Posts Tagged ‘Cavs’

Morning Shootaround — April 18


VIDEO: Ahmad Rashad goes one-on-one with Steph Curry

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pierce savoring these final playoff moments | Pelicans’ Davis eager to take next step | Clippers using Spurs blueprint to knock off champs | Kidd at center of Bucks’ turnaround

No. 1: Pierce savoring these final playoff moments — The truth is Paul Pierce knows this might be one of the last times he’s on this stage, this playoff stage. And the Washington Wizards’ veteran swingman is savoring each and every second these final playoff moments of his career. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post provides the details:

The end is near for Paul Pierce. Next season will be his 18th and final tour as a professional basketball player, meaning scenes like the one that will unfold Saturday afternoon in Toronto, Game 1 of an NBA playoff series, are dwindling for the future Hall of Famer.

“It’s very different for me because I don’t have too many chances left in my career of playoff basketball and opportunities to try to win a championship,” Pierce said. “So I enjoy each and every moment, each and every practice, each and every game.”

Pierce, 37, will step onto the Air Canada Centre hardwood Saturday before a frenzied crowd in a Washington Wizards uniform, his third playoff appearance in three years with a third different team. He will be Raptors fans’ Public Enemy No. 1, the result of his clutch play as a Brooklyn Net against Toronto last postseason and his recent comments on the Raptors’ lack of the “It” factor, whatever “It” is.

The setting is why the Wizards hired him, to supply his famed shot-making ability, valuable experience and notorious swagger to help ascend the Wizards to another level when the stakes are highest.

“He can help on the floor. Off the floor. Around the floor,” guard Bradley Beal said. “Whatever it is related to basketball and life in general. You can basically call him the Oracle. He knows pretty much everything.”

This will be Pierce’s 12th career playoff appearance. He has crashed the tournament seven straight springs. He has been on underdogs, on favorites. He has suited up for underachievers and overachievers. He has experienced nearly every possible scenario, including both ends of regular season sweeps that were reversed in the playoffs. So he insists that the Wizards losing all three meetings with the Raptors during the regular season doesn’t concern him.

“Each team’s [0-0], so right now we’re a confident group,” Pierce said. “We feel like we can beat pretty much any team in the East.”

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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 192): The Westbrook MVP Debate

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — What would it take for you to put Russell Westbrook at the top of your MVP ballot?

Five, six, seven more triple doubles before the NBA regular season ends?

What more can the one-man band do to convince you that he’s worthy of that No. 1 spot? We debate that very question on Episode 192 of the Hang Time Podcast … The Westbrook MVP Debate.

The mercurial Oklahoma City point guard is playing with a fury we haven’t seen in years (perhaps since Kobe Bryant a few years ago?), a wickedness that is fueling his team while Kevin Durant recovers from injury. He’s had triple doubles in five of his last six games and yet the Thunder are in an absolute dogfight for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference playoff chase.

What if the Thunder fail to make the postseason? Does that change your mind about Westbrook’s whirlwind season? Does that knock him down a notch or two? And could you really see a player on a non-playoff team leapfrogging Stephen Curry, James Harden and LeBron James for MVP?

So many questions. And as usual, we do our best to provide some answers to all of those pertinent questions and plenty more on Episode 192 of The Hang Time Podcast … The Westbrook MVP Debate …

 

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 and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Andrew Merriam.

– 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.


VIDEO: The Game Time crew discusses the MVP race

Morning shootaround — Feb. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks’ Bazemore blazing a new trail | Commissioner in favor of expanded All-Star rosters | KG slowly disappearing in Brooklyn | Timberwolves ready for Rubio’s return

No. 1: Hawks’ Bazemore blazing a new trail — Injuries to DeMarre Carroll and Thabo Sefolosha have opened on a door for Kent Bazemore, yet another amazing story for a franchise going through an amazing time (a 17-0 January and 19-game win-streak gives way to …?) for all involved. Bazemore gets more of the spotlight tonight in New Orleans, when the Hawks go for their 20th straight against the Pelicans, as Matt Winkeljohn explains in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

He excelled in the summer of 2012 at the Portsmouth Invitational for NBA candidates and the 6-foot-5, 201-pound guard/forward from Old Dominion heard from the Hawks after he went undrafted. They ended up bidding against Golden State for him and lost.

“We started tracking Ken back at Portsmouth and through the summer. He went to Golden State and we followed closely,” Hawks assistant general manager Wes Wilcox said. “He didn’t play much, but he played in the playoffs and defended well. He had a very successful summer league and a couple good stints in the D-League. Then, he got a run with the Lakers [after being traded in the middle of last season].

“Whenever a player shows success over a sustained period in [multiple] elements, that’s a good indicator. Plus, his background checked out … character, personality. We spend a great deal of time trying to identify character traits: grit, resilience, work rate, basketball intelligence, the desperation to be great …”

Bazemore has a more mixed memory of that playoff stint.

“In the first round against San Antonio, in Game 1, [Warriors guard] Klay Thompson was in foul trouble so I go in and guard Boris Diaw. They run a high pick-and-roll with him and Tony Parker,” he said. “I get a stop and make a layup with three seconds left to go up one.

