Posts Tagged ‘Brad Stevens’

Summer Dreaming: Rookie of the Year


VIDEO: Nerlens Noel put on a shotblocking show throughout Summer League

Late summer in North America is the start of hurricane season, a time when the weather forecasters keep their eyes peeled for potential tropical disturbances.

But with the season openers less than three months away, we’ll start looking farther out over the horizon for an early peek at the 2014-15 NBA official award winners and a few extra categories, just for fun.

Our second annual Summer Dreaming Series starts today with a look at my top five picks for Rookie of the Year. Send me yours.

Nerlens Noel, 76ers — While all eyes have been on the big-name talent arriving in the 2014 Draft class, the guy who had originally been projected as the No. 1 pick in 2013 just might take a page out of Blake Griffin‘s delayed gratification book to steal the thunder and the trophy. After being sidelined by an ACL injury, there were times late last season when he was clearly chomping at the bit and openly talking about his desire to get on the court. Yet, the Sixers held firm in resting him all season. When Noel finally got to play in Summer League, he showed his athleticism, his explosiveness and defensive skills. He’s an active big man and with the Sixers’ goal of playing at a fast pace, he’ll get plenty of chances to run the floor and put up numbers. With Philly’s top pick this year, Joel Embiid, likely sidelined for the season, Noel will also get his share of minutes and more. The Sixers waited decades to get their first Rookie of the Year winner last season in Michael Carter-Williams. Now they could make it two in a row.

Jabari Parker, Bucks – There will be questions to answer. Is his long-term future in the league as a small forward? Or does he slide over and use his shooting ability as a stretch four? The general consensus is there could be others in this year’s rookie class with greater potential, but Parker is the one most ready to step into the NBA and thrive, perhaps even star, from Day One. The Bucks franchise certainly needs a fresh face as a headliner as they move to a new era with new ownership and a new coach (Jason Kidd). He wasn’t as flashy as the neon signs in Las Vegas during Summer League, averaging 15 points and eight rebounds. However, Parker has everything in his offensive arsenal — from step-back jumpers to finishing inside — that enable him to be the main gun in the Bucks arsenal. He’s the chalk pick to win ROY.

Marcus Smart, Celtics — Big man Julius Randle is playing for the other rebuilding traditional powerhouse out West and could have his minutes blocked by free-agent signees Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis. Smart, however, will have no such problems getting (and staying) on the floor in Boston. He either learns playing alongside Rajon Rondo or takes his spot if the Celtics do pull the trigger and trade the veteran. Smart’s offense is streaky and he’ll have to learn discipline with his shots. But he’s a defensive bulldog who loves the challenge and is also a willing pupil that will quickly become the pet project of coach Brad Stevens. Smart should be a mainstay in Boston as it moves ahead in its reconstruction process.

Andrew Wiggins, Cavaliers – His chances of latching onto the rookie hardware will improve the minute he gets his wish and the trade from Cleveland to Minnesota goes through. While there may have been less pressure to be a role player alongside LeBron James on the Cavs’ roster, Wiggins will certainly get more chance to shine as the new face of the Timberwolves. There is a lot to learn and improve on. He’s got a questionable handle and really needs to improve his shot, but those are fixable areas. What you can’t teach is a leaping ability that goes through the roof. Plus, there’s his willingness to defend that is not far behind his offense. A big question, though: will the burden of carrying a remade Minnesota team built around him wear him down and make his stats suffer? There is smart money that says Wiggins could one day be the best of the the bunch, but chances are his raw talent alone won’t carry him to the ROY.

Elfrid Payton, Magic – He’s got a jump shot that needs plenty of work, but everything else about his game will make him an instant hit in Orlando. In fact, he could be a dark horse in the rookie race all season long. Payton’s place will be starting at the point, ending the experiment at converting Victor Oladipo. Doing so will allow both young guards to thrive. He had a lot of turnovers in his summer league debut, but also put up plenty of good numbers scoring, passing and rebounding. The rangy playmaker showed a real knack for delivering open teammates the ball, too. Payton has elite-level athleticism, plus a nose — and long arms — for racking up steals. He’ll take his lumps in the learning process. However, a young Magic team will give him all the minutes and opportunity he needs to show that he’s a star in the making.

Things could still be ugly in Boston


VIDEO: Danny Ainge talks about the three-team trade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ainge says he’s not enjoying Riley’s pain


VIDEO: David Aldridge reports the latest on LeBron

ORLANDO – Three decades ago, they were on opposite sides of the NBA’s longest-running blood feud — Lakers vs. Celtics.

For the past decade they’ve held similar positions in Boston and Miami, dueling for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.

But Celtics general manager Danny Ainge says he’s taking no joy in watching Heat president Pat Riley on the horns of the free-agent dilemma with LeBron James.

“I don’t take any pleasure in anybody’s pain,” Ainge said Thursday at the Orlando Pro Summer League. “This is a tough business and free agency is part of what we all go through. I certainly don’t take any joy in seeing great players leave organizations that have been good to them.”

Never mind that Ainge might have helped grease the skids for James’ departure from Miami by aiding the Cavaliers in their bid to clear out salary-cap space.

The three-team trade also involving the Nets that sent guard Jarrett Jack to Brooklyn and guard Marcus Thornton and center Tyler Zeller to Boston along with a first-round draft choice became official at the end of the free-agent moratorium.

Ainge says his only motivation is to help the Celtics improve for the upcoming 2014-15 season, though he is known to be still searching for a way to swing a deal that might land Kevin Love in Boston. At this point, the Love scenario is a very long shot, because the Celtics simply do not have the goods to interest Minnesota in a trade. But that doesn’t mean he won’t continue to try.

