Posts Tagged ‘Cavaliers’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 221) Featuring John Schuhmann

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The streak is over. The Golden State Warriors are no longer chasing history, at least not that consecutive games won streak of 33 games.

This allows us all to turn our undivided attention to the rest of the league and all of the stories we’ve neglected while enjoying the Warriors’ 24-1 run to start the season.

Is there still unrest in Houston? Can the Dwight Howard and James Harden combo still work there? And if not, is it time for the Rockets to consider moving Howard before he can opt out of his contract and become a free agent in the summer?

While we’re on the subject of player movement, who are the guys most likely to find themselves in the crosshairs between now and the February trade deadline?

And what about the MVP race, can anyone close the gap on Stephen Curry?

We’re trying to make sense of it all and we’ve enlisted the services of NBA.com’s numbers guru John Schuhmann to help us solve all of these problems, and more, on Episode 221 of The Hang Time Podcast.

LISTEN HERE:

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

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

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VIDEO: Stephen Curry is a no-brainer pick for whatever individual honors the NBA is handing out through the first quarter of the season

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 14


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving expected back this week | Chandler back, ready to face Mavs | Thunder stars spread the love vs. Jazz | Can Warriors start another run?

No. 1: Cavaliers expect Irving to return this week — The hope in Cleveland was that Kyrie Irving would make his season debut as early as this week, perhaps Tuesday night in Boston. But it turns out that was a bit ambitious. Irving, coming back from June knee surgery, will most likely have to wait until the weekend to see his first game action of the season. LeBron James has waited this long to have his squad at full strength, what’s another week? Chris Haynes of the Cleveland.com explains:

“We’ve still got some things that we want to go through with him before we let him get back out there,” Cavs coach David Blatt said, “but he is looking good and feeling good.”

There’s a chance he takes the court against Oklahoma City at The Q on Thursday, but it’s more likely that next Sunday, Dec. 20 at home versus Philadelphia is the target date. Either way, it pretty much ensures the three-time All-Star will be in the starting lineup Christmas Day against the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

Irving is a couple of full practices short of having participated in a week’s worth of sessions. He added one more to his belt on Sunday. His movements and his shot looked good.

Mentally and physically he’s ready to play. He’s built up strength in his legs to where his lower body is stronger than ever. Behind the scenes, he tried to persuade the organization to activate him last week and has been upset with the organization’s response.

The Cavaliers are being cautious. It’s a marathon for a title, not a sprint.

“He still has some testing to do and we’d like him to work a few more days in practice,” Blatt said.

Irving is the final piece to the team reaching full strength for the first time this season.

“It’s great to have bodies,” LeBron James said after the Cavs beat Orlando on Friday. “Coach is going to have a great opportunity to do what he wants to do with the lineups. We’re just missing one more piece and once we get that, we can really start to see what we’re capable of doing.”

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No. 2: Suns’ Chandler returns just in time to fave former teamTyson Chandler‘s presence in the middle for the Phoenix Suns was sorely missed for eight games as he dealt with a hamstring strain. But he returned to the lineup Sunday and helped the Suns knock off the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Suns get their defensive anchor back just in time for Chandler to face his former team, the Dallas Mavericks, (8:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic has more:

Tyson Chandler already was back in the swing of things during Sunday’s game when he rolled off a screen for Eric Bledsoe, who sent an alley-oop pass for him.

Chandler stretched back to catch the pass and redirected the ball to the perimeter while in mid-air. But it was a sign that more than Chandler’s right hamstring might be back for the Suns.

“I feel like if I had my springs, I could make up for that,” Chandler said. “I felt like that was on me. It was just good to see the timing.”

Chandler played 23 minutes in his first game back from an eight-game absence with a right hamstring strain. He came off the bench for the first time since April 2010 with Charlotte to ease back into action while Alex Len continued to thrive, having an 18-point, seven-rebound game with rookie star center Karl-Anthony Towns in early foul trouble and playing only 18 minutes.

Chandler’s return comes just in time for him to play against his former team Monday at Dallas, where he had two one-year stints that included the 2011 championship and last season. He departed each time against his choosing. The latter came after Dallas owner Mark Cuban had intimated that they would not let him go again, only to let him do so for the failed pursuit of DeAndre Jordan.

“It’s not as emotional as the first time in the past,” said Chandler, whose return last season to New York after three seasons there was riper for emotion. “For some reason, it doesn’t feel the same. I’m happy to be in Phoenix. I was blessed to a good situation so there’s really no animosity.”

Chandler already has missed more games this season (nine) than he did last season with Dallas (seven) but his defensive impact was felt immediately upon his return. His opposing man scored once in the paint against him Sunday.

“He’s the anchor of our defense,” Suns guard Eric Bledsoe said. “He picks everybody apart and tells them what we need.”