“Then, [Manu] Ginobili drains this 3-pointer right in my face … so that was a very big scenario in my career. It helped me with getting my name out there, though.”

After joining the Lakers, Bazemore went off.

He played in 23 game and averaged 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and shot 45.1 percent. He was good on 37.1 percent of his 3-pointers. And he defended.

“LA worked wonders for me,” he said. “I played so many minutes, actually got in the game flow, found out what it was like to guard the best player.”

After the Hawks out-bid others with a two-year, $4 million contract last summer, Bazemore had to not only get healthy, but tweak his game. He tore a tendon in a foot last season and had surgery over the summer. He has tried to change the ways he runs and jumps.

“[Hawks assistant] Ben Sullivan is my shooting coach. He’s helped a lot,” Bazemore said. “I was shooting off my inside two fingers.”

Sullivan said: “He had mechanical issues … it wouldn’t be the same shot every time. We tried to make sure he would have a motion that was repeatable. He’s put in a lot of work.”

This is nothing new for Bazemore, who is averaging 3.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and shooting 42.2 percent, including a 38.6 mark from beyond the 3-point line.

Despite growing up in Kenland, N.C., he was not recruited by Duke, North Carolina or any of college basketball’s big dogs.

“I was a huge N.C. State fan growing up … I wanted to go there like crazy and they never offered me,” he said. “I was a late bloomer. I redshirted [at ODU] and I didn’t score in practice until like February.

“I just always prided myself on working and told myself, ‘You have a chance, you have a chance.’ I just kept believing.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew previews tonight’s Hawks-Pelicans game

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

January fuels belief in Hawks | Love ready for rough return to Minnesota | Pistons players, fans bracing for Josh Smith’s return | Be careful what you say about DeMarcus Cousins

No. 1: January fuels belief in Hawks — The franchise-record 18 straight wins did it. Finally, the belief in the Atlanta Hawks has officially taken over the city. It’s inspired memories of a great times in Atlanta sports history — yes, there have been great times — a generation ago in another sport (baseball), when the imagination of an entire city became fans of a team that captured its fan base. It feels like 1991 all over again in Atlanta, according to longtime Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley:

Ten years from now, we may recall this January the way we do the summer of 1991, when a team none of us had paid much heed grabbed us by our collars and made us watch. Ten years from now, we may remember these Hawks growing into a colossus – what other word fits an aggregation that’s 32-2 since Thanksgiving? – the way we beheld the Braves’s ascent from worst to first.

Ten years from now, we may look back on games like Friday’s in the manner we pressed that September series against the hated Dodgers into our memory books. Ten years from now, we could point to Friday as one of the moments when we knew – knew, as opposed to hoped – that all things were really and truly possible.

For the first time in 33 days and 17 games, the Hawks faced a fourth-quarter deficit. (That’s among the astonishing stats of this or any millennium.) Nothing was coming easy against an excellent Portland team, and matters were getting more difficult by the minute.

The splendid forward LaMarcus Aldridge was en route to scoring 37 points. The Hawks were missing free throws. DeMarre Carroll, their best perimeter defender, was too sore to play. Thabo Sefolosha, his replacement in the starting five, lasted 141 seconds before tweaking a hamstring. A team that has become a beautiful machine had developed a cough, and you couldn’t see all of the above and not think, “This could be the night the streak ends.”

But no. Five points down after three quarters, the Hawks won 105-99. Over those final 12 minutes, they outscored the Trail Blazers 15 baskets to seven, outshot them 71.4 percent to 30.4 percent. In their stiffest test since MLK Day, the Hawks played their best offense and their best defense in the fourth quarter, which is the time to do it.

We’ve spent the past month trying to identify the reasons the Hawks have done nothing but win, and here’s another: They trust themselves and their system. They know Mike Budenholzer’s offense will avail them of good shots if only they go where they’re supposed to go. They know they’re good enough shooters to make those shots. They also know – here’s the part that’s different from last season – that they can guard the opposition better than they’re being guarded.

There’s power in such faith. There’s the power that flows from believing you’re going to get better looks over 48 minutes than the other team, that you pass and shoot and defend too well to be cornered for long. At halftime the Blazers had made 55.1 percent of their shots to the Hawks’ 44.4 percent – and Portland’s lead was a skinny point. By game’s end the Hawks had shot the better percentage and driven the ball often enough to earn twice as many free throws. (Not a small consideration on a night when you miss eight of 22.)

Down to cases. On the first possession of the fourth quarter, Dennis Schroder drove for a layup. The 21-year-old had some moments when he looked his age, but he changed the game when it needed changing. He found Mike Scott on the left wing for the tying 3-pointer and found Kyle Korver at the top for the trey that made it 81-76. The Blazers would never lead again.