In the meantime, Ainge and Celtics coach Brad Stevens both see Thornton and Zeller as contributors to their team right away.

“Ty Zeller is a big strong center that can also stretch defenses with his skill and really run the floor,” Stevens said. “I thought it was all positive from our standpoint.

“First and foremost, he’s a great transition rim runner, can really get out and fly up and down the court. He showed that at North Carolina. He’s got skill and can score on block. He handles and is savvy and can play facing basket.”

“Marcus can bring scoring, probably as a bench scorer,” Ainge said. “He can get hot. He had a 42- point game last season and can shoot from the 3-point line.”

Ainge’s only comment on the James affair was to say: “Wherever LeBron goes, the team’s a contender. That’s how good a player he is.”

Stevens was hired just days ahead of summer camp a year ago and was still learning which door to walk through when he arrived in Orlando. Now he is getting his first up-close view of the entire free-agent process.

“I’m probably more knowledgeable about our situation than maybe I sound, but don’t understand it to Nth degree,” he said. “As far was watching free agency, it’s hilarious. I just sit back and enjoy it.”

Orlando Pro Summer League tips off


VIDEO: The Summer League season begins Saturday in Orlando

It’s an annual coming-out party for NBA rookies, other young pros looking to hone their skills and move up the pecking order and a handful of older veterans seeking another crack at the big time. In this case, it’s also the long-awaited pro debut of Nerlens Noel.

The Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League tips off Saturday (9 a.m., NBA TV) with familiar names from the draft and plenty of other hopefuls hustling for an invitation to training camps in October.

Eight first-round picks from the 2014 draft — led by No. 4 Aaron Gordon of the Magic, No. 6 Marcus Smart of the Celtics and No. 10 Elfrid Payton of the Magic — will take part in the seven days of competition that will take place on the practice court at Orlando’s Amway Center.

Another major headliner will be Noel, the No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft, who sat out all of last season while recovering from knee surgery. He’ll finally get to scratch that itch to play. Sixers fans might get their first glimpse into bright future.

The games are not open to the public and will only be attended by media and league personnel. All games will be shown on NBA TV.

The 10 teams will each play five games, concluding with a championship day that will be based on standings. A point system will establish the standings leading up to the final day, with eight points awarded each game based on: four points for winning the game and one point for winning a quarter (in the event of a tied quarter, each team will receive 0.5 points). In the event of ties in seeding heading into championship day, three tiebreakers will be in place: 1) total point differential; 2) total points allowed; 3) coin flip.

Here’s a quick look at roster highlights for each of the 10 teams that will participate:

Boston Celtics — It’s the second year of the rebuilding program under coach Brad Stevens. The Celtics are hoping to get a big boost from their pair of first-round draft choices Marcus Smart and James Young. It’s not certain if Young will play after he suffered a strained neck in a car accident several weeks before the Draft. He’s been held out of early workouts at the Celtics’ training facility. Last year’s first-round pick Kelly Olynyk – the MVP of the Summer League last season — will return to Orlando, joined by fellow Celtics veterans Chris Babb, Chris Johnson and Phil Pressey.

Brooklyn Nets — Last year’s summer appearance by the Nets was most notable for the coaching debut of Jason Kidd, who proceeded to answer a cell phone call on the sidelines of his very first game. Kidd has been replaced by Lionel Hollins, who did a masterful job giving the Grizzlies credibility as a playoff contender. The Nets were without first-round draft picks as a result of the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trades last year. But on draft night they dealt cash for second-round picks Markel Brown, Xavier Thames and Cory Jefferson. Also playing for the Nets will be Mason Plumlee, who made a big impression a year ago and went on to become the All-Rookie first team center last season.

Detroit Pistons – It’s the beginning of a new era in Detroit with Stan Van Gundy’s arrival as both head coach and club president. Second-year Pistons players Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell will each be looking to tighten up their games to impress the new boss. Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler will practice with the team, but will not participate in games. The NBA D-League 2014 Defensive Player of the Year DeAndre Liggins will be on the roster, along with undrafted free agents Tristan Spurlock, Mustafa Shakur, Jordan Heath and Markel Starks.

Houston Rockets — It’s been a long time since the Rockets made Maarty Leunen a second-round pick out of Oregon in the 2008 draft, but the long-range bomber will be in Orlando to take his shot. Leunen has the shooting skill the Rockets seek, hitting 42 percent on 3-pointers the past three seasons in the Italian League. He’ll join up with last year’s rookies, Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington, who both got their feet wet last season with the Rockets. The 6-foot-9 power forward Covington was named the 2014 NBA D-League rookie of the year . The Rockets’ top draft pick Clint Cappela will not play, but second-round choice, Arizona guard Nick Johnson, will be on the court in Orlando.

Indiana Pacers – There’s not the usual summertime electricity in the air when you walk away from the draft without a single player. The Pacers’ roster will be anchored by last year’s holdovers Donald Sloan and Solomon Hill, who’ll be seeking to earn another season on the roster. Jake Odum was a four-year starter at Larry Bird’s alma mater Indiana State and will try to push Sloan for the third point guard spot. A back injury has scratched 10-year NBA veteran Roger Mason Jr. from his scheduled appearance with the Pacers.