***

No. 3: Thunder stars spread the love to seal fifth straight win — They are more than just a two-man team. Granted, no one should complain when those two men are Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But the Oklahoma City Thunder needed more than just their two superstars to seal their fifth straight win, an overtime thriller over the Utah Jazz. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman explains:

Overtime tipped and Russell Westbrook had already scored four points within 36 seconds — a 15-foot pull-up on the opening possession and a weaving fastbreak lefty layup moments later.

The spurt bolted OKC to 100 points. Utah wouldn’t reach triple-digits. Final score: Thunder 104, Jazz 98, with Westbrook’s two early overtime makes serving as enough late offense.

But to seal a season-high fifth straight win, plenty of other contributors were needed. The two biggest were OKC’s other two most important players, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, who both lumbered through a brutal first half before awakening in highlight fashion.

Ibaka didn’t make a shot in the first 24 minutes. Durant had a career-low two first half points, taking only two shots and committing four turnovers. The Thunder trailed Utah 51-38, with a wild Westbrook second quarter buzzer-beater the only reason it wasn’t worse.

“Just getting a bit frustrated with myself,” Durant said. “Had to calm down. Told myself to calm down.”

When he was younger, Durant’s godfather would pull him aside during in-game struggles and tug on his jersey while looking straight into Durant’s face, sternly telling him to focus.

The past two games, both starting slowly and ending with a flurry, Durant’s morphed that memory into a celebration. After big shots in both wins over the Jazz, Durant strolled down the court tugging on his own jersey and yelling at himself.

He had plenty of chances to do it on Sunday night.

Durant scored seven points in the first two minutes of the third quarter and combined with Westbrook to score OKC’s first 20, erasing that 12-point deficit by the 7:38 mark.

From there, the game tilted back and forth deep into the fourth quarter.

With 49 seconds left, the Thunder trailed 94-91. Durant, who was scorching by that point, had the ball isolated in the post. He had a smaller defender on him, so the Jazz doubled. Durant surveyed the floor, identified a weak spot and made the kind of late-game trust pass coach Billy Donovan can only hope becomes habit.

“I seen them shift all the way over and leave Serge wide open,” Durant said. “That’s a bad move because he can shoot that.”

Durant whipped a cross-court laser right to Ibaka. Derrick Favors tried to recover, sprinting back toward Ibaka and jumping. But Ibaka stayed patient, pump-faked, let him soar by and then knocked in the game-tying three.

“I see him working on that every day,” Durant said. “The pump-fake, fly-by three. Huge shot.”


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook talks about OKC’s comeback win

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No. 4: Do the Warriors have another streak in them? Now that the Golden State Warriors know what it’s like to be a mere mortal team, courtesy of their historic start to the season being interrupted by that loss in Milwaukee Saturday night, they can get back to normal. But do the mighty Warriors have another streak in them? Could they get on another roll and crank out another double-digit win streak this season? With Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson leading the way, Marcus Thompson III of the Bay Area News Group believes the Warriors are built for another wicked run:

So the Warriors lost. Finally. They are just a regular great team again. This must be how Wolverine felt with regular bones.

But let’s get this on the record now. The Warriors have another long streak in them. They aren’t done blitzing the NBA.

What’s so impressive about what they pulled off was how regular it was for them. They didn’t play lights out for six weeks. They ran off 24 wins to start the season without being at their best.

Their system is that good. Their roster is that deep and versatile. Their best player is that special.

And they still haven’t peaked.

“Love competing with my brothers every night!” Draymond Green tweeted. “Now it’s time to focus on getting better each and every day. Let’s get it.”

In the final seconds, Curry — when it was clear the Warriors would lose — stood there and watched Milwaukee party like it was 1999. And the look on his face, a half a smile beneath weary eyes, was one of a star who’d found motivation.

Milwaukee was celebrating as if it had clinched a playoff series. Better believe the Warriors noticed, and will remember that when the Bucks come to Oakland.

Klay Thompson after the game: “We get to see them again Friday.”

But that’s how high the Warriors had gotten. Beating them — even if it was an exhausted, short-handed version of the Warriors — was celebration worthy.

Starting a season 24-0 puts the Warriors on a level we haven’t seen before. Their trajectory defies logic. Saturday’s defeat may be one of only nine this season, if they break the record for most wins in a season.

Judging by what it took to finally beat them, Milwaukee might be in rare air. When it’s all said and done, they might have made the greatest team ever look normal.

And that’s not normal.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame is making major changes to the election process, which could produce a mega class including Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming in 2016 … Thunder fan Shane McKinzie breaks the $20,000 half-court shot drought … ICYMI, the Washington Wizards will be without Bradley Beal for at least two weeks … DeMar DeRozan and the Toronto Raptors own the Philadelphia 76ers like no one else in the league …

ICYMI of the Night: What’s better than an alley-oop? How about a double alley-oop?


