Posts Tagged ‘C.J. McCollum’

New situations for second-year players


VIDEO: Learn more about the Greek Freak on ‘Inside Stuff’

What a difference a year makes. And another 60 draft picks. And coaching changes. And trades, free agency and retirement. And medical updates. Especially medical updates.

Paul George getting hurt creates an unexpectedly large opportunity for Solomon Hill with the Pacers, C.J. McCollum gets a training camp in Portland and a running start into 2014-15, Alex Len tries to keep up with the other Suns after missing almost all of a second consecutive summer league because of health problems, and that’s just a partial list. Many of last season’s rookies to watch are this season’s special intrigue, second-year players who will be under a spotlight beyond the usual tracking.

We’re talking playoff implications here and serious questions about career direction. Including:

Victor Oladipo, Magic — Oladipo greatly enhanced his draft stock by dramatically improving his perimeter game as a junior compared to the first two seasons at Indiana, then regressed to 32.7 percent on 3-pointers and 41.9 percent overall as an NBA rookie. That was either a typical difficult transition to the pros, compounded by playing a lot more point guard than before, or the start of chatter that he was a one-hit wonder as a college shooter.

That, in turn, matters in a big way in Orlando. The potential impact of the No. 2 pick in 2013 who at the time projected as a two-way player, based on that final season with the Hoosiers, would be stunted if opponents don’t need to break a sweat when he gets the ball 18 feet from the basket. Beyond that, the Magic need shooters. If Oladipo isn’t one, they need them even more.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks — New coach Jason Kidd wants to give Greek Freak, a small forward as a rookie, a look at point guard, despite Kidd’s many options at the positions. There isn’t the same need after adding Jerryd Bayless and Kendall Marshall later in the summer — in addition to returnees Brandon Knight, Ramon Sessions and Nate Wolters — but the implications of Antetokounmpo succeeding or failing at the point are big. If it works, Milwaukee could throw a matchup problem of historic proportions at a opponents and projected power forward Jabari Parker, the No. 2 pick of 2014, would have more of an opening to show versatility at small forward.

Cody Zeller, Hornets — When Josh McRoberts went from Charlotte to Miami as a free agent, Zeller went from likely backup to the new starter after a 2013-14 of 17.3 minutes per game and a drop to 13.3 in the first round. He is a good fit next to center Al Jefferson, an athletic power forward to offset the center’s slower pace and post game, a good passer who will find Jefferson and new offensive threat Lance Stephenson, but Zeller needs to produce no matter what to help make the Hornets in a playoff a regular sighting.

Alex Len, Suns — Ankle problems last summer, a fractured right pinkie this summer. The 2014 issue isn’t nearly the concern in Phoenix, but the No. 5 pick in ’13 needs to show he can stay healthy. He played 42 games as a rookie, mostly watching as Miles Plumlee, just acquired from the Pacers, took complete control of the starting job at center. Len has a lot of ground to make up.

Anthony Bennett, Timberwolves — The good news is that the first pick in 2013 does not face the same pressure in Minnesota as he did in Cleveland, not with Andrew Wiggins, No. 1 this year, headlining the package that went to the Twin Cities for Kevin Love. Of course, that’s also the bad news. People are expecting that little of Bennett.

Counting him out after one season, even a season of 4.2 points and 35.6 percent from the field, is a mistake. Bennett may have been the top choice only because it was a bad draft and likely would have gone somewhere around the middle of the lottery this June, and there may still be questions about whom he defends, but this is a bounce-back opportunity. Then it’s up to him.

Gorgui Dieng, Timberwolves — Speaking of Minneapolis big-man watches. The difference is Dieng went No. 21, was always going to be a good value pick in that range, and showed the kind of improvement the second half of his rookie season that makes a team look forward to what comes next. Nikola Pekovic, Dieng, Thaddeus Young, maybe Bennett — Minnesota has a chance for a center/power forward rotation.

Ben McLemore, Kings — Sacramento officials couldn’t stop celebrating its good fortune a year ago that McLemore was still on the board at No. 7. Then he was given a clear path to the starting job at shooting guard and couldn’t hold it, finishing at 37.6 percent from the field. Then the same Sacramento officials used the 2014 lottery pick on another shooting guard, Nik Stauskas. While saying all the right things about remaining committed to McLemore, of course.

Solomon Hill, Pacers — Even if Chris Copeland gets the start at small forward in place of the injured George, any measurable bench production from Hill, the No. 23 pick a year ago, will be important. To Indy, of course, in trying to turn longshot hopes for another playoff run into reality, but also to Hill in the wake of getting just 8.1 minutes in 28 regular-season appearances.

C.J. McCollum, Trail Blazers — Limited to just 38 games by a broken left foot, a repeat injury from college, he is now an integral part of hopes in Portland. A solid (or better) contribution from McCollum and the Trail Blazers have a proven backup shooting guard who could play emergency point guard. Poor production and the Blazers have more depth problems with a bench built mostly on players trying to squeeze another season or two out of their career or prospects all about unrealized potential.

