Posts Tagged ‘Brandon Rush’

Morning shootaround — Nov. 29

VIDEO: The Fast Break: Nov. 28

Rush puts latest ‘wow’ in W’s | Wizards hard to please in swoon | LeBron saves day, J.R.’s D | McCollum’s audience of 1

No. 1: Rush puts latest ‘wow’ in W’s — All right, the Golden State Warriors are just messing with The Association now. Racing to their 18-0 record, the NBA’s defending champions are posting stupid numbers of superiority and seem almost to be handicapping themselves just for sport. For instance, reigning MVP Steph Curry scored 17 points in the first quarter of his team’s victory over Sacramento while taking only six shots. Draymond Green, who in previous generations might have gotten dismissed as a ” ‘tweener” and been sent packing to multiple teams as a seventh or eighth man, became the first Warriors player since Wilt Chamberlain to post consecutive triple-doubles. Golden State already has outscored opponents by 288 points in just 18 games,’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss reports, and then – even as Harrison Barnes goes out for what could be a couple weeks there’s the whole Brandon Rush thing Saturday:

So, how does a team that averages a blowout top itself? On Saturday night, joyous surprise came in the form of a quick strike Brandon Rush throwback game. He was called upon to replace Harrison Barnes (sprained ankle) in the starting lineup, to some surprise. He didn’t deliver much in the beginning but owned the third quarter like Klay Thompson in disguise. Rush scored 14 points in a 3-minute, 49-second stretch that was shocking, fun, and possibly cathartic.

Rush has a history here, having done nice work for a very different Golden State team, not entirely long ago. On the 2011-2012 Warriors, he was the rare good role player, a glue guy in a situation too shattered to matter. On Nov. 3, 2012, against the Grizzlies, a Zach Randolph shove sent Rush’s career into dormancy. He’d scored 2,639 points in his four-plus seasons before his ACL injury. In the two seasons that followed, he scored 109.

In the background, he has been a vocal part of the locker room, originator of the, “Get what you neeeeed!” catchphrase, meant to inspire work between practices. He’s a popular teammate, someone people here have been pulling for to finally reclaim what he lost. That was palpable in the frenzy of his 14-point explosion. Teammates were clearly looking for Rush, hoping to extend his moment.

After a dunk over contact, Rush was found for three consecutive 3-pointers. Then, during a timeout, interim coach Luke Walton and assistant coach Jarron Collins decided to carry the fun further, calling up “Elevator Doors” for the suddenly hot Rush.

“Elevator Doors” is a play that looks like its namesake. An offensive player runs off the ball between two screening teammates, who converge together to block his defender — the closing doors. It’s a play normally called up for the best of shooters, as it creates a 3-pointer on the move. You’ll see Curry get this play call. You’ll see Thompson get this play call. Something crazy has to happen for almost anyone else to ditch the stairs and take the lift. Since three straight 3s qualifies, Rush got the call, got the ball and … splash.

The crowd went nuts, only outdone by a Golden State bench that might have accidentally created dance moves never before invented.


No. 2: Wizards hard to please in swoon — All it took was a playoff sweep of the Toronto Raptors for the Washington Wizards and their fans to go all-in on the small-ball, pace-and-space style of offense so popular throughout the league. All it has taken to shake them from that embrace is four defeats, strung together last week in five nights against Indiana, Charlotte, Boston and Toronto. That shiny, new attack doesn’t look so dazzling anymore, and center Marcin Gortat sounded ready to throw it under the bus to get his old bruise buddy, Nene, alongside him again in a big-man tandem that, weeks ago, seemed prehistoric. Gortat also wasn’t happy with what he termed “negativity” in Washington’s locker room, saying: “”It’s not even fun coming here anymore.” Here is an excerpt of J.Michael’s Wizards insider report for

“We missed some shots but it’s tough also because with the system we play, four outside one inside,” he said after 16 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday’s 84-82 loss to the Toronto Raptors. “I’m by myself over there fighting for the rebounds. Usually you got two, three guys inside the paint so it’s a little bit different without Nene being at the four.”

Nene, who started alongside Gortat as the power forward, missed Saturday because of a left calf strain. Even though his career rebounding numbers are modest (6.6), Nene tends to clear the traffic around the rim to allow Gortat to rebound.

Of course, last season Gortat wasn’t happy on the offensive end because being on the floor with Nene being there clogged the paint and caused difficulty for him, as well as John Wall on drives, to operate. The idea of moving Nene to the bench and sliding in someone who has three-point ability into that role opens the floor but usually comes at the cost of rebounding.

The Wizards are 6-8 and struggling with their identity, and minus-28 in rebounds during this four-game losing streak. Playing the old way got them to the Eastern Conference semifinals two years in a row.

Kris Humphries had started every game at power forward as his three-point shooting evolved but has only made one deep ball in the last five games. For the first time Jared Dudley, who is undersized at 6-7 and was a teammate of Gortat’s with the Phoenix Suns, started there Saturday. He had seven points and four rebounds.

“Jared is a different player. He’s giving a lot to the team. I love to play with him,” Gortat said. “But just as Jared is giving us offensively great opportunities, we’re suffering on rebounds a little bit. It is what it is.

“Coach [Randy Wittman] is still looking for the right guy at the four spot. … It’s tough. Everybody has to do more now, including me. It’s not easy.”