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore stepped up in a major way for the Hawks as they snagged their franchise-record 18th straight win

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 26


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental | Might Kobe opt to play and delay surgery? | Horford, Hawks can’t stop, won’t stop … winning | Aldridge puts training camp in jeopardy by playing through pain

No. 1: Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental — Trade away whoever you want. Tweak the roster however you want. But when you go looking for the real change in the Cleveland Cavaliers since LeBron James returned from who two-week rest hiatus, look no further than between the collective ears of these Cavaliers. So says LeBron, who insists that the greatest gains this group has made recently has been in their collective mentals … so to speak. Sure, LeBron has been on fire, looking more and more like the machine he was in Miami the past four seasons. The rest of the Cavs, though, have taken the necessary mental steps to assume the position as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Joe Vardon, of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, has more:

Dan Gilbert didn’t put 20,000 gold t-shirts on the seats at The Q just because.

The Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t land on the slate of ABC’s first Sunday games this season for laughs.

Though it took place on Jan. 25, three full weeks before the All-Star Game in a regular season that starts before Halloween and goes past Easter, it truly was a big game.

And for once, the Cavaliers prevailed.

“We’ve improved, mentally more than anything,” LeBron James said yesterday, following Cleveland’s 108-98 win over the Thunder.

Remember, James called said once this was a “very fragile” team.

“Big game” is a cliché in sports, certainly on most nights when it’s applied to describe one contest out of 82 in the NBA. But it’s a point worth examining to measure how much James’ team has grown over the last several days.

First, and really it’s the reason this game was announced for ABC’s first Sunday slate back in August, it was a feature of the league’s last two Most Valuable Player winners in James and Kevin Durant — two stars who were picked to lead their teams to, excuse the word, big things this year.

With the Cavs and Thunder playing in opposite conferences, James and Durant only square off twice a year, unless they meet in the Finals as they did in 2012. Basketball fans were robbed of one James-Durant showdown when the Cavs’ superstar sat out with a sore knee on Dec. 11.

Next, and schedulers couldn’t have known this way back when, but Dion Waiters made his return to The Q after getting traded to Oklahoma City on Jan. 5. It’s a side-story, but a juicy one nonetheless.

Third (we’re building toward something here), those gold t-shirts draped over each seat at The Q. The idea, of course, is to make the organization and city look (and sound) good on national TV.

Free, gold Cavs t-shirts are reason to scream a little louder, a little more often. Of course Gilbert picked up the tab.

Add it all together: marquee individual matchup, the whole country watching, intriguing side stories, and nervous energy in the building (more so than on an average night).

The Cavaliers had played in that kind of cauldron of attention exactly twice this season. The first was James’ official return to Cleveland on opening night against the Knicks, which James said was “one of the biggest sporting events ever,” and on Christmas Day in his emotional return to Miami.

James and the Cavaliers failed. Twice.

“In those two games we did, yes, obviously, we did,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said. “I can’t deny that. Hopefully we learned from that.”


VIDEO: The GameTime’s crew discusses the Cavs’ play of late

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Sunday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron blunt assesment of Cavs | Wizards head West for test | Nets have all but given up on Deron Williams | Thunder players talk trust after latest loss

No. 1: LeBron’s blunt assessment of Cavs … it’s not good — The wobbly wheels on the traveling road show that is the Cleveland Cavaliers this season came all the way off Sunday in a loss to lowly Detroit. There’s no way to avoid it anymore. The Cavaliers are simply not playing good basketball these days. Even LeBron James has had to come to grips with that reality. He said so so in his postgame assessment of his team after that loss to the Pistons. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com provides some context on what pushed the frustrated James over the edge.

After falling down by as many as 27 points en route to a 103-80 blowout loss on Sunday to the Detroit Pistons — a team that came into the game with the fourth-worst record in the league — LeBron James did not sugarcoat the current state of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“We’re not a very good team,” James said after the defeat dropped the Cavs to 18-12. “As far as on the court, we’re still trying to find our way as well. We’ve won some good games, we’ve lost some games. But right now, we’re just not very good in every aspect of the game that we need to be to compete every night.”

t has become a common refrain for James. Following the Cavs’ Christmas Day loss to the Miami Heat, he echoed the sentiment, saying, “We’re not that good right now.” The next day, after a comeback win over the Orlando Magic, James said Cleveland was playing “nowhere near championship ball.”

It was so bad against Detroit that the Cavs were booed off the court by their hometown fans during a third-quarter timeout amid the Pistons outscoring Cleveland 86-52 over the final three quarters. Despite being 11-6 overall at Quicken Loans Arena this season, the Cavs’ past three home losses have all come by 17 points or more — albeit the previous two routs were at the hands of the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks, the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the East, respectively.

“I can’t tell you what it was,” Kevin Love said. “We need to play better in front of our home crowd, home fans, and it’s just unacceptable.”

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No. 2: Wizards  head West for test — The Washington Wizards will find out exactly what they are made of to start the New Year, heading out for a Western Conference road trip that will give them a clear understanding of exactly where they stand in the league pecking order right now. A grueling five-game road trip kicks off tonight in Houston. This could be where the rubber hits the road for a team that has feasted on a favorable early season schedule, writes Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post:

The Wizards have piled up a multitude of those victories this season preying on the NBA’s weaker teams in a remarkably favorable opening third of their schedule. Through 29 games, they have played the second-easiest schedule in the NBA, the fewest road games, just eight Western Conference teams and zero Western Conference teams on the road.