Trey Burke, Jazz — From the third-leading vote getter for Rookie of the Year, behind Michael Carter-Williams and Oladipo, to possible transition mode within months after Utah spent its 2014 lottery pick on Dante Exum, who has made it clear he is a point guard and wants the ball in his hands. Maybe Burke and Exum play together, especially with Exum projected as being able to defend shooting guard, although he has yet to show the consistent perimeter game to handle the role on offense. Maybe Burke’s relative experience and leadership skills keep him first on the depth chart as Exum makes the jump from high school ball in Australia. But one of the best parts of the Jazz last season is far from locked into the job.

Blazers’ would-be depth all in Vegas


VIDEO: The Trail Blazers’ young guns rout the Hawks in Las Vegas Summer League

LAS VEGAS – Two seasons ago the Portland Trail Blazers’ bench was remarkably young and perilously inadequate. Last season, the addition of veteran Mo Williams plus incredibly good health among the starting five limited opportunity for the Blazers’ babies.

As Summer League heats up, that banging sound you hear is opportunity knocking. Which young Blazers finally walk through that door will be an intriguing story line to monitor. The choices are all right here in Vegas. In fact, if the Blazers don’t boast the most players from their big-league team on their Summer League squad then they’re right there near the top.

Six of Portland’s 15 roster players are on its Summer League squad: Guards Will Barton, Allen Crabbe and C.J. McCollum, as well as frontline teammates Joel Freeland, Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson. All six players have either one or two years of league service, and all six are seeking to make a first-time impact in the Blazers’ rotation.

McCollum, Robinson and Leonard are all top 11 draft picks.

“It’s an important summer for our young bigs and and our young perimeter guys,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said as he watched Portland’s summer team beat down Atlanta, 91-76. “CJ, Will and Allen, there’s an opportunity. I can’t say how many minutes, but there’s an opportunity. Joel, Meyers and T-rob, after signing Chris [Kaman], there’s some competition.”

Kaman was granted a two-year, $9.8 million contract coming off two subpar seasons with Dallas and then the Los Angeles Lakers. Yet Portland felt compelled to sign him up as backup to starter Robin Lopez because they’ve haven’t been able to count on Leonard or Freeland.

The young guards won’t have to contend with Williams, who remains on the market as an unrestricted free agent, however the Blazers signed steady veteran in Steve Blake.

“In my rookie year everyone talked about the bench,” said Leonard, who took a step back last season, partly due to injury. “Last year was a much better year for us, young guys stepped up. Now we need to have even more of a deep bench, confidence from coach to put us in there and know the score isn’t  going to down, we’re going to keep it there or we’re going to increase the lead. It’s confidence in the starters and coaches that when we come in we’re going to do a good job and they can know we’re going to be all right.”

Self-confidence is a big pat of it, too. The leader in that category could be Thomas Robinson, the fifth overall pick two years ago by Sacramento, who was traded by the Kings and then the Rockets. He played in 70 games for Portland last season, averaging 4.8 ppg and 4.4 rpg in 12.5 mpg. He provided some high energy moments off the bench during the playoffs and now the 23-year-old says he’s discovered what it takes to be a productive NBA player.

“I am where I was supposed to be after my rookie year, making that leap to knowing what type of player you are in this league and knowing what you’re going to do for your team,” Robinson said. “That’s where I am now, where I should have been last year.”

Few expected the Blazers to end up where they did last season, winning 54 games and advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in the last 14 years. They have a dynamic starting five with All-Stars Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, streak-shooter Wes Matthews, stat-stuffer small forward Nicolas Batum and Lopez, their lunchpail center.

Bench parts at every position are on the roster. Now, with another year under the belts, the question is which ones walk through that door.

Blazers needing a big boost from Aldridge’s return to lineup

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: This all-access look inside the Portland Trail Blazers sheds some light on their season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Stare at it long enough and you’ll get dizzy.

Those Western Conference standings that saw the Portland Trail Blazers among the best of the best for the better part of this season have suddenly flipped. Instead of tapering their way into the playoffs, the Blazers in the same boat as the Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks — sweating out their playoff prospects each night.

Not long ago, the reverse was true. LaMarcus Aldridge was playing at an MVP level. Damian Lillard was dazzling as he avoided the dreaded sophomore slump. Swingmen Wes Matthews and Nic Batum were shooting the lights out as underrated starters. Center Robin Lopez was the surprise pickup of the offseason.

Now, the Blazers are in a pressure-packed race to the finish.

And they know it. The sense of urgency surrounding this team is palpable with just 10 games left. The Blazers are the only team in the Western Conference playoff mix playing sub-.500 basketball (3-7) over their last 10 games. My colleague, Fran Blinebury, was spot on when he insisted that the Blazers are letting their season slip away during this post-All-Star swoon.

They need a lift in the worst way heading into tonight’s game against Atlanta at Philips Arena (7:30 ET, League Pass), losers of three straight games and nine of their last 13. Portland hopes to get a big lift in the form of Aldridge, who missed the past seven games with a lower back injury. The chances of him returning to his MVP form from earlier this season are slim. But at least they’ll have him back as the conduit to an offense that has been among the league’s best all season.