No. 3:LeBron saves day, J.R.’s D — A late-game mistake nearly torpedoed the generally good defensive work that Cleveland’s J.R. Smith turned in on Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson. But LeBron James‘ late-game heroics averted that particular disaster on a night in which the two Cavaliers – a study in contrasts in so many ways, in demeanor and drive – were their team’s best story. Dave McMenamin of saw it as further steps in the championship contender’s progress toward the goal:

There they stood next to each other in the back corner of the Cavaliers’ locker room Saturday: one with aspirations of being known as the G.O.A.T., the other narrowly avoiding becoming the goat for the night, thanks to his ambitious friend hitting a game winner that absolved his defensive sin in the previous possession.

For James, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about his final stat line of 26 points, nine rebounds and five assists or anything too outlandish about him hitting the clincher; he has done it plenty of times before. But it was the nature of his final shot — an eight-foot, driving hook shot over the 7-foot Brook Lopez — that made it unique.

“I don’t think I’ve ever made a game winner off one of those,” James said. “I’ve made layups. I’ve made pull-ups. Obviously I’ve made step-back jumpers. I’ve probably never made one of those for a game winner. So, I might go to the skyhook next time. … Brook, he did not think in his wildest years that I was going to shoot that one.”

For Smith, unfortunately, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about his ill-advised foul on Joe Johnson’s 3-point attempt with 15.2 seconds left and the Cavs leading by three. Smith has committed mental mistakes by fouling in inappropriate situations before, be it Friday night against Charlotte on a Nicolas Batum 3 or the mountain of miscues he had late in Game 2 of the Finals. But it was his overall defensive effort — a career-high four blocks, three steals and the primary defensive assignment on Johnson to begin with — that warrants mentioning

“I know as long as I can bring that enthusiasm and toughness on the defensive end, then we will have a better chance of winning than if I’m just making shots,” Smith said. “I have to be a two-way player.”

It could be seen as troubling that Cleveland needed the double-rainbow-like performance to win a home game against a Brooklyn team that’s now 3-13. There could be legitimate points made about Cleveland’s big-man trio of Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Timofey Mozgov — making a combined $28.7 million this season — combining on the court for just 12 points on 5-for-18 shooting, 20 rebounds and six turnovers against the Nets. There certainly has been a bit of hand-wringing among team observers wondering when the on-court product would actually look as good as the Cavs’ 13-4 record is.

The flip side to that: You have developments such as Smith becoming a key cog in Cleveland’s fourth-quarter, switch-everything defensive lineups and encouraging quotes such as James crediting coach David Blatt for the “designed play.” However, Blatt passed the praise to his star player, saying, “Just the way I drew it up. … Give it to No. 23.”

Like James and Blatt’s relationship, or Smith’s commitment to something other than taking contested jump shots to James putting in so much time in practicing a specialized shot such as that running hook that he would actually feel confident enough to use it in crunch time, Cleveland’s season goals are all about growth.


No. 4:McCollum’s audience of 1 — When Portland shooting guard C.J. McCollum sank the first four shots he took against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Trail Blazers’ eventual home victory Saturday, he simply was following instructions. His own instructions. Turns out, McCollum – who scored 19 points in the first half and finished with 28 points as Portland won for the third time in four games – had given himself a rather demanding pep talk before the game and Jason Quick of was on hand to witness it:

It was a mostly silent Moda Center when CJ McCollum took the court about two hours before Saturday’s Trail Blazers game. The music had yet to start blaring from the speakers above, and there were only a limited amount of players on the court.

It was quiet enough to hear McCollum engage in what would be an important conversation … with himself.

“Get up!” McCollum told himself as he attempted a shot.

The next shot, it was the same thing. “Get up!’’

And so it went for the next 15, 20 minutes.

“Get up!” … Swish … “Get up!” … Swish.

Nearly every shot was accompanied by a reminder to both get arc under his shot, and lift from his legs.

“Sometimes, my shot is a little flat,’’ McCollum said. “I’m shooting more of a line drive, so I just remind myself that I’ve got to get it up.’’

McCollum, who is averaging 20.4 points while shooting 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range, says he often talks to himself during shooting routines. Usually, he talks to himself in his mind during morning sessions at the team’s practice facility. Other times, he is more audible. Either way, he find the personal reminders offer “positive reinforcement.”

“We shoot so many shots that sometimes, you baby it, hold back a little bit,’’ McCollum said. “So I remind myself to get it up, let it go.’’


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It has taken the proverbial New York minute for the Knicks and their fans to swap out the question mark after Kristaps Porzingis‘ name with an exclamation point, and our man Lang Whitaker tells the tale of New Yorkers’ newfound 7-foot-3 source of hope and optimism … Detroit coach and basketball boss Stan Van Gundy had center Andre Drummond in his crosshairs, asking more from the big man who has given the Pistons so much this season, at least in terms of gaudy rebounding numbers. … Here’s some video of Kobe Bryant on that kid McCollum’s growth in Portland, on the young Lakers and on the inevitable march of time. … Here at HangTime HQ, we can’t remember the last time Father Time grabbed 18 rebounds in a game but we do know when San Antonio’s Tim Duncan most recently accomplished that. … The Bulls need Derrick Rose to play more like Derrick Rose, especially when trying to score, though some doubt he’ll ever quite make it back. … Did someone say back? That’s what Rockets fans wonder, while waiting for Donatas Motiejunas to come back in his recovery from back surgery. … ICYMI, this Philadelphia 76ers fan’s lament does some serious Sixers ‘splaining. … The way Brook and Robin Lopez mock-bicker and tease each other – over their cats, their personalities, you name it – you might find yourself wishing they were conjoined rather than merely identical twins.