Memphis Grizzlies — Second-year shooting guard Jamaal Franklin will head up the Grizzlies’ entry. Franklin saw time in 21 games for the Grizzlies last season. He’ll be joined by 2014 draft pick Jordan Adams (No. 22 overall) and Jarnell Stokes (No. 35). Adams was rated a terrific scorer and good offensive rebounder ahead of the draft, but some scouts labeled him unathletic. This is his first chance to prove them wrong. The roster, led by assistant coach Shawn Respert for the first three games and assistant Jason March for the last two, will feature three native Memphians, including Stokes, former University of Memphis guard Joe Jackson and former Ole Miss guard Terrico White.

Miami Heat – Gee, no pressure at all when LeBron James tweets that you were the best point guard in the draft. Assuming The King returns to Miami, everyone will be looking to see if Shabazz Napier can bring enough talent to South Beach to help make a difference for the point-guard poor Heat. Miami brass made its play for the guy who led UConn to another NCAA championship on draft night, swinging a deal with the Bobcats to get their man at No. 24. Seven-footer Justin Hamilton played seven games with the Heat last season. Point guard Larry Drew set the UCLA single season record for assists in 2013, but went undrafted and played last season for the Sioux City Skyforce in the NBA D-League.

Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder surprised many with their first round picks Mitch McGary (21) and Josh Huestis (29), mostly because they seemed to duplicate picks from a year earlier in Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. Plenty scouts were high on the big man McGary, and Huestis put his stamp on last season when he locked up and shut down No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. Adams and Roberson are back for another summer league run and will be joined by Jeremy Lamb and Grant Jerrett.

Orlando Magic — The hometown team will bring in a pair of top 10 talents from this year’s draft. The power forward Gordon has size and strength and a defensive nose. This is where he’ll start trying to add a jumper to his game that could vault him to the elite level in a couple of years. The Magic wanted Payton enough to give up a future first round pick for him at No. 10, and together with Victor Oladipo could give them an outstanding backcourt for years. Last year’s top pick Oladipo will be back on the summer league roster along with Stephen Curry’s brother Seth, who is still trying to carve out a place in the NBA. Matt Bouldin won the D-League championship with the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants last season.

Philadelphia 76ers – He’s been champing at the bit to get out on the court wearing a Sixers jersey in game conditions for more than a year, so don’t be surprised if Nerlens Noel jumps through the ceiling when he finally gets on the floor. The No. 6 pick in the 2013 Draft was rehabbed very conservatively, so now he’ll get to show off the all-around skills that had him listed as the No. 1 pick until his knee injury. Joel Embiid, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, will of course sit out following foot surgery. Last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams will be sidelined after surgery to repair a torn labrum. The Sixers roster will include the 32nd pick K.J. McDaniels, Jeremi Grant (No. 39), Vasilije Micic (No. 52) and Jordan McRae (No. 58). Also suiting up will be Pierre Jackson, who set the single-game D-League scoring record with 58 points last season.

No longer in college, Celtics’ Stevens grinds through long rookie season

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Celtics lost to the Mavericks on Monday night and have an 0-15 road mark against the West

DALLAS – When the Boston Celtics play the Miami Heat on Wednesday, it will be the 69th game of Brad Stevens‘ maiden season as an NBA bench boss.

That’s already essentially one-third of his six-year body of work — 215 regular-season and postseason tournament games — as the coach at Butler. Of the 13 first-year NBA coaches this season, Stevens is the only one making the leap from the college game and thus is the lone coach breaking into the rigors of the 82-game regular-season march. Ten first-timers served as NBA assistants. Cleveland coach Mike Brown had head coaching experience and Brooklyn’s Jason Kidd retired last season after a 19-year playing career.

If players in their first year out of college hit a rookie wall, what about coaches in their first year out of college? Not really, Stevens, 37, said. Although he noted the excessive losing in this so-far 22-46 season throws up its own kind of wall. At Butler, he won no fewer than 22 games and four times won at least 27 games. He lost 49 games combined, or 8.2 on average per season.

Particularly taxing this season, he said, is losing on the road, where the Celtics are 8-25. Monday night’s loss at Dallas cemented an 0-15 road mark against West teams, making this squad the only one in franchise history to go winless on the road against the West. In college, you flew back to campus and crawled into your own bed. Now it’s late-night flights to the next destination, beginning preparations for the next opponent, busing to the team hotel and finally setting the alarm clock for an early morning buzzer.

“It’s tough to lose,” Stevens said.”The flight feels a little bit different if you win. You sleep a little bit more soundly; you sleep with one eye open when you don’t win. Hey, it’s a miserable deal, right? Unfortunately we’ve experienced a lot of losses this year, so we’ve had more nights like that than the happy flights.”

What else has taken some getting used to?

“The lack of practice time is a little bit eye-opening, but the biggest thing is just the extra possessions in a game,” Stevens said. “It’s 50 more times Kevin Durant can touch the ball, 50 more times Anthony Davis can touch the ball, Dirk Nowitzki can touch the ball.”

Of course the college game is 40 minutes compared to 48 minutes in the NBA, so naturally there are more possessions at the pro level. Fifty more possessions is a bit high, but not by all that much. Stevens’ Bulldogs averaged about 66 possessions per game in his last two seasons there. His Celtics average about 96 possessions and that only ranks 17th in the league.

“What’s really amazing are the level of some of those guys,” Stevens said. “Some of those guys are at such a high level that even compared with the 350 best players in the world, they’re on a level way, way up there.”

It’s enough to make a rookie coach have plenty of nights when he’s sleeping with one eye open.

Luckless Celtics go 0-15 on road vs. West

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Nowitzki, Mavs fend off stubborn Celtics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re not giving up,” Bayless said.