VIDEO: Jon Leuer finishes off the alley-oop with a jam

Never bitter, Hot Rod was a winner

John ‘Hot Rod’ Williams spent nine years of his 13-year NBA career as an important cog for the Cavs.

He was unfairly maligned in the Tulane point shaving scandal. He was publicly embarrassed with the unauthorized release of an underwhelming academic transcript.

Instead, John ‘Hot Rod’ Williams chose to make the most of a 13-year NBA career spent mostly with the Cavaliers as a defensive specialist, a hustler and a solid teammate. Instead, Williams chose to look forward and not back at the injustices done to him to carve out a a life as a loving father, a solid citizen and a friend to virtually everyone that came in contact with him.

When the word came Friday that the 53-year-old Williams had died of cancer, snippets of memory came to mind. None more than a typical play in Game 4 of the 1992 Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series between the Cavs and Celtics. The series was notable for being Larry Bird- last in his Hall of Fame career. The late game situation was typical in that Williams went diving onto the floor for a loose ball and called timeout before anyone from Boston could call a timeout. It was a key play in a win that would give the Cavs home-court advantage in the series that they would eventually win in seven games.

Williams was an integral part of some very good Cleveland teams coached by Lenny Wilkens that just weren’t good enough to go all the way because they played in the era of Michael Jordan. But it made for no less enjoyment in watching them.

Willliams overcame abandonment as a child and betrayal as a young man to make the most of a too-short life.

Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer covered Williams and the Cavs back in the day and poignantly shares his thoughts:

When Williams came to the Cavs, I had some basketball people telling me that he’d never learn the complex plays and defenses. That was when he a rookie.

Former Cavs coach Lenny Wilkens was not one of those. He soon discovered Williams was one of the smartest players on the team.

“Hot Rod knows where everyone is supposed to be on every play,” Wilkens once told me.

Williams loved “Coach Lenny,” as he called Wilkens. He played all three front court positions. He was willing to come off the bench, because Wilkens wanted a super-sub.

“Hot Rod was such a good player,” recalled Danny Ferry. “When I came to the Cavs, I knew all about Larry (Nance). But I had no clue how well Hot Rod could defend. He’d get right up on you and it was hard to get off a shot.”

The 6-foot-11 Williams was a defensive specialist. He averaged 12.9 points and 7.1 rebounds in his nine Cavs seasons (1986-95).

“He was so long and agile,” said former teammate Phil Hubbard. “He was an extremely underrated player. So unselfish and a great teammate.”

He signed a record-breaking $27 million deal in 1990. The front-loaded offer sheet from Miami (matched by the Cavs) paid him $9 million in the first 12 months.

“Hot Rod was so humble,” said Ferry. “He had such a good heart. He was so close to people. He’d bring us over to his house in Copley. It’s just so sad to lose him so soon.”

Morning shootaround — December 11



VIDEO: All the highlights from Thursday’s four games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Thompson says ankle is 70 percent
Don’t count the Splash Brothers out from making a full appearance tonight when the streaking Warriors play the Celtics in Boston. Klay Thompson tells Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com that the sprained ankle suffered in Tuesday’s win over the Pacers is at “70 percent” and he’ll be a game-time decision:

“It’s not feeling great, but it’s not feeling bad,” Thompson said after Thursday’s practice at Emerson College in Boston. “It’s like somewhere in between. It’s like 60 percent — nah, 70.”

Thompson, who finished with a season-high 39 points against the Pacers, was walking under his own power with a bit of a limp after the game, though the team said X-rays were negative. He has been rehabbing the injury since.

“He’s obviously out there getting some shots up, shooting around, but it’ll likely be a game-time decision [against Boston],” Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton said. “If there’s any concern at all that his ankle’s hurt, then we’re not going to play him.”

When asked for his prognosis, Thompson said: “I’m optimistic about life and Friday. And, yeah I’m optimistic. I think if I have a good shootaround [on Friday], I’ll play.”

***

No. 2: Irving, Shumpert could be ready
With LeBron James’ minutes back up and Cleveland working extra hard to hold onto that top spot in the Eastern Conference standings, the Cavaliers could definitely use a boost to their lineup. That help could come very soon as Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert might both be ready to play on the two-game road trip to Orlando and Boston. That’s the word from Chris Fedor of cleveland.com:

“There’s a chance that one or two or both will play on the trip, but there’s also a chance they don’t,” head coach David Blatt said Thursday. “We’ll see how they’re feeling.”

Both Irving and Shumpert went through a full practice on Thursday, the final workout before the team left for Orlando, and both made the trip.

“It’s a day-to-day thing with both of them,” Blatt said. “We kind of like to let them get through the practice then the next morning gauge how they’re feeling. And then just go from there.”

***

No. 3: Warriors still chasing Spurs
The defending champs might be the ones with the rings, the perfect record and the No. 1 ranking in the standings. But Warriors general manager Bob Myers says his club is still looking up to the Spurs as the gold standard in the NBA. Myers expressed his admiration for what coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have built to Sam Amick of USA Today:

“They are a model franchise,” Myers told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday. “We are all trying to emulate them.”