Aldridge: Jazz well positioned to match Hayward’s big offer

VIDEO: Gordon Hayward made his presence felt all throughout Utah’s 2013-14 season

The Charlotte Hornets went for it late Tuesday night, agreeing to terms with Utah Jazz restricted free agent Gordon Hayward on a four-year, $63 million offer sheet, as first reported by the Charlotte Observer and Yahoo! Sports. When the sheet is signed Thursday, the Jazz will have three days to match it, and retain Hayward. If they don’t match, he would go to Charlotte.

But, by all indications from Utah’s braintrust, it’s going to match. And it really isn’t that hard a decision for them, for several reasons:

1. Utah was prepared. Utah’s stripped its team salary down to the studs over the last year, mainly by absorbing the unwanted deals of Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush and Andris Bierdins from Golden State last summer as part of the three-team deal that allowed the Warriors to sign Andre Iguodala as a free agent.

The Jazz got 2014 and ‘17 unprotected first-rounders from Golden State, using this year’s extra first on swingman Rodney Hood with the 23rd overall selection. (Utah also got 2016 and 2017 second-rounders from Golden State, and a 2018 second from Denver to help facilitate the deal.)

With Jefferson, Rush and Bierdins all coming off the Jazz’s salary cap, they shed $24 million in salary. That’s more than enough to take on Hayward’s estimated first-year salary of $14.7 million (the exact number won’t be known until the final 2014-15 cap is determined in the next couple of days) in his new deal. They’ll also have room aplenty to sign first-rounders Dante Exum ($3.6 million next season on his rookie scale contract) and Hood ($1.2 million).

In essence, Utah would trade the salaries of Jefferson, Rush and Bierdins in order to re-sign Hayward, add a potential stud in Exum and get a solid rotation prospect in Hood — all without getting anywhere near the cap or luxury tax thresholds. That’s an easy call. Exum and Hood are on rookie deals for the next several seasons, and if Exum is anywhere near as good as advertised, Utah will have a star player vastly outperforming his contract, a reasonable tradeoff even if Hayward underperforms his contract. (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 11

VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 11


Report: Aldridge may pass on Team USA | Rondo mentoring rookie Olynyk | Jazz parents question lineups vs. Blazers | Charlotte to unveil new Hornets logo soon

No. 1: Report: Aldridge yet to talk to Colangelo about Team USA spot — Big man LaMarcus Aldridge has been a crucial reason for the Blazers’ early-season success and standing among the upper crust in the Western Conference. It was reported in October that Aldridge, who is among the names being bandied about for this season’s MVP, would want to play on Team USA for the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball in Spain. But so far, according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, Aldridge hasn’t contacted USA hoops boss Jerry Colangelo about his interest:

Despite saying he would reach out to USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and express interest in playing this summer, Aldridge has not done so, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because of the fluid nature of the relationship.

In October, Aldridge told CSN Northwest that he planned to contact Colangelo about playing for the U.S. in the summer. Earlier this year, Aldridge said, “If they call me, I’m definitely interested in doing it.”

But Aldridge hasn’t called, and if he truly wants to play (and he might not), he misread the situation. Colangelo is not going to call Aldridge and ask him to play, believing that USA Basketball doesn’t need solicit players.

Colangelo is a strong believer in what he calls equity, a term he uses repeatedly when discussing players who have shown a commitment to USA Basketball.

Aldridge has not built that equity. In 2010, he withdrew his name from the pool of candidates for the world championship team. And in May 2012 hip surgery took Aldridge out of consideration for the London Olympic team.

In 2007, Aldridge withdrew from with the U.S. select team, which scrimmaged against the national team before the FIBA Americas Championship, and in 2009, he pulled out of USA Basketball mini-camp, one year before the world championship.

Team USA could use Aldridge. But if he doesn’t want to play, Colangelo isn’t going to beg, not when others — such as Anthony Davis, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins — have shown a willingness to play.


No. 2: Rondo takes on mentoring role with rookie Olynyk — Celtics star guard Rajon Rondo ended his long media silence yesterday, providing Boston fans with a long-awaited update on how his recovery from ACL surgery is going. In short, Rondo isn’t about to rush back, but he’s seeing progress more and more each day. That means, for now, Rondo will continue to sit on the bench in a suit. But when he’s on the bench, Rondo often sits near rookie center Kelly Olynyk and does what he can to offer words of teaching and praise to the youngster, writes Jessica Camerato of

There are no assigned seats on the Boston Celtics bench, but the unspoken arrangement had been consistent early in the season. Team leader Rajon Rondo, sidelined by an ACL injury, had the first chair next to the coaches while 11th-year veteran Keith Bogans, who plays sparingly, sat next to him. The rest of the team followed after with levels of experienced mixed in across the sideline.