Even that doesn’t guarantee the Blazers will survive a wicked and rugged Western Conference playoff chase that is as good as it’s been in years. There’s no sense in examining the good or bad times now. There’s only these final 10 games and the need to get back into a playoff gear.

“You have to understand it for what it is,” Lillard said. “When you’re hot, you know you’re playing well but you have to stay focused. And when you hit that bump in the road and you lose some games, and we’re struggling right now, you have to stick with it. We have to keep grinding and keep playing. And that’s where we’re at right now. We had that high moment. We knew some adversity was going to come. And it’s come. We just have to keep playing and stick together.”

Aldridge, one of the veteran leaders on this team, was adamant about the tough times coming at some point. He didn’t know that they’d come at his expense, with the injuries. He knew they would be a part of the Blazers’ season, though. They always do.

“I’ve seen it before, we had one of those good teams back in the day and injuries hit,” he said. “You have one guy go down and you have a good team, and one injury to the wrong guy or somebody not being right can definitely change your season. That’s why earlier in the season I was stressing taking care of our business while we were hot and winning as many games as we could so we’d have that cushion when we needed it later in the season and guys were beat up. We’re not a lock for the playoffs now, but if we take care of our business, we should make it.”


VIDEO: Things looked good for the Blazers before the All-Star break

They certainly aren’t acting panicked. Thursday morning’s shootaround concluded with the requisite long-distance shooting contest (which was won by Thomas Robinson), an event you’d expect to see from a team confident it can hold onto the West’s No. 5 spot it occupies.

Looks, however, can sometimes be deceiving. Aldridge and Lillard know exactly what’s at stake as the leaders of this team. Portland coach Terry Stotts does, too. Adding extra pressure, though, makes no sense.

While Aldridge prides himself on analyzing every detail, Stotts has kept an even keel all season, digesting the highs and lows the same way.

But even he recognized there would be some upheaval at the All-Star break, when injuries set in and the rotation had to be tweaked accordingly.

“We’ve had to change how we’ve been playing,” he said. “LaMarcus has been in and out of the lineup. Joel Freeland, who was a big part of the rotation, got hurt right before the All-Star game. That was part of it. Integrating some other guys, C.J. McCollum got healthy right around then, so we had to integrate him. A big part of our success was how well we’d been playing offensively. We’ve improved defensively the last 25 games. Our defensive numbers have improved but offensively, for whatever reason … players are so good in this league that offensively, you have to trust that will work out for you. But right now, getting LA back, there was a little bit of a transition period getting back and we have to go through that. Time’s getting short, everybody knows that we have 10 games left, and we have to take care of business.”

No one knows that better than Aldridge, who has watched the Blazers bog down in his absence from the rotation.

“I definitely had a chance to watch,” he said. “But it’s not the same when you’re not out there. I’m not trying to be arrogant, but our offense just doesn’t flow the same when I’m not out there. It flows a little bit different when I’m out there. It’s hard to assess it when I’m not out there. I think everybody is looking in the mirror right now trying to figure out what the can do better.”

Lillard, who has endured an education on being opponents’ No. 1 defensive target in Aldridge’s absence, is convinced that the Blazers aren’t rattled.

“The confidence definitely is not shattered,” he said. “There’s just a different pressure in the West. You can’t just be good, you have to be outstanding. We’ve got 45 wins and the Clippers have 50 wins and the Thunder 52 and they’re top three in the West. They have five more wins, seven more wins than we do and we could drop out of the playoffs mix if we don’t handle our business. I think that speaks for itself. Six through nine in the West would all be third in the East. That says it all. We just can’t get caught up in what everybody else is saying about us. What matters is if we’re going to stay locked in and take care of our business until the very end.”

At this rate, it could take until the very end for the Blazers to lock down the playoff spot that looked like a sure thing just months ago.


VIDEO: Terry Stotts talks about his team’s struggles after a loss to Orlando

Pool of talent exists beyond 1-and-dones


VIDEO: Damian Lillard has enjoyed the Blazers’ quiet rise to contention this season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – On the one-and-done issue, second-year All-Star point guard Damian Lillard has no issue with commissioner Adam Silver‘s desire to raise the minimum age to enter the league from 19 to 20.

After all, the Portland Trail Blazers’ No. 6 overall pick in 2012 turned 22 a few weeks after the Draft. He played four seasons at little-known Weber State in Ogden, Utah. Lillard’s rookie teammate, guard C.J. McCollum, turned 22 a few months after the Blazers made him the No. 10 pick in the 2013 Draft. McCollum played four years at tiny Lehigh in Bethlehem, Pa.

“I definitely don’t think guys should be able to leave [for the NBA] after high school,” Lillard said during the All-Star break. “Back in the day there were guys like LeBron James coming out, Kevin Garnett. I don’t think you have that anymore, guys that can come in and do what they do. As far as college, it’s different situations. My freshman year in college, I wasn’t ready to be an NBA player. What was best for me was to play four years of college. Some guys, Anthony Davis, 6-foot-10, great defender, it was perfect for him, it was time for him to be an NBA player.”

