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Posts Tagged ‘Carmelo Anthony’

Morning shootaround — March 8


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron says Cavs aren’t ready for playoffs | Kerr sees lurking issue for Warriors | Anthony ready to play summer recruiter

No. 1: LeBron: Cavs aren’t ready for postseason — LeBron James has made the playoffs in 11 straight seasons and counting and his Cleveland Cavaliers have the Eastern Conference’s best record and its No. 1 seed. On paper, all those things sound like a team that’s ready for the postseason and, in the eyes of Clevelanders, another run to The Finals. Yet after last night’s home loss to the shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies, James doesn’t see his team ready for the big stage at all, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:

The Cavs had all their top rotation players available, were coming off a day off, were playing at Quicken Loans Arena (where they had built a 27-5 record) and were riding a three-game win streak. They hosted a Grizzlies team that was missing four starters — including Mike Conley (left foot soreness), Zach Randolph (rest) and Marc Gasol (right foot surgery) — and had just eight players in uniform as it played on the road on the second night of a back-to-back. Even so, it was Cleveland that looked like the underdog from the start.

“I can sit up here and say that we’re a team that’s ready to start the playoffs tomorrow, but we’re not,” LeBron James said after the Cavs trailed by as many as 14 before losing at the buzzer when Kyrie Irving missed a potential game-tying 3. “We’re still learning. We still have things that happen on the court that just, that shouldn’t happen.”

Chief among those mistakes was the Cavs’ coughing up a season-high 25 turnovers, which led to 30 points by the Grizzlies.

“We gave up a lot of pick-sixes,” James said. “In NFL terms, that means it’s straight to the house. To have 25 turnovers for 30 points — I don’t care who you’re playing, it could be my son’s little league team — you’re going to lose when you give up that many turnovers just from carelessness.”

Kevin Love was pragmatic afterward.

“We just could have done a better job of respecting the game,” Love said. “A team like that, they were going to come out and swing for the fences, and they did. That was a real bad loss for us. … Turnovers were terrible. That was what I mean, respecting the game.”

Irving, whose season-high seven turnovers marred the 27 points (14 in the fourth), five assists and four steals he registered, also pointed to the lineup change as contributing to the result.

“I just think for us, as a maturing, young team, we just have to come out and play everybody the same way,” he said. “For me, last day-and-a-half I spend watching film on Mike Conley, and then damn near before tipoff I find out he’s not playing and Z-Bo is not playing, and our shootaround was dedicated to stopping these two guys, and then we come in and the whole thing changes. We just have to get better as a team preparing for anybody that is out there on the floor — myself included.”

Coach Tyronn Lue warned reporters before the game that his team could be vulnerable, despite its apparent advantage.

“It’s always dangerous because we tend to let our guards down,” Lue said. “It’s going to be my job tonight to make sure that we don’t do that. We’ve done that a few times this year, and every time their star and key guys sit out, we tend to take a step backward and kind of relax a little bit. These guys coming off the bench or these guys proving that they need minutes or want minutes, they play hard, and we got to be able to accept the challenge.”


VIDEO: LeBron James had concerns about the Cavs after Monday’s loss

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Morning shootaround — March 2


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Green saves day for Warriors | Report: Spurs pursuing Martin | Rockets add Ray to coaching staff | Anthony offers quick rebuttal to heckler

No. 1: Green saves day for Warriors vs. Hawks — The reigning Kia MVP (Stephen Curry) and the Finals MVP (Andre Iguodala) both missed the Golden State Warriors’ game against the Atlanta Hawks last night. On the surface, news like that would seem to give the Hawks a leg up on beating the NBA’s best team. But do-it-all forward Draymond Green wasn’t about to let that happen. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons details how Green put the Warriors on his back to move Golden State to its 43rd straight home win:

Draymond Green had nothing to apologize for Tuesday.

On a night when injuries sidelined regular-season MVP Stephen Curry and NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, Green did his best MVP impersonation, making a seemingly impossible overtime three-pointer and leading the Warriors to a 109-105 victory against the Hawks at Oracle Arena.

Green apologized Monday for a locker-room tirade during halftime of Saturday’s overtime win in Oklahoma City. If they ever really stopped being the most joyous squad on the planet, the Warriors quickly returned to that designation as Green led a total team effort with 15 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and four steals.

“What can you say?” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said, searching for words to describe how Green willed the Warriors to a victory without their captains. “Another near triple-double. Point guard. He was our point forward tonight.

“It was a brilliant performance from Draymond.”

Along with Green’s huge game, the Warriors got 26 points from Thompson, a season-high 19 from Andrew Bogut, 12 from Harrison Barnes and a combined 21 from Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights off the bench.

“A night like this should be fun, right?” Kerr said. “Everybody should be aggressive. There’s nothing to lose. … I thought everybody was aggressive. Aggression without turnovers: That was important.”

“I just wanted to come out and play hard for my team,” Green said. “That’s what I’m going to do each and every day. Every time I step on the floor, I’m going to give 110 percent for my teammates.

“I wasn’t worried about what people were saying about me or this, that or the other. I know what I try to bring to this team.”


VIDEO: Golden State escapes Hawks in OT

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Morning Shootaround — Feb. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: February 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavaliers don’t look title ready | Curry’s greatness at heart of skepticism about Warriors | Carmelo brushes off Stoudemire’s barbs about Knicks | Thunder had no answer for Warriors’ death lineup

No. 1: Cavaliers don’t look title ready — Losses to the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards over the weekend has taken the shine off of things in Cleveland, where the world knows it’s championship or bust for LeBron James and company. YEs, they remain the clubhouse favorites to win the Eastern Conference title and represent in The Finals, but they don’t look title ready right now, as Michael Lee of The Vertical points out after Sunday’s LeBron-less loss to the Wizards:

The Cavaliers have way too much talent, experience and shared success to use James’ absence as even a partial excuse for a 113-99 loss to the Wizards – a team that is currently on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff race looking in. Even if their best player – and apparently lone playmaker – decided his mind and body needed a break, the Cavaliers still had three times as many players on maximum contracts than their opponent, but none of them, Lue said, gave maximum effort.

The loss was more alarming and disturbing because it came two days after a loss to the steady-charging Toronto Raptors that led James to say, “We lack mental [strength] right now.” J.R. Smith took the critique to another level after Sunday’s loss with a very nonchalant slam of his team’s performance.

“If we lose a game like the other night to a team like Toronto and to come out here and play the way we did – you have a lack of energy – maybe we shouldn’t be in this position,” Smith said, voice barely rising above a purr. “We shouldn’t be who we are and be in these uniforms.”

The Cavaliers haven’t reached the point where they should panic but they can’t be extremely comfortable about where they stand. They were supposed to have a much easier run through the East than defending champion Golden State in the West, but they only have a two-game lead over the Raptors for the top spot in the conference while the Warriors’ lead over the 50-win San Antonio Spurs feels more vast than Steph Curry’s limitless range.

No other team in the East made the kind of offseason or midseason upgrades to pose much of a threat to James’ reign over the conference but the struggle has been real. The Cavaliers are easily the most talented team in the East, but they are among the least content. James once blamed complacency as the culprit for the team coasting at times, but the Cavaliers have been involved with a considerable amount of chaos for a team that was only two wins from an NBA championship last June despite missing two of its best players. There has been an intense pursuit of perfection that has robbed this season of the kind of fun that Cleveland’s record (41-17) should otherwise suggest.

“It’s the same thing we’ve been searching for, consistency and efficiency,” veteran forward James Jones told The Vertical. “We’re good enough, talented enough, to do things the majority of the time, to win games against the mid-tier teams. Against the good teams, we can piece together a game or two of really good basketball and look exceptional, but deep down inside we know that we aren’t hitting on all cylinders defensively, offensively. We still have some of the same issues of isolation and ball stopping and not moving bodies. For us, even though we’re having success, it’s not the fact we were winning but the way we were winning that gave us concern and you really can’t enjoy it as much when you know you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.”

 

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 No. 2: Curry’s greatness at heart of skepticism about Warriors — There’s a reason that some of the men who came before Stephen Curry cannot find a way make sense of what the reigning KIA MVP is doing right now. They’ve simply never seen anything like it, nothing close actually. And that unfamiliarity with a player who can shoot as well as Curry does, and in turn dominates the floor in ways no player has before him, does not register with the likes of Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson. That inability to frame Curry’s exploits is what lies at the heart of all these doubters of both Curry and the Warriors, writes Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News:

The frustration is logical, though, in a historic sense:

When the old stalwarts don’t get what you’re doing … that’s when you know the revolution is well underway.

It works two ways: The criticisms from all-time greats such as Oscar Robertson highlight the vast gap between then and now and serve to motivate the Warriors to make it even greater.

“It’s starting to get a little annoying just because it’s kind of unwarranted from across the board,” Curry said late last week on the “Warriors Plus/Minus” podcast with Marcus Thompson II and me.

“When you hear kind of … obviously legends and people that respect their era and what they were able to accomplish and what they did for the game kind of come at you, it’s kind of, just, weird.”

Some of the skepticism is understandable, because Robertson and others are great figures in the game and, yes, the rules and standards are different now.

Times change, as they did from the era before Robertson to his era and so on …

Some of the carping is logical, because this Warriors team has just the one title (so far); some of it is envy for the current limelight; some is general cantankerousness.