The order shifted when rookie Kelly Olynyk suffered a sprained right ankle on November 22 in a game against the Indiana Pacers. Dressed in a suit, he initially sat next to Bogans. During his injury, the order changed again. Olynyk began taking in games one chair up the bench flanked by Bogans and Rondo. Bogans made the decision to help the rookie learn in the midst of the action.

“[I gave him my seat] so he could talk to ‘Do (Rondo), sit in between the two of us,” Bogans explained. “We could talk to him about the game a little bit, educate him a little bit. He’s a young guy. He needs to learn. [I decided to] put him between us, listen to what we’re talking about.”

Even though he has not played in nine straight games, including Tuesday’s contest against the Brooklyn Nets, he is finding out about pro basketball from a different perspective.

“I try to learn as much as I can [watching the games next to my teammates],” Olynyk said. “It’s a great opportunity. You’re there for three hours, critiquing the game. … [It helps] just being able to see what drives success at this level and what works, what doesn’t work, how guys like to play, that sort of stuff. You can learn everything. A lot of times it just comes down to playing hard, playing smart, playing tough.”

Sitting in between a savvy veteran and one of the top point guards in the league has bolstered that learning experience. Both Olynyk and Bogans emphasized the educational value watching a game next to Rondo.

“He’s like a coach,” Bogans said. “He’s into the game the whole time, he knows everything that’s going on, pays attention to everything.”

Echoed Olynyk, “He’s real intellectual. I learn tidbits from the game, angles, good stuff, bad stuff. It’s like a tutorial basically.”

Olynyk is working to return to the court, and when he does he will have years of his teammates’ experience to add to his own.

“It’s a great opportunity, to learn to grow, to become a better player,” Olynyk said. “It’s something you can’t take for granted.”


No. 3: Parents of Jazz youngsters question lineup moves — This is perhaps all to be taken with a HUGE grain of salt, especially when considering much of the conversation took place via Twitter. That being said, Andy Larsen and the fine folks over at noted that both Jazz veteran Brandon Rush and the parents of rookie guard Trey Burke took to Twitter during Utah’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers to question either their role on the team or the team’s rotation. In short, Rush — who was a DNP-CD for the Portland game — was asked why he didn’t play while Ronda and Benji Burke (Trey’s parents) questioned why veteran Andris Biedrins were playing over rookie big man Rudy Gobert:

With the frontcourt of Richard Jefferson, Mike Harris, and Andris Biedrins starting the 4th quarter tonight, Alec Burks not getting playing time in crunch time after leading the team in scoring, and Rudy Gobert’s DNP-CD, there was much consternation surrounding the team, especially on the Twitterverse. Jazz Twitter, even nationally, is well known for its slightly kooky opinions, and general tendency for overreaction.

That being said, typically reaction does not come from personalities so close to the team. Brandon Rush, also the recipient of a DNP-CD, responded this way when he was asked why he didn’t play:

Then, both of Trey Burke’s parents got in the action. Trey’s mother Ronda started by calling for the rookie French center Rudy Gobert to receive playing time over Andris Biedrins and whatever Biedrins is at this point of his career:

Then Benji, Trey’s father and agent, got into the mix, denigrating the Jazz’s 3rd quarter performance and the overall veteran-heavy strategy:


No. 4: Charlotte to unveil new Hornets logo before Christmas — During the offseason — on July 18, specifically — the NBA approved the Charlotte Bobcats’ request to switch their name and colors to that of the last NBA team in town: the Charlotte Hornets. That name change and color swap won’t take effect until the 2014-15 season, but in keeping with the team’s season-long push to drum up interest in the change, the team will reveal their new Hornets logo on Dec. 21. The Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell has more on the news:

The Charlotte Bobcats plan to unveil their new “Hornets” logo at halftime of the Dec. 21 home game against the Utah Jazz. This is the next step in their rebranding to the Hornets, which takes force at the start of next season.

The team previously revealed, in an interview with the Observer, that it will adopt the Hornets’ traditional teal-and-purple as primary colors next season. Uniforms will be the next step, sometime over the next few months.

Bobcats owner Michael Jordan will do the logo unveiling at a halftime ceremony for the game, which starts a half hour later – 7:30 p.m. – than most Bobcats home games at Time Warner Cable Arena.

The game against the Jazz is the first of five “Buzz City”-themed giveaway nights. The team will distribute long-sleeve “Buzz City” T-shirts that night to the first 10,000 fans through the doors. Later giveaways will include bobbleheads for former Charlotte Hornets Dell Curry, Muggsy Bogues and Kelly Tripucka.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: So far this season, Sixers big man Spencer Hawes is hitting 3-pointers at a rate better than Ray Allen … Rockets guard Jeremy Lin says he’ll play against Portland … Fresh off a win over the Heat, the Pacers get more good news — Danny Granger says he should return soonShaquille O’Neal once put former Suns teammate Gordan Giricek in a sleeper hold

ICYMI Of The Night: There are fadeaway jumpers, and then there are faaaaaade-away jumpers like this one John Henson hit last night in Chicago …

VIDEO: John Henson clinches the win with a rainbow fadeaway jumper

Are Jazz Primed For A Rare Stop In Western Conference’s Cellar?


HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The last time the Jazz finished last in the Western Conference was 1979-80, their first season in Salt Lake after the team packed up and left New Orleans. There’s been only a few close calls over the decades, most recently a 26-win, second-to-last finish in 2004-05.

But not dead last.

At 24-58, Utah finished the ’79-’80 campaign tied with Golden State at the bottom of the 11-team West and pulled up the rear in a Midwest Division that went Milwaukee, Kansas City, Denver, Chicago. The Jazz had a 32-year-old “Pistol” Pete Maravich, whose knees were so shot that he played in just 17 games and retired, and a 23-year-old Bernard King, who played in just 19 games and sought help for a drinking problem.

Future Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley, then 23, averaged 28.0 ppg and found a home in the NBA. Shooting guards Ron Boone (12.8 ppg) and Terry Furlow (16.0 ppg) provided the majority of the backcourt scoring. Duck Williams chipped in 6.6 ppg off the bench, ABA vet Mack Calvin averaged 6.4 ppg in 48 games and 24-year-old journeyman Brad Davis signed late and played 13 games before spending the next 12 seasons in Dallas, who retired his No. 15 jersey.

As this mostly unrecognizable and already banged-up 2013-14 team tumbles toward the starting gate, they could use any of those old guards — forget John Stockton — for a little backcourt help. With non-playoff teams like Minnesota, Portland, New Orleans and Dallas looking improved, and new coaches and philosophies in Phoenix (led by ex-Jazz assistant and legend Jeff Hornacek) and Sacramento, could re-booting Utah be in jeopardy of its first last-place finish in three-plus decades?

That might not be all that bad — or even, wink, wink, the plan — considering the anticipated bumper crop of the 2014 Draft. Even money is on the Jazz equaling the 24 wins of ’79-80 when Tom Nissalke‘s club averaged 102.2 ppg to also finish dead last in scoring in a much different 22-team NBA. Through five preseason games, Utah is averaging 87.0 ppg and 18.8 apg, both of which would have ranked last last season.

The Jazz certainly didn’t intend to lose top Draft pick and starting point guard Trey Burke to a busted right index finger in the preseason. He was averaging 7.0 ppg (on dreadful shooting) and 4.0 apg before undergoing surgery to repair the bone. He’ll miss 8-12 weeks, delaying his development. Plus, this team is not one built to endure injuries anywhere.

In the interim, the always game, if not so venerable, John Lucas III appears to be the Jazz’s starting point guard. The next game he starts will be his third entering a sixth season bouncing in and out of the league since 2005. He’ll pair in the backcourt with either Alec Burks or Gordon Hayward, who whether starting at shooting guard or small forward (Richard Jefferson has started three preseason games here), will have to be this team’s Dantley.

Backcourt depth isn’t inspiring. Brandon Rush has yet to play as he recovers from last season’s torn ACL. Undrafted rookie combo guard Ian Clark has managed just 11.8 mpg in four preseason games. Lester Hudson and Scott Machado are scrapping for minutes.

After Burke’s broken finger there were rumblings of interest in bringing back free agent Jamaal Tinsley. Considering the Jazz aren’t exactly worried about losing ground in November — this season’s writing is on the wall — they might be more inclined simply to ride out Burke’s injury.

Just don’t expect smooth sailing. The Jazz get something of a break in their first six games, likely missing Russell Westbrook in their Oct. 30 opener against Oklahoma City, Rajon Rondo at Boston on Nov. 6 and perhaps Deron Williams the night before in Brooklyn. In the other three games they’ll face Phoenix’s new tandem of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe on Nov. 1, Houston’s James Harden and Jeremy Lin on Nov. 2 and Chicago’s Derrick Rose on Nov. 8. Then comes this six-pack of opposing point guards: Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday, Tony Parker, Steph Curry in a home-and-home series and Holiday again.

Ever-knowledgeable Jazz fans have shown a level of understanding as the franchise shifts directions and amasses Draft picks. Now comes the hard part — showing patience. They stand to witness more losses this season than since well before coach Jerry Sloan walked through that door.

Clark Ready For Opportunity With Jazz


HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Advanced metrics are at the heart of measuring a pro prospect’s potential. But as newly signed Utah Jazz guard Ian Clark is out to prove, number-crunching can’t measure heart.

He’s used to the doubts.

The skinny kid from Memphis didn’t get a scholarship offer from his hometown Tigers after four stellar years at Germantown High School. And after four tremendous seasons at Belmont as a knock-down shooter on three NCAA Tournament teams and an all-conference defender, not even the hometown Grizzlies, rooted in defense and desperate for perimeter shooting, showed much interest in this 6-foot-3 ‘tweener — undersized by NBA standards to play shooting guard and not a natural point guard.

“Not that I know of,” Clark said from Memphis in a Tuesday morning phone interview about 18 hours after he signed his contract in Salt Lake City and was introduced as the latest member of the youth-movement Jazz.

“I guess it’s kind of instilled in me now since I’ve been growing up,” the 175-pound Clark said of being a perennial underdog. “I’ve never been the premiere player, per se, and getting all the attention, so I’ve kind of gotten used to that. At the same time, it’s a sense of pride and sense of confidence that you have in yourself that you want to prove you can compete with anybody. So that’s kind of the chip I’ve had since high school and throughout college and now I have to do it at this level.”