Yet this is not a classic case of one rival spewing politically correct platitudes about another. Myers, who made a seamless transition from NBA agent to executive after being hired as Golden State’s assistant general manager in April of 2011, keeps a poignant quote from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich saved on his cell phone as a reminder of how great sports organizations should be built. From Warriors owner Joe Lacob to Myers on down, the Warriors have been taking plays out of the Spurs’ proverbial playbook for years now.

“A synergy has to form between the owner, whoever his president is, whoever the GM is, whoever the coach is,” Popovich said in that quote from March of 2014 that Myers kept as a blueprint of sorts. “There’s got to be a synergy where there’s a trust. There (are) no walls. There is no territory. Everything is discussed. Everything is fair game. Criticism is welcome, and when you have that, then you have a hell of an organization. That free flow through all those people is what really makes it work. And that includes everything from draft to Os and Xs. Nothing should be left to one area – only to the president, only to the GM, only to the coach – or the culture just doesn’t form. At least that’s what’s worked for us.”

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No. 4: Gibson says Griffin meant no harm
It is no surprise that Blake Griffin didn’t think he deserved a flagrant foul for taking a swipe that caught Taj Gibson in the head on Thursday night. But count the victim Gibson as just as shocked that Griffin was penalized and ejected, according to Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“Man, I’m old school. It’s basketball,” Gibson said before saying he was surprised Griffin got tossed. “You’re going to get hit. First thing as soon as it happened, he reached down to make sure I was OK. I’ve known Blake for a long time – great guy. Even after he got ejected, he was making sure I was OK. It’s no big thing. It’s basketball. But that’s how our league is now so you have to respect the referee.”

Griffin, who was ejected in the Clippers’ last nationally televised Thursday game against Phoenix, said he got caught in the air after Gibson pump-faked.

“I thought he was going up so I tried to swipe across the ball. Obviously I missed,” Griffin said. “ … I wasn’t trying to hit him in the face. There wasn’t intent to hurt or intent to really hit him. I was trying to get the ball and he pump-faked me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA says it is “premature” to talk about Luke Walton coaching the West team in the 2016 All-Star Game…Mask?  Derrick Rose didn’t need a stinking’ mask in the second half against the Clippers..Mark Cuban wants refs to make more defensive 3 seconds calls…Sixers deny talk of sale…Mark Jackson says it’s too early to talk about Kristaps Porzingis as an All-Star…Jordan Clarkson is looking at getting a big raise from the Lakers next summer.

LeBron James expected to rest vs. Heat

LeBron James will not play in the Cavaliers’ game against the Heat on Saturday night in Miami, Cleveland coach David Blatt said.

Blatt said it was a coach’s decision, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, indicating James was being rested after playing 45 minutes the night before at New Orleans. There was no indication of any serious problem.

Sitting out Saturday would give James three days off before the next Cavaliers game, Tuesday at home against the Trail Blazers.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 27


VIDEO: Warriors star Stephen Curry sits down with TNT’s Rachel Nichols

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ambitious Warriors aiming for 33-0 | Kobe’s farewell tour bottoms out | Inside the Cavaliers’ players-only meeting

No. 1: Ambitious Warriors aiming for 33-0 — They’re not going to hide it. And that might be a good thing. The Golden State Warriors, as ambitious as any defending champion in recent memory, are on a historic pace right now. They’ve already taken care of the best record to start a season in NBA history (16-0 and counting heading into tonight’s game in Phoenix, 9:30 p.m. ET NBA TV). They want more. They want the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ record for the longest winning streak in NBA history, the sterling 33-0 mark that has stood for decades. No sense in being bashful when you’re already on pace. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group has the details:

To Stephen Curry, the longest winning streak in NBA history — 33 games for the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers — is something different.

The 16-0 Warriors might not have known much about the record they broke for the most consecutive wins to start the season until recently when they started to get closer. But as they play at Phoenix on Friday, the Warriors are embracing their next chase of history.

“We talk about 33,” Curry said in a conference call with international reporters. “I think I’ve probably talked about it more than anybody else on the team, just because I know about the history and just really how hard it is.

“We’ve had like two 16-game winning streaks the last two years, and those are pretty special feats. For us to have to double that output, I mean we’re going to play hard and hopefully close in on that record, but it won’t be a disappointing effort if we don’t get there. Because there are so many talented teams in this league and for us to just be playing at a high level right now, that’s what we’re worried about. And if we close in and get to 29, 30 games, we’ll talk about it a little bit more.”

The Warriors have won 20 straight regular-season games dating to last season. The 33-game Lakers streak is both the single-season record and one including streaks that cover multiple seasons.

