Posts Tagged ‘Brian Shaw’

After trial by fire, Nuggets coach Shaw eyes next season

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Go inside the huddle with Brian Shaw

DALLAS – Thirteen first-time NBA coaches will head into summer with experiences each will never forget, from Brett Brown coping with a bare-bones 76ers squad to Jason Kidd unlocking a star-laden Nets team whose luxury tax payment alone will nearly double the Sixers’ payroll.

Then there’s Brian Shaw. The Denver Nuggets coach, a disciple of Phil Jackson, took over a 57-win team coached by a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, an 1,100-game-winner and one of the league’s all-time great innovators. George Karl might have led the Nuggets out of the first round just once in nine seasons, but he won a lot with a fun, energetic style.

Shaw inherited a team that lost its two premiere wing runners, Andre Iguodala, also a defensive stopper, and Corey Brewer. It wasn’t long into the season before Shaw lost veteran backup point guard Andre Miller to a power struggle and banished him from the team.

Then there were the injuries: Dino Gallinari never returned from last season’s ACL tear, JaVale McGee lasted five games, then Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson and trade newcomer Jan Vesely. Point guard, leading scorer and top assist man Ty Lawson has missed 14 games; 12 each for second-leading scorer Wilson Chandler and reserve forward Darrell Arthur.

“A lot of people talk about the first-year head coach stuff and he [Shaw] hasn’t shown any of that at all,” Nuggets top assistant Lester Conner said. “He’s set the foundation. It’s been an injury-riddled season for us and the way he’s handled it, it’s like one of the best coaches in the league, and he is. He doesn’t have the tenure like some of them have, but if you look at our game and how we play and look at how we compete, if you were blindfolded, you wouldn’t think that there was a fisrt-year head coach. He’s been in a lot of wars as far as championships with Phil, so he knows what it’s like. He’s handled the media well, he’s handled the Andre Miller situation well. He’s done a great job.”

However so, the Nuggets are on pace to not make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Yet it seems things could be a whole lot worse than Denver’s 32-39 record attained through stretches of feast or famine and seemingly always banged-up bodies.

“One of the things one of my mentor’s, Phil Jackson, always preached to me was believing in your system and what you’re doing out there,” said Shaw, who communicates with Jackson once every week or two throughout the season. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in great situations with great teams that have had the ultimate success at the end of the season, and so I believe that I know what it looks like, I know what it takes, what kind of work ethic goes into it and what kind of habits need to be developed by our players.”

Lawson, the fifth-year point guard seemingly on the precipice of making an All-Star team, and under contract through 2017, said he stands behind Shaw “100 percent,” and went so far as to make a bold prediction for a healthy — knock-on-wood — 2014-15 campaign: “I think we will definitely be good, maybe top four in the West next year.

“I look at [our] record and think about all the injuries we went through, especially [Chandler], me, Nate, everybody went down,” Lawson continued. “We had a lot of different parts.”

Shaw, 48, spent 10 years with the Lakers and then Pacers working toward this opportunity. He came in with no misgivings of the challenge and made no promises. He did have a vision, and a plan to transform Karl’s freewheeling Nuggets into a team that could execute in the halfcourt through inside play without fully stifling the run-and-gun style.

But Shaw his concept initially led to confusion. Frontcourt players interpreted it to mean they’d receive an entry pass every time down the floor and would be allowed to go to work. That frustrated Lawson, whose game is predicated on his speed and ability to drive to the rim.

“Ty was frustrated early on until we really were able to clarify what that meant, that inside play could be a small guy posting up, or if it was just penetration and getting into the paint,” Shaw said. “So now I think what you see is Ty flourishing (18.1 ppg, 8.9 apg), Kenneth [Faried] (12.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg) is really starting to come into his own; they’ve had their best numbers since they’ve been in the league. [Timofey] Mozgoz has had a chance to play and is developing, so I think they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ten players are under contract for next season. Gallinari is expected to return and McGee will make another run at ditching his “Shaqtin’ A Fool” persona and becoming a legitimate NBA starting center.

As his first campaign draws to a close, Shaw is coaching the players still standing with an eye toward next season.

“Everybody now has an understanding of exactly what I expect of them, how we want to play and what we want to do going forward,” Shaw said. “Obviously there are some guys that are on the roster right now that are going to be here next year and some that aren’t, but for me, I’ve said that this is going to be a year of discovery to really understand what it is that we have to work with.”

Phil Jackson’s first move in New York?

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com




VIDEO: The Knicks have won a season-high six straight games

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The New York Knicks’ optimists would tell you that the mere prospect of Phil Jackson joining their beloved team as the president of basketball operations has inspired a season-high six-game win streak.

Who knows? There might be something to that … the power of Zen is strong in Jackson.

In reality, the Knicks are just riding the ebb and flow of completely predictable season of unpredictability. When we assume these Knicks are ready for a dirt bath, they rise up and surprise us. And just when we’re ready to assume that they’re poised to give serious chase for that eighth and final spot (currently occupied by the Atlanta Hawks and their 3.5 game lead over the Knicks) in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, they’ll crash and burn in the coming days.

That’s why the focus in New York has to be on Phil and his first move(s) as boss of the Knicks. I know Mike Woodson has his heart and mind set on grinding to the finish and stealing that playoff spot from the Hawks. But it’s of little consequence to just about everyone else involved.

Jackson, of course, has more important matters to consider. He has Carmelo Anthony‘s future with the franchise to consider. He has Woodson’s future to consider as well. My suggestion, cut bait with one and build with the other. And I think it’s safe to assume that it’s easier to build around Anthony, something that wasn’t done strategically with this current Knicks team, than it is to mold and shape the philosophy of a proud coach like Woodson, who is a branch of the Larry Brown coaching tree.

Gauging the general mood of the Knicks, there seems to be genuine excitement about Jackson taking over. Melo called it a “power move” and lauded the Knicks for going after and landing the greatest winner the game has seen, coach or player, since Bill Russell.

“I’m a chess player. That was a power move right there. You know what I mean?” a smiling Anthony told reporters after a win over the Milwaukee Bucks. “So, now we’re going to see what’s the next move, but that was a great power move.”

Getting a buy-in from Anthony is the first order of business for Jackson. And he shouldn’t have a hard time convincing Anthony to get on board with the plan (provided there is one already mapped out), what with the $30-$34 million more the Knicks can pay him than he could stand to make in free agency.

As for future plans, this will be the most challenging endeavor in Jackson’s career. He had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen as foundation pieces in Chicago, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. Finding a competent and quality supporting cast for future Hall of Famers isn’t necessarily easy to do, but it is decidedly different challenge compared to crafting a championship roster around Anthony.