NBA TV’s David Aldridge covered every angle of Clark’s basketball journey through the Summer League, including his awesome 33-point championship game with the Golden State Warriors that Clark’s agent Bill Duffy said put his client “over the top.”

Clark, 22, said he picked the Jazz over a few other interested teams as well as some lucrative options overseas because of the team’s foundation of young players and the opportunity to break in quickly.

The Jazz totally revamped their backcourt outside of shooting guards Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks. They acquired shooting guard Brandon Rush, drafted point guard Trey Burke out of Michigan and signed journeyman point guard John Lucas III. Clearly, the point guard position could provide plenty of opportunity for a player who seizes it.

So now the question is: Can Clark, a high-character person play the point at a high enough level in the NBA? At Belmont, he shot better than 48 percent for his career and 42.5 percent from beyond the arc. He only averaged 2.2 assists in his career, but he wasn’t asked to set people up; he got set up to let it fly.

“I look at myself as a combo guard, being able to utilize my shooting ability when needed, but also being able to bring the ball upcourt and initiate the offense and get guys going,” Clark said. “I’m definitely not a pure 1 (point guard), but I’ve been working a lot this summer on my ballhandling and making the right reads, ball screens and defense.”

Playing for Miami in the Orlando Summer League, Clark scored 15 points on Burke and the Heat. With Golden State in Las Vegas, he averaged 9.0 ppg until he scorched the  Suns for seven 3-pointers and was named the title game’s MVP. He averaged 1.4 apg while the Warriors up-and-coming shooting guard Kent Bazemore handled the point the majority of the time.

“I’ve been playing 2-guard my whole life,” Clark said. “I think it’s definitely going to be a transition, but once I get used to it, once I get with Utah and coach [Ty Corbin] really helps me out, I think I’ll be able to transition into a combo guard.”

That’s the Jazz’s hope.

Injuries Loom As Teams Make Playoff Push

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Oklahoma City, Memphis and Miami, feel fortunate, very fortunate, and proceed with caution.

As the regular season churns down to a handful of games over these final 16 days, the three teams above are the only ones of the 16 current playoff teams, plus the desperately-trying-to-get-in Los Angeles Lakers, currently unaffected by injury — or injuries.

Playoff seeding, and ultimately playoff series, could tilt on an injury report that seems to grow with each passing game.

The Grizzlies caught a break with the quick return of center Marc Gasol from an abdomen injury. Initially the team listed him as out “indefinitely.” Later, Gasol said he’d be back for the playoffs. Next thing you know he’s back after missing just two games and right back on his game.

The Heat missed Dwyane Wade for a couple games during their win streak and, of course, he, LeBron James and Mario Chalmers came down with those, ahem, previously unreported injuries prior to Sunday’s game at San Antonio. Speaking of the Spurs, Manu Ginobili‘s most recent ill-timed injury (hamstring) has put the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed firmly in play Thursday night when San Antonio visits a Thunder team as healthy as any can be 70-something games in.

Few are so fortunate, and let’s start with the carousel of injuries that have beset the Lakers. Kobe Bryant continues to play through a sprained ankle and whatever else, Dwight Howard still deals with the sporadic shooting pain from the torn labrum in his shoulder and Pau Gasol is finally back. But Metta World Peace (knee) won’t be back and Steve Nash (hip) is “doubtful” for tonight’s big showdown against the never-say-die Dallas Mavericks (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

The Lakers won’t receive sympathy cards from Denver, which could be without spark plug point guard Ty Lawson (heel) until the playoffs. As soon as Chauncey Billups (groin) finally returned he was gone again, and couldn’t the sinking Clippers use him right about now?

Houston’s All-Star James Harden can’t seem to shake a sprained right ankle. Jazz reserve big man Enes Kanter (shoulder), whose March was his biggest month of the season, is out indefinitely. Golden State is essentially healthy, having lost Brandon Rush way back in the opening days of the season.

Over in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls shake their heads at any team ruffled by a single injury, or two. The Celtics, having adjusted to life without Rajon Rondo, plus rookie Jared Sullinger are without Kevin Garnett (ankle) and Paul Pierce missed Monday’s loss at Minnesota for “personal reasons,” according to coach Doc Rivers. Meanwhile, Boston is dangerously close to slipping into eighth place and a first-round matchup against the Heat.

In the Big Apple, the injury list goes on and on: Tyson Chandler (neck) remains wait-and-see, Amar’e Stoudemire (knee) and Kurt Thomas (foot), very likely could join Rasheed Wallace (foot) as being shut down for the season. The Knicks, busting through it all with an eight-game win streak, continue to battle for the No. 2 seed with the Indiana Pacers, who have five straight and learned last week that Danny Granger (knee) won’t be making the late-season comeback they had expected just days earlier.

And those scrappy, scrappy Bulls by now must be resigned to a full season without Derrick Rose (knee), and they may have lost Rip Hamilton (back) for the season. They hope to soon get center Joakim Noah (foot) back in uniform, as well as Marco Belinelli (abdomen).

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets, finally with Deron Williams healthy and playing like an All-Star again, would love to say the same about Joe Johnson (heel).

As the playoffs quickly approach, time is running short for players and teams to get healthy.