Those statistics will change drastically this week, when the Wizards embark on their toughest trip of the season to face five of the top nine teams in the merciless Western Conference. The trek begins Monday in Houston against the 21-8 Rockets.

“It is a test,” Wizards forward Paul Pierce said following Saturday’s win. “We get a chance to play against some of the upper-echelon Western Conference teams. It will be a great measuring stick about where we are. We know we are an upper-echelon team in the East, but we know if we want to be champions, this is an opportunity with the East being wide open for us to get to the Finals, for us to gauge where we are as an elite team in this league.”

All five teams on deck are at least .500, and Washington has beaten just three teams currently at least .500, including the New Orleans Pelicans, whom they play to conclude the trip Jan. 5. The results suggest the Wizards haven’t been sufficiently tested, but wins against bottom-tier teams count the same, and unlike last season, Washington has rarely faltered against inferior opponents. They are 19-4 when favored.

“You got all 82 of them, and we play them the way they are on the schedule,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “We’d like to change the schedule once in a while, but we can’t. You just approach it, again, one day at a time. There’s always stretches over the course of the year that provides a tough challenge. I think our guys understand that.”

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No. 3: Nets have all but given up on Deron Williams — So this is how it ends for Deron Williams in Brooklyn, huh? Benched by the Brooklyn Nets? This is now the way the story was supposed to play out for the former All-Star and supposedly elite point guard and franchise player the Nets built their team around. The Nets have all but given up on Williams just two years after making him the face of the franchise, writes Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Considering how this relationship began, the fall of Deron Williams has been a stunning and debilitating change of course for the Nets.

It didn’t seem that long ago that they were eagerly handing him the keys to the franchise, basing each move on whether it would improve their chances of retaining the point guard. It wasn’t a question of whether they should offer Williams the biggest deal in the organization’s history, it was whether he’d sign it.

Williams did, of course, sealing his future on an iPad. It was trumped up as the seminal moment of the move to Brooklyn, a reason to believe the Nets had fully left behind those woebegone days in Jersey. Now they’re trying to get rid of him after just two seasons, reaching a conclusion that Williams comes up way short as a franchise player, even when healthy.

It has reached the point of coach Lionel Hollins putting Williams on the bench, warning Saturday that the 30-year-old needs to play better to earn more than the 20 minutes he logged in the loss to the Pacers.

Imagine that a couple years ago: Williams, the $100 million man, getting benched to clear up time for Jarrett Jack.

“(Hollins) is definitely right, we do need to play better,” Williams said, referencing himself and his high-paid partner on the bench, Brook Lopez. “We’re two of the highest-paid players on the team, so that’s our responsibility to play better.

“Hopefully we can accept that challenge — I think I do, and Brook does.”

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No. 4  Thunder players talk “trust” after latest loss — Trust issues appear to be the latest topic of discussion in the Oklahoma City Thunder locker room. This comes after their latest loss, to the Dallas Mavericks, and their latest squandering of a chance to reach the .500 mark this season. It’s become a bit of a cycle in Oklahoma City, as Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman writes, these issues the Thunder have to sort out:

Here we go again.

Thunder players are talking about trust.

That, of course, has become the go-to buzzword whenever the ball stops moving, the offense breaks down and Oklahoma City suffers the same type of avoidable loss as it did in its 112-107 defeat at Dallas on Sunday night.

“We just got to do a better job of trusting our sets, actually running our sets with pace, trusting each other and I think we’ll be all right,” said Kendrick Perkins.

They keep saying it.

When will they learn to do it consistently?

“I don’t know. We just got to figure it out,” said Reggie Jackson. “We got to figure something out or we’re going to continue to have disappointing losses.”

The Thunder squandered another chance — its third this season — to climb to .500 after delivering a head-scratching final four minutes and allowing Dallas to snap its two-game winning streak.

In that game-deciding stretch, the Thunder went 2-for-6 and had three turnovers.

“We had some tough breaks at the end of the game,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We just got to get better. We got to get better. We got to do a better job of executing. We got to do a better job of getting better shots down the stretch.”

Russell Westbrook’s final four minutes were as forgettable as anyone’s.

Westbrook had two of his team’s turnovers over that span and missed both of his shot attempts, including a point-blank layup that would have trimmed Dallas’ lead to one with 1:17 left to play. After his first turnover, Westbrook compounded the giveaway by committing a costly foul 90 feet away from the Mavs’ basket. He delivered it against Dirk Nowitzki, while Dallas was in the bonus.

Nowitzki stepped to the line and swished both shots to break a 102-102 tie with 3:25 remaining.

The Thunder never saw the lead again.

An overly aggressive Westbrook later committed another unnecessary foul on Nowitzki with 1:05 left to play, and Nowitzki again made both shots, this time to put the Mavs ahead by five.

It characterized Westbrook’s night, as his customary hustle and relentlessness allowed him to finish with 18 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and five steals. But his refusal to settle for the smart play resulted in him shooting 6-for-23 from the floor while committing five turnovers.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony has a sore kneeKobe Bryant returns to action looking to be more (wait for it) patient … The Minnesota Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio is weeks away from mounting his own comeback … Everything in Chris Kaman‘s life changes now … Angry Clippers will see a different Utah team tonight in Salt Lake City … It appears that Chris Bosh is ready to return to the Miami Heat? … Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker speeds up his process by slowing down …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 22


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron’s influence rubs off on Waiters | Jordan goes above and beyond for the Clippers | What happens when attack mode goes wrong for Westbrook, Thunder?