Is Anthony’s Horace Grant or Brian Shaw or Rick Fox or Ron Harper already on the roster? It’s hard to tell. I could see Tyson Chandler being a player Jackson would like to keep around, but Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton and some of the other current high-dollar Knicks don’t seem to be good fits. We know that second superstar is not on the Knicks’ roster right now, so that’s already a huge void that must be filled by Jackson.

Jackson’s presence, in theory, has already led to that mini-surge mentioned earlier. Anthony swears by it, as Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com pointed out:

“Phil knows what to do, how to build teams, and how to win,” Anthony said. “That’s the most important thing. When you know how to win — whether you’re a coach, whether you’re in the front office — that stands out.”

Anthony said all of the speculation surrounding Jackson helped the Knicks focus in recent days. New York has won a season-high six in a row, including a 115-94 rout of the Bucks earlier Saturday.

“It’s not a distraction at all,” he said. “If anything, it made us come together more as a team, as a unit, to really kind of keep that on the outside. We’re excited and happy that it got done, instead of all the speculation that’s been going on. So finally, it’s signed, sealed and delivered.”

Jackson, one of the most brilliant basketball minds of all-time, has every reason to be cautious in his approach to reshaping the Knicls. But I would suggest that he be as aggressive as possible in taking this current roster apart. This group clearly does not operate with the same chemistry and synergy that it did a year ago, albeit with seven new faces added to the mix this time around.

Woodson didn’t suddenly become a bad coach during training camp this season. And Anthony, who was lauded for his relentless work a season ago, didn’t wake up this season with selective amnesia about his role.

That said, there is a chance Jackson will want to go in a different direction in both instances. He might want one of his own in that crucial position he knows so well. Woodson, of course, is saying all the right things …

“Anytime you can get a great basketball mind that comes into your organization, I mean, it can’t do nothing but help,” Woodson said. “I mean, Phil’s been through the ringer. He’s won titles. He’s dealt with players individually. He’s dealt with players as a team. I mean, there’s probably not a lot he hasn’t seen from a basketball standpoint, so I think it’s got to be a plus.”

Woodson’s words of praise might not matter. He’s under contract next season, but there was rampant speculation before Jackson came on board that his job security was dwindling and that he might be replaced at season’s end.

Anthony is the sort of high-scoring anchor Jackson-coached teams have been built around in the past. But no one will confuse Anthony for MJ or Kobe. He’s a great scorer and an extremely hard worker but not the sort of dynamic alpha dog that Shaq or those other guys were and, in Kobe’s case, still are.

It requires an exquisitely manicured plan, but letting Anthony test the free agent waters might be just the sort of escape hatch Jackson needs to restart the Knicks in a different image.

No one knows for sure what his plans are. But it’s safe to say Phil Jackson’s first move or series of moves with the Knicks will be telling. We’ll know much more about Front Office Phil after he starts chipping away than we do now.



VIDEO: The Inside crew discusses Phil Jackson and the Knicks

Gallinari’s Second Surgery A Blow


VIDEO: Danilo Gallinari scored 22 points in a victory over the Bucks last season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Denver Nuggets’ roller-coaster season took a severe nosedive Tuesday with the team announcing that 3-point shooting forward Danilo Gallinari will miss the rest of the season after undergoing a second surgery on his left knee in nine months.

Gallinari tore his ACL during a game on April 4 against the Dallas Mavericks and had surgery on April 30. Gallinari was initially hopeful of returning to the team during the first half of the season, but he has not been able to play at all. Nuggets general manager and vice president of basketball operations Tim Connelly explained why:

“It was recently determined that the procedure that Danilo underwent on his knee this past summer was insufficient,” Connelly said in a statement. “Danilo’s knee required that he undergo reconstruction of the ACL, which was successfully completed earlier this morning.”

The Nuggets’ second-leading scorer last season and one of its top 3-point gunners, Gallinari’s loss is a blow to the middling Nuggets’ playoff chances under first-year coach Brian Shaw.

“It’s disappointing,” Shaw told the Denver Post. “The fact that we know how hard he worked rehabbing over the last few months to try to get back for this season. We feel for him, and know how tough a situation that is to deal with.”

Gallinari, 25, is the second player this season to experience a setback after the initial knee surgery, joining Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook, who had surgery in late April to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. He’s also undergone two arthroscopic procedures in the last three months due to related issues. Westbrook’s situation, however, is not as serious as Gallinari’s and he is expected to return to the Thunder’s lineup around the All-Star break.

That won’t be the case for the 6-foot-10 Gallinari, who would have been starting his third full season with Denver and his sixth in the league. He posted career highs in points (16.2 ppg) and rebounds (5.2 ppg) and shot 37.3 percent from the 3-point line.

Without him this season, Denver’s offense ranks 11th in the league and its 3-point shooting percentage ranks 15th. The team has fluctuated between extremes, riding extending losing and winning streaks to a 20-20 record. Now they know Gallinari won’t be riding in to help bring a bit of consistency to the second half of the season.

“Knowing Danilo’s drive and work ethic, we look forward to a full recovery and a healthy return to the court next season,” Connelly said.

Six Worthy Below-The-Radar All-Stars

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors' leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors’ leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

We know the fan balloting to select the NBA All-Star Game starters is a beauty pageant more than a referendum on results.

Kobe Bryant, playing only six games this season, leading the balloting for the West backcourt and Rajon Rondo, who hasn’t played at all, ranked in the top six in the East means all that is missing is a sash and tiara.

With less than a week left in the voting for the starting lineups, it will be up to the coaches — they name the reserves — to fill in the blanks and rectify some of the slights. But there’s still more than handful of deserving players who could be left out. We’ll call them the All-Fars, as in too far under the radar:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Paul Millsap, F, Hawks — When teammate Al Horford was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, it certainly made life a little more difficult for everyone on the Hawks. But it also shed some light on Millsap’s contributions. After six years in Utah, the Jazz let Millsap walk in the name of their youth movement. So he took his lunch-pail attitude to Atlanta as perhaps the best free-agent bargain of last summer. He’s rung up 16 double-doubles in the first 37 games this season and, along with point guard Jeff Teague, is responsible for keeping the Hawks in the No. 3 spot in the East.

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo, G, Magic — Location, location, location. Afflalo is hardly in the prime real estate spot for getting notice with the also-running Magic. There was a great deal of speculation that he would have to be traded before the start of the season to make way for rookie Victor Oladipo. But the Magic are glad they resisted the urge and kept him around. He’s averaging more than 21 points, four assists and four rebounds per game and shooting better than 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. Is it too much of a stretch to label him the second-best shooting guard in the East behind Paul George? Dwyane Wade certainly gets the notoriety and the votes, but Afflalo has the credentials to be in the conversation.