The Hunted: Warriors, Rockets & Jazz


It’s not a question of if we make the playoffs. We will. And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone — Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver…whoever.
— Kobe Bryant

Over his 17 seasons in the NBA, Bryant could always guarantee that he’ll do something absolutely amazing with the basketball just about every time he steps onto the court.

He can shake off an 0-for-10 shooting start to bury a half dozen jumpers and an opponent in a fourth-quarter blink of an eye.

He can duck and whirl through traffic, change hands with the ball and squeeze through a crack in the defense for a clutch how-did-he-do-that bucket.

He can rise up with a hand in his face, almost down his throat, and knock down an impossible 3-pointer with the sheer grace.

He can lead a 20-0 comeback in the final 6 1/2 minutes to pull out a dramatic and critical 108-106 win over the Hornets.

But no matter how many times or how emphatically he says it, what Bryant cannot guarantee is all that can happen with the teams in front of his underachieving Lakers in the Western Conference standings. For even if the Lakers put on a strong finishing kick — say 14-6 or 13-7 — they will still likely need one or more of the Warriors, Rockets and Jazz to tumble.

Can it happen? Sure. Will it happen? Nothing guaranteed. Sometimes it’s not about the hunter, but the prey.

No. 6 — Warriors (35-27)

Back in those long ago days of early February when his team was threatening to compete for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the playoffs, coach Mark Jackson liked to shake his head and scowl at the doubters who didn’t think his Warriors could run and shoot and play defense all at the same time. Maybe those doubts were just premature. Over the past five weeks, the Golden State defense has fallen off any one of the area’s picturesque bridges and sunk to the bottom of the bay. (more…)

In Rookie Class, Barnes Stands Tall

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Only the Portland Trail Blazers’ Rookie of the Year frontrunner Damian Lillard has started as many games in his first season as Golden State Warriors rookie forward Harrison Barnes.

The No. 7 overall pick out of North Carolina has proved invaluable to the Warriors’ surge this season considering they’ve been without injured swingman Brandon Rush and until just a few nights ago, Andrew Bogut.

“Coach has done a great job of setting a standard of what we need to come in and do every single day, playing hard and we have a lot of guys that want to win,” Barnes said last week during a phone interview with “Guys like David Lee, Steph Curry, veteran guys that really want to win and that filters down to everybody else.”

After Barnes put up 12 points, four rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes during Thursday’s 100-97 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Golden State improved to 29-17, just one-half game behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the coveted No. 4 spot in the West standings. Two nights earlier, Barnes threw down a massive, right-hand jam on Raptors center Aaron Gray as part of a 14-point, five-rebound night.

So why does it seem like the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Barnes has been buried under the rookie hype machine during the first half of the season?

“I think I’ve been playing pretty well,” Barnes said. “I’m starting on a team that is fifth in the West, so there’s really no complaints.”

In two weeks, the nation will get a better look at the incredibly athletic, intrinsically low-key Barnes as he’ll participate in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge that kicks off All-Star Weekend in Houston.

The 2012 rookie crop is turning out to be pretty stout. While Lillard, the No. 6 overall pick, is having an absolutely mammoth season as Portland’s starting point guard and is a major reason why the Blazers remain in playoff contention this late into the season, Barnes is showing to have been a deft pick by the Warriors.

Barnes, 20, has provided athleticism and tough, physical play on both ends while instantly being inserted into the starting lineup with Curry, Klay Thompson and Lee. Barnes ranks in the top 10 among the rookie class in most key statistical categories. Against Dallas on Thursday, he posted up O.J. Mayo, spun around him and got to the rim and buried a pretty turnaround jumper over Vince Carter.

(Of course, Carter taught Harrison a rookie lesson at the end of the first half when Carter faked an injury in the corner. Barnes left him alone and Carter broke to the basket wide open and got the pass for a dunk. Lesson learned.)

Barnes is averaging 9.0 ppg (seventh among rookies), 4.3 rpg (eighth) and 25.5 mpg (ninth). His 3-point percentage (35.9) ranks fifth, his overall shooting percentage (43.1) is 11th and he ranks eighth in made free throws (71).

The Warriors look to keep getting better when Phoenix visits Saturday night. Then it’s a tough, four-game road trip through Houston, Oklahoma City, Memphis and Dallas.

“We’re going to continue to stay humble and continue to play with that edge,” Barnes said. “We never want to get complacent, never want to just be happy with where are. We’re going to continue to work every single day continue to get better.”

Curry’s Play Vindication For Warriors

HANG TIME WEST — The latest performance, 22 points Saturday in Washington, was a continuation of Stephen Curry‘s hot streak and could be considered, by comparison, a down game because Curry also had four turnovers against five assists and was two of eight on 3-pointers.

A positive outcome even on a night of grinding gears, all the way to the Golden State victory itself, the 101-97 roll in the mud with the Wizards. This is what vindication looks like.

That four-year, $44-million rookie-deal extension he signed Oct. 31?

Then: Understandable-but-risky move for a player with a history of injury problems.

Now: Wise investment.

Sharp change of thinking, yes, especially with the season merely at the quarter pole, but the Warriors look smart and will still look smart even if Curry cools into an ordinary player. Which is the whole point. Giving Curry a contract extension and beating the Halloween deadline was a pre-emptive strike to head off the offers from other teams in July 2013 as much as it was a vote of confidence for his delicate ankles. Plus, the Warriors now know the price of keeping him would have gone up. Maybe a suitor with the chance to hand Golden State an offer sheet lined by fire, maybe in the updated demands from Curry himself, but the first 20 games is time enough to see that $11 million a season wouldn’t get it done in the summer, health willing.