“Yeah, they could do it,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said of the Warriors being the team to win 33 straight. “Because they’re good enough.

“It’s a very young league, and so they’ve managed to put together a team of extremely intelligent players and extremely versatile players and great shooters. And so I see no reason why they couldn’t continue to extend it.”

Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton had expressed concern after the Warriors reached 16 wins on Tuesday with a victory against the Lakers that with their place in the record books, the players might have a different intensity level and see their level of play go down.

Still, there are other records to threaten.

“Thirty-three is a special number,” Curry said. “So there’s obviously still milestones that we can continue to go after, but you go after them by how you approach each day.”

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Morning shootaround — Nov. 16


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Nov. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe to sit again with sore back and legs | LeBron rips Cavs | Marcus Smart stands up to Russell Westbrook and wins | Battle of the future … Davis vs Porzingis

No. 1: Kobe to sit again with sore back and legs — Father Time is winning his battle against Kobe Bryant. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar will sit for the third time in four games and miss today’s game against the Phoenix Suns to rest his aching body. Apparently 37 is not the new 27, as Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com writes:

“Right now, I’m barely standing up. My back and my legs, man, it’s killing me,” he said Sunday after playing a season-high 36 minutes in a 97-85 win over the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center.

Bryant, who is in his 20th season with the Lakers, finished with 17 points on an inefficient 6-of-19 shooting from the field. He added a game-high nine assists and eight rebounds.

“I’m not looking forward to walking to the car right now,” Bryant said. “Seriously.”

Lakers coach Byron Scott said he and Bryant agreed Bryant, whose past three seasons have been cut short by injury, would play the entire fourth quarter because the game was close.

“We needed this [win],” Scott said. “I just wanted him to go the rest of the game and see if he could get the [win].”

Bryant agreed with the approach.

“We hadn’t won one at home,” Bryant said. “To lose another one at home would be disastrous.”

Bryant said he was mildly concerned about playing too many minutes, given his injury history.

“But we talked about it … we had to push through,” Bryant said. “We had to get this one done and take a day tomorrow.”

The Lakers improved to 2-8 and avoided tying their worst 10-game start in franchise history, a mark they set last season.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks after the Lakers’ win over the Pistons

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No. 2: LeBron rips Cavs — The words came from the mouth of the man running the show in Cleveland, so they should not be taken lightly. “We’re not a great team right now,” LeBron James said of his Cavaliers the day after  double-overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, it’s only their second loss of the season, their first since the season opener against Chicago. But if LeBron sees signs of slippage in his team, perhaps we should all listen. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more:

LeBron James is worried about the Cavaliers.

Or maybe he isn’t, maybe “worried” is too strong a word. Perhaps he’s challenging them. Or he’s using Saturday night as a teaching tool, an opportunity that has rarely presented itself in this young season because, for once, the Cavs lost.

Whatever the case, after Cleveland fell to the Milwaukee Bucks, 108-105 in double overtime, for its first loss since the season opener, James made one point very clear to the reporters whose attention he held around his locker afterwards:

“We’re not a great team right now.”

“I think we’re a good team. I think we expect we’re a great team, and we’re not,” James said, following his eye-popping 37-point, 12-rebound performance. “We have to get better in every facet of the game, and that’s every single facet of the game.”

It was just one loss. After eight consecutive wins. The Cavs equaled their best record (8-1) through nine games in team history. And they have injuries.

Isn’t this all a little, harsh?

“Records are meant to be broken, but that don’t mean you’re great,” James said. “It’s for us, we have to play a lot more sustainable effort throughout the 48 minutes. And we don’t do that.

“We give a half-ass effort sometimes and expect that we can just make a run at the end. We’re not good enough to do that right now.”

***

No. 3: Marcus Smart stands up to Russell Westbrook and wins — Has the NBA found a Russell Westbrook stopper in Marcus Smart? The Boston Celtics’ young guard certainly played that part Sunday in an impressive road win for his team over Westbrook and the Thunder, who are still playing without Kevin Durant (hamstring). It was a revealing performance from Smart, a defensive-minded competitor who was more than up to the challenge of dealing with one of the league’s most mercurial talents. Barry Tramel of The Oklahoman was impressed with Smart’s resolve:

Westbrook is always up for a mental macho game and usually prevails. Not Sunday night. Smart, picked sixth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, rarely has been tougher. He matched Westbrook’s physicality and intensity, and though no one can match Westbrook’s explosiveness, on this night, it didn’t matter.

Smart scored a career high 26 points, making nine of 14 shots to go with eight rebounds and three assists. Better yet was Smart’s defense — that’s his specialty, after all — which got plenty of help from Celtic teammates like Avery Bradley. Westbrook had 27 points, but he made just five of 20 shots, and his playmaking was minimal. None of Westbrook’s five assists came in the final 181/2 minutes, when a nine-point Thunder lead disintegrated.