DeMar DeRozan, G, Raptors — If Afflalo is held back by Orlando being mired at the bottom of the East standings, how much of a bump can DeRozan get from being the lead dog pulling the wagon for the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors? That is odd just to type. But there’s no question that Toronto has come together in the aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade. The 24-year-old DeRozan has ably stepped up to carry the offensive load and has shined in big wins at Oklahoma City and at home over the Pacers. He’s scoring, passing and rebounding. The only thing missing is a dependable 3-point stroke.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Ty Lawson, G, Nuggets — With the injuries to Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, it seems that the All-Star door is finally going to swing open for Stephen Curry. But that still leaves a gigantic logjam of point guards in the West. Never mind the populist voting that has the likes of Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin in the top 10. Lawson still has plenty of competition from Damian Lillard and Tony Parker, both of whom play for teams that are significantly higher up in the standings. The Nuggets had to do an extreme makeover with the departure of Andre Iguodala and the loss of Danilo Gallinari to a knee injury. Lawson has to carry the lion’s share of the load and is the only player on the roster averaging more than 30 minutes per game. He said he didn’t like coach Brian Shaw’s system at the start of the season, but he has thrived in it.

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum, F, Trail Blazers — He’s a victim of his own teammates. While the Blazers’ surprising rise in the standings is giving LaMarcus Aldridge his star turn, and Damian Lillard is constantly providing his own end-of-game highlights, the young Frenchman stands in the background and rarely draws more more attention than the wallpaper. He’s still long and lean, but seems to have grown in confidence with his offense. As part of the bombs-away Portland attack, he’s firing up at least five 3-pointers per game and connecting at a 40 percent clip. He’s also playing more of a role as a distributor and remains an excellent finisher on the Blazers’ break with his speed and length. Likely the only way Batum will ever get his due is if he helps take his team all the way to The Finals, where nobody gets overlooked.

Anthony Davis, F, Pelicans — A year ago, it was easy to look past the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft because his coach did more to stop him with a lack of playing time than any defender on the court. But the reins are off now and Davis has become a real force at both ends of the court, averaging just under 20 points, nine rebounds and more than two blocked shots per game. Coach Monty Williams says there is virtually nothing he doesn’t trust Davis to do on the court now. The 20-year-old, who’s expected to be the foundation of the franchise for the next decade, has had to shoulder even more of the load due to the spate of injuries that have taken down Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson. He’s got a particularly tough road to travel to the All-Star Game in his hometown of New Orleans with Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, to name a few, blocking his path. Plus, he’s playing in the depths of the standings. But growth in the shadows is still growth.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Smith’s future with Knicks uncertain | Report: Miller back in Nuggets’ lineup? | Manziel signs with LeBron’s marketing firm | Should foes wear KD’s shoes?

No. 1: Smith’s future with Knicks in limbo – The NBA handed J.R. Smith a $50,000 fine for his shoe-untying incidents over the last week, but that was apparently just the start of a bad week for him. According to Frank Isola of The New York Daily News, the Knicks are losing patience with the mercurial shooting guard with coach Mike Woodson refusing to address any questions about Smith either before or after last night’s eventual victory over the Miami Heat. Smith was benched for the entire game and spoke briefly with reporters after the Knicks’ win about whether or not his time in New York is coming to an end:

As crazy as this sounds, Smith once believed that he would spend the rest of his career with the Knicks, which either proves he’s a big dreamer or incredibly naïve.

Patrick Ewing didn’t retire a Knick. Neither did Charles Oakley or John Starks. Of course, two better examples for J.R.’s purposes would be Latrell Sprewell and Stephon Marbury.

The motto is “Once a headache, always a headache” until you get on Dolan’s bad side and the ugly divorce begins.

“Honestly I don’t even know,” Smith said when asked if he has a future with the club. “At one point I was, for sure, and now it’s rocking the boat.”

No one rocks it like Smith, Dolan’s onetime golfing buddy whose list of transgressions is as numerous as the tattoos that cover his body. The latest screwup was harmless in some ways but also incredibly foolish, especially after the NBA warned Smith not to untie an opposing player’s sneakers like he did to Shawn Marion on Sunday in Dallas.

To be fair, it was reported to be a warning, but in J.R.’s world, warnings are open for interpretation. So here it goes:

“Yeah, pretty much. They warned me, but it wasn’t one of those warning where you go ‘Oh damn,’ it was one of those warnings where you really don’t know the outcome of it. You don’t even know if it was a warning or what it was. But at the end of the day it doesn’t really change anything now. We won. We beat Miami, a championship team, so you can’t complain.”

Woodson refused to address Smith’s status before or after Thursday’s victory, which only added to the confusion. That is a Knicks specialty, of course.

Smith claims he arrived for work, albeit $50,000 poorer, fully expecting to play against Miami. He also claims that Woodson never addressed the fine or the benching with him.

“That’s the most misleading part of it,” Smith said. “I can see if I was told, but there was no conversation about it. But it is what it is. We got the ‘W.’ ”

This doesn’t make Smith a martyr, the way Dolan famously turned Sprewell into one more than a decade earlier. Still, it wasn’t handled well, and it was pretty weird seeing Smith seated within 15 feet of actress Katie Holmes and Smith’s enabler, Dolan.

Dolan is trying to distance himself from Smith the way Holmes ran away from Tom Cruise and the Church of Scientology. Dolan should have been smarter last summer when he foolishly signed Smith to a three-year contract when the team knew the guard was headed for knee surgery.

Smith has never been right physically, and his conduct deteriorated rapidly last week once the club informed him it was cutting his younger brother, Chris. J.R. tweeted a reference to feeling betrayed, and a few nights later in Houston, he took an ill-advised shot in a tie game because he mistakenly thought the Knicks were losing.

On ESPN Radio in New York on Thursday, Smith’s former coach in Denver, George Karl, said it perfectly: “He’s going to wake up some day and he’s going to realize that he’s thrown away some great opportunities and great years because of this mockery that he brings to the game.”


VIDEO:The Inside the NBA crew discusses J.R. Smith’s benching vs. the Heat

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No. 2: Report: Miller could get back into Nuggets’ lineup — Since his on-court outburst against coach Brian Shaw on Jan. 1, the future of Nuggets point guard Andre Miller in Denver has looked more and more like he was headed out of town. The Nuggets have reportedly had several trade offers for Miller (the Kings seem the most interested in him), but the player may not end up leaving Colorado after all. Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post reports that there is a slim chance Miller sticks around with the team:

There is a chance that embattled Nuggets guard Andre Miller could find himself back in Denver’s lineup in the near future.

A league source indicated that there is a slim chance, but one nonetheless, that Miller could suit up again. Miller has missed four straight games after being dismissed from the team for a mandatory two games for his part in an on-court verbal confrontation with coach Brian Shaw in the Nuggets’ game against Philadelphia on Jan. 1.

Miller worked out on the Nuggets practice court as recently as Thursday, keeping himself in as good a shape as he can while he sits out. The Nuggets continue to explore deals to trade the veteran, but have been unsuccessful to this point.