Every few years there will be a special talent such as Davis, who was the top pick in 2012. He seemed ready to enter the big leagues at age 18 or 19. But would it have benefited Davis’ Kentucky teammate, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, to spend another season with the Wildcats rather than go No. 2 overall (at 19 years old) to the Charlotte Bobcats in 2012?

“A lot of it is mental and having that college experience helps because I was in that situation so many different times when my team depended on me to make a play, to make a shot, bring us back, stuff like that,” said Lillard, who has hit four game-winners this season. “Just having that experience over and over and over those four years helped prepare me for whenever that came up in the NBA.”

Of course that’s the overriding argument for raising the age limit. The NBA wants players entering the league to be more physically and emotionally prepared for life on and off the court. Coaches at major programs crave more continuity for their programs.

But is the one-and-done issue really a problem?

Of the 18 first- and second-year players at last month’s Rising Stars Challenge game during All-Star weekend, 16 of them attended college (two were international players). Twelve played beyond one season. Six played two seasons and three each played three years and four years.

Only four were one-and-done: Davis, Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal, Pistons center Andre Drummond and Thunder center Steven Adams.

One-and-done hasn’t exactly opened the floodgates to players declaring for the Draft after one college season. Still, the blue-blood collegiate programs, with such small windows to compete for a championship with top recruits, are on the hunt for high school players physically prepared to play as freshmen. It leaves a large pool of talented players to fall through the cracks and land at smaller, so-called “mid-major” programs.

Once there, they tend to stay for multiple years, allowing for maturation and development in bridging the gap from 18 years old to 21 or 22.

“We have a better understanding of everything because we’ve been through a lot,” said McCollum, whose rookie season was stunted by a broken foot late in training camp. “Going to small schools, not being recruited, you go through a lot, having to earn everything, having to work really hard, and you have to take advantage of moments because at a small school you don’t play a lot of big teams so you have to capitalize on a small window of opportunities.”

Since Blazers general manager Neil Olshey used consecutive top 10 draft picks on two four-year, mid-major players, it wasn’t surprising to find him in the stands at the University of Texas at Arlington on a bitterly cold early February night. He was there getting a first-hand look at a junior point guard in the Sun Belt Conference.

Elfrid Payton,” Lillard said, totally aware of the 6-foot-3 Louisiana-Lafayette prospect, a potential late first-round, early second-round draft pick.

Olshey wasn’t alone as Bucks general manager John Hammond also made the trip. In addition, 20 other NBA teams dispatched scouts to the game as front offices canvas smaller programs more than ever.

“I think there’s always been talent [at smaller schools], I just think guys like Steph Curry, Paul George, myself, Rodney Stuckey, I think that as guys are successful in the NBA, they’re [front offices] starting to pay closer attention to mid-majors,” Lillard said. “I don’t think it’s new. I think there’s probably been a lot of guys that just got overlooked, that didn’t get the opportunity. The good thing is the guys that I just named are opening up doors for guys like Elfrid Payton.”

Curry played three seasons at Davidson. George spent two years at Fresno State and Stuckey played two years at Eastern Washington. Lillard could have also named Kawhi Leonard (two years at San Diego State), Kenneth Faried (four years at Morehead State) and Gordon Hayward (two years at Bulter).

The few sure-fire one-and-done players at the marquee schools get the lion’s share of attention. But players are everywhere, players you’ve never heard of, but maybe should have and perhaps will.

Like Damian Lillard.


VIDEO: After a long wait, Portland’s C.J. McCollum got to make his NBA debut

McCollum Returns To Different Blazers


VIDEO: C.J. McCollum hits his first NBA 3-pointer

HANG TIME WEST – That’s 10 games with the Trail Blazers, and 10 indicative games at that, with an average of 14.3 minutes per — a decent workload for someone returning from a serious injury and regularly playing in the fourth quarter as a rookie on a team in win-now mode.

C.J. McCollum, quickly playing a role for the Trail Blazers, is back, all right. Just not to the same Trail Blazers and not to the role envisioned.

Once upon a time – in June – McCollum was the No. 10 pick in the draft with the perfect landing spot. He would not have a path to the starting lineup the way a lot of other lottery choices are handed big minutes as investments in the future, but it was easy to project McCollum as a key part of the rotation at a time Portland made beefing up the bench a priority. He was a combo guard who could play behind or with Damian Lillard, and being a backcourt fit with Lillard made for a good career path there. Not only that, but the Lehigh product had held Lillard up as an example of what was possible for a mid-major guy who used all four seasons of college eligibility and had to answer questions about whether he had a position. To then get to play with Lillard, for a blossoming team in a city that loved its NBA, was close to ideal.

It began to change about six weeks later, when the Trail Blazers signed Mo Williams, another guard. The real hit, though, came when McCollum was diagnosed in October with a fractured left foot. Rather, another fractured left foot, the same injury that ended his senior season at Lehigh two months early.