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

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

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

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 18




VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kobe’s return | Rondo returns | Durant explodes | Rubio’s thrill is gone | Red-hot Grizzlies

No. 1: Bryant has no intention of sitting out — It doesn’t matter that if his Lakers continue to plummet in the standings. It doesn’t matter if the team might be better off the long run — and for the end of his own career — by getting a high lottery pick and maybe a budding young star. It doesn’t even matter what legend Magic Johnson thinks. Kobe Bryant says he has every intention of returning to the court this season because, well, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, he’s Kobe and that’s all he knows:

“The only thing I can afford to consider is getting better, getting stronger,” Bryant said before the Lakers’ 107-104 win over the Boston Celtics on Friday. “I can’t allow myself to think any other way. I can only think about the next step. To do anything else becomes distracting if you allow yourself, if you give yourself wiggle room to not push yourself as hard as you possibly can. To think about sitting out and this, that and the other, your motivation is all wrong. I refuse to think that way.”

Magic Johnson disagreed, as the former Lakers star questioned whether Bryant should come back at all this season in an interview with the Los Angeles Times this week.

“What is he coming back to? He’s not going to be able to stop the pick and roll, all the layups the Lakers are giving up,” Johnson told the newspaper. “He’s been hurt twice, give him the whole year to get healthy.”

In the same interview, Johnson called hiring Mike D’Antoni last season a “wrong decision.”

“Normally I don’t hear it until [the media] brings it up,” D’Antoni said, adding that he has never spoken to Johnson in person since joining the Lakers. “There’s voices everywhere, and it’s a hard job to do no matter what team you’re with. You do the best you can and you feel like every day is a new battle, and everybody has their opinion. There’s a saying about that. … So, that’s the way it is. You go on and do your job.”

Bryant, sidelined since Dec. 17 when he suffered a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee during the Lakers’ 96-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, said he will return this season so long as he is medically cleared.
“We’ll see where it’s at in February and see if it’s good to go,” Bryant said, pushing back his return timeline ever so slightly, with D’Antoni having recently said Bryant would be re-evaluated Jan. 27, at the conclusion of the team’s current seven-game trip while the Grammy Awards take over Staples Center.

***

No. 2: Rondo looks and feels good in first game of season — It was his first game in almost a year, but Rajon Rondo showed no ill effects of the surgery to repair his torn right ACL. Even though the Celtics let the Lakers close with an 11-0 run to win the game, the new team captain told A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com that overall conditioning in his biggest hurdle going forward:

“I felt pretty good,” said Rondo, who didn’t have any significant pain but knows that could change within the next 24 hours. “When I got back in the second quarter I got pretty winded, but that was expected. Other than that, I didn’t feel like I was limited to anything tonight.”

Rondo has reiterated time and time again that his conditioning, more than anything else, remains his biggest hurdle.
For the 19-plus minutes he played, Rondo didn’t appear to show any concern or apprehension on the floor relative to his surgically repaired right knee.

In fact, the biggest issue facing Rondo going forward doesn’t appear to be what he’s doing on the floor.
It has to do with what happens when he’s not on the floor for long stretches of time, something that will inevitably happen as long as he has to play with minute restrictions.

Prior to Rondo’s first game, head coach Brad Stevens said he would be limited to 18-20 minutes per game.
It is unclear how long he will have minute restrictions.
“Coach (Stevens) and I talked about my minutes, how we were going to spread it out, you know, five minutes a quarter,” Rondo said. “I think that’s the best way to do it.”

***

No. 3: Durant takes his game to new heights with 54 points — If there comes a times next May or June when Kevin Durant is raising the MVP award above his head, will this have been the night when he wrestled the trophy out of the grasp of LeBron James? K.D. took on the Splash Brothers Friday night and gave them a dunking with a career-high 54 points on just 28 shots and staked his claim in leading the Thunder past the Warriors. Berry Trammel of The Oklahoman says it was Durant’s best night ever:

“He’s a special talent, a superstar basketball player, an all-time great,” said Golden State coach Mark Jackson.
The game started as a sharpshooting duel between teammates. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who put the gold in Golden State, seemed to be playing a solitary game of H-O-R-S-E in the first quarter.

But by game’s end, there was no doubt who wore the crown. This was Durant’s finest offensive game as a pro.
Durant made 19 of 28 shots and virtually matched the long-range bombs of Curry and Thompson. The Warrior backcourt duo each nailed two 3-pointers in the first seven minutes and each nailed three treys in the first quarter.
Curry and Thompson finished with a combined 63 points. Curry had 37, making six of 10 3-pointers; Thompson had 26 points, making six of nine deep balls.

But Durant finished five of eight on 3-pointers. His 19 field goals tied a career high. The only two times he’s made more than 16 baskets in a game, he’s gone 19 of 28 overall. Friday against Golden State and Feb. 2012 against Denver, when Durant scored 51 points in a 124-118 Thunder victory.

But this performance was better. That Denver team included Andre Iguodala, one of the NBA’s few defenders capable of giving Durant a rough time, but Iguodala missed that game.

Now a Warrior, Iguodala played 29 1/2 minutes Friday night but was no match for Durant.

“The great players, you can play great defense and he can have numbers,” Jackson said. “It’s just a question of making him work. He hit some tough shots, some incredible shots. Give him credit.”

Durant now is averaging a career high 30.6 points a game this season. He was asked to carry a heavier load when Russell Westbrook underwent another surgery just after Christmas, and Durant has responded. He’s averaged 36.8 points the last five games.

