for a coach like that. That says a lot about his character.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg spent five years at his alma mater, Iowa State, before being hired by Chicago last summer. So he knows about the relationships that college coaches develop with their players, even in the best of circumstances. Smith’s condition, obviously, takes that to another level.

“You do develop such a strong bond with your players,” Hoiberg said. “It’s not just the four years they’re in school with you – it really lasts a lifetime. You continue to have relationships with the guys. They become family members. You’re always going to do everything you can to look out for former players.”

Morning shootaround — Jan. 7

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 6


Curry won’t sit 4 weeks to heal injury | Gentry rips Pelicans’ effort vs. Mavs | Report: McCollum could have played last night | Raptors try to get by while Carroll mends | Lee officially out of Celtics’ rotation

No. 1: Curry unlikely to rest four weeks to heal troublesome shin — Several storylines follow the Golden State Warriors on a near-nightly basis now — whether or not they can surpass the NBA record of 72 wins set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, when coach Steve Kerr will return to the sidelines and whether or not Stephen Curry will suit up each night as he deals with a nagging shin injury. The first two questions remain unclear in terms of an immediate answer, but for the time being, Curry won’t be out of the lineup for weeks on end to heal the injury. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons has more on why Curry isn’t at risk if he keeps playing on the injury:

Warriors point guard Stephen Curry isn’t interested in sitting out four weeks to let the painful contusion on his left shin heal, and a noted orthopedic surgeon with a specialty in treating sports injuries says that’s just fine.

“He’s not risking his career or anything by this,” said Dr. Brian Schulz, who works for the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. “He’s just going to have to deal with pain, which he’s proven in the past is not a big deal for him.

“It’s not a serious thing, but it’s definitely something that could annoy him.”

Curry has been plenty annoyed by the injury, which occurred in the Warriors’ victory over Utah on Dec. 23. He has been kicked three times in the same spot since then, despite sitting out the Warriors’ back-to-back set last week in Dallas and in Houston.

It happened again in the third quarter Tuesday, when Curry’s shin smacked into the leg of Lakers center Roy Hibbert. The Warriors had to call a timeout calm the pain for Curry, who talked his way back onto the court.

“I’m not going to sit out four weeks, so we’ve just got to figure out how to protect it when I’m out there on the floor and keep playing,” said Curry, who is listed as questionable for Friday’s game at Portland on the team’s injury report. “We’ve done a good amount. I’ve just had a couple of unlucky plays. We’ll keep addressing it and keep treating it, I’ll keep playing, and hopefully, over time, I’ll get through it.”

The Warriors have been experimenting with different shin pads to protect Curry, and Schulz says anything that limits the force of the impact on the sensitive area is the correct way to go about it.

“The other option, which I know he’s not going to do, is just sit out until it goes away,” Schulz said. … “It’s not a structural-damage kind of thing. He’s not risking further damage, other than the fact that if he keeps banging it, it may linger around longer.”

Data curated by PointAfter

*** (more…)