No. 1: LeBron rubbing off on Waiters? — A few weeks ago, folks questioning whether or not the Cleveland Cavaliers as presently constituted could reach its full potential this season. How quickly that narrative changes when things go well, and when LeBron James spreads his gospel of playing the right way to the likes of Dion Waiters and others. LeBron’s influence on Waiters, one of the targets of criticism when things go awry in Cleveland, was on full display in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Joe Vardon of The Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

Waiters contributed 13 points in the fourth quarter, doing so one game after he didn’t play a single minute in the second half of a win Friday.

“I mean, he’s learning every day,” James said of Waiters. “He’s a young guy. He hasn’t experienced much in this league. For him to have a game like he did today, we needed it. We needed a spark off the bench. He was aggressive, he was decisive with what he wanted to do, and it was a huge, huge boost for our bench.”

In typical Waiters fashion, when the 23-year-old was approached after the game by reporters, he was several feet from his locker and on his way out of the locker room with the hope that he wouldn’t have to talk after the game.

When James’ prediction about being a scapegoat was brought up to Waiters Sunday, he said: “I don’t remember all that, though. I remember that but I don’t remember that.”

As only Waiters could.

Waiters, the former No. 4 overall pick for Cleveland in his third season, has gotten himself in trouble for wanting to shoot too much off the dribble instead of getting shots within the flow of the offense.

He’s been dinged for not paying attention defensively. He landed in hot water by skipping the national anthem in early November and originally citing his Muslim faith as the reason, then clumsily clarified his reason a few days later.

Sources said that Waiters was unhappy on Dec. 11 in Oklahoma City when Blatt chose to start Matthew Dellavedova in place of the injured James.

In Cleveland’s 95-91 win over Brooklyn Friday night, Waiters scored four points in seven minutes; Blatt left him out in the second half to ride the hot hands of Mike Miller and Shawn Marion.

It’s been a season of adjustments for Waiters, who was moved to the bench in favor of Marion after just three games.

“I was really happy to see what Dion did tonight, and believe me, it had very little to do with the points that he scored,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said Sunday. “When he’s engaged and when he is playing freely and when he’s not allowing himself to be disturbed by other things, Dion can really play basketball and I thought he did a great job tonight.”

Waiters’ locker at The Q is next to James’ locker.

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 15


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sacramento fires Mike Malone | Kobe more like Mike than ever | Stephenson on the move already? | Cavs getting healthy at the right time

No. 1: Sacramento fires Mike Malone — Christmas promises to be interesting in Sacramento, where the coaching search is on now that Mike Malone has been fired and replaced by Ty Corbin just 24 games into this season. The production on the floor (11-13) apparently did not meet the internal expectations for a team that was trying to dig its way out of the lottery mix in the Western Conference. TNT and NBA.com’s very own David Aldridge provides some context:

The Kings, 11-13 and losers of eight of their last 10 games, had high expectations of making the playoffs this season, having signed free agent point guard Darren Collison last summer, giving forward Rudy Gay a contract extension and building around Cousins, who got a max deal from owner Vivek Ranadive last summer. Ranadive and management believed Sacramento could compete now for a playoff berth.

Sacramento got off to a good start this season. But after Cousins came down with the ailment late last month, the Kings slumped. They are currently a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the west.

Sources indicated management was not happy with the team’s style of play or the direction of the team under Malone, who was hired in 2013 and went 28-54 in his first season.

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No. 2: Kobe more like Mike than ever — The pursuit of Michael Jordan, at least on the all-time scoring list, is over for Kobe Bryant. He handled that business Sunday in Minnesota, pushing past MJ for third on the list with a 26-point outing in a win over the Timberwolves. After years of fighting the comparisons, Kobe is looking more like Mike than ever, so says Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times:

It wasn’t as climactic as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook to make him the league’s all-time scoring leader. It wasn’t as uncontroversial as Karl Malone’s steady stroll to second on the list, one pick-and-roll at a time.

It wasn’t even guaranteed to be the biggest Bryant news event of the past week, his “soft like Charmin” rant at practice taking plenty of spins in the national sports cycle a few days earlier.

But it finally happened, 1,269 regular-season games into a career that began with a trade, Charlotte to Los Angeles, and filled with individual visions of topping Jordan in championships and accolades.

“He knows how much I’ve learned from him, from the other legends, and him in particular,” Bryant said after dunking his feet into his postgame ice bath. “That’s the most important thing to me, I think, is playing for the respect of the greats and feeling like I’m a part of that culture, part of that brotherhood.”

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No. 3: Hornets’ Stephenson on the move? — Independence day for NBA teams eager to fix free agent mistakes has come. Today marks the fist day teams can move players signed to new contracts over the summer. And the player whose name has surfaced prominently in those discussions is Lance Stephenson. The Hornets’ swingman could be on the move, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, who reports that the Hornets are exploring all of their options:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Hornets, just 23 games into the Stephenson era, have already begun the process of searching for potential trade partners that would be willing to take the talented but enigmatic former Indiana Pacer off their‎ hands.