***

No. 4: Rubio says he isn’t having any fun these days playing ballRicky Rubio says a lot of the blame for the Timberwolves disappointing 18-21 start to the season should be placed on his shoulders. The flamboyant point guard admitted to John Krawcyznski of the Associated Press that he just isn’t enjoying playing the game this season:

“I’m going to be honest. I’m not feeling comfortable out there,” Rubio told The Associated Press after a light practice on Thursday. “I’m not being myself and the team is noticing. I just have to be back where I was, be myself. I’m working on that. It’s something that’s missing. It’s tough for me, too.”

Rubio’s shooting numbers have never been great, but harping on that always seemed to be nitpicking for a player who sprinkled magic point guard dust all over the court — slipping passes through a defender’s legs for an open 3-point shot, picking a player’s pocket to start a fast break and seeing windows open before the defenders knew what hit them.

Even when he wasn’t starting his rookie season, the arena would crackle when he stepped to the scorer’s table to check in and his teammates’ eyes would widen in anticipation of a passes that came from impossible angles. It was still there last season when he returned from a torn ACL in December, even though his body took some time to ramp back up to the NBA’s pace of play.

“It’s basketball. I love it,” Rubio said. “But I’m just not having as much fun as it used to be. I know it has to be professional. But I just want to have fun. It’s hard to find it right now.”

***

No. 5: The Grizzlies are finally making their move –Just in case anybody forgot how important Marc Gasol is in Memphis, the All-Star center made a game-saving deflection to clinch a win over the Kings. The Grizzlies are now 3-0 since he returned to the lineup after a knee injury, have won five in a row overall and have crept back above the .500 mark and into the playoff picture in the West. Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal has the details:

Gasol said later that he got fortunate on a gamble. But nothing about the Grizzlies’ season-high, five-game winning streak could be reduced to a stroke of luck.

The Griz (20-19) moved above .500 for the first time since early December and now they can claim a steadily improving defense. Memphis trailed 86-79 with 5:19 left and allowed Sacramento just one field goal the rest of the game.
Gay’s putback dunk cut the Grizzlies’ lead to a point with 38.9 seconds left. There had been no movement in the score when the Kings received the ball with 15.1 ticks remaining.

The Griz were as disruptive on the final possession as they had been the second half of the fourth quarter. Gay had the ball slapped away twice as he tried to attempt a game-winner from 15 feet. The Kings never got a clean look at the basket down the stretch.

“We’re making the right decisions at the right time,” Conley said after scoring a game-high 25 points. “I told the guys that it’s good to have games like this where you have a little adversity and come back. Those are the ones you learn from the most.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: J.R. Smith shows signs of positive life in Knicks loss … DeAndre Jordan wants to be more than just a dunker Jimmer Freddette could be turning a corner with steady playing time.

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 31


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Lakers, Cavs talk Gasol-for-Bynum swap | Rondo to D-League for rehab? | Adelman rails over Wolves’ loss to Mavs | Jazz show more improvement

No. 1: Report: Lakers, Cavs talk Gasol-for-Bynum swap — Disgraced Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum had his best years in the NBA as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. Pau Gasol, the Lakers power forward who has fallen out of favor with coach Mike D’Antoni, could use a change of scenery himself, too. Those factors, plus a looming luxury tax hit facing the Lakers has L.A. pondering a move that would briefly bring Bynum back to Lakerland, if only to help the Lakers’ cap situation in the immediate future. Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN.com have more on the deal talks between Cleveland and Los Angeles:

The Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers have had discussions on a trade that would involve Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, league sources told ESPN.com.

No deal is believed to be imminent, but both sides are mulling it over ahead of a Jan. 7 deadline when the second half of Bynum’s $12.25 million salary would be guaranteed. The Cavs suspended Bynum for one game this weekend for conduct detrimental to the team and have excused him indefinitely from all activities, including games.

By trading Gasol in a package for Bynum and then waiving him, the injury-ravaged Lakers could save more than $20 million in salaries and luxury taxes, which could help them maintain financial flexibility heading into the next few summers. A Gasol-Bynum trade would have to include at least one other player and perhaps other assets from Cleveland.

The Lakers have been luxury-tax payers for six straight seasons. While the luxury-tax savings this season — and ability to avoid the repeater tax penalty that kicks in when a team is a taxpayer in four out of five years starting with the 2011-12 season — would undoubtedly help the Lakers’ long-term flexibility, the franchise’s history and organizational culture make that a difficult prospect to consider.

The Cavs have been after Gasol since this past summer, when they had extensive discussions with the Lakers, sources said. Those talks ended when Dwight Howard signed with the Houston Rockets. The Cavs, who have been struggling, are looking to upgrade their roster as they attempt to end a three-year playoff drought.

The Cavs also have had separate discussions with the Chicago Bulls on a Bynum trade for Luol Deng, according to sources. The Bulls are in a similar position as the Lakers, about $8 million into the luxury tax and dealing with an injury-marred season.

Deng, like Gasol, is a free agent-to-be, and such a trade-and-waive deal with Bynum also could save the Bulls in excess of $20 million in salary and taxes this season. However, the Bulls have maintained they do not want to trade Deng and believe they will be able to re-sign him after the season.

If Bynum is waived by the Cavs or any team that might trade for him by Jan. 7, Bynum likely would have multiple offers to join a team as a free agent.

In addition to talks of a Lakers-Cavs swap, Jason Lloyd of The Akron Beacon-Journal has a very in-depth look at why teams like the Knicks, Nets, Clippers and others could possibly pull a similar cap-room saving deal like the one Los Angeles is after:

There are six teams currently over the NBA’s luxury tax and in line to pay significant penalties at the end of the season. While the Cavs search for a trade to unload Andrew Bynum, those are likely their best — and perhaps only — potential trade partners between now and Jan. 7.