But let’s underline the true heart of the public doubts about Curry and the Warriors coming from Robertson, Stephen Jackson — and even from Clippers coach Doc Rivers and others last offseason:

It’s about questioning Curry’s true status as a generational figure, because he’s a departure from the normal procession of bigger, faster, stronger (Elgin Baylor to Julius Erving to Michael Jordan to LeBron James).

Almost every other NBA quantum leap came in the form of a physical leap forward, and Curry’s ascension isn’t tied to strength, size or speed. He’s a skinny guy who went to Davidson and was supposed to be knocked around by Jackson and Monta Ellis in his first Warriors training camp.

But Curry wasn’t. He survived, they were sent away, and now here he is, with one MVP on his mantle and No. 2 coming at the end of this season.

Curry’s greatness is about an unprecedented talent level and work ethic — no matter what Robertson says about current defense, there is no consistent way to defend a man who can casually dribble into game-winning 38-footers, as Curry did in Oklahoma City on Saturday.

This is new. This is unfathomable, unless you know Curry, unless you’ve spent a few years studying how he is altering this sport.

Curry’s status is comparable to the way Wayne Gretzky changed hockey, the way the West Coast offense and Joe Montana reset football and the way Muhammad Ali made everything before him in boxing seem outdated.


WATCH: Steph Curry with the (12 from deep) shots

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No. 3:  Carmelo brushes off Stoudemire’s barbs about Knicks — Amar’e Stoudemire has some interesting memories about his time in New York. There were good times and bad, plenty of ups and downs, and in hindsight, plenty of factors played into his time there alongside Carmelo Anthony. He spoke his mind when asked about his time there, with is Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden for a Sunday game. But Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony didn’t take any of it to heart and he certainly didn’t think Stoudemire was taking shots at him. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com has more:

Asked if he feels for his former teammate Anthony for going through another tough season with the Knicks, Stoudemire hinted that Anthony needs to be better to pull the Knicks out of their mess. The Knicks (25-36) have lost 14 of their past 17 games.

“It’s tough,” Stoudemire said before the Heat beat the Knicks 98-81 on Sunday. “When you get involved in this situation, you have to take ownership of it. You have to make sure you made the right decisions for your team and teammates.

“You have to become a complete player in order to bring your team out of a rut. Everyone can’t do it. It’s not always easy.”

When asked if he has any advice for Anthony moving forward, Stoudemire mentioned how he knew at this stage of his career that he needed to surround himself with “other class A players” to chase a title.

“It’s a situation where you have options,” Stoudemire said. “If you want to win, that’s the main priority. And if physically you can’t do it as a player and make your teammates better and get them to the point they can win, then you surround yourself with a team that’s built to win.

“And for me, I knew Father Time was ticking on my clock, so I wanted to put myself in a position around other class A players, put myself in a position to at least compete for a championship.”

Stoudemire played four and a half seasons with the Knicks, and his time overlapped with former fan favorite Lin. Although he did not mention any names, Stoudemire said not every Knick was thrilled with Lin’s exploding popularity back then.

“If he stayed, it would’ve been cool,” Stoudemire said of Lin, who played one season in New York from 2011-12. “But everyone wasn’t a fan of him being the new star, so he didn’t stay long. But Jeremy was a great, great guy. Great teammate. He worked hard. He put the work in, and we’re proud of him to have his moment.

“A lot of times, you gotta enjoy someone’s success,” he continued. “And that wasn’t the case for us during that stretch. … You got to enjoy that. You got to let that player enjoy himself and cherish those moments. He was becoming a star, and I don’t think everybody was pleased with that.”

Anthony did not think Stoudemire was talking about him when it came to being less than receptive to Lin’s brief success in New York.

“Still?” Anthony asked when told that Lin came up when reporters talked to Stoudemire. “That was [four] years ago? I don’t know. I don’t have no comment about that. If [Lin] was becoming a star, we should embrace that. I don’t know. We didn’t embrace it? Was that the word?”

“S—, if that was the case then I’d be upset right now with KP [rookie fan favorite Kristaps Porzingis], if he’s talking about me. I doubt if [Stoudemire is] talking about me. I doubt that. I highly doubt that.”

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No. 4: Thunder had no answer for Warriors’ death lineup — The Oklahoma City were the one team most pundits thought to be built to deal with the Golden State Warriors’ vaunted death lineup, a small-ball group that has shredded all comers this season. But in the final minutes of Saturday night’s instant classic, that lineup flummoxed the Thunder as well. Thunder coach Billy Donovan and his staff have until Thursday night (when they meet agains, on TNT) to come up with a fix for what went wrong. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman provides the details:

But lost amidst this hardwood classic was a dilemma that should concern the Thunder in the present. Curry’s impossible accuracy won it. But the Warriors got back into the game with their small-ball death lineup, which completely dictated the final 10 minutes.

With 4:37 left in regulation, Andre Iguodala subbed in for Shaun Livingston, joining Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. The Warriors were down 11. In fewer than five minutes, they forced overtime. Then in five overtime minutes, they outscored the Thunder by three.

So in a little under 10 total minutes, that nightmarish Golden State unit beat the Thunder 36-22. Curry played hero. Green was a defensive menace. The other three chipped in. But of greater consequence, the versatility of that Warriors five-man grouping forced Billy Donovan’s hand, shrinking OKC’s depth.

Breaking news: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the Thunder’s two best players. They’re always on the court in crunch time, barring a foul-out…which we’ll get to.

Beyond them, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams are the team’s third and fourth most balanced, important talents. You want both on the court in crucial moments.

Which is where the problem lies. When the Warriors slide Green to center and pepper two-way wings all over the court, they challenge you to take one off the floor or risk some uncomfortable mismatches.

After an 8-point, 3-rebound, 0-block disappearance in Oakland, Ibaka was great on Saturday night. The Thunder demolished Golden State 62-32 in rebounds and Ibaka was the key. He had a season-high 20 rebounds, along with 15 points, two blocks and countless other contested and altered shots. He played a team-high 41 minutes. His presence was required.

Which meant Adams was the odd man out. Of late, Adams has been great, providing a sturdy defensive back-line while finishing layups and dunks with more consistency. He had 10 points and nine rebounds in his 28 minutes on Saturday. But in his final 136 seconds, Adams was out of his element.

From the 4:37 mark of the fourth to the 2:21 mark, Donovan kept Adams and Ibaka in together against that small-ball unit. The Warriors quickly blasted off a 7-0 run to get back in the game. Adams was assigned Iguodala. The Warriors recognized it and attacked Adams with Curry and Iguodala in a pick-and-roll. Curry got the big man on a switch and hit the ninth of his 12 3s.

Right after, Donovan subbed in Dion Waiters for Adams, going small and ceding to the Warriors style.

Then as the game navigated through overtime, Adams sat all but nine seconds. Donovan put him in to win the tip at the start of overtime, which he did, and then pulled him at the first whistle, reinserting Waiters.

Durant fouled out 38 seconds later, a crippling blow, presenting Donovan with another choice. Go back big with Adams or stay small? He remained small, choosing Kyle Singler to replace Durant.

And this is the conundrum the Thunder faces against the Warriors. While many believe OKC’s talent could give Golden State its biggest postseason challenge, the Warriors versatile options exposes the Thunder’s roster imbalance. OKC is deep in the frontcourt but thin on the wing. The Warriors small-ball strategy can nullify frontcourt players and force you to dip deep into your bag of wings.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks missed on Joe Johnson, who chose Miami, but rebound by getting Kris Humphries off the waiver wire … Johnson, by the way, chose the Heat because of his connection with players already on the roster … A sprained right ankle will cost Danilo Gallinari all of the Nuggets’ upcoming homestand … Folks in Sacramento are celebrating Vivek Ranadive for the new arena but blaming him for the team that can’t get it rightDamian Lillard and the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers are keeping it rolling on their Eastern Conference road trip

Morning shootaround — Feb. 28


VIDEO: The Fast Break: February 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Steph Curry is a baaad man! | Durant’s lapses costly to OKC | Pelicans’ Davis sits down again | Carmelo’s dwindling NY days

No. 1: Steph Curry is a baaad man! — Not all late-February, NBA regular-season games are created equal. That was readily apparent to anyone who attended, tuned into, listened to or heard about Golden State’s remarkable comeback overtime victory at Oklahoma City on Saturday night. This was one – from Andre Iguodala‘s too-cool-for-school sinking of two late free throws to force the OT to Steph Curry‘s audacious game-winner from 35 feet – that seared itself into basketball fans’ memories. Some behind-the-scenes Warriors drama was the focal point of the postgame story from ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss. Meanwhile, our man Fran Blinebury of NBA.com painting some vivid imagery of the night that’s worth recalling in the light of day:

Ice water has Steph Curry running through its veins. Penguins look at him and shiver. The other side of the pillow thinks he’s cooler.

This isn’t funny anymore. Because the basketball world is going to pull all of its collective muscles reaching for newer, bigger, grander descriptions.

The official play-by-play sheet called it simply a 32-foot pull-up jump shot.

And Everest is just a mountain.

When Russell Westbrook missed the jumper near the end of overtime, Andre Iguodala grabbed the rebound and shoveled it ahead to Curry, nobody inside Chesapeake Energy Arena or the rest of the TV-watching, tongue-swallowing world could imagine what would happen next.

Curry didn’t run, he walked. More than walked, he strolled. A casual, carefree dribble or two across the mid-court line and then a look, maybe just a glance, a motion as nonchalant as flicking a speck of dust off your shoulder.

From there?

That 3-point rainbow that gave the Warriors a stunning 121-118 win over the Thunder Saturday night was probably the flat-out coolest thing since Shaft. Can’t you hear Isaac Hayes and the theme music?