Westbrook got to Smart early. Even drew a technical foul on Smart when Smart argued a call in which he wasn’t even involved. But Smart’s confidence grew the longer the game went.

“That’s the type of guy Russ is,” Smart said. “He loves challenges and he’s going to try to do his best every time. Vice versa with me. You put two guys like that going against each other, obviously you’re going to knock heads.

“Russ knows that and understands it. I know it. I love those type of challenges.”

***

No. 4: Battle of the future … Davis vs Porzingis? — Is it too soon for the Anthony Davis vs. Kristaps Porzingis comparisons? Probably, given that Davis is mentioned in MVP conversations and Porzingis is still working to complete his first full month in the league. But that won’t stop folks in New York from projecting a future involving the two. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News details their historic first matchup:

So what was biggest takeaway from getting outplayed by Anthony Davis? At least the Knicks won.

“He had a great game, but we got the win,” Porzingis said after New York snapped a two-game losing streak Sunday by beating the Pelicans, 95-87. “That’s the important thing.”

Davis, the next super-duper star in the NBA, was as good as advertised while matched head-to-head with Porzingis, finishing with 36 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots in 40 minutes.

Davis had missed the previous two games with a bruised hip, but returned just in time to give a lesson that included a block on Porzingis’ running hook in the second quarter.

Porzingis, meanwhile, struggled offensively while missing 11 of his 15 shot attempts, scoring 10 points with four rebounds in 22 minutes. He did block one of Davis’ attempts.

“He’s one of the guys that I look up and try to learn the game from,” Porzingis said. “He proved once again why he’s so good. He just — all the baskets he got, he knows what he’s doing. He shoots at the right time. He’s running fast breaks. It’s hard to stop him, his all-around game. I try to be aggressive at the beginning. He came back to me. I think he’s the best power forward right now in the NBA. It’s tough for sure, but it was a good experience for me.

“It was a bad shooting game for me. I shot the ball bad,” Porzingis added. “There’s other things that I can do on the floor without trying to score every shot I take. On the defensive end, offensively, try to get my teammates open, little stuff like that. Coach sees that, not everybody sees that, but coach sees it.”

Davis left impressed with a future nemesis.

“Porzingis is a great player. He can shoot, he can drive and he is active,” the Pelicans forward said. “It is going to be fun battling him.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Lakers got the win but remain behind the Pistons in the rebuilding effort … The Knicks paid tribute to the victims of the attacks in Paris with their hair … Where are they now? Zan Tabak is coaching in Israel … The young Utah Jazz are doing their best to turn the corner so many predicted they would this season … All DeMarcus Cousins has done since the Kings aired their issues is dominate, on and off the floor … Derrick Rose could have double vision for months, per Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 1

Houston, we have a problem | Rondo and Russell, Louisville’s finest to battle and bond | No worries for the Warriors | Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in Philly

No. 1: Houston, we have a problem — A rough start to the season is one thing. It could happen anywhere, even in a place like Houston, where James Harden and the Rockets were supposed to be ready for prime time after a deep playoff run last season. Well, this might be more than just a rough start. No team in NBA history has lost its first three games of a season by 20 or more points. The Rockets lost to Miami by 109-89 Sunday after leading by as many as 21 earlier in the game. Per Elias, that’s the first time a team has lost a game by 20 or more after leading it by 20 or more since the Los Angeles Clippers did so on March 18, 2000. Three straight 20-plus point beatings is as many as the Rockets had all last season. Houston, we have a problem. A serious problem, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle noted in the aftermath of Sunday’s third straight clunker:

Remember all the times last season that the Rockets, playing with Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones out, argued James Harden’s MVP case by asking to imagine them without Harden to carry them?

There is no need to imagine any longer.

With Howard and Jones unavailable on Sunday, Harden’s spectacular shooting slump to start the season moved to new brick-laying levels that the shorthanded Rockets could not begin to overcome.

The Rockets blew a 21-point second half lead and were blown out by the Miami Heat, 109-89, their third 20-point loss to open the season as Harden scored just a pair of second half points, both from the line.

Harden took 10 3-pointers and missed them all, falling to 2 of 33 from beyond the arc. Yet, despite his shooting problems, five of his seven second-half shots came from beyond the arc, the last easily swatted away by Heat center Hassan Whiteside.

Harden was 2 of 15 overall, scoring 16 points with 12 coming on free throws.

With Howard unavailable to rest in the first game of a back-to-back and Jones out because of a cut on his right eyelid, the Rockets went with a small lineup and got 21 points from Marcus Thornton in his first start. But he had just two in the second half as the Rockets offense crashed and burned.

The Rockets had just 26 second-half points, making 11 of 36 shots with 12 turnovers.

