Posts Tagged ‘Brett Brown’

Morning shootaround — Sept. 19


Sixers focused on developmentJennings hungry as ever | Lakers wont rush Ingram | Young relishes fresh start with Pacers

No. 1: Sixers focused on development— The “process” is in the next phase for the Philadelphia 76ers. Gone are the days of the tear down. And now comes the focus on development of talented youngsters like Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and the rest of a talented young roster. Keith Pompey of details the Sixers’ plan and how coach Brett Brown plans to execute it this season:

Midway through his annual preseason media luncheon, Brett Brown was asked his expectations for the season. While the 76ers coach declined to disclose how many wins he expects, he revealed that this season will be sort of like the previous three – minus the tanking.

“The difference is everybody is going to want to win some games,” the fourth-year coach said Thursday in the second-floor dining room of Lo Spiedo at the Navy Yard. “Let’s call it for what it is. I feel like that we are going to want to see growth on the court as it relates to wins.”

But the team that won just 10 games last season and a combined 47 in Brown’s first three campaigns is still heavily focused on player development.

Yes, the Sixers will run a purposeful offense and defense.

“And we are going to see the path of these young guys slowly start to look like they belong on an NBA court,” Brown said. “And we all say, ‘Wow, project Joel Embiid out in two or three years.’ ”

Embiid was expected to be an elite player since the time the Sixers selected him third overall in the 2014 draft. However, two operations on the navicular bone in the 7-foot-2, 275-pounder’s right foot prevented him from playing in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

The Sixers will have him on a minutes restriction. Embiid also isn’t expected to play on back-to-back nights. They won’t know if he’ll start at center against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the season-opener until after consulting with the medical staff.

This year’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons, won’t have the same restrictions. Look for the 6-10 point forward to play 30-plus minutes a night while initiating the offense. There’s a lot of excitement because of his ability to play anywhere from power forward to point guard.

There’s also excitement surrounding Dario Saric. Acquired in a 2014 draft-day trade, the 6-10 power forward will make his NBA debut after playing the last two seasons in Turkey.

“I think we are all going to look back [on this season] and see did certain people improve,” Brown said. “I think we are all going to look back and see did we start to figure out a rhythm beat, a rhythm to our season of who’s actually playing.”

Ultimately, Brown’s job will be to win games. However, he probably won’t win more than 25 even with the free-agent additions of Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, and Sergio Rodriguez. The team is young and still several seasons away from being a serious NBA title contender.

Brown’s goal is to help Embiid, Simmons, Saric, and the other young players reach their potential.

That’s why he remains focused on developing a culture and teaching his offensive and defensive philosophies. He and his staff also intend to show the proper way to put in work in the weight room and scout opponents.

“Those things ultimately matter,” said Brown, who won four NBA titles during five Finals appearances as a San Antonio Spurs assistant. “Maybe not so much to the outside world, but if you really want to grow a program [it does]. I’ve seen what championships look like. I’ve seen five times what it takes to play in June. . . . So the growth sometimes might not be as quantifiable to the outside world. But I know it.”



Morning shootaround — Sept. 16


Popovich moves on to new era with Spurs | Mavs’ Nowitzki on future: ‘We’ll see how next year goes’ | Brown excited about Sixers’ season

No. 1: Popovich moves on to new era with Spurs — It will be strange sight come Oct. 25 when the San Antonio Spurs visit the Golden State Warriors (on TNT) and there’s no Tim Duncan lining up for the opening tipoff. Duncan’s retirement is something many Spurs fans are probably still getting used to or getting over, but that hasn’t been the case for coach Gregg Popovich. In a chat with Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express News, Popovich talks about his expectations for 2016-17 and what may be next for Duncan.

He and his staff leave for the West Coast on Friday for their annual retreat, where, as Popovich said, “the arguing will begin.”

Included on this retreat is Monty Williams, the onetime Spur and former head coach of New Orleans. Williams has officially joined the Spurs, though Popovich is still unsure whether Williams will work from the bench or from R.C. Buford’s box.Otherwise, Popovich says this is business as usual. “Same culture, same philosophy,” he said. “I only know what I know. We’ll hang our hat on defense. We just don’t have the greatest power forward of all-time playing for us anymore.”

They still have him around, though. Duncan hasn’t been in the Spurs’ practice facility every day this summer, but he was there this week. He hits the weight machines, does some shooting, hangs around the guys.

You could still use a backup center, couldn’t you?

Popovich laughed. “I can’t look inside those knees.”

Popovich has told Duncan to come around, to be here, to do what he wants. “If he wants to go on a scouting trip, fine. If he wants his own station in training camp, he has it. He’s in charge. He can tell me exactly what he wants to do. But I’m not paying him a penny.”

Most in the organization think Duncan will eventually join the franchise in a full-time capacity. They guess he won’t coach but will instead focus on personnel. Duncan has long been intrigued by the methods that Popovich and Buford use to identify talent.

Duncan has at times disagreed with their decisions only to be proven wrong. He’s curious why.

For now Duncan is standing in the background as an observer, and his own adjustment is jarring. For nearly two decades he has spent his summers building his body to withstand an NBA season. Now he can eat as much carrot cake as he wants without the need to burn off the calories.