“He’s one bad …

“Shut your mouth.

“We’re talkin’ ’bout Steph!”

It was his 12th trey of the night and he became the first player in NBA history to make at least 10 from the behind the arc in back-to-back games. It gave him 288 3-pointers on the year, breaking his own league record with six weeks still left in the season. His 46 points gave him a scoring average of 43.6 for the week.

“Obviously what Steph did was — what’s the expression? — from the ridiculous to the sublime,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “That’s where we are at this point.”

The Thunder were just in a scramble to get themselves back down the floor to guard against a last shot, but not that kind. Not one from the Texas border. Andre Roberson was lost in transition and can be seen in the replays for eternity making a desperate and frantic run when he realized it was happening.

“Honestly, I don’t know exactly where I am,” Curry said. “It’s not like I’m calibrating it in my head: ‘All right, 38 feet, 37, 36. … It’s just literally you’ve got a sense that you’ve shot the shot plenty of times. You’re coming across half court and you’re timing up your dribbles and want to shoot before the defense closes in. That was pretty much my only thought.

“When I got the ball, I knew coach had said if we got a stop and a clean rebound, push it. I looked up. … There was about five or six seconds left and the way they had shuffled around in transition, I was kinda just go at my own pace and rise up. I got my feet set and watched it go in.”

The shot went in and allowed the Warriors to become the first NBA team to clinch a playoff berth in February since the 1987-88 Lakers. It was a franchise record 29th road win of the season.

Now, with 17 of Golden State’s last 24 games of the season home at Oracle, the 72-win NBA record of the 1995-96 Bulls is not only possible, but likely. Why not 73? Or 75? Over even running the table to 77?

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 No. 2: Durant’s lapses costly to OKC — There’s a flip side to every incredible comeback story. Whether it’s a moment of panic, a detail left unattended, an inch too far this way rather than that or a timeout not called by a rookie NBA head coach, there are always several – sometimes dozens – bits of alternate realities that could have dramatically changed the outcome. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman looks at Golden State’s stirring overtime triumph from the perspective of what went wrong for the Thunder:

Minutes before Stephen Curry dropped a 35-foot moonshot dagger straight through the heart of Oklahoma City, the Thunder controlled the clock, the ball and the game. As the final seconds of regulation ticked down, Kevin Durant secured a crucial inbounds pass, up two, and anticipated the foul that would set up potential game-clinching free throws.

But it never came.

The Warriors trapped and waited. Durant seemed to panic. And what resulted was the most crippling play in the Thunder’s heartbreaking 121-118 overtime loss to the Warriors.

Everyone will remember the incredible Curry shot. But what set it up was Durant’s turnover at the end of regulation, the worst of the Thunder’s 23 giveaways.

Down 103-99, Klay Thompson hit a layup to cut OKC’s lead to two with 11 seconds left. Russell Westbrook snared it right out of the hoop, raced to the baseline and immediately inbounded to an open Durant. Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala converged in the corner, right in front of the Thunder bench, and trapped.

OKC still had a timeout. So why didn’t Billy Donovan call it?

“I just basically told the guys, you have one timeout and if you can’t get it in quickly, go ahead and take it,” Donovan explained. “I probably should’ve helped Kevin there when he came inbounds. I think maybe he was waiting for a foul and maybe I could’ve jumped in and helped him.”


WATCH: Curry vs. Durant Duel In Oklahoma City

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No. 3:  Pelicans’ Davis sits down again — The New Orleans Pelicans’ 2015-16 season has been littered with injuries like discarded beads and shattered hurricane glasses strewn about Bourbon Street after a weekend of revelry. The latest was frequent injured-list denizen Anthony Davis – the Pelicans’ brilliant young big man sprained a toe during warmups for Saturday’s game against Minnesota and was held out as a precaution from what became New Orleans’ 112-110 loss to the Timberwolves. John Reid of the New Orleans Times Picayune chronicled the Pelicans’ latest tale of ailment and woe, this one linked to Wolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns‘ and Minnesota’s dominance in the paint (50 points scored from there) owing to Davis’ injury:

While Eric Gordon made his return on Saturday night after missing 16 games with a fractured right ring finger, Pelicans star Anthony Davis returned on the injured list.

Davis sprained his right big toe during pregame warmups and was held out from playing in Saturday night’s 112-110 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Without Davis, the Pelicans gave up 50 points in the paint and couldn’t hold a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.

It was Davis’ seventh game he has missed this season due to injury. In all, 12 players have combined to miss a total of 162 games since opening night loss to Golden State in October.

”It’s crazy,” Gordon said about Pelicans’ persistent problem with injuries. ”You know A.D., he can do different things. He’s a dominant force inside and you definitely need that towards the end of the game.”

Gordon was called for a blocking foul on Andrew Wiggins with 3.6 seconds when the score was tied at 110. Wiggins made both free throws to seal the win for the Timberwolves.

”I tried to make sure my feet was out of the restricted circle, so it’s tough,” Gordon said. ”You definitely don’t want to get to that point where it gets toward the end of the game. Tonight, we mostly beat ourselves.”

In the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves outscored the Pelicans 18-4 on points scored in the paint. Minnesota also made 60 percent of their shots (14 of 23) and guard Zach LaVine, who won the dunk contest during All-Star Weekend earlier this month, scored 11 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter.

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No. 4: Carmelo’s dwindling NY daysCarmelo Anthony remains out of sync with the New York Knicks and vice versa. When the irrepressible scorer has been at the peak of his powers, the Knicks generally haven’t been ready to win. And by the time they are, frequently enough to contend for a playoff berth, a high seed and more, Anthony will be past his prime. That’s the dilemma Harvey Araton explored in his column for the New York Times Sunday:

… Anthony is as polarizing a figure to Knicks fans as any politician. That smile in Indiana undoubtedly fueled critics’ claim that he cares more about his brand than his much-discussed chances of winning a championship.

Amateur psychological evaluations aside, nobody knows what is in Anthony’s head, or heart.

However relative Anthony’s personal or team aspirations are at any given moment, he can only talk himself into believing he can attain both during his remaining contractual years in New York with the most optimistic of arguments.

Clearly, Anthony wants to stay in New York, but come July, he will be watching to see if [Phil] Jackson can land an impact free agent — not the best bet in a limited class and with impending cap space everywhere.

Miami, the Knicks’ opponent Sunday, could be the kind of team Anthony would consider waiving his no-trade clause for, although Chris Bosh’s health uncertainty could complicate the matter. Either way, Pat Riley — Jackson’s Heat counterpart, fellow septuagenarian and rival — will be more invested in retooling, not rebuilding.

Riley would probably at least be able to promise Anthony a return to the playoffs, something Jackson, in all likelihood, could not. Rebuilding is a process, not a proclamation. Consider teams like Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans — well ahead of the Knicks on the trail of developing talent yet still straining for mediocrity.

If Jackson can procure a young asset and a draft pick in a trade, Anthony will have pardoned himself for the original sin of forcing the Knicks to unload a bundle of resources on Denver when he might have signed as a free agent for the following season and cost the Knicks nothing.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The opportunity to add greybeard Andre Miller will mean the waiver wire for guard Ray McCallum. … Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams will remain on indefinite leave while dealing with the tragic death of his wife Ingrid in a Feb. 10 car accident, OKC head coach Billy Donovan said. … Lot of frustrated Bucks fans will disagree, but a case can be made that big-ticket free agent Greg Monroe has been neither the solution nor the problem for Milwaukee this season. … Golden State is ahead of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ pace for setting the NBA mark for most victories in the regular season. … ICYMI: LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and other NBA stars took to Twitter in the aftermath of Curry’s logic-defying, back-breaking game-winner at OKC. …

Morning shootaround — Feb. 24


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Whiteside, Heat not intimidated by Warriors | Report: Sixers nearly traded for Schroeder | Rambis wants players ‘angry’ over losing

No. 1: Whiteside, Heat not intimidated by Warriors — Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside has been in an on-and-off war of words with Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green in the past. He’s really not looking to get into that again. But as the Heat ready to host the Warriors tonight (7:30 ET, League Pass), Whiteside is undoubtedly looking forward to proving himself to his past foil and the team at large thinks it may have a decent shot against the defending champs tonight, writes Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald:

Knee soreness kept Hassan Whiteside out of the Miami’s Heat lineup the first go-around against Golden State.

It’s hard to imagine anything other than being struck by a freight train would keep the 7-foot, 265-pound center from playing in Wednesday night’s rematch at AmericanAirlines Arena.

He has a score to settle with Draymond Green. Well, a Twitter feud to be exact.

“He basically said he’s got more money than me and that I play in the D-League,” Whiteside said Tuesday of his war of words from last August with the 6-7, 230-pound power forward over small ball and whether it would work against a traditional center.

“I just said, ‘Small ball only works when you’ve only got big guys that don’t score.’ I wasn’t even talking about him. Then fans starting [sending him those Twitter messages] saying, ‘Hassan is talking about you.’ He was like, ‘Can you score?’ I was like, ‘If you guard me you’ll find out.’ [Then he said], ‘I got $80 million reasons to flop. The D-League is not one.’ I don’t know what the money has to do with it. But I guess, OK.”

Whiteside, 26, and Green, 25, deleted those tweets long ago. But the exchange still obviously means something to Whiteside — and fans who have kept the talk going — and will be one of the more interesting subplots when the 50-5 defending NBA champions take the court Wednesday.