Although sources say no deal involving Stephenson is imminent, Monday is the first day that players signed to new contracts in July are eligible to be dealt, which typically triggers what teams leaguewide regard as “trade season” over the next two months leading into the annual February trade deadline.

One factor that could ultimately lead to a deal, despite Stephenson’s ragged and discouraging start, is the fact that the three-year, $27 million deal he received over the summer from Charlotte owner Michael Jordan is only guaranteed through next season. The third year of the deal is not guaranteed, which theoretically enhances Charlotte’s chances of finding another team willing to gamble ‎on the mercurial swingman.

Sources say that the Hornets are not in a move-him-at-all-costs mode with Stephenson but made it clear that Charlotte is ready now to abandon the experiment if a palatable deal presents itself.

Stephenson has quickly proved to be a poor fit alongside the Hornets’ established core twosome of Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, shooting 38.9 percent from the floor overall and 8-for-48 percent on 3-pointers during Charlotte’s 6-17 start.

***

No. 4: Cavaliers getting healthy at the right time — The Cleveland Cavaliers are getting better and better, literally. They are getting healthy at just the right time. The Christmas rush is upon us all and this is important a time for contenders as any in the early part of the NBA season. The Cavaliers struggled with different injuries, bumps and bruises to kick off this season. But now they are on the mend and ready to chase that top spot in the Eastern Conference standings, writes Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

All but one player fully participated in Sunday’s practice. LeBron James — having missed the Oklahoma City game Thursday with a sore left knee — said he went through the entire practice with the exception of the final drill.

Coach David Blatt pulled him out of that as a precaution.

“It’s OK,” James said of his knee after practice. “It responded well to the flight back home so I’m happy about that. I’ll get my treatment tonight and get my treatment tomorrow [before] the game.”

Guard Dion Waiters participated in Sunday’s practice, but Matthew Dellavedova wasn’t ready. He was relegated to light shooting and movement drills. On Friday, both players became ill in New Orleans and were held overnight for tests.

Waiters had abdominal pain and Dellavedova an extreme case of vomiting.

“We don’t know whether it was a virus or food poisoning,” Blatt said. “But the effect of it we know, and it was not pretty.”

The team is listing Dellavedova as questionable for Monday’s home game against Charlotte.

Mike Miller is close to returning to action after sustaining a concussion during the road win over the Knicks on Dec. 4. He is in the fourth of five stages in the league’s concussion recovery protocol.

“We were able to get him out there today for some 3-on-3 here after practice,” Blatt said. “And tomorrow we’ll evaluate his response to that and know where to go for the next step.”

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Kevin McHale has nothing but love for Trevor Ariza … The Wizards are as good as they’ve been in a decade, in so many ways … Warriors needed overtime for Sweet 16 … Tobias Harris has emerged as the Magic’s go-to-guy …  Chris Bosh calf injury is latest blow for injury-riddled Miami HeatDerek Fisher says Knicks players are more focused on the future than this season? … Steve Kerr says the Warriors are not chasing a 72-win season …

Morning shootaround — Nov. 16


VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron loves seeing the Hawks| Knicks ready to fight for Marc Gasol? | CP3 rescues the Clippers | Rockets talking mental toughness

No. 1: LeBron loves seeing the Hawks — Perhaps this is his way of taking out his frustrations on the San Antonio Spurs. Since he couldn’t do it against the real Spurs, LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers went in on the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night in record fashion. LeBron, as Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group makes clear, loves seeing the Hawks:

LeBron James’ body language spoke volumes Saturday night.

Consider what was said in the second quarter of the Cavaliers’ 127-94 thumping of the Atlanta Hawks.

Cleveland was on its way to a 71-point first half, had drained its first 11 three-pointers, and would end the half with assists on 22 of 25 field goals. James wasn’t sprinting so much as he was gliding around the court, tossing one-handed, no-look, razor-sharp passes into traffic for layups.

The way he was moving around the court, his leg churning like pistons and eyes up, looking for open teammates with a little grin on his face – was a look seldom (if ever seen) on James since he returned to the Cavaliers.

He looked like he was having fun.

“I have fun every time I step out on the basketball court – win, lose, or draw,” James said. “I have a love for the game, I have fun, I show it on my face sometimes more than others. Inside, the kid is always excited to put another uniform on and go out and play.”

***

No. 2: Knicks ready to fight for Marc Gasol? — Leave it up the Knicks, a team struggling in every facet in this early season, to worry about free agency before Thanksgiving. They are already poised to pick a fight with the reigning world champion San Antonio Spurs … for Marc Gasol, who by the way is busy leading his Memphis Grizzlies to the top of the Western Conference standings right now. Those little details won’t stop Knicks Nation from dreaming about what could be. Frank Isola of the Daily News has more:

Phil Jackson has made a career out of taking pot shots at the San Antonio Spurs so even if the Knicks president doesn’t respect Greg Popovich’s club he should fear them.