Popovich will want Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge to be more demonstrative, filling the leadership void left by Duncan, and then there’s Pau Gasol. He not only brings Duncan-like skills to the team, he creates a familiar pastime for Popovich. Whereas Popovich was once consumed with rationing Duncan’s minutes, now he can be as obsessed with preserving Gasol.

“As a coach you deal with what is there,” Popovich said, “and I’m excited about what we have.”

Brett Brown, the longtime Spurs assistant who is now the coach of the 76ers, saw this coming years ago. He always thought Popovich could coach without Duncan the player, but that moving on without Duncan the friend would be tricky. Brown, after all, was around for the carrot cake deliveries.

“Pop will miss Timmy more from a relationship standpoint than a basketball standpoint,” Brown said this week. “And considering how great Timmy was, that is saying something.”

Brown compared Popovich losing Duncan to how he felt dropping off his daughter at college this month. You know the transition is natural, you know this is what has to happen. But there’s a gnawing loneliness.


“Absolutely,” Popovich said. “I have a hole in my gut.”



Morning shootaround — Aug. 29


Report: Lawson to Sacramento | Embiid finally ready? | Divac hope Cousins continues growth

No. 1: Report: Lawson reaches deal with Sacramento — After establishing himself as one of the best point guards in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets, last season was something of a lost campaign for Ty Lawson following a trade to the Rockets. But after sitting out most of this summer’s free agency, as The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes, yesterday Lawson agreed to terms with the Sacramento Kings, where he should have the opportunity to get playing time…

Lawson visited with Kings officials and coaches on Saturday in Sacramento and had planned to meet with New Orleans Pelicans officials early this week – until the Kings offered him a deal on Sunday, league sources said.

Lawson joins a backcourt full of opportunity in Sacramento, where the Kings lost Rajon Rondo in free agency to the Chicago Bulls. Darren Collison is expected to be the Kings’ starter at point guard.

For Lawson, the experiment of coexisting with All-Star guard James Harden didn’t work with the Houston Rockets last season. Lawson agreed to a contract buyout in March after the Rockets sent Denver a first-round pick in a July deal for him. He then agreed to a contract to finish the season with the Indiana Pacers.


No. 2: Embiid finally ready? — The Philadelphia 76ers drafted Joel Embiid two summers ago with a lottery pick, and the knowledge that he would need some time to get healthy. Since then Embiid hasn’t played a second in a Sixers uniform, as Philly fans have waited to see him get healthy. At an event in Philly this weekend, Embiid made an appearance and said that he’s finally 100 percent and ready to play alongside Ben Simmons. Jessica Camerato of has more:  

“I feel a hundred percent,” Embiid said Saturday at the Sixers Beach Bash. “I’m ready to get started. My summer has been great. We’ve been working out a lot this past summer, just getting some runs in. I’ve gotten a chance to play a little bit against the guys.”

Embiid’s pro career has been sidelined by injuries, undergoing two foot surgeries in as many years. The first was to repair a stress fracture in his right navicular bone. The second, a bone-graft operation on the same bone.

The 7-foot-2 big man has been rehabbing since then, traveling as far as Qatar in the process. This offseason Embiid was cleared for monitored, five-on-five drills. He joined the Sixers during the Las Vegas Summer League to continue his recovery away from game competition.

“It’s been really tough,” Embiid said. “The main thing is, I haven’t gotten a chance to get on the court and play, or help my teammates, or play in front of Sixers fans. I look forward to it and I can’t wait.”

Embiid said he “definitely” plans to be a go for training camp. He expects there will be a transition period once cleared to play given the length of his rehab, but notes he is a quick learner. Embiid also anticipates having restrictions, but has not discussed the specifics with the Sixers.

“Probably,” he said. “But I think the restrictions would probably be about the fact that I haven’t played in two years. It’s not going to be about because people are worried that I’m going to re-injure myself, which I don’t think is going to happen.”

One player who is eager for Embiid’s return is rookie first overall pick Ben Simmons. The two have been friends since high school. They easily gel off the court, and plan to do the same in games.

“He has great footwork, he has great touch, so I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Simmons said, continuing, “Off the court, we’re like brothers. We have fun.”

Embiid has been present with the Sixers for games and practices. He has had numerous conversations with head coach Brett Brown about his days on the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff and how the organization achieved success with fellow big Tim Duncan, one of Embiid’s basketball role models.

With an abundance of bigs, the Sixers will have to determine how they share the floor. For Embiid, who can also knock down long-range shots, he plans to fill whatever role the coaches outline for him.

“I think I’ll take a couple threes, but I’ll do what’s best for the team and whatever I’ll feel comfortable doing,” he said. “Obviously they’re going to need my presence inside and that’s what I’m going to do. But when I’m open, I might fire some threes.”


No. 3: Divac hope Cousins continues growth — The Sacramento Kings have seen a lot of changes the last few seasons, but the one constant has been All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins. And while the Kings have changed coaches and players around him, as Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe writes, Kings general manager Vlade Divac hopes Cousins will use his gold medal winning experience this summer to take a step forward:

Vlade Divac is president of the Olympic Committee of Serbia and also general manager of the Sacramento Kings. During the 2016 Rio Olympics, his two worlds collided when his Serbian team matched up with Team USA twice in the Olympic tournament.

The first game was a tight 94-91 Team USA win during pool play. Divac had some fun with Team USA and Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins, promising a Serbian victory if the teams met again. Well, they did meet in the gold-medal game and the Americans were impressive in their decisive 96-66 win.