Whiteside, 26, and Green, 25, deleted those tweets long ago. But the exchange still obviously means something to Whiteside — and fans who have kept the talk going — and will be one of the more interesting subplots when the 50-5 defending NBA champions take the court Wednesday.

The Warriors — chasing Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Bulls for the NBA record of 72 wins — behind league MVP Steph Curry, three-point master Klay Thompson and the do-it-all Green haven’t changed since the Heat last saw them. Dwyane Wade, who led Miami with 20 points and 11 assists in that loss, said Tuesday it will take a near-perfect game to beat them.

But this Heat team — playing without captain and leading scorer Chris Bosh — is different than the one the Warriors last saw.

Spoelstra has essentially stopped running plays for three-point shooters (Miami ranked next-to-last in scoring and 28th in three-point shooting before the All-Star break) and keeping his small forwards and power forwards out on the wings.

Behind point guard Goran Dragic, Miami — 3-0 since the All-Star break — has turned into a fast-paced, uptempo team that relies heavily on Dragic, Luol Deng and Justise Winslow to cut and drive to the basket, and for Whiteside to lead the charge in winning the rebounding battle and keeping opponents out of the paint.

Before the All-Star break, the Heat was 14-15 against teams slated to make the playoffs and 3-8 against the six best teams in the league. After a blowout loss to the Spurs before the break, Wade and Bosh said they didn’t think the Heat was ready to play with the league elite just yet.

Is the Heat ready to take down one of the league’s best teams now?

“No one in this locker room is intimidated by them,” Winslow said. “I mean, we respect them. In the end, it’s all about earning respect, giving it. But no one is intimidated.”


VIDEO: Wade, Heat looking forward to Warriors matchup

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 23


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Varejao should play Wednesday | Anthony: Knicks’ instability ‘a lot to go through’ | ‘Too much risk’ for Pistons in Motiejunas trade | Buss assesses state of Lakers

No. 1: Warriors hoping Varejao can chip in immediately — The Golden State Warriors are hoping the Cleveland Cavaliers’ loss at the trade deadline will be their gain in the long run. The Cavs had to cut fan favorite Anderson Varejao in order to pull off their trade with the Orlando Magic for Channing Frye. Varejao, who was dealt to Portland in the trade and later cut by the Trail Blazers, found a new gig soon as a backup center for the defending-champion Warriors. As Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, Varejao will likely play Wednesday vs. Miami and will have a chance to show he can contribute:

“He’s hard not to like,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s a guy who gives effort multiple times in one possession and competes every second he’s out there.

“With the enthusiasm he plays with, and from what I gather, his personality in the locker room, he’s going to be a fan favorite … just like he was in Cleveland.”

The 33-year-old also considered signing with San Antonio after being released by the Trail Blazers and clearing waivers, but he has some strong ties with the Warriors. He played with lead assistant coach Luke Walton, backup point guard Shaun Livingston and reserve big man Marreese Speights in the NBA and with reserve guard Leandro Barbosa on the Brazilian national team.

“I’m glad I came here, because I can tell that they love each other. That’s what it’s about,” Varejao said. “When you want to win, you have to be like they are: friends who have fun out there (on the court) and fun in the locker room.”

The Warriors favored Varejao, because he’s a true center. Thompson is a hybrid power forward/center. Backup center Festus Ezeli will be rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee until at least mid-March; starting center Andrew Bogut returned Monday after missing Saturday’s game with a sore right Achilles.

Varejao is similar to Bogut on offense, favoring playmaking over scoring and seemingly being a natural fit in how the Warriors use their centers in dribble handoffs and as the hubs to make passes to backdoor cutters.

Varejao will be given a video playbook and is expected to practice with the team Tuesday. Kerr believes the center’s instincts for the game will help him incorporate quickly.

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 20


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from busy Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard out-MVPs the MVP | Spurs bid Kobe adieu | Playoffs (PLAYOFFS?!) fading for Knicks | Mavs need more from Matthews

No. 1: Lillard out-MVPs the MVP — It was offered as high praise, but when Golden State coach Steve Kerr invoked Steph Curry‘s name as a way of lauding Damian Lillard‘s electric night against his Warriors — “He looked like Steph Curry out there” – it felt a little wrong. For one night, the Portland Trail Blazers guard deserved to stand alone in the spotlight, not sharing it with the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player or Portland’s stunning 32-point throttling Friday of the league’s defending champs. Even the Blazers’ surprising 28-27 record, far better than a lot of so-called experts imagined, could wait in the kudos line behind the point guard for whom there wasn’t room on the Western Conference All-Star team. Here is some of Oregonian beat writer Joe Freeman‘s report:

An undeniable reality surfaced during the 48 hours leading up to the most prolific individual performance of Damian Lillard’s career.

He felt like crud.

His legs were rubbery. His feet ached. His body wasn’t quite right. In two Trail Blazers practices following a weeklong All-Star break, Lillard committed turnovers in bunches and hoisted more bricks than he could count.

So on Thursday, after a particularly forgettable display, the two-time All-Star turned to assistant coach Nate Tibbetts with a surprising statement.

“Every time I feel like this,” Lillard told Tibbetts, “The next day, I just always have it.”

And he certainly had it Friday night. In one of the best individual performances in franchise history, Lillard recorded a career-high 51 points, a career-high six steals and seven assists to lead the surging Blazers to a stunning 137-105 victory over the Golden State Warriors at the Moda Center.

Lillard was so good, he did the unimaginable — he upstaged the Blazers’ startling 32-point victory over a seemingly invincible team poised to finish with the best record in NBA history. With a barrage of deep three-pointers, slick slashing layups and pull-up jumpers, Lillard was virtually unstoppable, making 18 of 28 field goals, including 9 of 12 three-pointers.

Lillard started hot, scoring or assisting on seven of the Blazers’ first nine field goals. And he finished even hotter, recording 21 points in a dazzling fourth quarter that had the Moda Center rocking like no other time this season. During Lillard’s most breathtaking stretch of the game, midway through the fourth quarter, he scored 13 consecutive Blazers points, breezing past the 40-point mark so fast he said he couldn’t remember doing so…

“He got into a zone twice,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “At the end, it was just ridiculous.”

And any outsider who watched Lillard during the 48 hours leading up the game, when he was bricking shots and tossing turnovers, would have been stunned.

Lillard said he was restless Friday, eager to fix his body and settle his mind, and he unintentionally altered his game-day routine. Following the Blazers’ morning shootaround, he hopped in the cold tub at the practice facility for a frigid 15-minute soak, then moved to the steam room, where he joined Al-Farouq Aminu for a 15-minute steam.

Afterward, he drove to his Lake Oswego home, slipped a splint on his left foot and took a nap, which he rarely does.

“I usually don’t even take naps,” he said. “I got up and I just felt good.”

Before he knew it, Lillard was driving to the Moda Center ahead of schedule. He strolled into the locker room about 3:50, roughly 30 or 40 minutes earlier than normal, and ran into Ed Davis, the only other person in the room. They shot the breeze for a while and Lillard killed time before going about his normal routine. By the time he started hispregame workout, his felt his mojo creeping back.

“When I did my routine before the game, I just felt good,” he said. “Going side to side, when I was pulling up off the dribble, I just felt in a good rhythm. The ball felt good in my hands.”

Lillard shot chart

***

 No. 2: Spurs bid Kobe adieu — Competitive to the end. How it had gone for most of Kobe Bryant‘s clashes with the San Antonio Spurs over the years is pretty much how it went in his final meeting with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, coach Gregg Popovich and the rest Friday in Los Angeles. Across two decades of regular-season and postseason showdowns, Bryant and Duncan faced each other 82 times – the equivalent of a full NBA season – with the Spurs’ big man owning a 43-39 advantage. Then again, Bryant was quick to point out their head-to-head in playoff series: “Four to three.” The principals had met shortly before the All-Star break but this time was for the last time, so it’s worth reviewing, per the San Antonio Express-News’ Jeff McDonald:

The Lakers star was as competitive as ever, at one point popping a dislocated finger into place so he could finish this game. As has been the case for much of the 37-year-old’s farewell tour, the Spurs got the best of the Lakers, winning 119-113.

“It’s been fun competing against those guys for all these years,” Bryant said after scoring 25 points in his Spurs swan song. “I’ve truly enjoyed it. They’ve pushed me to fine-tune and sharpen my game.”

In many ways, Friday marked the end of a rivalry two decades in the making, between two players emblematic of their generation.

“We’ve played against each other for so many years,” said Duncan, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds for his first double-double since Jan. 3. “It was always a great game against him. You knew you had to bring your A game, because he’s going to bring the best out of you.”

Even toiling for a Lakers team that could not avoid its 46th loss Friday, Bryant refused to go down without a fight.

Benefitting from the absence of All-Star Kawhi Leonard, out for the second straight game with a calf injury, Bryant finished with 25 points.

Late in the fourth quarter, with the Spurs clinging to a five-point lead, Bryant dislocated a middle finger tracking a loose ball. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti popped the digit back into place, taped it to his index finger, and Bryant returned for the final 1:56.

“He’s played through stuff that nobody will ever know about,” Popovich said. “He’s a warrior.”

Bryant made one field goal with his finger injured, a runner that pulled L.A. within 111-107 with 1:23 left.

Later, in what will go down as the final shot of his career against the Spurs, he fired up an airball 3-pointer.

Bryant’s career against the Spurs was over, and Popovich had trouble pinpointing how he felt about it.

“In some ways, it will be great,” Popovich said. “In other ways, we will miss him a lot. The whole league will miss him. But I won’t have to worry about guarding him, that’s for sure.”