This time, it cost McCollum much of his first training camp and nearly the first 2 1/2 months of the regular season. By the time of his Jan. 8 return, the Trail Blazers had gone from a team with playoff potential and a built-up bench to the reality of 26-9. Williams had gone from being a late signing, in August, to playing well at backup point guard. So much had changed around McCollum.

“It was a roller coaster,” he said. “Playing well, getting hurt in college, you rehab, you come back, you get drafted and get in a position to contribute to a great team in the NBA, then get hurt again. But that’s what life’s about. Different obstacles. It’s more about how you overcome them. I think that makes you a better person.”

The sudden twists have continued. While McCollum has played at least 11 minutes in all 10 appearances, there has essentially been no such thing as a Lillard pairing.

So far:

McCollum has been with Williams for 10 games and 126 minutes.

McCollum has been with Wesley Matthews, the starting shooting guard, for 10 games and 79 minutes.

McCollum has been with Lillard for three games and nine minutes.

“It’s a long season,” McCollum said at the time of his return. “You need a lot of bodies out there to contribute and help out the team in different ways. I don’t feel any pressure. I wouldn’t feel any pressure if we didn’t have any guards. I just kind of approach it every day and just make sure I’m in a position where I’m bettering myself and making sure that I’m ready because at some point my number’s going to be called. I just want to make sure that I’m able to perform at a high level.”

Coach Terry Stotts had an established rotation and a team that was slightly wobbling at the time. He needed stability, not to experiment with the rotation. That has remained in place through the end of month, with three losses the last five games, but McCollum is still getting good minutes for a rookie coming off an injury and when every change in the standings matters. These are not the Blazers just trying to make the playoffs.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 21


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Granger returns | Kobe-less Lakers beat Wolves | Deng off trade block? | Oden still a ways away? | Hotel New York

No. 1: Pacers crowd welcomes back GrangerDanny Granger played just five games last season due to a knee injury and a calf strain has kept him out all of this season — until Friday night. The small forward made a triumphant return in front of a home crowd that serenaded him with chants of “Danny! Danny!” as he headed to the scorer’s table to check in with about 4 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter. Granger played 22 minutes, scoring five points on a rusty 1-for-7 shooting with two assists and five turnovers. But for an already loaded Pacers team, the return of Granger provides just one more weapon.

From Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star:

He got a standing ovation when he officially checked in with 4:05 remaining. He made his presence felt on the defensive end, coming from the weak side to block a shot by Houston’s Dwight Howard.

“It felt good,” said Granger, who played in just five games last season because of a knee injury. “When you haven’t played in a long time, you want to do something defensively to get into the flow of the game. The crowd went crazy. It was exciting. And we got the win by 33 points (Granger’s uniform number). Kind of ironic.”

The love continued throughout the night for Granger, who played 22 minutes — two more than coach Frank Vogel estimated he would — and scored five points on just 1-for-7 shooting. The numbers weren’t great. He had two assists while committing five turnovers.

But with his teammates playing so well around him, that hardly mattered. It was a rousing success.

“It’s exactly what I thought we would see,” Vogel said. “I think he’s going to have an adjustment period, and it’s going to be a process with his shot-making and his ability to finish plays.

“But what I liked about it is the way he impacted the game on the defensive end. For all the questions about if he was going to fit in, he shared the basketball every time he had an opportunity to. He shot the open shots in the rhythm of the offense, which we asked him to do. And he went out and he guarded. He played a strong defensive game.”

Granger led the Pacers in scoring for five consecutive years before the knee injury virtually wiped out his entire 2012-13 campaign. Hibbert and Paul George have emerged as team leaders in his absence. He was heartened by the response he got from the crowd, which also chanted “Danny, Danny” when Vogel removed him from the game for the final time with 2:28 left in regulation.

“It was awesome,” he said. “Couple of standing ovations when I was out there. Just to play in front of the home crowd again was kind of a breath of fresh air. … Just got to keep building up my legs and my wind.”

***

No. 2: Lakers can smile againXavier Henry, Nick Young and Pau Gasol didn’t let the bummer news of Kobe Bryant‘s fractured knee get in the way of the team stringing together consecutive wins for just the third time this season. Back at home after a 2-2 road trip, L.A. tripped up the disappointing Minnesota Timberwolves, 104-91. With Bryant out for six weeks and the point guard crew of Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all still out with injury, Henry, a shooting guard, assumed those duties and merely poured in 21 points with four assists. Gasol continued his resurgence with a near triple-double: 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Young jumped off the bench for 25 points, including a long 3-pointer with 1:59 to go that put the Lakers up by nine. The Lakers were 10-9 without Kobe as he recovered from the Achilles injury, went 2-4 with him back and now will look for their first three-game win streak of the season Saturday night at struggling Golden State.

From Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

Something funny happened on the way to the memorial service for the Lakers’ 2013-14 season.

They won a game.

The Lakers, finished for the season? Not yet.

“We’re not done,” Gasol said. “This team is ready to continue to compete and continue to have fun and is not going to fold just because we’re facing some injuries and adversity.”

This being the Western Conference, where 10 teams are .500 or better — exactly seven more than the East — it will be very difficult for the Lakers (13-13) to make the playoffs.