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No. 2: Rondo and Russell, Louisville’s finest to battle and bond — Louisville natives Rajon Rondo and D’Angelo Russell share more than just the same position, city roots and high school coach (Doug Bibby). They also share similar hoop dreams for this season, as both hope to help lift their respective teams from the lottery and into the Western Conference playoff mix. As much as the Sacramento Kings’ veteran Rondo will battle against the Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie Russell, and Rondo schooled Russell and the Lakers in their first meeting Friday night, he’s also willing to serve as a mentor for someone who has followed in his footsteps. Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com details the connective tissue shared by Louisville’s finest:

“Their games are definitely different: D’Angelo is a little more methodical; Rajon is cat quick,” Bibby said. “But their passing and their basketball IQ was definitely something that I noticed that was very similar when I first got D’Angelo.

“Their ability to see two plays ahead and their passing ability to see things that a very few percentage of ball players and point guards can see — it was very, very similar.”

Bibby wanted to guide Russell along Rondo’s path, but he didn’t need to show Russell much film of Rondo, since all Russell needed to do was turn on the television and watch Rondo star in nationally-televised games with the Boston Celtics alongside Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

“It was great, just knowing that he was so successful from the same city, the same high school,” Russell said.

Rondo feels the same way, and he’s intrigued. He recently picked Bryant’s brain about Russell, and Rondo and Russell have now exchanged numbers. A potential mentorship appears to be underway.

“He’s a great young kid,” Rondo said. “I’m happy for him. I’m happy another kid from my city made it.”

Russell mentioned Rondo as a player that he wants to model his game after, but things are a bit different now that he will face Rondo in head-to-head matchups.

“It’s hard to say that at this level now when you’re competing, because I’m looking at it like, that’s a weakness,” Russell said. “Like [Rondo could say], ‘This kid looked up to me, I’ve got him.’”

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No. 3: No worries for the Warriors — Lucky, huh? The Golden State Warriors don’t need luck when they have the reigning KIA MVP, Stephen Curry, shredding the opposition. Any worries about how this team would handle success, the adversity of losing coach Steve Kerr or big man Andrew Bogut have been answered emphatically by the reigning champs hardly any anyone picked to do it again. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains why those in the know in the Bay Area were never worried about this team:

Rather than showing signs of a championship hangover, MVP Stephen Curry and the Warriors appear to be better than ever.

No Steve Kerr? No Andrew Bogut? No problem.

The Warriors are 3-0, winning by almost 17 points per game as they return home to face Memphis on Monday night for a fourth straight game against a 2014-15 playoff team.

“People think we weren’t supposed to be the champs last year,” Curry said Saturday night after scoring 53 points at New Orleans. “I wasn’t supposed to be MVP, whatever. But I want to go out and play well and be better than I was last year.”

Curry has scored 118 points in the three games (39.3 average) and is shooting 58.8 percent. His 53 points Saturday night — one short of his career high — came in 36 minutes. Nobody since Kobe Bryant in 2005 has scored so many points in so few minutes; Kobe had 62 in 36.

“I’m feeling pretty energetic, pretty strong out there on the floor,” Curry said. “I’m playing free, just having fun. Usually good things happen when all that comes together.

“I’m in a good spot right now.”

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No. 4: Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in Philly — The Cleveland Cavaliers will face plenty of trap games and sticky situations this season, such is the case for a team nearly every pundit is picking to win it all this season. And they’ll face one of those instances today in Philadelphia, where a 76ers team that has issues of its own wouldn’t appear to present much of a challenge to the visiting Cavaliers. That’s exactly why the Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in the City of Brotherly Love. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com provides some context:

It’s been hard for players to get up for games in Philly.

Instead of putting their players through such an uninspiring contest, opposing teams typically sit their best players against the Sixers. Why risk an injury?

Philadelphia presents a challenge some coaches believe isn’t worth the hassle, but the Cavaliers will accept.

“Everybody will play,” Cavs coach David Blatt said after Sunday’s practice. “…”We know that we have an opponent to play and a job to do.”

If the Cavaliers are a legitimate title contender, games like these are what a championship mentality and culture. The objective is to dominate your opposition early and make it an easy night.

“It’s something that we addressed,” Cavs power forward Kevin Love said of staying focused. “We know that we’re going to get everybody’s best shot so in that regard, we know they’re going to come out and fight. But we have to be in the right mindset every single game. And I think it helps that we’re on the road as well because we’ll have that us-against-the-world mentality.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Move over everyone else, the Spurs Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are now the winningest trio in the NBA history … It’s early, of course, but the Milwaukee Bucks did not script the opening stages of this season this way. … Jeremy Lamb is close to locking up an extension with the Charlotte Hornets, a reported 3-year, $21 million dealDeMarcus Cousins has even more reason to hate the Los Angeles Clippers now that he’s listed as day-to-day after suffering an Achilles injury against Blake Griffin and Co. … The Toronto Raptors are perfect, so far this season, but Raptors coach Dwane Casey insists that he doesn’t really know where his team is right now in the grand scheme of things. …

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 214) Featuring Jamal Crawford

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Once again it’s on. The NBA regular season, that is.