Cousins turned in his most productive game of the tournament with 13 points and 15 rebounds after being beset with foul trouble for most of the Olympics.

“Boogie played well,” Divac said. “He’s a very talented kid. Hopefully he can bring that positive attitude that he had here to Sacramento next year.”

Cousins is considered one of the more talented centers in the league but has a reputation for being mercurial. He had to convince USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo to name him to the USA Select Team a few years ago, before he was named to Team USA for the 2014 World Cup.

Divac has maintained that Cousins will be a fixture with Sacramento after a tumultuous season that led to the firing of coach George Karl. Has the Olympic experience helped Cousins mature? Divac is banking on that.

“[The Olympics] helps international guys but it also helps NBA guys,” Divac said. “You see a different part of basketball. They can pick up some tricks. That’s how I look at it. When I used to play, I loved playing international because it’s more freedom and more ability to improve.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The recruiting pitches are already starting in Oklahoma City for Oklahoma native Blake Griffin Tony Parker helped out a locker room attendant who got robbed at the Olympics in Rio … The Bucks are hoping Jason Terry still has fuel left in the tankShane Larkin looks at playing in Spain as a stepping stone … If that intern at the NBA offices in New York looked familiar, that’s because it was tennis star Maria Sharapova

Morning shootaround — Aug. 21

Melo’s long journey | Meet salary cap guru | The Coach K Effect | Embiid’s progress | Whiteside’s new expectations
No. 1: Carmelo values gold above all — He’s gone from the bronze bust of the 2004 Olympics in Athens to the doorstep of a third straight gold medal in Rio and Carmelo Anthony told Michael Lee of The Vertical that he wouldn’t trade his experience growing into a leader of Team USA for anything:

“I wouldn’t trade, hopefully my three gold medals, in for nothing,” Anthony told The Vertical. “I hope I’m never put in that position. That’s a tough position. But I always say, ‘Winning is winning is winning.’ No matter what level you win on. Hopefully, I do get an NBA ring, but that’s two things. … I wouldn’t try to compare or force myself to make that comparison.”

Anthony has come to rely on his summers with USA Basketball to provide some balance for his complex career and stumbles in his personal life. When he started recruiting talent to fill out the country’s pool for international competitions, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo told Anthony he would overlook any past mistakes and give him a clean slate. Anthony raised his hand as one of the first to commit to what would require him to sacrifice three consecutive summers. They have proven to be beneficial: He made his first All-Star team the season after participating in the 2006 world championships. He led Denver to the conference finals the season following the 2008 Olympics. And he led the Knicks to their first division title the season following the 2012 Olympics.

“We ask the guys for a commitment and selfless service,” Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “But Carmelo is a perfect example of commitment for the Olympics. That’s his entire playing career and to devote that amount of time is remarkable really, and it’s not been done. He’s been such a good guy to coach.”



Hang Time Podcast (Episode 241) Featuring Brett Brown

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — There’s no pressure on Brett Brown and Ben Simmons, all they have to do is oversee and inspire a basketball revival in a basketball-loving city.

No pressure. No pressure at all for the head coach and new face of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Well, there’s actually a ton of pressure on Brown and Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick in last week’s NBA Draft. But they know that, each of them having signed on for hoops renaissance engineering duties in the City of Brotherly Love. Whatever plan was in place before under Sam Hinkie has changed with the Colangelo‘s (father and boss man Jerry and son and GM Bryan) at the controls now. But make no mistake, there is a plan.

An abundance of young talent (Simmons, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric in particular) has to be molded into a team capable of climbing out of the Eastern Conference basement. And it’s Brown’s responsibility to guide these youngsters through the ups and downs of this process.

Everyone involved knows it’ll be a bumpy ride early on and there’s no guarantee this young core will remain intact long enough to make it to their first training camp together. But there’s a glimmer of hope now that, quite frankly was not there before Simmons became a very real possibility with that No. 1 pick.

We dig deep with Brown on the young man from Down Under charged with leading the hoops renaissance in hoops-mad Philly and much more on Episode 241 of The Hang Time Podcast.


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of, Lang Whitaker of’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


Morning shootaround — May 10


Green says Blazers are ‘done’ | The story behind Curry’s return | Grizzlies ponder reunion with Hollins | Sixers set to chat with Saric

No. 1: Green on Blazers: ‘Of course I think they’re done’  Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry not only came back last night, he came back and delivered the greatest overtime scoring performance in NBA lore. His 17 points in the extra session buoyed the Warriors to a 132-125 win over Portland in which Curry finished with 40 points overall. But lost in that epic game was a stellar performance by Draymond Green (21 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals) that put the Blazers in a 3-1 series hole. After the win, Green didn’t hold back on thinking this series — and Portland — was done for now, writes Ethan Sherwood Strauss of

Golden State All-Star forward Draymond Green did not mince words when asked about the Portland Trail Blazers’ chances in the aftermath of their Game 4 loss to the Warriors on Monday night.

After Golden State’s 132-125 overtime win, which gave the Warriors a 3-1 advantage in the Western Conference semifinals, Green was asked whether he thought the Blazers were done.

“Do I think they’re done? Of course I think they’re done,” he said.