No team that actually wants Bynum is likely to trade for him because his contract for this season becomes guaranteed for $12 million after Jan. 7. But a team trying to get under the luxury tax threshold of $71.7 million could trade a hefty salary to the Cavs for Bynum and release him prior to Jan. 7, while Bynum’s cap figure can be reduced to $6 million.

The problem is the Cavs are no longer interested in taking on bad money for contracts that extend beyond this season, so they would either be searching for an expiring contract or it would have to be a player they genuinely like. It’s a narrow window of teams, which is what makes trading Bynum tricky.

If the Cavs don’t find a deal to their liking, they can either release him prior to next week and clear $6 million in cap space leading up to February’s trade deadline or hold onto Bynum, pay him the full $12 million for this season and try again to trade him around the draft. They would have until June 30 to trade him before his $12 million salary for next season becomes guaranteed.

By retaining him and paying him the full $12 million, it would essentially force Bynum to miss the rest of the season and create a $12 million trade chip around the draft.

One more disclaimer, it’s conceivable (though not likely) a non-contender could do the same thing. Another team with cap space could trade for Bynum, slide his $12 million figure into their cap and only have to physically pay him about half of that for the rest of the season. Then they would have a $12 million trade bullet to fire around the draft and until June 30.


VIDEO: The Beat crew chimes in on the Cavs and Andrew Bynum

***

No. 2: D-League stint a possibility as Rondo continues rehab — If things go how Celtics coach Brad Stevens plans, the attendance at Maine Red Claws games could soon see a serious spike. Stevens’ star point guard, Rajon Rondo, is continuing to practice with the team, but his return to the lineup remains a ways off. While Boston readies for a West coast road trip. Stevens told Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe that sending the All-Star guard to Boston’s NBA D-League affiliate for additional rehab work isn’t out of the question:

Rajon Rondo practiced again with the Celtics on Monday and is slowly returning to basketball shape and perhaps his rehabilitation may include a stint with Maine of the NBA Development League, according to coach Brad Stevens.

Stevens said Rondo likely wouldn’t return to the Celtics during their five-game West Coast road trip beginning on Jan. 5 but he could spent time with Maine practicing and playing in D-League games before coming back to the NBA.

Rondo has not played since Jan. 25 because of a torn right anterior cruciate ligament.

“I would make that a decision on him and our staff,” Stevens told the Globe following practice at the Celtics Training Center at Health Point. “That is something that has been discussed, probably some positives and negatives to that, but at the end of the day, it is an option as part of his rehabilitation.”

When asked if Rondo would travel west with the Celtics, Stevens said: “And playing? I have not been given any indication he would be playing that soon. It’s going to be on him. Physically, I think he’s looking better and better. But that’s to be expected, you’re going to gain more confidence but I don’t know when that translates to ready to play.”

Stevens former point guard at Butler, Ronald Nored, is a player development coach in Maine and he and Rondo have discussed the possibility of Rondo spending some time there.

“That would be positive,” Stevens said of Nored’s presence with Maine. “The extra practice time they have between games is a possibility, getting a chance to play multiple games in that area is a positive. So there are a lot of positives, getting your legs underneath you a little bit.”

The Celtics have not used their D-League affiliate for rehabilitation over the past few years. The last Celtics regular to see a stint there was Avery Bradley during his rookie season. Little-used rookies Fab Melo and Kris Joseph spent time with Maine last season.


VIDEO: Celtics coach Brad Stevens talks about Boston’s upcoming game against the Hawks

***

No. 3: Adelman, Wolves rail about loss to Mavericks — Minnesota has been struggling to get itself over the .500 mark for the last few weeks, but last night’s game against Dallas would have given the Wolves their fifth chance this month do perform that feat. The Wolves found themselves down 21 at one point, but rallied back and had a shot at a game-tying bucket with 3 seconds left in the game. Minnesota worked the ball over the Kevin Love for a baseline jumper, who appeared to be fouled by Shawn Marion, but no call was made. Marion saved the ball before it went out of bounds and the Mavs left with a victory. Afterward, the Wolves — and coach Rick Adelman in particular — lamented the seeming lack of star treatment that Love received, writes Jerry Zgoda of The Star-Tribune:

When it was all over and they had carefully selected their words in attempts to ease their frustration without lightening their wallets, the Timberwolves lamented Monday’s 100-98 home loss to Dallas both because of their astoundingly uneven ­performance and Kevin Love’s still presumably incomplete superstar status.

Afterward, the Wolves ­discussed both how they lacked urgency in a game they had every reason to win and how they were wronged by no whistle when the game was on the line and the ball was in the hands of their star who had already delivered another 36-point night.

While Marion sat in the Dallas locker room, chuckling and saying he committed no foul, Wolves coach Rick Adelman expressed his exasperation.

“He got fouled,” Adelman said. “I wonder what that would have been if [Dallas star Dirk] Nowitzki, LeBron James, all the top players in the league … A guy reaches on a last-second shot like that instead of challenging it. Maybe they don’t understand Kevin is one of the top five players in this league.”

Long after the final horn, Love was asked if he had been fouled. “You saw the replay,” he said.

Then he was asked about Adelman’s comments.

“Of course I agree,” Love said. “I’m the type of person that if you see a foul — an obvious foul — you call it. I thought that was pretty, pretty obvious. Just look at the replay: Without saying too much, you look at the replay and it was obvious he got arm. I didn’t know how to react. I couldn’t, I wasn’t going to yell at him. That wasn’t going to do anything.