The Golden State Warriors got their championship rings on opening night in Oakland, to go along with a spectacular 40-point effort from the reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry.

As far as first impressions go, the Warriors couldn’t have looked better … and Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans couldn’t have looked worse.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers fell to the Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls on the road. And the 60-win crew from Atlanta last season got a surprising wake-up call from the Detroit Pistons as they unveiled their new court at Philips Arena.

The rest of the league dives into action tonight, with a 14-game slate that gives us intriguing matchups from coast to coast.

That includes a Thunder-Spurs tussle that cannot be missed (we get our first glimpse of Kevin Durant back in regular season action and of LaMarcus Aldridge in his regular season debut), Kobe Bryant‘s return against Kevin Garnett and talented but wounded (by the loss of Flip Saunders) Timberwolves team and the debut of Jamal Crawford and the new-look the Los Angeles Clippers.

And are there two teams more entertaining, on and or off the court, this season than the Warriors or Clippers? We don’t think so.

We discuss all of this and much more on Episode 214 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers.

LISTEN HERE:

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

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

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VIDEO: Jamal Crawford and the Los Angeles Clippers will command attention around the globe this season

New offense energizes Wizards


VIDEO: Bradley Beal’s evolution is crucial to the Wizards’ season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Bradley Beal insists it’s the best the Washington Wizards have looked during his time with the team.

So what if he’s talking about the often flimsy sample size that is NBA preseason.

When you basically pass on free agency (until next summer’s Kevin Durant free-for-all), install a new offensive system and ask everyone to buy into new and tweaked roles heading into what is sure to be a pivotal season, a seamless transition to a decidedly different way of operating offensively should ease whatever tensions might have lingered.

A comfort zone for Beal and All-Star point guard John Wall has to be the top priority for a Wizards team few people mention a contender in the Eastern Conference this season. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are at the top of everyone’s list, followed in some order by the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat … and then the Wizards.

That dynamic backcourt is not only the key to the Wizards’ season, they’re also the selling point for the future, along with this new, player-friendly offense that coach Randy Wittman unveiled during the preseason. If the Wizards are serious about making noise this season in the Eastern Conference playoff chase and carrying that momentum into the summer of 2016, it all starts with this emphasis on the faster pace, which takes advantage of what Wall and Beal do best.

The Wizards had the highest offensive rating in the preseason (106.8 points per 100 possessions) and were fourth in pace (104.45 possessions per 48 minutes), a stark contrast from a team that finished 19th and 16th, respectively, in those categories last season.

We saw signs of the shift in the playoffs, when the Wizards threw a scare into the Hawks in the conference semifinals with their small-ball lineup. A summer of tinkering, training and a preseason of on-the-job training gives a team with basically the same core personnel (sans Paul Pierce, of course, who moved on to the Los Angeles Clippers) a chance to reinvent itself on the fly.

Otto Porter and Jared Dudley inherit the minutes and responsibilities Pierce handled last season, including the floor-stretching duties that opened things up for Beal and Wall in the postseason.


VIDEO: NBA.com’s John Schuhmann breaks down the Wizards’ new look on offense

Beal spoke of improved team camaraderie, better focus on the details and the always important good health that evaded him and the Wizards this time a year go. An improved and more efficient offensive system that the players “love,” according to Wall, paired with a top-10 defense that’s been a staple under Wittman, could serve as the wrinkle the Wizards need to move into the East’s upper echelon.

“Well, I think the Wizards obviously are a dangerous team, and they’ve proven that,” ABC/ESPN analyst Mark Jackson said, “and Randy Wittman has done an outstanding job coaching that team, leading that team, being strong in the face of tough times, holding on to the rope, which became contagious with the players where they bought in.

“I think it’s a different look for them because they certainly have post-up players that are skilled that they can take advantage of, at certain points of the game, but it really gives — adds versatility to that basketball team when you look at that dynamic backcourt in Wall and Beal, playing at a faster pace, creating an offense, stretching the floor is only going to make them tougher to defend, and I think ultimately a tough out in the Eastern Conference.”

If anyone knows about the importance of playing to the skills and abilities of a dynamic young backcourt duo, it’s Jackson. It’s what led to the rise of the Golden State Warriors during his tenure as he catered his system to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Wall and Beal are not Curry and Thompson, and there’s no one suggesting as much.

But they are talented in their own right and on a trajectory that could very well push the Wizards into the realm of teams capable of upsetting the projected East order before whatever free agent splash the team is planning for the summer.

Yes, we’re working on the fumes of the preseason, and that’s always a dangerous predicament.

But if you’re trying to both engineer a revolution and outperform expectations, as Beal and the Wizards are this season, you have to start somewhere.

Mission…

A photo posted by Bradley Beal (@bradbeal3) on