“If I don’t think they’re done, I don’t know who else is going to think it,” he continued. “We’re going home with a 3-1 lead. It’s up to us to close it out. And I trust my teammates, I trust our team to come out ready to go and close this series out. Of course I think they’re done. It’s time for us to close the series. We did what we needed to do; we came on the road and got one win. We took care of home court. Now it’s time for us to do it again.”

Blazers star Damian Lillard said before Green’s remarks that they aren’t done fighting.

“We want to go out there and make sure they respect us, make sure they understand it’s not going to be what everybody thinks it’s going to be,” Lillard said. “It’s not going to be no rolling over, it’s not going to be no out here being scared, it’s not going to be any of that.”

Green also was asked about a prediction of victory for Monday night’s game.

“I didn’t predict that. I told you we were going to win,” he said.

He said he wasn’t worried about giving the Blazers extra motivation.

“I wanted to give them bulletin-board material,” he said.

“It wasn’t no disrespect to [the Blazers],” he said. “It was more so at my guys to make our guys respond to what I’m saying.”

Morning shootaround — April 7

VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games


Warriors want to finish with No. 1 overall seed | Prognosis grim for Jazz’s Sloan | Hinkie era ends in Philly | Bryant has no specific plans for final game | Ewing wants Knicks’ gig; ‘Melo wants say on next coach

No. 1: Finishing with No. 1 overall seed remains Warriors’ goal — Tonight’s showdown with the San Antonio Spurs (10:30 ET, TNT) gives the Golden State Warriors a shot at reaching 70 wins. It’s also, perhaps, Step 1 in a four-game plan to reach an NBA-record 73 wins. But after yesterday’s practice, both coach Steve Kerr and center Andrew Bogut doubled-down on the notion that finishing the season strong — and with the NBA’s top overall seed — remains the goal. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

Yep, the Warriors spent Wednesday recalibrating their focus from chasing NBA history to merely completing a historic regular season by clinching the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

“Every day, it’s the same questions,” said Bogut, who was one of the few who stayed after Kerr told the players they could leave the practice facility following a video session. “Every day, it’s the same thing on TV. Every day, it’s the same article. Every day, it’s a new former player who has a comment. It’s just something you’ve got to deal with, but it’s no excuse.

“We’re going for the record, but if we don’t get it, it’s not the end of the world.”

The Warriors’ magic number for the top seed in the West and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs is two, meaning they would clinch it with a victory over the Spurs on Thursday.

“We’re still trying to get the No. 1 seed,” Kerr said. “… Let’s do that, and then worry about everything else later. … We’ll just try to win tomorrow and then figure out what’s next.”

They haven’t played consistently well in a month and haven’t played a full game of top-notch defense in at least as long. They lost for the first time at home in 55 regular-season games Friday and dropped another one Tuesday.

“I’m actually surprised this didn’t happen a while back,” Kerr said. “There’s a reason that this record has been standing for 20 years. It’s a hard thing to do. …

“It’s a miracle that we’ve gone this far without sort of hitting a bump in the road. … It’s just surprising for people out there — and maybe even our own guys — because this season has come almost too easily for us.”

The Warriors finish the regular season with a home game against Memphis on Wednesday. In between the games at Oracle Arena, they’ll have their first consecutive days off in almost six weeks following a back-to-back set in Memphis and San Antonio.

That should be enough to recapture the Warriors’ focus.

“Once you lose your focus, that’s when bad defense happens. That’s when turnovers happen. That’s when fouling happens,” forward Draymond Green said. “… I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily caught up in the hype, but I think we’ve gotten to the point where … we’re like, ‘All right, we’re kind of ready for the regular season to end.’

“When you’re talking about 82 games, you get bored of that after a while.”

VIDEO: Andrew Bogut talks after Wednesday’s practice



Morning shootaround — March 18

VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games


Spurs gearing up for Warriors | Okafor’s surgery delayed | Barnes, Henson get chippy at end of game | Biyombo delivers for Raptors

No. 1: Spurs handle Blazers, start prepping for Warriors — The San Antonio Spurs surged past the Portland Trail Blazers last night en route to a 118-110 win thanks in large part to a 39-point third quarter. The victory marked San Antonio’s 43rd straight at home as a showdown with the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC) looms. Michael C. Wright of was on hand in San Antonio last night for the win and reports on how the Spurs are officially gearing up for their big showdown:

It would have been understandable for the Spurs to look past the Portland Trail Blazers, who they trounced 118-110 on Thursday, with an eye toward Saturday’s matchup against the Golden State Warriors. Even in the visiting locker room prior to Thursday’s game, a couple of Trail Blazers dressing for warm-ups figured San Antonio would overlook them in anticipation of the clash against Golden State.

No chance.

Starting with the team’s 109-101 triumph March 10 over the Chicago Bulls, a victory that kicked off its current five-game homestand, and leading into Saturday’s rematch against Golden State, the San Antonio Spurs appear to be as healthy and locked in as the unit has been this season.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made sure of it, calling back-to-back timeouts with a little more than four minutes remaining and his team up 15 points on Portland.

“Stay focused, stay focused,” said point guard Tony Parker, who finished with 18 points and 16 assists. “Pop’s always been like that. It’s a 48-minute game. He was trying to prepare us for Saturday because, on Saturday, if you rest one minute [Golden State] can go up 15-0 real quick in a minute. That’s why he was like that.”