“I just walked off the court, just tried to keep my head up.”


VIDEO: Wolves coach Rick Adelman fumes after no foul was called on Kevin Love’s final shot

***

No. 4: Jazz continue to show improvement — With a 1-14 start to the season, the Utah Jazz looked to be headed for perhaps their worst season ever in Salt Lake City. What was lost on many during that putrid start, though, was that the Jazz were playing without their prized rookie point guard, Trey Burke, and were giving major minutes to journeyman point guards such as John Lucas III and Jamaal Tinsley. While Utah hasn’t pushed for the playoffs or anything since Burke has returned, it has looked like a more formidable squad with a brighter future than was seen just a month ago, writes Trevor Phibbs of The Deseret News:

Tanking for lottery position? Not exactly.

After starting the season 1-14, it appeared Utah was headed for record-setting futility. However, with the emergence of rookie point guard Trey Burke, the Jazz have climbed to respectability. Their ascension continued Monday as they closed the 2013 calendar with an 83-80 win over Charlotte at EnergySolutions Arena.

It was the 10th straight win over the Bobcats for Utah, which improved to 9-7 with Burke, Gordon Hayward, Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams and Derrick Favors together in the starting lineup.

“It gives us a lot of confidence winning close games, especially at home,” explained Burke, who scored a game-high 21 points with five assists. “We feel we’re coming together as a team and we’re learning to play with each other more and more. As long as we continue to strap down on defense I think we’ll be good.”

Leading 78-77, Burke hesitated deep into the shot clock, beat Walker off the dribble and iced the win with a scoop off the glass.

“That’s why I went to the basket,” Burke said. “There was about two seconds left and I figured he thought I was going to shoot the shot, but I felt I could get a better shot and I went after it.”


VIDEO:
Rookie Trey Burke talks about his basket to clinch Utah’s win over Charlotte

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Raptors could be making a color scheme change in the future to a black-and-gold look inspired by musician Drake … The Bucks will be without young big man John Henson (ankle) for two weeksKevin Love is the latest of many NBA stars to copy Dirk Nowitzki‘s patented one-legged fallaway jumper

ICYMI Of The Night: As a guard, the 6-foot-4 John Wall is a pretty decent shot-blocker. But who knows what he was thinking when he decided to go up and contest this coast-to-coast dunk by 6-foot-11 Pistons big man Greg Monroe


VIDEO: Greg Monroe posterizes John Wall with a coast-to-coast jam

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 23


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sometimes Love isn’t enough | Stephenson spoils Indy return for Stevens | Pistons ride roller coaster | Wade’s Holiday surprise

No. 1: Timberwolves get monster effort from Love and still lose – Kevin Love has been toiling like this now for a while. He puts up monster numbers, epic numbers often, only to see his Minnesota Timberwolves come up short in seemingly winnable games. Sunday night was no different, with Love posting just the fourth 45-points on 65-percent shooting, 15-rebounds and 5-assist game since the NBA/ABA merger and the Timberwolves found a way to fumble away a late lead in regulation and lose to the Los Angeles Clippers in overtime.

It makes you wonder if the Timberwolves are ever going to figure things out with this particular group … Rick Adelman in charge, Love and Ricky Rubio leading the way and Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and others as role players.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com ponders the thought:

It’s getting harder and harder to believe in Minnesota, even for those among us who were ready to anoint them as this season’s Warriors. It all looked so promising six weeks ago. The Wolves were quickly mastering Adelman’s read-and-react offense from the high post and perimeter, but could also bully opponents down on the block.

The defense wasn’t half-bad either. Through the end of November, the Wolves ranked 9th in defensive efficiency. They didn’t have a legitimate rim protector on the roster, but they had good size, Ricky Rubio’s pressure up top, Corey Brewer’s skills as a stopper on the wing, and a very large man in Pekovic who nobody wants to encounter in the paint.

The December schedule hasn’t been terribly friendly, but the Wolves have been terrible, their big home win over Portland last Wednesday the one strand of hope. The offense looks nothing like anything Adelman has ever presided over. Half-court possessions are labored affairs, slow grinds into post isolations for either Love or Pekovic.

Martin has battled a knee injury for much of the month and hasn’t looked like himself. As a linchpin of the corner offense, Martin is often a bellwether for Adelman offenses, and if he’s not producing, chances are the offense is dragging.

The Wolves’ 3-and-D guy, Brewer, is shooting 17.1 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, defenses willingly slough off Rubio, practically begging him to shoot. With his confidence waning, Rubio is still racking up assists, but is less a playmaker than a reversal machine, swinging the ball to the second side without truly challenging the defense.

Speaking of defense, the Wolves have given up 106.6 points per 100 possession, a mark that would rank 28th in the NBA. Asked to identify the specific problem prior to the game, Adelman said, “We’re not guarding anybody.” Those big bodies now just look slow. Whether it’s Martin or J.J. Barea alongside Rubio, the Wolves don’t get much defensively at the 2. Brewer has conceded that his wayward shot is affecting his defense.

***

No. 2: Stephenson’s triple double trumps homecoming for Stevens – So much for that storybook homecoming for former Butler and now Celtics coach Brad Stevens. The Indiana Pacers, particularly Lance Stephenson, were having no part of the Holiday cheer. Stephenson collected his league-leading third triple-double of the season as the Pacers trounced the Celtics. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t help but dance a little bit (something Pacers coach Frank Vogel could have done without) on his way to yet another stellar performance.

Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star explains:

Stephenson finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists and looked very much like a player deserving of his first All-Star berth. No other player in the NBA has more than one triple-double this season.