Any Miller return would come with the understanding that playing time still would be scarce or non-existent. Miller’s beef is with his declining role, which bottomed-out in the first “Did Not Play – Coaches Decision” of his career in that game against Philadelphia.

Afterward, he left quickly and hasn’t been around the team since.

Shaw still has not spoken with Miller since the incident, but has said before that he could definitely co-exist with the point guard.

He re-iterated that point after Thursday night’s game against Oklahoma City.

“I’m willing to coach anybody on our roster that’s willing to play and do what the best thing is for the team, whatever role that is,” Shaw said. “And so right now he…is dealing with what he wants to do. But in the process, my concern is what’s best for the Denver Nuggets and right now that is continuing with the guys that are here right now and just looking ahead to our next opponent and what we need to do to prepare for that.”


VIDEO: Inside the NBA’s crew discusses the Andre Miller situation

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No. 3: LeBron’s marketing firm to represent Johnny Manziel — Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who won the Heisman Trophy last season, announced this week that he was declaring for the NFL Draft. Manziel is expected to be a first-round pick — perhaps taken very early in that round — and as such, he is starting to get his life together for a professional career. As such, the man known as “Johnny Football” has hired LeBron James‘ marketing firm to handle his publicity efforts, writes Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

LeBron James has gotten into the football game. More to the point, he has gotten into the Johnny Football game.

The Miami Heat forward confirmed before Thursday night’s game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden that his marketing firm will represent former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

James said the relationship with his LRMR firm was the product of an ongoing relationship.

“They reached out to me when he was going through a lot of off-the-field things, that I thought was just overblown,” James said of the former Texas A&M quarterback. “He’s not the only college kid that’s ever went to a frat party, or the only college kid that ever had fun. But obviously, he’s Johnny Manziel so it’s blown out of proportion.

“When the opportunity was brought to me, I basically just told him, if he’s willing to listen, if he’s willing to take my advice then I’m willing to give it. And throughout this whole season, I would text him weekly before the games and after the games. I didn’t know it would lead to us being together now because of business, but I was happy to help him.”

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No. 4: Should foes wear Kevin Durant’s shoes? — Three-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant, not surprisingly, has his own line of shoes from Nike that have become popular with players not named Durant around the NBA. Apparently, wearing his shoes when facing him has become a big point of contention for some around the league, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, and was an issue Nuggets coach Brian Shaw went in depth on before last night’s Thunder-Nuggets game from Denver:

Denver has at least two players who routinely wear Durant’s line of “KDs,” forward Wilson Chandler and center Timofey Mozgov.

But should players wear them against Durant?

“We were actually having a conversation about that with the players,” said Nuggets coach Brian Shaw. “When I came (into the NBA) in 1988, shortly after that, (Michael) Jordan started with his Jordan One. They only made them in red, white and black, Bulls colors. I remember Nike wouldn’t let you wear his shoes. They only let him wear it. You could order them through your account, but you couldn’t wear them in games.

“And then, when they started making different colors, they started allowing guys to wear them in games. Obviously, the most important thing is that it’s a shoe that fits your foot and (if) you’re comfortable in it then you’ll want to wear it. But I always thought that that gave; like being on the Lakers, when guys would wear Kobe (Bryant’s) shoes when we were playing against them, he always would, in his mind, feel ‘I got him because he’s wearing my shoes.’ So the guys who do wear KD’s, we were talking yesterday, ‘Are you really going to wear those tomorrow when we play him?’ So it was a debate back and forth about the comfort of the shoe as opposed to what message it sends when you’re wearing a guy’s shoes.”

Durant downplayed the potential psychological advantage angle.

“I’ve seen a few guys wear my shots,” he said. “It’s flattering to me. I don’t really look at it as an advantage at all. More so, it’s just cool seeing “KD” on other guys’ shoes, because I’ve grown up watching people wear Jordans and play in Jordans. And now, to have my own signature shoe and have my peers wearing it, it’s pretty fun to see.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Nets guard Deron Williams will miss the next two games and possibly the team’s game to London … Cool preview of this Saturday’s “Inside Stuff” with Kevin Love, who gives you a taste of how he works his rebounding magic … ICYMI, the Rockets’ mascot, Clutch, does an awesome job of scaring Houston’s players … Does Eric Bledsoe actually want to stick around with the Suns?

ICYMI Of The Night: We love Kenneth Faried around here, but he got banged on last night by the Thunder’s Reggie Jackson


VIDEO: Reggie Jackson throws down a power jam on the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried

Ujiri The Ultimate Chemistry Teacher




VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors are on a roll right now, winners of four straight games

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Masai Ujiri‘s front office peers around the NBA should pay close attention to the way the Toronto Raptors’ star goes about his business. While some franchise architects like to work their so-called magic with the public watching intently, Ujiri has done a masterful job (first in Denver and now in Toronto) tweaking chemistry and getting results.

In fact, Ujiri has proven himself to be the ultimate chemistry teacher these days in terms of knowing how to tweak a roster just right. The reigning NBA Executive of the Year, an honor voted on by his peers, Ujiri is making a strong push for repeat honors with the way the Raptors are playing since the Rudy Gay trade went down.

They are 9-3 and winners of eight of their last 10 games since moving Gay to Sacramento Dec. 9. It was a move designed to give the Raptors long-term flexibility and not necessarily an immediate jolt that has helped them climb all the way up to the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

But Ujiri has a way of studying a roster, figuring out what works and what doesn’t and then being fearless in his attempts to change things for the better. Since Gay was jettisoned, the Raptors have scored huge wins over the likes of Dallas and Chicago, and most recently in Oklahoma City (where they handed the West-best Thunder their first home loss of the season) and kicked off 2014 with an impressive home win over the East-best Indiana Pacers.

As much as this is about the fine work being done by Raptors coach Dwane Casey and his staff, and of course, the contributions of a roster full of grinders like DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, Greivis Vasquez and others, this is about the man who put it all together.

Ujiri just happens to have the magic touch right now. And if you don’t believe it, just look at the hard times his former team has fallen upon in his absence. The Denver Nuggets have lost eight straight games, their longest such skid since the end of the 2002-03 season. Veteran point guard Andre Miller turned the heat up even more by ripping first-year coach Brian Shaw after Wednesday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, making matters worse in Denver while Ujiri has his new team soaring.

A boss like Ujiri keeps those dustups contained, as best can be, or at least at a minimum and away from the public. You don’t have to worry about those sorts of altercations when working conditions are at a premium. And Ujiri has freed up virtually every key rotation player on the Raptors’ roster to do what he does best after the Gay trade.

DeRozan and Lowry in particular are allowed to play more to their natural strengths on the perimeter, while Valanciunas has become more of a focal point as well. Role players like Johnson, the ridiculously underrated Vasquez, who came over from Sacramento in the trade, and young journeyman forwards Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson have become critical pieces in the Raptors’ current run.