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Spurs a 66 percent chance of beating the Warriors, based on a variety of reasons. The Spurs lead the NBA in scoring margin, which historically has been more predictive of future success than a team’s win-loss record. Coming off a full day’s rest, as there’s no practice scheduled for Friday, San Antonio will host a Warriors team fresh off an outing the night before in Dallas. The Spurs are 34-0 this season in the AT&T Center.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, meanwhile, finally have emerged as San Antonio’s top scoring threats. Popovich believes Tim Duncan’s eight-game absence — starting with the Jan. 25 meeting against the Warriors and ending on Feb. 10 — sped up the development of chemistry between Aldridge and Leonard.

They scored 22 points apiece and combined for four blocks against the Trail Blazers.

“[Aldridge] and Kawhi both, I think they were trying to fit in, trying to see where things are, and they’ve gotten to the point where they’re taking over,” Duncan said. “They understand that we’re going to ride them, and that builds their confidence.”

Chemistry also seems to be peaking between Aldridge and Parker over the past several games. Seven of Parker’s assists against the Trail Blazers flew Aldridge’s way.

“Love playing with him,” Parker said of Aldridge. “I know exactly where he’s going to be. It’s funny because even if he hits five shots in a row, they’re still staying with me, and I’m like, ‘Go to LaMarcus. Go guard him.’ They still give him that wide-open shot. He got a lot of shots tonight, and he’s been knocking them down. I feel like L.A. is feeling more comfortable with the system. He’s playing great.”

“It’s going to be a big one. Obviously, they beat us pretty bad in the first one,” Parker said. “So it’s our second time playing them. It’s going to be a good test. The whole stretch these last four games, all of them were great tests for us.

“They’re the defending champs, and they’ve been playing unbelievable this year. We’ve been playing great too. So we get another shot at it.”

Duncan initially tried to take a measured approach in expressing his thoughts about Saturday’s matchup, but excitement ultimately won out.

“We’re going to show up for the game and we’re going to play it. It’s not going to change our season or anything else,” Duncan said. “It’ll be a great matchup for us, two of the best records in the league, and they’re playing exceptionally well. So it’s a good test for us; a playoff type of atmosphere, playoff type of intensity, a good experience for us. But I’ll leave it at that.

“We’re sitting in a great position right now. On top of that, we’re healthy, which is a big part of it. But to have someone like [Golden State] to continue to put the pressure on us, it’s great. It’s great for our focus. It’s great to have games like this. It’ll be a lot of fun, and we’re excited about it.”



Morning shootaround — Jan. 9

VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

Spurs survive close shave | Davis injures back | Brand goal is to teach | Raptors take down Wiz again | Mbah a Moute shines

No. 1: Spurs survive close call against Knicks — Admittedly, the blowout wins the Spurs have been enjoying at home this season are much easier on the nerves. But when Jose Calderon’s last-ditch shot missed and San Antonio survived a nail-biter against the Knicks Friday night, it might have been the kind of game the streaking Spurs needed as they head into the meat of their schedule. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News has the scoop:

That their latest victory took the full 48 minutes to secure was not lost on Spurs players, who in recent games had grown accustomed to playing fourth quarters with their starters’ feet propped up.

“I think we needed it,” David West said. “I think we figured out some execution stuff, some timing stuff you can only do in a tight game.”

Throughout a stellar start to the season that left them at 32-6 on Friday, keeping pace with the best start in club history, the Spurs have been on the lookout for cracks to fill.

Not everything New York threw the Spurs’ way will prepare them for what is to come.

It will be a while, for instance, before they face another 7-foot-3 Latvian who can shoot the 3-pointer.

Rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis, all of 20 years old, scorched the NBA’s top-rated defense for 28 points and 11 rebounds. Porzingis was a thorn in the Spurs’ side on the offensive end, and an easy mark on defense. Aldridge got a batch of his points posting up the slender Porzingis.

The Spurs scored 60 points in the paint Friday, and Popovich thought they could have gotten more.

“It’s a strength that we have,” Popovich said. “And we’re getting better and better at recognizing it.” The Spurs did a better job against Anthony.

Tag-teamed by Leonard and Danny Green, Anthony started 2 for 12. The eight-time All-Star eventually found his way to 20 points and 12 boards, thanks to 10 trips to the foul line, but nothing came easy.

“I think they did a good job,” Popovich said of Green and Leonard. “As good as can be expected against a Hall of Fame player.”


No. 2: Pelicans lose A.D. to back injury — Another day, another injury for the Pelicans in what has rapidly become a painful and star-crossed season. Star forward Anthony Davis crashed into the seats while chasing a loose ball early in Friday’s loss to the Pacers and suffered a lower back contusion. He was unable to return to the game and according to John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Pelicans are still waiting on an update on Davis’s availability:

Davis initially returned to the game, but shortly afterwards Alvin Gentry was forced to call a 20-second timeout to get Davis out of the game. Davis headed to the locker room for treatment and did not return. He was not made available after the game and his status for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers has not been determined but an update may be issued by the team after Saturday’s practice.
But X-rays were negative, and he is listed as day-to-day.

”I don’t know anything yet,” Gentry said after Friday’s game. ”He was telling me that he had back pains when he left the court. So I’m sure we’ll find out later on.”