If the Lakers wanted any inspiration, they knew they went 10-9 without Bryant until his return from a torn Achilles’ tendon. It’s not quite rallying-cry material, but they again face a long chunk of time without him because of his fractured knee.

“I think they’re excited about disproving people like they did the first time and we’ll do it again,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said earlier Friday.

***

No. 3: Bulls pull Deng off market? — The Chicago Bulls, despite their season falling apart since Derrick Rose suffered a second knee injury, want to hold on to small forward Luol Deng, who is averaging 19.6 ppg and 7.0 rpg. That’s what sources have told ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst. Deng will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The two-time All-Star is currently out until at least next week nursing an Achilles injury:

Teams are inquiring about Deng’s status with the Bulls, who continue to sink in the standings in the wake of the knee injury that wrecked another season for Derrick Rose.

Deng told the Chicago Sun-Times this week that he’s been preparing for the possibility of being traded, but sources said that’s not in the team’s plans.

Despite failing to come to terms on a contract extension before the season, the Bulls remain optimistic they will re-sign Deng next summer.

Having spent his entire 10-year career with Chicago, Deng has consistently said he wants to stay with the Bulls, though the sides were far apart on contract talks before they were tabled.

Deng is in the final year of a contact that will pay him $14 million this season, and the Bulls are facing a luxury-tax bill that could exceed $13 million. Some league executives believe that the Bulls, who’d never incurred a luxury tax until last year, may have an interest in offloading payroll ahead of the trade deadline. For now, though, that will not include Deng.

The Bulls (9-16) lost their fourth consecutive game Thursday night and have dropped eight of their last 10 in falling to 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

***

No. 4: Oden getting antsy to play? — Miami center Greg Oden hasn’t played an NBA game in more than four years and the big man from Ohio State who continues to work himself back from multiple knee injuries appears to have the playing itch. He was inactive for the 26th consecutive game during the Heat’s breezy home victory over the Sacramento Kings Friday night. Miami Herald beat reporter Joseph Goodman reports that Oden could be getting frustrated with all of the pine time:

Dwyane Wade said before the Heat’s game against the Kings that Greg Oden has “gotten down” and “a little frustrated” while waiting to join the team on the court. Oden was in his business attire and inactive for the 26th consecutive game this season Friday.

At the same time, Wade said Oden “has been great” and the Heat’s co-captain said he was proud of Oden’s patience. The Heat’s reserve center, who hasn’t played in a regular-season game in more than four years, went through his normal pregame routine Friday. He worked out on the court before shedding his knee brace and practice attire for a sport coat and a spot on the bench.

Still, Wade’s tone seemed to acknowledge the widely held belief that Oden is still a long way from being cleared to play.

“His attitude has been great,” Wade said. “I’m sure at times he has gotten down and got a little frustrated, but he’s giving himself a chance. He is listening to the guys who know the bodies very well — way more than us athletes.

“He is doing everything they ask him to do, so it’s giving him an opportunity to get back on the court whenever that time comes. He’s not rushing it, so as someone who has been through injuries before, I’m proud of him being patient, and I know he’s frustrated because he wants to get out there and play with us. I know if he keeps doing what he’s doing, his time will come.”

***

No. 5: Knicks’ hometown hotel — The New York Knicks play their third home noon game Saturday against Memphis, and after the first two ended as the team’s most lopsided defeats of the season, coach Mike Woodson decided he wasn’t taking any chances with his team not being prepared yet again for the early tip. So the coach decided to put the team up in a hotel Friday night. Here’s the story from Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“Yeah, we’ve had those troubles and you know, we’re going to all get together tonight and huddle together,” Woodson said after practice Friday in Greenburgh. “I’m not going to let them hang out.

“We’re going to all get together, ourselves, as a team.”

Asked if he felt the need to “baby-sit” his players — after the Knicks were blown out on their home floor by 31 points by San Antonio on Nov. 10 and by 41 by Boston on Dec. 8 — Woodson replied, “Well, we’re going to be together. Put it that way.”

Carmelo Anthony said he was “hearing” that curfew would be 10 p.m. The All-Star forward indicated the Knicks (8-17) also stayed together at a hotel before the Celtics debacle earlier this month, but it certainly appears they will be more closely monitored before facing the Grizzlies.

“We’ve done that plenty of times where we stayed at a hotel together, the night before a game. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it works. We’ll see about that tomorrow,” Anthony said. “We didn’t do it the San Antonio game. Sometimes it works — early games. Sometimes it don’t.

“It’s just a matter of us coming out the gate and establish that early. I don’t think it has anything to do with us staying in a hotel or not. That’s what Coach wants to do and we’re going to do it.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Duke star and potential top three Draft pick Jabari Parker likes comparisons to Knicks star Carmelo Anthony … Injured Trail Blazers rookie C.J. McCollum has been cleared to practice, but his career debut could still be a ways away … LeBron James says the Heat’s shooters are concerned about how the Christmas Day sleeved jerseys will affect their stroke.