“No one on this team is selfish; everyone accepts their roles,” Patterson told reporters after the Raptors outslugged Paul George, Roy Hibbert and the Pacers to kick off the New Year. “No one wants to get more shots, no one wants to do more of this, no one is jealous of another player … we all understand what we have to do in order to make this machine keep rolling smoothly.”

The man responsible for making sure that machine runs without a hitch, of course, is Ujiri. He understands, as well or better than most right now, that team chemistry trumps just about everything else that goes on inside a team’s fabric in this day and age. Even the Miami Heat needed a year (and a Finals defeat at the hands of a Mavericks team that had off the charts chemistry) to figure that out.


VIDEO: The Raptors took it to the Pacers, kicking off 2014 in style before the home crowd

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers again weigh Pau Gasol trade | Lowry talks continue | Shaw may change Nuggets’ lineup

No. 1: Lakers again weigh Pau Gasol trade — The Los Angeles Lakers want to see what they have now that Kobe Bryant is healthy and haven’t eliminated the possibility of re-signing Pau Gasol when he’s a free agent next summer, but if the big man is going to continue pouting about his role under Mike D’Antoni, they may have no choice but to see what they can get for him. Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN write that the time to take calls may be coming soon:

The Los Angeles Lakers prefer to keep struggling center Pau Gasol and believe he eventually will have success in coach Mike D’Antoni’s system, but his recent comments and subpar play have caused them to begin weighing whether to make him available before the NBA’s annual trade deadline in February, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

The Lakers have yet to engage in any Gasol-related trade discussions with other teams, sources told ESPN.com. But Gasol’s recent comments about his frustrations with his role in the Lakers’ offense, his impending free agency, and his struggles offensively and particularly defensively have essentially forced the team to consider its options.

Gasol had something of a bounce-back game in Friday’s 122-97 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and made a point of saying that “you always have to make yourself responsible” for your own play and that “when you start pointing fingers at other sides or other directions, you’re making a mistake.”

***

No. 2: Knicks executives pushing owner Jim Dolan to do deal for Kyle Lowry — If the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are both bidding for Kyle Lowry, that’s probably good news for Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, who got a nice haul for Carmelo Anthony when he pitted the same two teams against each other in 2011. Yahoo‘s Adrian Wojnarowski breaks down what’s on the table from both teams:

As New York Knicks executives work to convince owner Jim Dolan he should ignore public criticism and complete a deal for Kyle Lowry, the Brooklyn Nets are gaining traction as a possible destination for the Toronto Raptors point guard, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Knicks are desperate for a point guard, and their front office had a deal together that would’ve sent Raymond Felton, Metta World Peace and a 2018 first-round pick for Lowry.
The Knicks’ front office is determined to re-enter talks on Lowry, league sources said, but it is unclear how they will try to amend a trade package – or whether they’re willing to return the original offer to the table. Without the future first-round pick, there’s little chance of the Knicks landing Lowry, sources said.

The Golden State Warriors also have remained involved in talks with Toronto on Lowry, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Dolan became livid over the public disclosure of the deal terms and became aware over some segments of reaction that deemed the package a third straight debacle in dealing with Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, sources said.

Ujiri, the NBA’s Executive of the Year with the Denver Nuggets a year ago, negotiated deals that brought the Knicks Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani in recent years.

***

No. 3: Could changes be coming to the Nuggets starting five?The Denver Nuggets play absolutely atrocious defense at the start of games, allowing 123 points per 100 possessions in the first six minutes of the first quarter. Their struggles continued on Friday, allowing the Jazz to score 18 points in the first 4:33. So yeah, as Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post writes, Brian Shaw is thinking about making a lineup change:

The Nuggets have a recurring problem: Bad starts. Slow starts, whatever you want to call it, they aren’t getting out of the gate with any kind of urgency much of the time. On Friday, Utah scored 33 points on 54 percent shooting (85 percent from the 3-point line) in the first quarter, the latest in a lengthening line of irritating starts.

So Shaw is now on to this: Considering a shakeup in the starting lineup.

Whether it actually happens remains to be seen, and maybe he cools down and rethinks the whole concept overnight after his team’s 103-93 loss to Utah on Friday. But switching out some starters is a card he’s as ready to play as he’s ever been.

“Continuing to give up those big quarters is not going to get it done for us,” Shaw said. “I don’t know if I have to shake it up or what I have to do with that starting lineup. But the chemistry, for whatever reason, is not there. And it’s putting too much pressure on our bench to have to come in, night after night and have to bail us out and have to expend so much energy getting back into the game. Then they get tired and then I try to put our starters back in to give them another opportunity – they push the lead up to 10 again. And that’s kind of been the theme and the way that things have been going. So, I have to kind of search and figure out what I’m going to have to do to remedy that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pelicans’ Tyreke Evans reinjured his left ankle in Friday’s win over the Grizzlies … Brook Lopez missed Friday’s loss in Detroit with another sprained ankle, but says he already feels betterTom Thibodeau played Jimmy Butler more than 36 minutes in his return from turf toe … and the Knicks are down another big man.

ICYMI: Rudy Gay made his debut for the Sacramento Kings on Friday…


VIDEO: Rudy Gay’s Kings Debut

Hickson’s Flexibility Vital To Hot Nuggets


VIDEO: J.J. Hickson finishes off the Randy Foye lob with force

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The NBA hands out end-of-year awards for just about everything, so why not an MAP award?

Most Adaptable Player.

If such an honor existed, the Denver Nuggets’ 6-foot-9 starting center J.J. Hickson would (again) be a leading candidate. While undersized for the position, he played it all last season for the Portland Trail Blazers and had a breakout year offensively, averaging a double-double (12.7 ppg and 10.4 rpg).

A free agent in the offseason, he signed with Denver where the talented-but yet-to-put-it-all-together 7-footer JaVale McGee was hyped as the starting center and 7-foot-1 free-agent Timofey Mozgov re-signed, too. That meant the bruising, 242-pound Hickson could return to his more natural position of power forward, albeit behind entrenched starter Kenneth Faried, and get back to battling guys more his size.

Here’s what Hickson told me back in February about playing center for the Blazers and what it meant for his impending free agency:

“The NBA world knows what my true position is and they know I’m sacrificing for my team, and I think that helps us even more knowing that I’m willing to play the ’5′ to help us get wins.”

In July, Hickson, 25, signed a three-year, $16.1 million contract with the Nuggets. Five games into the season, McGee went down with a stress fracture to his leg and remains out indefinitely. First-year coach Brian Shaw could have picked Mozgov as the traditional choice to start in Shaw’s inside-first offense. But Shaw chose Hickson.

“Some things never change it feels like,” Hickson said of starting at center again. “History does tend to repeat itself at times. I’m doing whatever it takes to win games and if it means playing center, that’s what I’ll do.”

Hickson said Shaw came to him and simply told him, “You’re starting at center.”