The Knicks’ main free-agent target, Marc Gasol, is also being targeted as a possible replacement to Tim Duncan assuming Ol’ Man Riverwalk retires this summer. The Knicks will be players for the Memphis center mainly because of the first three rules of real estate — location, location, location — and because Gasol is familiar with both Jackson and Derek Fisher since older brother Pau spent the best years of his career with the Lakers.

Otherwise, staying in Memphis will be appealing to Gasol, whose team is a legitimate championship contender. The Grizzlies can offer Gasol the most money, and he has grown to love the city, having lived there since high school when Pau broke in with the Grizzlies.

Coincidently, Pau considered the Spurs this past summer but took more money to join the Chicago Bulls, much to Jackson’s chagrin. When Pau signed, Jackson tweeted a photo of lightning striking the city of Chicago. He might end up tossing his iPhone in the East River if Marc signs with the Spurs, arguably the best run franchise in all of pro sports. They also have the nucleus to remain a contender for years to come.

Signing with the Knicks strictly for basketball reasons is a tougher sell, although his Spanish teammate, Jose Calderon, will be a key part of the recruiting pitch. History, however, is not on the Knicks’ side. The last major free agent to make a significant impact was Allan Houston all the way back in the summer of the 1996. Back then, Jeff Van Gundy was winning big as the head coach, and Jim Dolan was learning to play the guitar, not running the Garden. Crazy coincidence, no?

***

No. 3:CP3 to the rescue for Clippers — It’s an act Chris Paul will probably have to perform more often than he wants to this season, rescuing the Los Angeles Clippers from despair the way he did against the Phoenix Suns. But that’s the burden he signed on for when he became the face of the franchise. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times explains:

After taking four days off to collect themselves after a difficult loss to San Antonio, Chris Paul made sure the Clippers played better basketball.

Paul took over the game in the third quarter and then saved the Clippers from imploding in the fourth, pushing Los Angeles to a 120-107 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night at Staples Center.

Paul scored a season-high 32 points on 10-for-13 shooting, including five for six on three-point shots. He had nine assists and five rebounds in helping the Clippers score a season high in points.

When the Clippers’ 26-point lead was cut to 11 points late in the fourth quarter, Paul went to work.

He scored seven consecutive points in the fourth to help the Clippers pull out a victory in which six players scored in double figures.

He made two free throws, a three-pointer and a jumper.

The Clippers outscored the Suns, 42-20, in the third quarter in opening their big lead.

***

No. 4: Rockets talking mental toughness — The Houston Rockets have clearly turned a corner on the court from last season. They look every bit as fit to chase a championship as we thought they should have and would have a year ago. But the real test is about the mental toughness needed to win it all. And the Rockets are working on that, as should be expected after a narrow escape against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. Jenny Dial-Creech of the Houston Chronicle explains:

After barely pulling out an 88-87 win over Philadelphia on Friday night, the Rockets practiced Saturday in preparation for their third set of back-to-back road games this season.

On Sunday, the Rockets will play at Oklahoma City and on Monday they will travel to Memphis.

“We already know these are two playoff teams,” guard Jason Terry said. “Both of these teams, barring they stay healthy, will be in the playoffs this year. Oklahoma is a tough team. We know their system very well.

“Memphis is a division opponent. It is sort of a rivalry. You have to say that because they are in the division so you never want to lose division games. It will be a tough challenge because they have two great big men that are the toughest two tandem in the league and you have a great, young point guard in Conley who pushes the tempo and is always on the attack.”

Terry said that headed into the road trip, he felt the Rockets were mentally stronger than ever thanks to the close call against the Sixers.

“We grew as a team,” he said. “On this journey that we go on through the regular season, there are going to be times where your mental toughness is tested and (Friday) was one of those times. We got back late from Mexico City. We didn’t practice. We came right back here and the game came so fast against a team that lost by 50 the night before. They were ready, they were hungry, they challenged us and we weathered the storm. I learned a lot about us, about our mental toughness. It’s good to see, and it’s good to see early on in the season. It won’t be the last test, but we passed the first one.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Magic finally get Victor Oladipo back in their starling lineup … The Chicago Bulls love what Pau Gasol brings to the Windy City  … Bradley Beal targeting a return to practice this week with the Wizards … Warriors coach Steve Kerr is keeping his (starting lineup) options open … The Milwaukee Bucks’ dedication to defense is paying off

 

Champ Spurs, LeBron, big All-Star break highlight NBA’s 2014-15 schedule

Tim Duncan and the Spurs will raise a fifth banner in October. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Tim Duncan and the Spurs will raise a fifth banner in October. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

After a familiar in-state Texas wrestling match to tip things off, the champion San Antonio Spurs will be living out of their suitcases for much of the first couple of weeks of the new NBA season. That’s just one of the wrinkles in the  2014-15 schedule, released Wednesday.