Curry is averaging 37.3 minutes and has yet to miss a tip. The ankles appear to be in proper working order again. That’s obviously reason for encouragement.

It’s his play, though. Curry shooting 42.9 percent is a developing area of concern that can no longer be discarded as an early-season slump, but that should come around. He didn’t suddenly turn bad after the 47.3 percent of the first three seasons. (And Curry is at a respectable 42.5 behind the arc, so defenses are hardly to the point of backing off on the perimeter.)

Curry is looking more like a point guard, as indicated by the recent string of four games in a row with at least 20 points and 10 assists, putting him alongside Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook as the only players to accomplish that since 2009-10. And as indicated by the Eastern Conference executive who recently told Hang Time CEO Sekou Smith: “This is the player everyone was excited about when he was at Davidson. You knew he had the potential to be a dynamic scorer and a great shooter. The question was always going to be about his ability to adjust to being a full-time point guard and whether that would take away from his scoring ability. When he and Monta [Ellis] were there together and he was always hurt, it didn’t look like he was going to get there. But he’s doing both right now and doing them well.”

Remember, Curry was already held in high regard in many front offices. He was high on the New Orleans wish list for a Chris Paul trade, but the Warriors wouldn’t budge. (Ellis yes, Curry no.) Now, opponents see that the ankle is holding up and that Curry can put up assists even as the leading scorer on a team playing well through the adversity of losing Andrew Bogut and Brandon Rush to injury. Point guard, 24 years old, can score and pass, solid citizen – yeah, the money would have changed by the end of the season.

That holds even if Curry does not maintain this pace because the package of position, skill set and age is now combined with the play, however temporary. This is the trajectory. Only the sight of Curry on the court and clutching an ankle changes that.

Warriors Take Another Step Toward Respectability

DALLAS — Are the Golden State Warriors to be taken seriously as Western Conference playoff contenders?

They say their 105-101 overtime victory against the Dallas Mavericks Monday night, coming one night after losing at Oklahoma City and with several ready-made moments to quit and sleep it off  on the long flight home, is further proof that these Warriors are in the fight for the long haul.

Golden State is now 6-5 on the young season after taking two of three on the road. They are two wins that can be nitpicked because they came against injured opponents: the ravaged Minnesota Timberwolves and the Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavs, a struggling club that’s now 6-6, but one that was 4-1 at home.

“We’re a young basketball team and you realize people [will say] Dirk Nowitzki’s not there, Kevin Love’s not there or Ricky Rubio or (Nikola) Pekovic,” second-year Golden State coach Mark Jackson said. “At the end of the day we don’t have Brandon Rush. At the end of the day we don’t have [Andrew] Bogut. We’re missing two guys that [are] legitimate guys in our lineup. That’s neither here nor there. We’re going to find ways to gut it out and compete. Winning against two teams that’s going to be in the mix in their building says a lot about this basketball team and their mindset.”

It said a lot about point guard Stephen Curry, who yet again tweaked his ankle, landing on a foot after rising to the rim early in the fourth quarter. His response? A total takeover. Twenty of his game-high 31 points came in the final period and overtime.

“I never want to see him roll his ankle like that, but it seemed to make him mad,” said forward David Lee, who dominated inside with 17 points and a game-high 19 rebounds. “He went off after he did that. He made plays not only for himself, but for others; made a couple of great plays on defense, got a rebound at the end. He’s a great player and we’re happy to have him as our point guard.”

The strength of Curry’s fickle ankles could ultimately determine if the Warriors are for real. But, assuming health, Jackson has an intriguing roster that is beginning to resemble the tough, resilient identity he’s preaching. The Warriors crushed Dallas on the boards, 62-43, and 19-7 on the offensive glass, leading to an identical edge in second-chance points.

Pounding the glass was huge considering the Warriors shot just 40.7 percent for the game and coughed up the basketball 21 times. But they also forced 17 turnovers and, for the eighth time in 11 games, held their opponent to below 44 percent shooting.

For much of this one it was difficult to discern good defense from atrocious offense, but the Warriors have a track record now, having entered Monday’s game ranked fifth in the league in field-goal percentage defense at 42.9 percent. That’s right, a Warriors team that’s getting grimy on the defensive end. At the end of regulation and overtime, the Warriors got critical stops that won the game.

“The record shows, the history of this team alone, you’re not going to be successful just relying on the offensive end,” Jackson said. “But if you hang your hat on the defensive end, good things can happen.”

And, so, the Warriors wonder how much better they can be with the 7-foot Bogut manning the middle. But, as Curry noted, in the big man’s absence they are also discovering the character of their roster. On Monday, rookies Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli started and combined for 29 points and 20 rebounds. Rookie reserve Draymond Green added nine points and seven boards. Jackson said he could point out 10 players who aided in what he deemed a “big time, big time win for a young team.”

So are the Warriors for real? Ultimately, the durability of Curry (tested again Monday) and Bogut (once he returns) will decide if Golden State can contend for a playoff spot.

For now, they are certainly making it fun to find out.