“Ever since that day, I accepted the challenge,” Hickson said.

Since Hickson took over at center, the Nuggets (13-8) have won 12 of 16 games following a rough 1-4 start that had critics of the franchise’s sudden overhaul — specifically the firing of longtime coach George Karl — shouting told-you-so.

Hickson is averaging 10.5 ppg and 8.2 rpg this season. He’s produced five double-doubles in his last 16 games — including an 18-point, 19-rebound effort against Oklahoma City — plus six more games with at least eight rebounds. As the starting center, he’s averaging 12.1 ppg on 51.9 percent shooting and 8.5 rpg in 25.6 mpg.

Without All-Star-caliber point guard Ty Lawson in the lineup the last two games due to a hamstring injury, the Nuggets won both to finish their six-game all-Eastern Conference road swing 4-2. Hickson combined for 21 points on 50 percent shooting and 18 rebounds in the two games while essentially splitting time with Mozgov.

“After every game, every practice I feel we’re jelling more and more and we trust each other more on the court,” Hickson said prior to the trip. “We’re playing together, we’re having fun, we’re learning how to close out games. Just the camaraderie amongst each other is great.”

Initially, Hickson’s signing in Denver seemed curious because it seemed to mean his accepting a bench role behind Faried. But the Nuggets needed additional frontline toughness and Hickson is happy to deliver. He won’t earn votes for the All-Defensive team, but he’s also not the turnstile the advanced stats crowd makes him out to be. Part of it is simply that Hickson is undersized and out of position practically every game.

Until McGee returns, Hickson is likely to continue to start in the middle. And even then, it’s not like McGee was tearing it up before his injury. Shaw saw fit to play McGee just 15.8 mpg as the starter, fewer minutes than even Karl — hardly McGee’s biggest fan — could stand bringing him off the bench.

When McGee eventually does work himself back into the starting lineup, it will at least provide the opportunity for Hickson to return to power forward. Not that he won’t keep fighting to stay in the starting lineup, no matter the position.

“I’d be lying if I said I came here to play backup, but that’s competition,” Hickson said. “That’s still to be determined and we’ll cross that road when we get there.”

Until then, Hickson will just keep adapting.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls GM won’t overhaul roster | Kupchack: No extension talks yet with Pau | Shaw gets creative to help Nuggets at FT line | Fitness focus paying off for Sixers

No. 1: Bulls GM won’t overhaul roster, vows no ‘rash decisions’– As the Chicago Bulls and their fans are still getting over losing star Derrick Rose for the season, General Manager Gar Forman is tasked with looking to what comes next and answering questions about the future of the team. In interviews with both ESPNChicago.com’s Melissa Isaacson and Bulls.com’s Sam Smith, Forman reveals that the Bulls won’t be making any hasty moves with the roster and further discusses Rose’s recovery process.

First, here is Forman talking with Issacson on his plans to keep the roster as-is:

 

Calling Derrick Rose’s torn medial meniscus in his right knee “a freak injury,” Chicago Bulls general manager Gar Forman said Tuesday the team is “positioned well” and has no immediate plans to make dramatic changes to the roster.

“With this type of injury, he should come back 100 percent,” Forman said by phone with ESPNChicago.com, a day after Rose had surgery that will sideline him the rest of the season. “With the previous [ACL] injury, that leg is strong and we saw the explosiveness and reactivity and speed, and then it was just [a matter of] getting into rhythm.

“Though this is a severe injury, it’s not as severe as the other. He’ll get over it and be able to get his career back to the highest level.”

Saying Rose is “really out” for the season, despite the Bulls’ potential postseason activity, Forman said it is premature to talk about potential trades or, as much as the team’s fan base and media have suggested, re-building.

“This just happened. It’s too early to start to go down that road,” Forman said. “From an organizational standpoint, our front office, not just this year but every year, we always evaluate our team, where we’re at, how we can get better. …

“We’re not going to make rash decisions. We feel we have a bright future ahead and we’re positioned well. We have good players in their 20s, Derrick is going to come back, we’re positioned well with draft picks into the future and we have some level of flexibility which we haven’t had under this new CBA.”

In an interview with Smith, Forman opens up more about the look of the roster, Rose’s recovery and other topics:

Question: How was Derrick’s surgery and why did he choose this option which will keep him out the entire 2013-14 NBA season?

Forman: This was the best procedure for Derrick’s long-term health. That is our primary concern. Whatever is best for Derrick in the long term as a 25-year-old athlete was our first thought. And what’s best for Derrick is best for the franchise. He’s still young, has a very long career ahead of him and there’s no reason after talking to the surgeons Derrick will not return 100 percent. This particular option gave him the best chance for long-term success.

Question: Couldn’t they have gone with the short-term option to bring him back sooner?

Forman: We are never going to be shortsighted when it comes to a player and his health. The decision had been made to repair it if possible. Once the surgeons saw how good the tissue looked, they stayed with that option. To do otherwise could have made the knee less stable and increase the risks down the road as we’ve seen with other NBA players. Given the circumstances, the procedure and outcome was as good as could be expected.

Question: Last year you never said when Derrick would return and there were updates that suggested it would be before the end of the season. And that was a more serious injury. Why now is he out for the entire season?

Forman: Last year we really didn’t know and Derrick didn’t, either. Remember, Jerry Reinsdorf always said last year we were going to be conservative and that Derrick would not be coming back until he was 100 percent ready. This time it’s clear that he won’t be able to return.

Question: What about this team? Where do you go from here knowing you probably can no longer win a championship this season without Derrick.

Forman: Look, I think Tom [Thibodeau] said it well Sunday. The core of this team has been through this before. And they’ve had a level of success pulling together. That’s what they’ve shown they’re about. It’s obviously tough for them, but that’s why we have so much faith in this team, because of the way these players have responded to adversity and always played at a high level. So we feel they’re the kind of people and players who will pull together again.

Question: But do they have enough to still be competitive?

Forman: There’s still a lot of talent on this team. There’s two guys who were All-Stars a year ago in Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, is a high level player who was among the leaders in double-doubles in the league last season, Jimmy Butler when he comes back and we saw last season what he can do, Taj [Gibson], who has had a very good start. There’s Kirk [Hinrich], whose proven to be one of the top defensive guards in the league, Mike Dunleavy, one of the best three-point shooters in basketball. And this will give Marquis Teague and Tony Snell an opportunity grow.

Question: But given you probably cannot win a title this season, why not make changes for the future?

Forman: It’s obviously too soon to go down that road. Derrick had surgery this morning. Look, we are always evaluating our team, just like everyone else does. We felt good about this season, but we were hardly perfect. So we always are looking to get better. Everything we do is geared toward winning a championship and we will continue to evaluate any moves that will help us in attaining that goal.

Question: Why didn’t you at least keep Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson?