ICYMI Of The Night: The Sixers’ surprising early season success is a thing of the past, but guard Evan Turner helped bring some joy to the City of Brotherly Love with a last-second overtime basket to cap a wild 121-120 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.


VIDEO: Turner saves the day for Philly

Blogtable: Changing Fortunes

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Changing fortunes: Nets or Blazers? | First-time All-Star | Fixing a fatal flaw



VIDEO: Aldridge leads the way as Portland handles Brooklyn

Which team’s current fortunes will change most drastically in the weeks ahead, Portland’s or Brooklyn’s?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I understand that the schedule will toughen up for the Trail Blazers, but I think the urgency — wait, make that downright panic that will take hold of everything Nets if their struggles continue means significant change will be inevitable, one way or the other. Even though the Eastern Conference standings would seem to tolerate a fairly casual approach, with .500 or so good enough for the playoff spot (and reset button) that really matters to Brooklyn, the spotlight on this team is too hot for that. Something will have to give very soon with these guys.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With the Blazers running a very efficient offense to become one of the pleasant surprises of the early season, I’m not expecting a sudden collapse.  But they’ve won seven in a row and neither do I think they’ll continue playing at an .800 pace.  Portland will come back to earth and that doesn’t mean the Blazers are the negative side to this answer. I’ve never thought the Brooklyn Boys of Bummer were going to work and the talk about contending for a championship was laughable.  Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are old, Deron Williams is lost, Jason Kidd is clueless and Nets are just a lot of wasted rubles by Mikhail Prokorov.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comIf by drastic change you mean lose a game here or there, I guess Portland. They can’t keep winning all their games can they? I like this Blazers team. They’re pretty complete. LaMarcus Aldridge is an All-Star bordering on superstar and Damian Lillard may soon be both. Wesley Matthews is shooting the lights out, Nic Batum is the all-everything and Mo Williams has greatly aided the bench. And let me mention the handy addition of Robin Lopez. As for the Nets, I’m not sure how much more drastic things can get. Oh, hold on, just checked the schedule and five of their next seven are on the road and that includes at Minnesota, at Houston and at Memphis. Good luck, coach Kidd.

Garnett and Kidd (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Garnett and Kidd (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comPortland’s, but only because it’s not realistic to keep up this pace, while it’s possible Brooklyn really is bad enough to collapse. The Blazers were positioned from opening night to take the next step and make the playoffs, and this is why. They should improve again once C.J. McCollum joins the lineup.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comBrooklyn. The Blazers aren’t the second best team in the Western Conference, but their offense can sustain their position as a playoff team, maybe in the 6-7 range. That team can really shoot. The Nets aren’t necessarily a title contender, but they are a top-five team in the East once they get healthy and get it together offensively. Even if Kevin Garnett’s age is catching up to him, a team with that much talent isn’t going to rank in the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency for very long.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comEyeballing the upcoming schedules for these two teams does literally nothing to provide insight as to how either Portland or Brooklyn will play in the coming weeks. Both have rough Decembers looming and absolutely no rest for the weary. The law of averages tells me that things will change most dramatically for the Trail Blazers, mostly because they’ll come back to earth from this current run they are on. It’s inevitable. But that won’t be a bad thing. They’ll remain on a playoff trajectory, provided all of their major players stay healthy (or as close to it as possible). I honestly think the coming weeks look tougher for the Nets, whose identity is still in question. I’m asking the same question now I did when this collection of stars was put together … Whose team is this anyway? … which is apparently the same question Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and perhaps most importantly Brook Lopez are trying to answer themselves. They have time to sort out the mess, but when are they going to flip a switch and instantly become the contender they assumed they’d be this season? I don’t see it happening before the end of the calendar year. Fact is, Jason Kidd ain’t walking through that door people … well, at least not in uniform.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I was at the Portland/Brooklyn game on Monday night in Brooklyn, and there was quite a contrast between these teams. The Blazers seemed assured and confident, a team with one direction, while the Nets were confused and tired. Which team has more profound tea leaves? I think Brooklyn has a pretty clear path to improvement — the most immediate help Brooklyn can find is getting Brook Lopez, Andrei Kirilenko and Deron Williams healthy. Any team basically adding two All-Stars will be improved. So if I had to pick a team to have a dramatic change, I’ll go with Brooklyn. And really, considering they’re 3-7 right now, can things get much worse for the Nets? Wait, pretend I didn’t ask that …

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA BrasilI think Portland is for real, so I will say Brooklyn is bound to get things corrected and become at least a decent team, instead of the mess that we’re witnessing right now. If that doesn’t happen, we might start hearing clamoring for a new coach …

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA GreeceWhen Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett both say that they are “angry”, you should fasten your seatbelt. Or, ya know, hold to your armchair if sitting by the computer. The two veterans are ready to take things over in Brooklyn, so from that point of view something good (or just something better) is going to come out of it. Also, for the sake of the argument, the only way the Nets can go is up.