Davis has missed three games this season due to injury, which included a right hip contusion injury and sore right left shoulder.


No. 3: Teaching is the thing for Elton Brand — If 36-year-old Elton Brand drops in a basket or two and chases down a rebound for the 76ers, that’s all just gravy. The veteran forward came out of retirement to join the team this week with one task in mind, says Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer. That’s to show the ropes to Jahlil Okafor and the other young members of the Sixers’ roster:

“He’s here to guide the young guys and anything else is a bonus,” coach Brett Brown said. “I see him at practice pulling Nerlens [Noel] and Jahlil aside and showing them some of [Atlanta forward Paul] Millsap’s tricks, how he scored on him in practice, how can that not just be priceless?”

Brand has put a price on it, and it isn’t monetary. It’s about giving back to the game, about acquiescing to pleas from his college coach and his agent and, maybe a little bit, to the idea that he can get back on the court again for a few minutes at a stretch and show a little something one more time.

“Before practice yesterday, I dropped my son off at school at 8 a.m. I got to practice early, did some cardio, shot with the coaches, lifted, then had a whole long practice,” Brand said. “I ate lunch with the team, shot free throws afterward, and still picked up my son. I was home by 5 o’clock.”

It sounds so reasonable, and perhaps Brand can pull off this balancing act. If it doesn’t work, the season will be over in three months and he can look everyone in the eye and say he tried.


No. 4: Raptors keep getting back at Wizards — If you think players have short memories and easily forget things that happened last season, think again. That four-game playoff sweep at the hands of the Wizards last spring was a shocking eye opener to the Raptors. Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star says that miserable experience still motivated DeMar DeRozan and his teammates in Friday night’s win:

DeMar DeRozan didn’t blink before the words were out of his mouth.
“We got swept last year,” the Toronto Raptors shooting guard said, after he’d hung a season-high 35 points on the Washington Wizards, the offensive backbone in a defensively-sound 97-88 win. DeRozan’s previous season high was 34 and one of those games came against the Wizards too.

Last year’s playoff sweep at the hands of the Wizards is old news by now, hammered home by 2016’s arrival. But being on the Verizon Center court, hearing a crowd of 17,064 cheering the Wizards on and seeing those painfully familiar red, white and blue jerseys, brings the burn of failure back to DeRozan, at least for one night.

“I was here for the playoffs, and that was a bad feeling to get swept,” he said. “Coming back here just playing against them (gives) the same reminder of what happened.”

The Raptors (now 23-15) know that avenging that loss can’t happen until the playoffs, whoever their opponent would be. Friday’s win was a testament to how different these Raptors look now, getting back to their defensive roots after two embarrassing losses earlier this week to the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers.


No. 5: Mbah a Moute helps Clippers thriveChris Paul has stepped up his All-Star level game. DeAndre Jordan has shouldered more of the burden. J.J. Reddick, Paul Pierce and others have made big shots. But a big part of the secret to the Clippers’ success in the absence of the injured Blake Griffin has been the below the radar efforts of Luc Mbah a Moute, says Dan Woike of the Orange Country Register:

“Luc is the most under-appreciated person on our team, in all honesty,” Paul said Friday. “We used to talk about DJ all the time, but everyone sees what DJ does on a nightly basis.

“But Luc is the guy. He does everything. He defends. He cuts. He does everything a coach would appreciate but a fan has no idea that he’s doing.”

And, technically, until Thursday his contract wasn’t fully guaranteed for the season.

Ultimately, the decision to keep him wasn’t much of a decision at all.

The Clippers lucked into Mbah a Moute last summer after the Sacramento Kings voided his free-agent deal due to a failed physical – the results of which have been disputed.

Looking for a landing spot, the former UCLA star ended up with the Clippers right before training camp, competing with veteran big man Chuck Hayes for the final roster spot.

Last season, Clippers coach Doc Rivers chose Jared Cunningham over Joe Ingles for the Clippers’ final roster spot. Cunningham was traded to Philadelphia in early January and was waived. Ingles, who was claimed by the Utah Jazz, ended up starting 32 games at small forward, a position where the Clippers could’ve used him.

This season, clearly, Rivers chose right.

Hayes hasn’t played this season, and Mbah a Moute is the Clippers’ starting small forward.

Since inserting him into the starting lineup, the Clippers are 15-5 – the third-best record in the NBA. They have the fifth-best offense in the NBA during that stretch and the sixth-best defense.

“What I love about Luc also is Luc can play a lot of minutes in a game or he can play very little minutes in a game, there’s still no body language change or anything like that,” Rivers said. “He understands there are nights we need offensive guys on the floor, we need floor-spacers. There are nights where we need a stop, and Luc does it.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephen Curry is now wearing soccer style shin guards to keep playing through his injury…One front row fan in Minneapolis got a little too up close and personal with Timofey Mozgov…Lamar Odom has been moved out of hospital as rehabilitation continues…Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t ruling out a return to Phoenix to conclude his NBA career…LeBron James wants to see J.R. Smith the All-Star Weekend 3-point Shootout.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 28

VIDEO: Fast Break from Dec. 27


Suns in disarray | James grumbling about Cavaliers’ lack of rhythm | The decline of Dwight Howard | A warm reception for Kobe in Boston?