Forman: In the summer of 2012, we were putting together a team to play without Derrick Rose. Though there was a possibility he could return, we approached that off season as though he may not. So we added players who would fill in for Derrick as no one can replace a Derrick Rose. But this season we expected to have Derrick. And we had Kirk Hinrich moving to a backup guard position and you’ve been able to see how well that was working with Kirk behind Derrick. Then we added Mike Dunleavy because his stretch the floor shooting fit the best with Derrick, and you can see what we saw in Mike and how well he shoots the ball from three-point range.

Question: OK, now you know Derrick is gone for this season. Why not trade some of your players for future possibilities, young players or draft picks and begin rebuilding?

Forman: It’s still too early in the process and we’re not going to make any rash decisions. We feel there is a bright future ahead and we believe we are positioned well. Look, we fully expect Derrick to come back 100 percent for next season. This basically was a freak injury. This was not due to the ACL or some fatigue of other factor. We have a young nucleus of veterans basically in their 20’s; we have multiple draft picks, including a pick from Charlotte in one of the next three drafts; we have the rights to Nikola Mirotic, who has been the best young payer in Europe the last two years. I know people get tired of hearing it sometimes, but we also have the possibility of flexibility in free agency this summer or next. So we feel we are in a good position, and we will be getting Derrick back.

Question: But can you trust Rose now after these injuries?

Forman: We see no reason not to. That’s what the best doctors in the world tell us. His left knee is strong, as everyone has seen, and his right knee will be strong as any doctor will tell you after this surgery. We’ve seen with many current All-Stars go through the same procedure.

***

No. 2: Kupchack: No extension talks yet with Gasol — On Monday, the Lakers showed they were committed to making star guard Kobe Bryant a Laker for life by agreeing to terms with him on a two-year, reported $48.5 million extension. The man who helped Bryant to his two post-Shaquille O’Neal titles, Pau Gasol, is a free agent this summer. So is Gasol in line for an extension as well? According to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin, both Gasol and GM Mitch Kupchack say they have yet to have discussions about that topic:

“We have not had any discussions with Pau,” Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Tuesday on a conference call with a small group of reporters. “I’m sure I will and where that leads I’m not sure right now. A lot has to do with different variables. I’m not saying that something won’t be considered and I’m not saying that something will be. I’m just saying that it’s not something that came up and it wouldn’t have come up before (Monday) anyway. There was no reason for anything to take place until we signed Kobe. So, we’ll kind of roll with that and see where it leads.”

Gasol, 33, is averaging 14.3 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks this season, but shooting just 42.1 percent from the field. His play has been on an uptick of late, as he put up consecutive 20-point, 10-rebound games after dealing with foot discomfort and a respiratory issue for much of the early portion of the season.

The 13-year veteran said that he did not know if Bryant’s deal means that the Lakers will also want to negotiate with him before the season ends.

“I try not to make that assumption,” Gasol said after shootaround Tuesday in advance of the Lakers game against the Washington Wizards. “If I am, I will. If I’m not . . . I’m just focusing on trying to play as well as I can and finish the season as good as I can so I’m in the best position as possible for next year. That’s just my mindset about it.”

Gasol said that he had not spoken to Bryant about the extension yet, noting that the Lakers’ star guard was sitting behind him on the team plane when they took their cross-country flight Monday.

“I think he was soundly asleep,” Gasol said. “I think he was peaceful . . . I’m sure he was happy.”

Is Gasol happy about Bryant taking up $23.5 million of the expected $62.9 million salary cap for next season on his own? Will that leave anything for him to sign for?

“I don’t really think about that,” Gasol said. “I thought it was a good extension for him. He’s the face of the Lakers, pretty much. So, I just think it caught a lot of people off guard unexpectedly without him being back playing and showing how well has he recovered from that injury. Other than that, it was a great extension for him.

“As far as me, or the team which is I’m most concerned about, how can you add other pieces around him and valuable pieces so we can win a title. But that’s the only concern. I’m not good with the mathematics and the numbers of the equation here, but that’s the only concern.”

***

No. 3: Shaw tries unique method to help Nuggets at line – Our own Jeff Caplan has a great story on Ty Lawson and how the lightning-quick point guard has thrived in new coach Brian Shaw‘s offense that is worth a read if you missed it. While Denver is finding its footing again as a solid team in the West, it continues to struggle with free throw shooting as the Nuggets shoot 69.9 percent from the stripe, third-worst in the NBA. According to Caplan, though, Shaw has tried to create an incentive for players to try and make more foul shots:

Frustrated by more bricks than he can stand from his team at the free throw line, an idea popped into the head of Nuggets coach Brian Shaw at the end of the team’s Monday morning shootaround in Dallas.

“What I did was I joked with the guys that the safest place in the building to stand when we’re at the free throw line is right underneath the net,” Shaw said. “So I gave everybody on the team basically a chance to shoot a free throw with myself standing under the net with my hands down, where if they made it the ball would hit me on top of the head.”

As a team the Nuggets are shooting an abysmal 69.9 percent from the stripe, 28th in the NBA. Four of the team’s starters shoot below 70 percent with J.J. Hickson below 60 percent.

Denver was coming off a 102-100 win against Dallas on Saturday in which they were 21-for-30 from the free throw line. A better showing at the line and the game might not have been such a nail-biter down the stretch.

“At this point I’m trying by any means necessary to get us shooting free throws better,” Shaw said. “The guys who hit me the most — well, Kenneth Faried actually got two hits on me — but the guys that haven’t really had an opportunity to play as much were the ones that were really, really aiming for me.”

***

No. 4: Sixers credit Brown for creating fitness focus – As of this morning, the Sixers are second in the Atlantic Division and are just a half-game behind Washington for the East’s No. 8 seed. We’re still a long way from clinching playoff berths in the NBA, but worth noting is that Philly is exceeding expectations and much of that is a credit to new coach Brett Brown and the team’s fastbreaking ways. The Sixers lead the NBA in both fast-break points per game (18.3) and pace (102.4 points per 100 possessions), a credit to the emphasis Brown placed on fitness in the offseason, writes Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com:

The ongoing theme with the Sixers when asked about their Maine-born coach with the thickest of New England accents is that Brett Brown speaks nonstop about “career-best fitness.”

While that phrase might have been annoying at first to Brown’s players, that is no longer the case. The Sixers are clearly reaping the benefits of the head coach’s hard stance on being in shape.

“First we had to do a conditioning test and then we had to drop weight,” said Evan Turner, who is down nine pounds and 2½ percent body fat. “He told us what weight he wanted us to be at. He was kind of nice about it, but he wasn’t if you didn’t hit that weight number. That was key.”

For a guy like Tony Wroten, who is in just his second NBA season, Brown’s approach is what the guard grew accustomed to in college at Washington.