***

No. 3:  Playoffs (PLAYOFFS?!) fading for Knicks — At 22-22, the New York Knicks were looking like this year’s version of the 2014-15 Milwaukee Bucks, who took an Andre the Giant-sized stride from horrible (15-67) to respectable (41-41) in a single season, boosting themselves all the way into the playoffs with a few nips and tucks (and, in the Bucks’ case, a new coach in Jason Kidd). But now Knicks fans have begun to puzzle at the gaps between victories, their team sinking fast at 23-32 with no optimism in sight. Losing to crosstown rival Brooklyn Friday night brought on the best in New York critics, focusing on the worst of Knickerbocker basketball. Consider snippets here of New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro:

That was the Nets — not the Thunder, not the Clippers — who rattled off a 20-2 run in the third quarter to turn a five-point Knicks lead into a 13-point Nets lead. That was the Nets who, after letting the Knicks draw within three points early in the fourth quarter, put them away with an immediate 10-0 surge.

That was the Nets who made the Knicks look so enfeebled, so non-competitive, so slow, so …

“We didn’t execute. On either end,” interim coach Kurt Rambis said. “That’s disappointing.”

Yes. That is one word. Here are a few others: Putrid. Lousy. Rotten. Unwatchable.

Playoffs?

Playoffs? Are you kidding me?

This is no longer a regression. The Knicks had lost 10 out of 11 heading into the break, the season already had gone sideways, the postseason already was looking like a longer long shot than Chuck Wepner.

You could talk yourself into anything you wanted to: the floor had started to tilt on the Knicks when Carmelo Anthony tripped over that referee’s foot. Kristaps Porzingis was dealing with the rookie wall. All of that. And to add red meat for the masses, Fisher was sacrificed. Is there more of a time-honored solution for turning things around — at least for a week or two — than axing the coach?

The Knicks had been off since Feb. 9. They were rested. They were as healthy as they had been in weeks. The first time these teams played, in December, the Knicks took a 30-point lead by the midway point of the second quarter.

Those were the heady days — hard to conjure now — when every small victory the Knicks posted was celebrated, because anything — just about everything — compared to last season’s 17-win dumpster fire could be celebrated as progress. That was before anyone figured this could end up in the playoffs, when just not watching stink rise up from the Garden floor was worth rejoicing.

Yeah. That feels like an awfully long time ago.

***

No. 4: Mavs need more from Matthews — When Dallas owner Mark Cuban reacted to the DeAndre Jordan switcheroo last summer by throwing even more guaranteed money, in a longer free-agent contract, at damaged-goods Portland shooting guard Wesley Matthews, it didn’t just seem impulsive; it seemed like retail therapy, the sort of things shopaholics do to self-medicate in times of unrelated stress. It even seemed a little out of character, given the red flags that were unmissable thanks to Matthews’ season-ending Achilles surgery last spring. So what the Mavericks are getting – or missing – from Matthews deep into his comeback season isn’t any big secret, but it is a legitimate concern, given how much time and money remains on his four-year, $70 million deal. Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com looked at the gap between Matthews’ production and compensation:

The Mavs certainly aren’t getting their money’s worth right now. They must get much better bang for the buck from their highest-paid player to have any hope of being more than first-round fodder — and perhaps even to make the playoffs.

The fact that the 29-year-old Matthews is struggling through the worst season of his career can’t be considered surprising. The history of players coming back from torn Achilles tendons, if they come back at all, is frighteningly poor.

It was an expensive vote of confidence from Cuban in Matthews’ remarkable will and work ethic. It was also a vote of confidence in the Mavs’ support staff — specifically head athletic trainer Casey Smith and athletic performance director Jeremy Holsopple — and the new medical technology that wasn’t available to players whose careers were ruined by a ruptured Achilles in the past.

And it was a decision made with the long term in mind.

“We didn’t sign him for this year,” Cuban said recently when asked if Matthews’ extended slump concerned him.

Not that Matthews, who surprised many by making good on his vow to play in the season opener less than eight months after suffering his injury, is looking for excuses for his struggles. Nor does he expect Mavs fans to have much patience in him if he doesn’t perform well.

“I’ve got to play better,” Matthews said after scoring only five points on 2-of-10 shooting in Friday’s overtime loss to the Orlando Magic. “I take that onus up. I take that ownership. I will.”

Matthews’ value to the Mavs can’t be measured simply by his stats. He’s a tremendous teammate who leads the Mavs in minutes played, a respected voice in the locker room and a proud defender who readily accepts the challenge of guarding the opponent’s best perimeter scorer on a nightly basis.

But Dallas desperately needs Matthews, who established himself as one of the NBA’s premier perimeter shooters the previous five seasons in Portland, to snap out of his offensive funk.

Matthews gave the Mavs one really good offensive month. He averaged 15 points and hit 42.5 percent of his 3-point attempts in December, numbers that were pretty close to the norm during his five-year tenure with the Trail Blazers. Matthews was plus-89 in those 14 games. Not coincidentally, the Mavs had their best month of the season, going 9-5.

The Mavs are 9-13 in games in which Matthews has played since the calendar flipped to 2016. He has averaged only 10.7 points during that time, shooting 37.4 percent from the floor and 30.5 percent from 3-point range. He is minus-69 in those 22 games.

It’s not trending in the right direction, either. Matthews is minus-55 in six February games, averaging only 8.8 points per game. Not coincidentally, the Mavs are 1-5 this month, sliding to 29-27 overall, putting them four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for fifth in the Western Conference and giving them only a 1 1/2-game cushion before falling out of the playoff pack.

“This is not a Wes thing. This is a team thing,” coach Rick Carlisle said, downplaying concerns about Matthews’ slump.

Matthews sat down the stretch of regulation Friday night. He played the entire overtime, missing both of his shot attempts — a driving layup and an open corner 3 that both would have tied the score.

“I’ve been making those shots since I’ve been in the league. As soon as I get frustrated, it takes away from everything else that I can do on the court. When I start doing that, then I’m selfish. I’ve just got to continue being me [and] stay confident, which I am. I’m not worried about it. The team trusts me. Coaches trust me, and I’m going to work my ass off.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dallas’ loss in OT in Orlando included a few sweet-nothings between big man Zaza Pachulia and wing Chandler Parsons. … Don’t think the Golden State Warriors didn’t learn anything from their loss to Portland Friday, or what it had in common with their four previous defeats. … If Thursday’s trade deadline didn’t scratch your itch for player movement, enjoy what transpires in the coming days of “buyout season,” as noted by our own Shaun Powell. … Then there’s the guy in Cleveland about whom trade rumors never seem to end, deadline or no deadline, writes our man Steve Aschburner. … Ricky Rubio enjoyed all the trade gossip – with a certain exception. … The guy most likely to be moved by the deadline was not. So what’s next for Dwight Howard?

Morning shootaround — Feb. 15


VIDEO: Relive the 65th NBA All-Star Game

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Wolves shopping Rubio | Kobe bids farewell to All-Star weekend | Whiteside unlikely to have long future in Miami | George iffy about 2016 Olympics

No. 1:  Report: Timberwolves shopping Rubio before deadline: The Ricky Rubio era in Minnesota could soon come to an end. The Timberwolves are reportedly shopping their one-time point guard of the future. The emergence of back-to-back Verizon Slam Dunk champion Zach LaVine has given the Timberwolves a different option at the position, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

Zach LaVine was nothing short of spectacular in winning his second straight Slam Dunk title on Saturday and by the end of this week he may win something else; the starting point guard job for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Incumbent Ricky Rubio is readily available and the feeling is that the Spanish guard could be moved prior to Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.

Phil Jackson is in the market for a point guard but it’s hard to envision the Knicks having the assets to acquire the 25-year-old Rubio, whose season average in points (9.7), assists (8.6) and minutes (30.3) are down this year.

Jackson wants desperately to make the playoffs – as evidenced by his quick trigger decision to fire Derek Fisher 136 games into his tenure – but finding an upgrade in the backcourt is tricky.

Houston’s Ty Lawson has been a bust with the Houston Rockets but perhaps he can turn his career and the Knicks season around over the last 27 games. Ditto for Brandon Jennings, who is also on the Knicks radar.

The Clippers are making Blake Griffin available even though the injured forward is recovering from a second surgical procedure to his right (punching) hand and may not play again this season, especially if he’s traded to a team out of the playoff race.

Denver, Boston and Atlanta cannot be ruled out but if Griffin remains with the Clippers after Thursday this may be something the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony may want to consider over the summer.

A Griffin-for-Anthony trade makes sense on a number of levels including the fact that Anthony and Chris Paul have for years tried to become teammates.


VIDEO: Relive the 2016 Verizon Slam Dunk contest

***

No. 2: All that’s left for Kobe now is goodbye The Kobe Bryant farewell tour won’t see another stop as big as All-Star weekend and Sunday’s 65th All-Star Game. His Los Angeles Lakers are not in the playoff equation in the Western Conference, so there will be no walk off into the postseason sunset for Bryant. That means, today marks the start of his long goodbye from the game he has been an integral part of for more than half of his life. Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical explains:

This is your life, Kobe Bryant. This was your goodbye. That’s how All-Star weekend had played itself out, how the relentlessness of Bryant’s 20 years had been honored. For all these years, Bryant never felt terribly compelled to gift the most intimate details of his craft. He gassed himself to understand the nuances of it all, and never, ever wanted to cost himself a competitive advantage. Bryant didn’t want only to win, but destroy you, too. The force of his will was nothing short of predatory.