No. 1: Suns in disarray — One loss to the lowly and previously one-win Philadelphia 76ers destabilized things in the Valley of the Sun. And the hits just keep on coming. The news that point guard Eric Bledsoe would need surgery to repair a torn meniscus and would be out indefinitely was followed by the reported firing of two assistant coaches (Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sicthting) in an effort to shake up Jeff Hornacek‘s staff. And Hornacek, who took a towel to the face from Markeiff Morris last week, is also reportedly on the hot seat. Just two years ago Hornacek had the Suns were on the edge of the playoff picture in the Western Conference and now it all appears to be on the verge of coming apart, as Marc Stein of reports:

Sources told on Sunday night that the Suns are promoting longtime NBA guard Earl Watson and former NBA D-League head coach Nate Bjorkgren to the bench to work closer to Hornacek and will dismiss veteran assistants Mike Longabardi, who was heading up Phoenix’s defense, and Jerry Sichting.

Earlier Sunday, first reported that the Suns’ 5-15 nosedive, including a home loss Saturday night to the 2-30 Philadelphia 76ers, had put Hornacek’s job security under immediate threat.

It is believed that the Suns are taking this measure instead to give Hornacek, who is held in high esteem by owner Robert Sarver, another chance to turn the club around.

But that figures to be difficult after the harsh news Sunday that star guard Eric Bledsoe is out indefinitely and will require knee surgery Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Sources told that the Suns, despite the organization’s well-known fondness for Hornacek, have been forced to contemplate a coaching change far sooner than they hoped because of a slide that has dropped them to 12-20 and 11th in the Western Conference. There is also a growing fear within the organization that the team is no longer responding to its head coach.

Phoenix began the season with playoff aspirations after posting records of 48-34 and 39-43 in Hornacek’s first two seasons and the offseason signing of center Tyson Chandler.

But the Suns have dropped 15 of 20 games since opening 7-5, seemingly bottoming out in Saturday night’s home loss to the Sixers as Bledsoe also exited with his knee injury in the second quarter.

Adding to the sting of the Philadelphia loss: It was the first game on the Sixers’ bench for former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, who was hired recently by new Philadelphia chairman of basketball operations and former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo to serve as associate head coach to Sixers coach Brett Brown.

“Obviously, it’s probably a low point for us,” Hornacek told reporters after the game. “Now the confidence is lacking.”


No. 2: James grumbling about Cavaliers’ lack of rhythm — Back-to-back losses has a way of raising the dander of LeBron James in the way little else can. As the leader of the superstar band in Cleveland, James never shies away from delivering critical analysis about his own crew. And after losing to the Golden State Warriors on Christmas and the Portland Trail Blazers a day later, LeBron vented his frustrations about his team’s lack of rhythm. Joe Vardon of has more:

The Cavs still lead the East at 19-9, but they’ve had a bad week, with problems deeper than perhaps their 2-2 record would indicate.

You could chalk it up to the knuckleball effect, which is, after trying to hit a pitcher who throws knuckleballs, it can take a big leaguer days to catch up to 95 mph fastballs again.

The Cavs hosted the 76ers – who won their second game this season – last Sunday. They haven’t played well since, needing to hold on for dear life at home against a Knicks team sans Carmelo Anthony and then suffering through consecutive porous shooting performances in these two losses.

Cleveland followed up its 89-83 loss to the defending-champion Warriors – in which the Cavs shot 31.6 percent – with a 28-of-77 clunker against the Blazers.

James is shooting 14-of-39 in his last two, with the 4-of-13 effort for 12 points he turned in Saturday night.

“Offensively we’re just in a funk right now,” James said. “We just got to find our rhythm.”

There’s that word again, rhythm.

James used it after the Cavs lost to the Warriors, when he said “it’s going to take some time to get back into rhythm, and all of us, not just the players, but everyone, to get back in rhythm.”

wrote in Oakland Christmas night to monitor this – James calling for Blatt to bring clarity to the Cavs’ rotations.

Last Sunday (when the Cavs faced the knuckleballer 76ers) was Kyrie Irving’s first game back. Iman Shumpert returned, too, after missing a game with a groin injury. The next game, against the Knicks, was Mo Williams’ first after two absences because of a thumb injury.

With all these players at Blatt’s disposal, the Cavs look discombobulated. No one disputes it and both James and Blatt said it’s to be expected, to a certain extent. And Irving didn’t even play against the Blazers, per the team’s decision to protect his surgically repaired knee from the rigors of games on consecutive nights this early in his comeback.

But Blatt said he spoke with his coaches after the loss Saturday about the impact the changing lineups was having on the team, and James had already taken it a couple steps further after the Warriors game, mentioning the lack of rhythm and continuity because of the uncertainty in Cleveland’s rotations.

Now, consider what James said about this very same topic on Saturday:

“For the first eight weeks we had built chemistry, we knew who was playing, we knew who wasn’t playing,” James said. “We had rotations, coach had rotations down, so we got to get back to that. We have no rhythm. Guys are, we have some guys who don’t know if they’re going to play, or if they are going to play, and it’s hurting our rhythm a little bit.”


No. 3: The decline of Dwight Howard The slow, physical erosion of the body and skills of one of the league’s best big men is real. Dwight Howard, the man formerly known as “Superman” to an entire generation of NBA fans, is no more. So says TNT and NBA TV analyst Chris Webber, who lived through a similar fade during his star-studded career after he crossed over from young physical freak to mere mortal. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe explains:

The decline of Dwight Howard is one of the NBA’s most compelling developments. The onetime self-proclaimed “Superman” was for years a physical freak, the model of how a center was built and how a center defended.