One Team, One Stat: No Lillard, No Offense

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Portland Trail Blazers,

The basics
POR Rank
W-L 33-49 21
Pace 93.7 18
OffRtg 102.7 16
DefRtg 106.9 26
NetRtg -4.2 23

The stat

11.5 - Fewer points per 100 possessions the Blazers scored with Damian Lillard on the bench than with him on the floor.

The context

That was the biggest offensive, on-off-court differential in the league for players who logged at least 1,000 minutes with one team. And though Lillard has a fantastic season as a rookie point guard, the drop-off was more about the Blazers’ bench than it was about him.

With Lillard on the floor, the Blazers scored 105.0 points per 100 possessions, a number which would have ranked 10th in the league. With Lillard on the bench, they scored 93.5, which was four points per 100 possessions worse than the 30th-ranked Wizards.

Biggest on-off-court differential, points scored per 100 possessions

Player MIN On OffRtg On MIN Off OffRtg Off OffRtg Diff.
Damian Lillard 3,167 105.0 804 93.5 +11.5
LeBron James 2,877 113.4 1,099 102.1 +11.2
Chris Paul 2,335 112.1 1,611 101.3 +10.8
Lance Stephenson 2,278 106.1 1,640 95.4 +10.7
George Hill 2,620 104.8 1,298 95.3 +9.5

Minimum 1,000 minutes on the floor with one team

(Yes, the Pacers’ bench was pretty terrible, too.)

There’s a reason Lillard led the league in minutes played. The Blazers did everything worse offensively when he sat down. They shot worse (especially from 3-point range), they turned the ball over more, they got to the free throw line less and they got fewer offensive rebounds.

And this is all with LaMarcus Aldridge playing 503 (63 percent) of the 804 minutes Lillard was on the bench. Aldridge can step out to 20 feet, but the Blazers’ second unit lacked both deep threats and guys who can make plays with the ball.

The Blazers traded for Eric Maynor at the deadline with the hope that he would give their second unit a boost. But after the deal, the Blazers still scored just 95.2 points per 100 possessions in 248 minutes with Lillard on the bench.

Here are some ugly possessions from a March 30 game at Golden State, in which Portland scored just 22 points in 16:34 (64 points per 48 minutes) with Lillard on the bench …


.

So the Blazers let Maynor leave for Washington and made some more moves this summer. Though C.J. McCollum was lost to a broken foot on Saturday, they still have Earl Watson (not a shooter) and Mo Williams (a shooter) in the back-up backcourt and Dorell Wright (a shooter) on the wing.

More important, they have Robin Lopez to improve their starting-lineup defense. Though the Blazers were solid offensively with Lillard on the floor, they were pretty poor on the other end, allowing 107.2 points per 100 possessions.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Foot Injury Sidelines Blazers’ McCollum

HANG TIME WEST – Trail Blazers rookie C.J. McCollum will be sidelined indefinitely after fracturing his left foot in practice Saturday, giving Portland both an immediate and long-term concern before the No. 10 pick in June had even played his first exhibition game.

No timetable will be set for a return until after surgery, the team said, with the date of the operation also not known. The certainty, though, is that the Trail Blazers have lost one of the league’s most promising rookies and suffered a significant loss to the second unit after a summer of successfully upgrading the bench to move into playoff contention.

While McCollum faced the unusual predicament of being chosen in the lottery to play behind reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, he would have played a lot. The plan was for the two to be on the court together with versatile games that complemented each other on offense,  while McCollum could have played straight backup at the point paired with Wesley Matthews or Nicolas Batum in the backcourt.

The encouraging note for the Trail Blazers is that point guard had become their deepest position thanks to the offseason acquisitions of Mo Williams and Earl Watson that would have allowed coach Terry Stotts to choose among three proven ballhandlers and one highly regarded, mature rookie with four years of college experience. While waiting for word on how long McCollum will be out, this hit will not remove Portland from the postseason conversation if Williams plays at his previous level.

The bigger concern is that a similar injury ended McCollum’s senior season at Lehigh in January, a second fracture to the same area within about eight months that raises the possibility the Blazers are dealing with an indefinite problem. He had surgery then, too.

At the very least, the aspect of the repeat injury means the team will likely be more cautious in a return to the court than it would have been under ordinary circumstances.

And, as The Oregonian noted, the Trail Blazers have a freakish history with breaks or fractures of the same fifth metatarsal bone: Lillard was sidelined in 2010-11 at Weber State, and it cost Martell Webster time after he suffered the injury in a 2008 preseason game and Travis Outlaw in 2009-10.

Reports: Blazers Pick Up Guard Williams

From NBA.com staff reports

One of the last remaining marquee names on the free-agent market, ex-Jazz guard Mo Williams, has found a new home in the same division.

As first reported by CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger, Williams will sign a two-year, $5.6 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers. The move keeps the versatile combo guard in the Northwest Division and adds another guard to a Portland roster that also features reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, rookie C.J. McCollum and veterans Earl Watson, Wes Matthews and Dorell Wright.

Portland had its fair share of trouble scoring off the bench last season and has attempted to address that issue by bolstering its bench with more guards and by adding big men Thomas Robinson and Robin Lopez in offseason trades as well.