Everything has changed now. Bryant has let go. He’s let go of it all. The competition is gone, and Bryant is shaping his legacy. He isn’t chasing championships, nor playoffs, nor competitive genius. At times this season, he has traveled the NBA and had his opponents searching out informal sessions of wisdom. There were times that rival players were uneasy about approaching Bryant, uneasy with what could be a most uninviting vibe.

Now, Bryant stood inside a third-floor corridor at the Air Canada Centre and embraced everything. The All-Star game MVP, Russell Westbrook, marched past Bryant clutching his trophy. He had grown up in Southern California, and told The Vertical that as a kid he had “gone to the Lakers’ championship parades to see Kobe.” Indiana’s Paul George had 41 points for the East, and nothing made him feel better lying in that hospital bed 18 months ago than Bryant reaching out, encouraging him to fight his way back.

Across his final season, Bryant has torn down the walls and let everyone close to him. Across this All-Star weekend, the NBA’s best players found themselves making personal, private pilgrimages to him.

“It feels like I’m passing on all the knowledge that I’ve gained in this game,” Bryant told The Vertical. “These kids, they grew up watching me. They were my daughter Gianna‘s age [10] when they started to watch me play. When we talk now, they’re asking me questions about things that they’ve watched and observed from my career. They want deeper insight. For me, it’s been really, really interesting. That’s part of the weekend that I most enjoyed – more than everything else. Just sitting down and talking to the guys individually. Steph. Kawhi. Draymond. These guys, they were just picking my brain and that’s … that’s … special.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant reflects on his final All-Star Game appearance

***

No. 3: Whiteside’s future in Miami in jeopardy? The Miami Heat’s development of Hassan Whiteside‘s was always a low-risk, high-reward proposition. If the talented 7-footer could find a way to curb his enthusiasm for nonsense, the Heat could very well have uncovered one of the league’s most talented big men. But the experiment has hit a rough patch, one that could that lead to Whiteside’s exit prior to Thursday’s trade deadline, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

In many ways, power forward Chris Bosh is the ideal center in today’s NBA game. And he could end up back there next season if the Heat moves on from Hassan Whiteside, whose future here looks increasingly questionable.

Even before his ejection angered Heat officials Tuesday, there have been serious reservations inside the organization about giving Whiteside the type of contract Miami believes he could attract in free agency, one that could start at $17 million or more.

ESPN’s Chris Broussard said the Heat is gauging trade interest in Whiteside, and two people in contact with the Heat told me that Miami appears open to considering a Whiteside trade, if it can dump other salary and get quality talent back, because it knows it’s going to be uncomfortably costly to keep him. Heat officials have expressed frustration with him, for reasons we explained in last Sunday’s column.

But the Heat also knows the odds would be against a trade this week because he’s earning just $981,000 (causing cap complications) and the team acquiring him wouldn’t have any financial advantage in re-signing him.

Also know this: Pat Riley is not going to commit long-term financially to a roster that isn’t close to a legitimate championship contender. So that factors into a Whiteside decision this summer if his contract prevents other significant moves (and it certainly would make it very difficult if he commands a stratospheric salary).

If Whiteside makes it past the trade deadline, it likely would take impeccable maturity, elite production, no lapses in judgment, a deep playoff run (with Whiteside playing at a very high level) and/or striking out on a few top free-agent options for the Heat to seriously consider giving Whiteside an enormous deal this summer.

So with the cap jumping from $70 million to $89 million, what could Miami realistically achieve in free agency with or without Whiteside?

Whiteside and Dwyane Wade would potentially command a combined $30 million of the $37 million Miami is projected to have available — a figure that would grow to $43 million if the Heat can somehow can dump Josh McRoberts’ contract without taking money back.

***

No. 4: George’s comeback complete, USAB future uncertain Paul George used Sunday’s All-Star Game as his personal reminder that he was officially back from the gruesome injury that cost him most all of the 2014-15 season. He just barely missed Wilt Chamberlain‘s All-Star Game scoring mark and led all scorers with 41 points. But as good as it felt to finally get back on the All-Star stage, George has some decisions to make about the rest of his season and summer, as he explained to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:

“I knew this is where I belong,” George told Yahoo Sports. “I just felt good and felt confident after I hit shot after shot. Having this long journey, the long rehab that was really the only thing on my mind was enjoying being back here. It was about making shots.

“Of course, personally I wanted a good showing. But it wasn’t really about that. It was just about enjoying being back in this moment.”

George is averaging 23.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and four assists for the Pacers this season. He believes he is showing the same stellar athleticism that he displayed before the injury. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who coached the West All-Stars, said what he is seeing in George now is “pretty incredible.”

“Every time he runs up and down the floor and jumps up for one of those dunks and everything, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, the human body is amazing,’ ” Popovich said. “To come back and play at this level athletically, it just stuns me every time I see him out there.”

George was one point shy of matching Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain‘s All-Star scoring record of 42 points set in 1962. George and East coach Tyronn Lue said they had no idea the record was that close. George expects to get “madder and madder” during his flight back to Indianapolis because he didn’t break the coveted scoring record.

“Had I known, I would have gone for the two on my last shot instead of going for the three,” George said.

George has played in all 53 regular-season games for a Pacers team that is expected to make the playoffs. He is also a member of USA Basketball’s 31-man roster that has to be trimmed to 12 before the 2016 Rio Olympics. While USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo has promised George a roster spot, George said his body might not allow him to take the trip to Brazil.

“I had a long year,” George told Yahoo Sports. “This has been a long year coming from rehab. I just know how my body has taken these first 50-plus games, not knowing what these playoffs are going to do to my body. So there is a decision coming at the end of the year, is the smart thing to continue on or take a little bit of time for some rest and let my body heal?”

George, a Palmdale, Calif. native, said he became emotional every time he had a one-on-one opportunity with Kobe Bryant, who was playing in his last All-Star Game. George also met Hall of Famer Michael Jordan for the first time over the weekend.

“I had a special weekend,” George said.


VIDEO: Best from Paul George’s 41-point performance in the All-Star Game

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chris Paul says he ‘plans on’ breaking the All-Star Game career assists record … Some fresh speculation about how Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could end up with the New York Knicks in 2017 … Kobe Bryant going one-on-one with Chris Paul‘s son … ICYMI, Batman and Superman stopped by Inside the NBA last night … Everything you need to know about NBA All-Star 2016 that you might have missed is right here

Morning shootaround — Feb. 14


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from All-Star Saturday Night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest | Hack-A-Gone? | Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother | Horford embraces uncertain future

No. 1:  LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest For years, the Verizon Slam Dunk was All-Star Weekend’s marquee event. The electricity surrounding the event may have waned in recent years. But last season, Timberwolves rookie Zach LaVine gave it a jolt of excitement, notching his first win. And Saturday night in Toronto, a couple of 20 year olds, LaVine and Magic forward Aaron Gordon, took turns making jaws drop, posting alternating perfect scores in the contest’s final round until LaVine was ultimately able to grab the win in arguably the greatest dunk contest in All-Star Weekend history. And as Lang Whitaker writes, with the contest on the line, LaVine went to the free-throw line

High expectations? No problem.

After bringing the Dunk Contest back to prominence one year ago with a series of electrifying dunks, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine picked up where he left off, with help from Orlando’s Aaron Gordon.

And with the Verizon Slam Dunk on the line, Zach LaVine went to the free throw line. Well, almost.

With a through-the-legs dunk from just inside the charity stripes, Zach LaVine earned his fifth score of 50 on the night, making him the 2016 NBA dunk champ. The 20-year-old LaVine became the first back-to-back winner since Nate Robinson in 2009 and 2010.

Going against Magic forward Aaron Gordon in the contest finals, LaVine and Gordon got locked into a heavyweight bout where they traded incredible body blows. After the contest, LaVine said, “We should share the trophy, because [Gordon] did some stuff I’ve never seen before.”

To begin the final round, Gordon completed a dunk with an unbelievable degree of difficulty, snatching the ball from Orlando Magic mascot Stuff — who was spinning on a hoverboard — and throwing down a twisting dunk. This earned a 50. LaVine countered by throwing himself an alley-oop and floating through the air for a one-handed finish, earning another 50.

Gordon then again used Stuff, this time clearing the mascot with his rear end while passing the ball below for a lefty finish. That earned another 50, putting the pressure on LaVine.

LaVine responded coolly, with a windmill from just inside the free throw line, for another 50. This marked the first time in Dunk Contest history the final round saw four scores of 50.

They didn’t stop. In the first dunk-off, Gordon enlisted teammate Elfrid Payton to throw an alley-oop off the side of the backboard. Gordon caught the ball and completed a reverse dunk while flying through the air. 50. LaVine responded by throwing an alley-oop to himself from the baseline, catching the ball and passing it through his legs for a reverse dunk. This earned another 50.

On the second dunk-off, Gordon ran along the baseline and did a two-handed double-pump reverse reminiscent of Dominique Wilkins. Gordon scored a 47. To win it, LaVine went back to the free throw line.

***

No. 2: Hack-A-Gone? A Q&A with the Commissioner of the NBA has become a staple of All-Star Saturday Night, and last night Adam Silver faced the assembled media to address several topics. As Steve Aschburner writes, among the many topics addressed, one change Silver is clearly looking to implement is an end to the Hack-A- intentional fouling that has become en vogue around the NBA lately …

If the Hack-A-Whomever strategy currently raising such a ruckus in some NBA precincts is actually something you like, take solace: It’s going to be with us, extending the real time of games, disrupting any sense of flow and showcasing a whole lot of bricked free throws, at least through the end of the 2016 playoffs.