Now 30, Howard is slowing down, bothered by years of back and knee issues. He doesn’t have the offensive effectiveness of past years and his durability has waned. So, what happens when physically gifted players lose a step, are no longer able to soar as they once did or defend above the rim?

Former NBA star and current NBA TV analyst Chris Webber, who was a superb athlete coming out of Michigan two decades ago and played until he was 34, offered his thoughts on Howard.

“I wouldn’t just say this for Dwight, I’d say this for all players, me personally, I learned it from Karl Malone. You cannot stay in this game without skill,” Webber said. “Because after five years in this league you will no longer be the most athletic at your position. It’s impossible. That’s including injuries. You have to have more skill, you have to create value for those times you’re on the court.”

Webber said there are ways to compensate for a decline in athleticism by using intelligence.

“You have to maybe help defensively a little bit earlier since you can’t go up and get the blocked shot,” he said. “Some guys start taking charges or some guys just get out [farther] on the floor since they can’t move laterally anymore, maybe develop an 8-foot jump shot. You can learn how to make a move without dribbling because now you can’t just dribble by everybody anymore.

“You have to think the game through and just be that much more efficient. You won’t get the number of looks you have anymore. Mentally, you have to change and hopefully your skill set will allow that. If not, the game will pass you by.”

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for any NBA player is the deterioration of physical skills. For some it’s sudden, for others it’s gradual. The result is never easy to digest.

“It’s especially tough, for me going to Philly, a place that had a different [playing] style, that means you have to learn all over again,” Webber said. “If you’re Tim[Duncan], he’s one of the greatest players to have ever played this game, but because he’s allowed to age in a system.

“Let’s say with a Dwight Howard, his numbers are still incredible but you need a system around him that allows him to do that and those not just be wasted numbers. That can be wasted numbers on a team that doesn’t suit his system.”

The Rockets are one of the league’s more confounding teams, with a record hovering near .500 after reaching the West finals last season.

“Houston is the most disappointing team that we have in the league, more disappointing than the Philadelphia 76ers, and I don’t know if anybody can thrive in that system,” Webber said. “I definitely know it’s tough to age when the system does not include your age in the system.

“If I’m [Howard], I’m trying to offensive rebound a little bit more. If I’m him, I’m running right down the middle of the lane on a secondary break, posting up in the middle, and turning for a jump hook because you’re going to foul me. I’m going to put myself in positions where you have to get me the ball, and when I get the ball I’d be stupid to pass it back out. There’s ways, and he’s one of the best big men in the game still. He should be the second-most-targeted player on that team.”


No. 4: A warm reception for Kobe in Boston? The farewell tour for Kobe Bryant has had some interesting stops, to say the least. And nowhere is a fading Los Angeles Lakers’ legend loathed more than in Boston, where Kobe will visit for a final time (as a player) this week. But instead of a vicious chorus of boos, might Kobe be in for a much warmer reception from the Celtics loyalists? Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times sets the stage:

It’s only Monday but already worth asking in a horribly mundane Lakers season: How will Kobe Bryant be received by fans Wednesday in his last game in Boston?

With Philadelphia out of the way, it could be the most attractive road game left on his farewell tour.

The setup started a few days ago, when Bryant revealed he listened daily to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” for two years because he wanted to remember the depth of the Lakers’ embarrassment in the 2008 NBA Finals.

Fans couldn’t stop singing it after the Celtics‘ 39-point Game 6 victory, so Bryant couldn’t stop listening to it.

He found his revenge two years later in the NBA Finals. Will Celtics fans be salty?

Lakers Coach Byron Scott, who battled Boston in three memorable NBA Finals in the 1980s, predicted a warm reaction.

“As much as the Celtics hate us and we hate them, I think the Celtics fans are some of the most knowledgeable fans in the world. I think they’ll give him the same type of respect that he deserves and that he’s been given everywhere else,” Scott said.

Perhaps a precedent was set when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played his last game in Boston in 1988. Abdul-Jabbar, 41 at the time, was given a framed slab of the Garden’s parquet floor by Celtics legend Red Auerbach.

Abdul-Jabbar also received a one-minute, 35-second standing ovation from Celtics fans that night. Scott was there as Abdul-Jabbar’s teammate.

“It wasn’t a standing ovation for [his] 20 years, but it was a standing ovation when he decided to retire,” Scott said, developing a one-liner. “Maybe that’s because he was whooping them so much.”

Fans cheered Bryant loudly in Philadelphia, Washington, Detroit and Toronto. They weren’t so kind in San Antonio, but he has another game there before bowing out.

He had not announced his retirement when the Lakers played in New York last month. Other notable road games for him include Sacramento on Jan. 7 and San Antonio on Feb. 6.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Los Angeles Clippers needed Paul Pierce to turn back the clock with Blake Griffin out for two weeks … Globetrotters legend Meadowlark Lemon, 83, diesBradley Beal is expected to resume basketball activities this week for the Washington Wizards … The Golden State Warriors will get a first-hand look at the new and improved Sacramento Kings tonight … The future remains bright for Glenn Robinson III in Indiana …