The 1,230-game marathon includes, for the first time in history, an extended All-Star break.  The last games before the break are scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 12, and the first ones after the hiatus won’t tip until Thursday, Feb. 19. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be held Feb. 15 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and a Spurs cast that includes 10 international players will celebrate their title with the traditional banner raising and ring ceremony on Opening Night, Oct. 28, when they host the Dallas Mavericks at the AT&T Center.  Also on the schedule that night will be Orlando at New Orleans and Houston at the L.A. Lakers.  The Spurs-Mavs and Lakers-Rockets  — with the likely return of Kobe Bryant — will be nationally televised by TNT. (Full national TV schedule)

HANG TIME: The 10 (or so) must-see games of 2014-15

Opening Night
Oct. 28, 2014, Orlando at New Orleans, 8 p.m., League Pass
Oct. 28, 2014, Dallas at San Antonio, 8 p.m., TNT
Oct. 28, 2014, Houston at L.A. Lakers, 10:30 p.m., TNT

Once they get through Opening Night, though, the Spurs — who finished with the league’s best road record last season — will be on the road for eight of their next 11 games.  Included in that is a four-game blitz through all four California teams, consisting of  a pair of back-to-back sets of Clippers-Warrior and Lakers-Kings.

Cleveland fans, ecstatic over the homecoming of LeBron James, will have to contain their excitement for a few days until the Cavaliers make their debut on Oct. 30 at Quicken Loans Arena against the New York Knicks. The Cavaliers will play the next night, too, at Chicago in Derrick Rose’s first home game after missing all but 10 games in the last two seasons because of knee injuries.  Rose will be joined in the Bulls lineup by Pau Gasol, who left the Lakers as a free agent over the summer.

The Spurs and Cavaliers will both be headline attractions in the NBA’s annual Christmas Day spectacular that features five different matchups, coast-to-coast.  San Antonio will be at home to face last season’s Western Conference finals opponent, Oklahoma City (2 p.m. ET, ABC). James will make his first trip back to Miami, where he won two titles in four years with the Heat, for an afternoon game (5 p.m. ET, ABC) against friends Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat.

Christmas Day (All times listed are ET)
Dec. 25, 2014, Washington at New York, 12 p.m., ESPN
Dec. 25, 2014, Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 2 p.m., ABC
Dec. 25, 2014, Cleveland at Miami, 5 p.m., ABC
Dec. 25, 2014, L.A. Lakers at Chicago, 8 p.m., TNT
Dec. 25, 2014, Golden State at L.A. Clippers, 10:30 p.m., TNT

San Antonio once again will face its annual Rodeo Trip, so named because the Spurs must vacate their arena for an extended stretch for the San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo.  It’s a nine-game stretch that will keep the Spurs off their home court from Feb. 6 until March 4. It is broken into two legs before and after the All-Star break. But the Spurs aren’t the only team who face long stretches away from home.

The Brooklyn Nets, under new coach Lionel Hollins, will also straddle the break with eight consecutive games away from the Barclays Center. And the longest single road trip of the season belongs to the Clippers, who’ll have an eight-game excursion Jan. 29-Feb. 9 through three different times zones that includes three sets of back-to-backs and ends up  against potential playoff challengers at OKC and Dallas.  The Clippers will also have to endure a seven-game trip starting Nov. 19 at Orlando that includes three back-to-backs.  The Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings also have seven-game road trips.

As part of the NBA’s annual Martin Luther King Day celebration, four games will be nationally televised.  The Detroit Pistons will play at Atlanta (2:30 ET, ESPN), followed by the Bulls at Cleveland (8 ET, TNT) and Lakers at Phoenix (10:30 ET, TNT).  The Mavericks at Memphis (5 ET) will be shown on NBA TV.

Martin Luther King Day (All times listed are ET)
Jan. 19, 2015, Minnesota at Charlotte, 2 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Philadelphia at Washington, 2 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Detroit at Atlanta, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Jan. 19, 2015, Boston at L.A. Clippers, 3:30 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Denver at Golden State, 4 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Dallas at Memphis, 5 p.m., NBA TV
Jan. 19, 2015, Indiana at Houston, 5:30 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, New Orleans at New York, 5:30 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Toronto at Milwaukee, 8 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Chicago at Cleveland, 8 p.m., TNT
Jan. 19, 2015, Sacramento at Portland, 10 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, L.A. Lakers at Phoenix, 10:30 p.m., TNT

The NBA Global Game schedule will again include two regular-season games played at international sites.  The Timberwolves will face the Rockets at Mexico City Arena on Nov. 12 and the Bucks and Knicks will meet at London’s O2 Arena on Jan. 15.

The teams with the toughest finishes to the season would seem to be Portland, Toronto and Washington. The Blazers wrap up their schedule with three of their last four on the road, including stops at potential playoff contenders Golden State, OKC and Dallas.  The Raptors play six of their last eight on the road. The Wizards have five of their last six away, with a finale at Cleveland.

The regular season concludes on April 15. The 2015 NBA playoffs will begin Apr. 18.

The Bulls, Cavaliers and Thunder lead with 25 appearances on TNT, ESPN and ABC national telecasts, followed by the Clippers with 23, the Lakers with 20 and the Spurs and Warriors with 19 apiece.

NBA TV will show every team as part of a 97-game schedule that includes 22 Fan Night Games.  Fans will vote on NBA.com  each week to determine which games will appear on NBA TV for the Tuesday Fan Night Games.