If, though, you believe in the tactic as a coach’s best friend — something to encourage bad foul shooters to improve, lest they look silly and cost their teams victories — those guys had better get in the gym soon and practice their form, release and follow-through fast.

Change almost certainly is coming, based on NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s comments Saturday in the annual state-of-the-league All-Star news conference.

Silver, addressing and fielding questions from reporters before the skills, slam dunk and 3-point shooting contests at Air Canada Centre, reiterated what he has said on several recent occasion. “I’m beginning to feel that a change needs to be made,” Silver said, citing conversations he has had with broadcast partners, sentiment expressed in fan data and feedback from players, GMs and owners.

As for coaches, Silver said “Clearly our coaches who are smart and using very complex analytics believe it is benefiting them.”

But changing the rules wouldn’t be pursued to make life tougher on the league’s coaches, any more than it would be done to let the most frequent targets of the tactic — notoriously poor free-throw shooters such as DeAndre Jordan (.423 free-throw percentage), Andre Drummond (.351), Dwight Howard (.532) and a handful of others — off the hook. It would be a decision driven more by the NBA product as entertainment, not merely athletic competition.

Silver did share that, when the league’s competition committee discussed the strategy last summer, it sought data from an additional season before making a recommendation. That data so far? “We’re seeing the Hack-a-Shaq strategy used at roughly a five-and-a-half-times greater rate than it was used last season,” the commissioner reported.

That’s a lot of standing around, stoppages in play and, for folks viewing from the stands or on TV at home, a procession of finely tuned, multi-millionaire athletes failing at one of basketball’s fundamental skills. That’s not a good look for anyone involved.

Interestingly, Silver said that there is no consensus among the practice’s critics what remedy should be pursued. Treat the entire game like the final two minutes, when fouls away from the play equal one free throw and retained possession? Come up with something more stringent to snuff even the temptation to hack a targeted player intentionally?

Silver said he would want to have a specific alternative to propose. And even then, that sort of change would need the approval of two-thirds of the league’s members (20 of the 30 teams).

“So we’re nowhere near that point where we’re even starting to count heads,” Silver said. This summer would be the soonest, he indicated.

***

No. 3: Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother It was no big surprise last season in Brooklyn when Stephen Curry managed to win the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest; after all, he was midway through an MVP season and establishing himself as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. Last night in Toronto, when it came time for Curry to defend his title, he posted a fine performance, making the final round, until his Splash Brother and Warriors backcourt ‘mate Klay Thompson was able to get hot and edge Curry. As Sekou Smith writes, if there was any questions left about the league’s best-shooting backcourt, those doubts were officially laid to rest night

For the second straight year, one of the Golden State Warriors’ Splash Brothers walked off the All-Star Saturday night stage as the champion of the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.

But it wasn’t defending champion and NBA three-point king Stephen Curry. This time it was teammate Klay Thompson taking home top honors in a competition that, by the final round, looked like something the Warriors might do at the end of every practice.

It marks the first time in Three-Point Contest history that different players from the same team have won it in consecutive seasons.

“Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool,” Thompson said.

Thompson saved his best for last, finishing with 27 points in the final round to conquer one of the deepest fields in the history of the competition, a group that includes some of the best long-range shooters in the game today and perhaps ever.

“He definitely shot well tonight,” Curry said. “I still think I can hold my own in the competition, but the way that he finished off that second round was amazing. So trust me, the pressure of knowing what number he had to hit and making five out of five was fun to watch.”

Curry collected 23 points in his final round, but was on his feet cheering with the rest of the contestants as Thompson drained shot after shot on his final rack. Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker, the youngest player in the league, finished third after netting 16 points in the final round.

***

No. 4: Horford embraces uncertain future All-Star Weekend is traditionally something of a swap shop for trade rumors, and with his contract expiring this summer, All-Star Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford hasn’t been immune from hearing his name. But considering the trade rumors and that he was swimming in the Caribbean when he got the last-minute call to get to Toronto, stat, as Sam Amick writes, Horford says he’s thrilled to be in Toronto and taking everything day by day

It’s no secret that the Hawks have been exploring trade options that include Horford, but that doesn’t mean the four-time All-Star’s days in Atlanta are necessarily done. The relationship between the player and the team that drafted him third overall in 2007 remains strong, with nine seasons of history between them and a dynamic between Horford and president of basketball operations/coach Mike Budenholzer that could still lead to him re-signing this summer. And yes, it should be noted, the Hawks are well aware that retaining a talent like Horford in today’s NBA will come with an enormous price tag not only because of his talents but because the league’s salary cap is about to spike from $70 million to $89 million next season (and $108 million in 2017-18). He would earn approximately $25 in his first season.

But the 31-24 Hawks, like any team that isn’t playing to its anticipated level, must consider all options this time of year. They are also known to be engaging in trade discussions relating to point guard Jeff Teague, who is less of a flight risk than Horford because he has one year left on his contract ($8 million). The New York Knicks and Utah Jazz, to name a few, could be serious suitors for Teague in the coming days.

The Boston Celtics are widely believed to be a potential fit as a Horford trade partner, but the real level of interest from general manager Danny Ainge remains to be seen in the coming days. And while Horford continues to speak positively about the city and his situation, there’s an inherent uncertainty to this process that always acts as the driving force.

“I’m very happy in Atlanta,” Horford said when asked if the Hawks had reason to be concerned that he might leave. “I’ve said it repeatedly. I love the city. My family, we all live in Atlanta, we stay there in the offseason, so my focus is just to keep playing and taking it day by day and, right now, it’s to enjoy this weekend. … Just taking it day by day. That’s the only thing I can do. We really can’t worry about three or four months from now.”

Especially when a welcome All-Star berth comes your way.

While Horford wasn’t selected to the team initially, he was given the nod on Friday when Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh unexpectedly pulled out because of a calf strain. Horford was vacationing with his family near Cancun, Mexico, when he got the call.

“I had my phone off (and) I was in the water,” said Horford, who is averaging 15.3 points and 6.9 rebounds this season. “I was doing my morning swim out there, and I got the call (around 9:30 am).

“I’m so excited to be here, man. Words don’t describe it. Being here in this city, in Toronto. I remember last year looking at it, and I was like, ‘It’s going to be in Toronto, I would love to be a part of that,’ because, you know, the fans here are so lively and just being around these guys and it happens to be Kobe’s last All-Star. It’s kind of a big deal, and for me to be a part of this I’m very grateful.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony says he’s not getting tradedKarl-Anthony Towns struck a blow for bigs in the Skills Challenge … If you haven’t heard, it’s really, really cold in Toronto this weekend … The Indiana Pacers are eyeing a future All-Star Weekend bidJimmer Fredette was named MVP of the D-League All-Star GameKevin Hart tied Draymond Green in their own three-point shootout.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 13


VIDEO: All the highlights from All-Star Friday Night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Redick ready to rack it | Trade season takes no All-Star break | Warriors open to chasing 73 | Shaw might be next ex-Laker on Knicks bench

No. 1: Redick ready to rack it — J.J. Redick is one competitive cuss, which is why he took so seriously his failure to advance in last year’s Foot Locker Three-Point Contest on All-Star Saturday and why he ramped up his preparation this time around. Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News looked at Redick’s determination to win or at least push deeper into the shootout this time around:

The rack will just represent the mechanism that holds the basketballs J.J. Redick will shoot. The money balls will just represent the extra points the Clippers’ guard hopes to accumulate.

But when Redick participates in the NBA’s 3-point contest as part of All-Star festivities on Saturday at Air Canada Centre, the rack and moneyballs will also represent something else.

It will mark the key part of Redick’s preparation in hopes to rectify last season’s finish, in which he did not advance out of the contest’s first round.

So, Redick completed shooting workouts on Thursday and Friday that included using racks and moneyballs in his routine.

Redick sounded optimistic that could help him win, which would prompt him to celebrate Saturday evening enjoying a bottle of Pinot Noir.

“Last year I grabbed the balls from the wrong side, so I feel like I’m already ahead of where I was last year,” Redick said. “I’ll try to maintain somewhat of a routine that I would have if I was playing a game.”

When Redick plays in a game, that usually means one thing: He will make outside shots with deadly accuracy. Redick has averaged a career-high 47.6 percent clip from 3-point range to help the Clippers (35-18) go 18-5 without Blake Griffin, who has an injured quadriceps and broken right hand, the latter ailment happening after punching team assistant equipment manager Matias Testi at a local restaurant here.

But Redick could not stop Golden State’s Stephen Curry from winning last season’s contest for reasons beyond Curry seemingly making every shot he takes.

Redick did not advance out of the first round amid two startling developments: A few of Redick’s shots did not count since he could not keep his feet behind the 3-point line.

“I shot a lot of long twos last year,” Redick joked.

Redick also struggled transitioning from catch-and-shoot opportunities toward hoisting 3-pointers after grabbing the ball from the rack.

“I didn’t really have an issue with the timing last year, it was more the rhythm,” Redick said. “Depending on which side of the rack you grab the ball from, your footwork is a little different.

“Not that shooting 3s off a rack is an exact science or anything. Ultimately the ball just needs to go through the net.”

And they need to go into the net more than Curry, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Houston’s James Harden, Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Phoenix’s Devin Booker and Portland’s CJ McCollum will also be in the contest

Redick predicted Curry and Thompson will “shoot the ball really well and be relaxed.” Redick also considered Booker a “darkhorse.”