“I’m happy I did it,” he said. “It was in the flow of the game. My teammates helped me out. We played smart. It was easy because I know my teammates are going to knock down shots.”

Stephenson did get plenty of help, most notably from Paul George, who scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. Danny Granger, playing in his just his second game after returning from a calf strain, was 4-for-5 from 3-point range and had 12 points. Roy Hibbert had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

But his teammates acknowledged afterward that Stephenson provides them an emotional lift like no one else.

“He’s just starting the game off more aggressively,” George said. “In practice, he’s been great. We’ve seen it develop over time. Now, when he gets into the game, it’s second nature to him.”

Added veteran forward David West: “One of the biggest things for young guys in the NBA is that once you work your way into the rotation and you become a guy we rely on, that just fills you up. We give him a lot of room to go out and play his game. … He definitely keeps us on our toes and keeps things light. He’s able to just do something we’ll talk about on the plane. It’s just who he is.”

Vogel wasn’t thrilled with a couple of celebration dances Stephenson did after baskets, but didn’t have much else to complain about.

“He’s such a gifted passer and playmaker for us and a huge part of our team success,” Vogel said.

STEVENS‘The emotions are in coming back and seeing friends’

Stevens, the former Butler coach who left the school in July to join the Celtics, got a warm ovation during pregame warmups and his team kept it close for one quarter.

But after that, the Pacers (22-5) showed why they have the Eastern Conference’s best record. They outscored Boston 50-22 in the paint, got 40 points from their bench and held the Celtics to just 38.1 percent shooting (32-for-84) en route to an easy victory.

As the game ended, Stevens shook hands with Vogel, a rarity at the end of a NBA game. He also shook the hand of several Pacers players.

“It was just because we’re friends and we know each other well,” said Vogel, noting they also shook hands after the Pacers’ 97-82 victory in Boston last month. “I came down and told him he was doing a great job with that team.”

***

No. 3: Pistons’ roller coaster season confounds – If Maurice Cheeks had the answers he’d have pushed those buttons already. But he doesn’t and he hasn’t. And therefore, the curious ride of the Detroit Pistons continues as the coach and his staff try to figure out how to stop the roller coaster ride that is their season and stabilize things. That’s a lot easier said than done, however, as Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News points out:

The last two home games, losses to the Houston Rockets and Charlotte Bobcats on consecutive nights over the weekend, is a clear example of nobody knowing which team will step on the floor on a given night.

“You know we’re still trying to get better,” Cheeks said. “As I said to our players, there’s going to be some good nights and bad nights. Last night (Friday) and (Saturday) was not our best.”

Cheeks believes the Bobcats loss led to the poor showing against the Rockets. The Pistons blew a 20-point lead to Charlotte on Friday and looking almost apathetic on Saturday.

“I believe there could’ve been some carryover,” Cheeks said. “I can’t discount that because it was a tough loss.”

Losing five of six at home is an unexpected circumstance, although there isn’t much shame in losing to the Miami Heat in a game where the champions were intent on sending a message.

But blowout losses to the Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves are combined with come-from-ahead losses to the Bobcats and Portland Trail Blazers, mixed in with a win against the Brooklyn Nets that was tougher than it needed to be.

“I don’t know, I don’t know. I guess that’s determined when we go up and down the floor a few times,” said forward Josh Smith, when asked about getting a pulse on the team’s energy before games.

.***

No. 4: Wade surprises Union with Holiday ring – Heat guard Dwyane Wade has no problem mixing business with pleasure. He used Heat boss Pat Riley‘s annual Holiday party as his impromptu engagement party after officially popping the question to longtime girlfriend Gabrielle Union before they arrived at Riley’s affair. The surprise engagement was announced via social media. But Union showing up with a huge diamond ring on her finger added an extra dash of flair to the festivities, upstaging Riley at his own gig in the process, not that anyone was complaining about that. In fact, Wade popping the question was a bit of a team effort, so says Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

Wade proposed to Union before the party at his home and then announced the engagement on Twitter and Instagram.

Wade said his children helped him pop the question.

“We asked her to marry all of us, not just me,” Wade said. “It was a package deal.”

Wade and Union have dated since 2007.

“She was ready,” Wade said. “She had the ‘yes’ in her back pocket.”

At the holiday party, Wade then surprised his teammates with green custom-made sports coats commemorating their 2013 championship. The blazers featured the players’ jersey numbers on the sleeves and white Heat logos on the front pockets.

Wade said his inspirations for the unique mementos were the Masters golf tournament and Rasheed Wallace. Wallace famously had pro wrestling-style replica championship belts made for his Pistons teammates for winning the 2004 NBA Finals. Wade liked Wallace’s idea but wanted something a little classier.

Said Wade: “You know me, I’m always trying to do something different and out of the norm, and I started thinking about what have previous champions done … and then it came to be me, because of fashion and because of the Masters and how amazing it is when they win the green jacket and all the previous winners come back and take pictures with the green jackets and how prestigious it is … so I got with my stylist and created this Masters kind of feel.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Thunder fell victim to the red-hot Raptors and the schedule in their first home loss of the season Sunday … Much like their NFL counterparts, the Dallas Mavericks are having no problems scoring. It’s the defense that they are struggling with these days … The Hawks have brought big man Lucas Nogueira to Atlanta for treatment of his ailing knees.

ICYMI Of The Night: Kevin Love put up the stat line of the night and delivered the elbow of the week, but Blake Griffin got the win, the knot on his forehead and the shine on Nightly Notable …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin gets the shiner (on his forehead) and the shine in the end