“In college, you run around and do a lot of conditioning,” Wroten said. “When I first got here, not only did the coach e-mail me about it but also the strength and conditioning coaches, what summer was going to be like and this is what we are going to do.

“I knew they were serious. At the time, I was like what is this? This is like college, but Coach always says it is going to pay off in the long run and it has. We can run at the end of games. We are still pacing, so working on it in the summer helped a lot.”

Wroten isn’t just drawing on his own experiences out on the court. He has also witnessed the impact of the Sixers’ focus on fitness in his teammates.

“In film the other day, in the fourth quarter you see Mike [Carter-Williams] picking up full court,” said Wroten, who missed Saturday’s game with back spasms. “In the NBA, no one plays full court at all, but for him to be able to do that in the fourth when we only had seven, eight people and he had played a lot of minutes [was key]. It showed the little things.

“Sometimes teams will say to us, ‘Are you guys ever going to stop running?’ And they are serious, but at the end of the day we are going to keep running, keep running and keep running.”

Brown stresses that what the Sixers are doing with fitness is not groundbreaking. He says the NBA’s 29 other teams implement the same mentality but maybe not as strongly.

“It is all about recovery,” Brown said. “Playing 82 games, back-to-back games, how do you back it up? What do you do on a plane if you are flying? It is the people who take care of their bodies and are prideful with their diet, nutrition and hydration and massages and ice down.

“All the programs do it, so it isn’t like we found something tricky. We just want to be responsible with it and proactive with it.”

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Warriors forward Andre Iguodala will miss at least the team’s next three games … Nets coach Jason Kidd gets a fresh vote of confidence from GM Billy KingJermaine O’Neal apparently gave quite the inspiring speech during Golden State’s win last night

ICYMI Of The Night: Magic rookie Victor Oladipo lets loose with a vicious jam over a couple of Atlanta Hawks defenders …


VIDEO: Victor Oladipo gets up to dunk over both Al Horford and Paul Millsap

Nuggets’ Lawson Thriving With New Coach Shaw In Charge


VIDEO: Lawson’s double-double carries Nuggets over Mavs

DALLAS – After the Denver Nuggets surprisingly fired George Karl and hired Brian Shaw, everybody pondered the coming limitations lightning-quick point guard Ty Lawson would encounter outside of a structure-less offense rather than the untapped possibilities of playing within one.

“I knew that everybody thought that I can’t play in a system where it’s come down and run a play,” Lawson told NBA.com on Monday night following his fourth double-double of the young season. “But I can.”

Can he ever.

“He’s an All-Star,” assessed Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who watched Lawson slice his defense in consecutive games Saturday and Monday for 39 points and 20 assists. “He and [Tony] Parker are probably the two best paint penetration guys in basketball, and so it’s a big problem, it’s a huge problem. His speed is always in play and he’s shooting high 30s [percent] from 3. So if you lay way off of him he pulls up and shoots it.”

Fears that the 5-foot-11 speedster would be stripped of his identity and his brilliant ability to blow by defenders and attack the rim would be compromised by Shaw’s plan for a more traditional, playoff-tested approach to offense have gone unfounded. After an 0-3 start that included losses to streaking Portland and San Antonio, Denver has won three in a row, seven of 10 and moved above .500 (7-6) for the first time this season after Monday’s 110-96 win at Dallas.

“There’s obviously some differences in the way that George Karl played and the way that our team is playing, but we still want to run and try to take the first available shot,” Shaw said. “I think early on he was a little frustrated because my emphasis was on we have to play inside-out and get the ball inside and create penetration that way. But I think he’s picked and found his spots and he has a green light.”

Initially no one could be quite sure how the rookie head coach would go about implementing — and even Shaw was vague in the buildup to training camp – a more conventional, inside-out approach with a team built for speed. One assumption was that the Indiana assistant the past two seasons would try to ram the Triangle he learned in Los Angeles under Phil Jackson into the square hole that was a team that ran like thoroughbreds and didn’t boast a big-bodied, reliable low-post scorer.

“He’s cool, calm and collected,” Lawson of Shaw. “I knew he was going to try the Triangle or a variation of it and also still keep the running in our game. Late in games, that’s when we start running a lot of plays, when the shot clock’s running down, when we really need points. That’s helping us out a lot because you’re going to need that in the playoffs.”

A month into the season and Lawson is producing at career-high levels across the board: 20.7 ppg, 8.7 apg and 4.1 rpg. He’s got the coach’s green light to attack at will, but he’s also now equipped with a menu of plays to complement his impeccable freelance skills.

“We look inside first, like the first three seconds for a post-up, then it’s basically the guard’s turn,” Lawson said. “You go pick-and-roll, drag, just like Coach Karl, and if you have none of that, just get into a play real quick. And the plays — they’re unbelievable — we’ve got counters; these plays are something that I think a lot of coaches should have in their repertoire.”

Denver’s pace has actually picked up from last season, averaging 100.47 possessions per 48 minutes compared to 97.6. The Nuggets are averaging 103.6 points per 100 possessions, down a bit from last season (107.6) but still good for ninth-best in the league.

Unchanged is how Lawson makes teams pay with near-indefensible bolts to the basket. According to the new player tracking stats on NBA.com, Lawson is averaging 10.8 drives per game, second in the league behind Dallas’ Monta Ellis (11.4). And no team is averaging more points per game on drives by a player than the Nuggets on Lawson drives (13.9), a reflection of his ability to collapse defenses and dish to the open man.

“He’s always in attack mode and it’s eventually like a boxer, just punching and punching and punching non-stop,” new backcourt mate Nate Robinson said. “He just continues to punch, never gets tired, just punch, punch, punch and at the end he’s going to wear you out and wear you down, and that’s how he plays.”

The player tracking stats also reveal that Lawson ranks third behind Chris Paul and John Wall in both creating assist opportunities per game and in points created by assists per game.

“I feel like I can get in the paint on anybody and at least find somebody or get to the basket and cause confusion, cause chaos,” Lawson said. “That’s what I want to do every time I come down the court is cause chaos so where somebody has to help or I can score and get it done like that.”

Shaw’s top priority during the summer was connecting with and understanding his point guard. Rather than preach to Lawson how the offense would run, both came together with open minds about how best to run it.

“We had a lot of talks. When he first came in we talked for like an hour about what he was trying to do and I threw my ideas out there and we were just bouncing ideas of each other,” Lawson said. “Once I learn something I try to master it.”

Of having a batch of plays at his disposal, Lawson said: “It’s helping me a lot finding shooters, getting easier assists and also scoring.”

The Nuggets still aren’t whole. Center JaVale McGee is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his shin and forward Danilo Gallinari continues to recover from ACL surgery. But slowly, a team whose general manager jumped to another team, fired its coach with more than 1,100 career victories and lost defensive-minded swingman Andre Iguodala in free agency, is coming around.

“Right now everybody’s happy,” Lawson said. “I’m happy. Everything is working out.”