***

 No. 2: Trade season takes no All-Star break — Just because the NBA’s regular season gets put on hold each year over the longer-than-ever All-Star break, that doesn’t stop league business for chugging along. And with the annual February trade deadline fast approaching – it’s Thursday, before the schedule actually resumes for anyone that evening – rumors and speculation were flying in Toronto, including an alleged three-team, multiple-star blockbuster if it were to come to fruition. Always keep your eye on the big “if,” of course, but this one between Cleveland, New York and Boston was reported by Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

The Daily News has learned that the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers have discussed a blockbuster trade centered around Kevin Love. There were very preliminary discussions with the Knicks about expanding the deal to include [Carmelo] Anthony, who would have to waive his no trade clause in order to facilitate a deal to the Cavs.

The Knicks would receive draft picks and players in return. One of those players is believed to be Timofey Mozgov, who five years ago was traded by the Knicks to Denver in the Anthony deal.

Those talks have not progressed. Plus Anthony reiterated on Friday that he has no plans to seek a trade. However, when asked if he’s thought about his future with a losing organization, Anthony gave a cryptic answer.

“Not yet. I’m pretty sure I’ll have that conversation with myself and my family and my team,” he said. “But it’s not a conversation for right now.”

The NBA trading deadline is Thursday and Knicks president Phil Jackson is exploring ways to upgrade the 23-32 Knicks and get them back in the playoff race. Trading Anthony would signal a complete rebuild centered around 20-year-old Kristaps Porzingis.

On Friday, Anthony bemoaned not having a proven star as a teammate and revealed that he’s had talks with fellow All-Stars about joining forces.

“I think everybody kind of dreams and hopes that they can play with another great player, another star player. It’s a star player’s league,” Anthony said. “I think that’s what we talk about when we all get together — ‘I want to play with you, I want to play with you.’ Even here different guys say, ‘Come play with me, come play with me.’ So that’s always the mindset. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it don’t. But I think everybody that’s in my situation, that’s in my position, they all want the load off especially the older they get. Because you realize you just can’t do it all by yourself. Everybody knows that.”

The Cavaliers are in first place in the Eastern Conference and the odds-on favorites to return to the NBA Finals for a second straight year. The Cavs and LeBron James, however, are not convinced they have enough to beat the top teams in the West, in particular Golden State and San Antonio.

The Cavs are 1-3 against those clubs with the one win coming against San Antonio one week after Tyronn Lue replaced David Blatt as coach. Anthony would give Cleveland a proven scorer to join LeBron and Kyrie Irving.

For every trade rumor that pops up, there usually is one or more reports poking holes in the scenario. Some in response to this Cavaliers-Knicks-Celtics scenario popped up on Twitter:

***

No. 3:  Warriors open to chasing 73 — It has become de rigueur these days for NBA coaches and teams to seek the path of least resistance to a championship run, with special attention paid to rest and limited exposures to injuries and physical or mental fatigue. But the Golden State Warriors remain refreshing that way – they didn’t shy away from the winning streak with which they began the season, chasing after the old 1971-72 Lakers’ 33-game mark with enthusiasm. And from their remarks during interviews Friday at All-Star Weekend, including Marc Stein‘s report for ESPN radio, it’s clear they’ll tackle the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ all-time record (72-10) the same way if they get close:

The Golden State Warriors need a 25-5 finish after the All-Star Game to break the NBA’s all-time single-season record of 72 wins. And at least one Warrior says they will indeed be going for it.

“Oh, we will,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson told ESPN Radio on Friday.

In an interview that will air in full on Saturday night’s “Meet The All-Stars” show on ESPN Radio at 5:30 p.m., Thompson acknowledged that the Warriors, who are 48-4, will likely rest some of their players as the season winds down.

“We’ll probably rest guys down the stretch,” Thompson said. “But we’re so deep of a team that we should have a chance to win every night.

“Just to be in the conversation of ‘You guys can do it’ is crazy. It’s great. I would have never imagined this. Growing up, I always thought that record was untouchable. Obviously we’re playing for more than just 73 wins — we’re playing for a championship — but if it’s right there for us, we might as well try and take it.”

Both Thompson and teammate Draymond Green, however, made it clear that even surpassing the Chicago Bulls’ record 72 wins from the 1995-96 season would feel somewhat hollow if the Warriors don’t also repeat as NBA champions.

“It wouldn’t matter,” Green told ESPN Radio. “I don’t think anyone will care. It’ll be talked about initially, like, ‘Oh, they broke the record.’ But it’ll fade away so quick.

“I think it’s one of those things where obviously we don’t talk about it at all. It’ll come up every now and then, but it’s more so, ‘Man, could you imagine if that happened?’ But it’s never like, ‘Hey, let’s focus on getting 72.’ Our focus is always to get better each and every time we step on the floor. And I think if we do that, we get to 72. But if we win 72 or 73 games or 74 and we don’t win a championship, nobody will ever care about the 70-whatever wins in the regular season. Everybody cares about the Bulls because they won a championship while winning 72. So it’s more important to win the championship than winning 72 games.”

Said Thompson: “73 wins doesn’t mean a thing without the ring.”

Golden State’s ringleader, Steph Curry, also chimed in on the topic:

“There’s not many opportunities that you probably have to go after that record,” Curry said Friday to CNN’s Andy Scholes. “Obviously, going to win a championship, that’s the main goal. But there’s a reason that we’re still talking about that ’95-’96 Bulls team that was able to accomplish the 72-and-10 record. They were on a mission that year and ended up winning the championship as well. So that’s kind of where we want to be.

“But when you have a shot at history and being the best regular-season team in the history of the NBA, I think you’ve got to go for it.”

And at least one very-interested rival, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, spoke about how avidly he’ll be tracking the Warriors’ progress. Which apparently is nothing new:

“I’ve spent more time thinking about Golden State than I have any other team I’ve ever thought about in my whole career,” Popovich told ESPN Radio on Friday. “Because they are really fun. I’d go buy a ticket and go watch them play. And when I see them move the ball, I get very envious. When I see them shoot uncontested shots more than anybody else in the league, it’s inspiring. It’s just great basketball.

“So I’m actually enjoying them very much. You try to solve them, but they’re in a sense unsolvable because it’s a particular mix of talent that they have. It’s not just that Steph [Curry] can make shots or that Klay can make shots or that Draymond Green is versatile. Everybody on the court can pass, catch and shoot. And they all get it. They’re for real.”

***

No. 4: Shaw might be next ex-Laker on Knicks benchBrian Shaw‘s reputation as a basketball mind and solid approach to dealing with today’s players didn’t spare him from being fired during the 2014-15 season by the Denver Nuggets. But Shaw remains a legitimate candidate for vacancies that invariably crop up and the one that will get filled in New York by Knicks boss Phil Jackson will be no different. Marc Berman of the New York Post kicked around the idea of Shaw taking over for interim coach Kurt Rambis, who has taken over for fired Derek Fisher:

Brian Shaw didn’t run the triangle offense in Denver, but he hasn’t forgotten any of it.

Shaw is expected to be a Knicks head-coaching candidate in the offseason if Phil Jackson doesn’t retain interim coach Kurt Rambis. Fired by Denver midway through last season, Shaw, a former Lakers player and assistant coach, was at All-Star weekend, helping the NBA with skills competitions for fans.

“I was 12 years involved in it as a player and coach,’’ Shaw told The Post. “The funny thing about it is everybody makes a big deal about the triangle. Almost every team in the league runs different aspects. They’re not dedicated solely to the triangle. It’s something that will always be ingrained in me — the fundamentals of that offense. In Denver, I didn’t run the triangle. I could adapt to any style the personnel dictates.’’

Shaw said he speaks to Jackson periodically, last talking to him about five weeks ago.

Shaw became the scapegoat of a daffy situation in Denver marred by player unrest and a serious injury to Danilo Gallinari.

“It was a situation I don’t really feel I was able to succeed in,’’ Shaw said. “I don’t think anyone placed in that situation could’ve succeeded. I hope I’m not judged on the year-and-a-half I was there more so than the 27 years prior to that I’ve been involved in the NBA.’’

Shaw said he’s hoping to dive into interviews, but didn’t want to talk specifically about the Knicks’ job until it’s open. He did praise Kristaps Porzingis and said he feels Carmelo Anthony is running the offense better this season than last.

“I have to wait until this season is over and see what opens up,” Shaw said. “If the right situation presents itself, definitely. I think I’d be more careful what I jumped into.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: One moment Chris Bosh was talking like a healthy and happy All-Star Weekend featured player, the next he was a surprising scratch, his spots to be filled by Atlanta’s Al Horford (in Sunday’s game) and Portland’s C.J. McCollum (in the 3-point contest). … With everyone talking about Kevin Durant potentially leaving Oklahoma City, it’s a little surprising Durant hasn’t made his intentions known to Thunder management, just in case GM Sam Presti were to consider a pre-emptive strike by the trade deadline. … The firing of Derek Fisher hit New York rookie forward Kristaps Porzingis a little hard. … If it were up to the L.A. Clippers, point guard Chris Paul would be lying flat on his back this weekend, probably in a protective plastic bubble. … ICYMI, the Indiana Pacers had a closed-door meeting to address their pre-break tailspin and it was said to have been led by Monta Ellis. … Jimmy Butler is as hobbled these days as his Chicago Bulls’ championship dreams, but that didn’t stop the sidelined All-Star wing (who came to Toronto anyway) from talking about a bunch of topics. …


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