Posts Tagged ‘Celtics’

Heat, Hornets have no interest in playoff dramatics


VIDEO: Kevin Durant got tossed from Game 3 for smacking Justin Anderson in the face

CHARLOTTE — It’s playoff basketball, not professional boxing or mixed martial arts or anything of the sort. It’s just playoff basketball.

So don’t fix your eyes on this first round playoff series between the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets and look any deeper into any of the scrappiness between the two teams. Just because guys have to be separated now and then and words are exchanged, neither the Heat nor the Hornets are interested in any of the playoff dramatics going on elsewhere in this postseason.

“It’s the NBA, there aren’t really any fights,” Heat veteran Luol Deng said. “Not really, not during my time in the league. Guys don’t want to fight. There might be one punch and then it gets broken up. But no real fights. This isn’t hockey.”

Tell that to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook or LeBron James and Andre Drummond or Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder. All of them have been been caught up in the first round dramatics, in one way or another.

Durant was ejected late in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Game 3 win over the Dallas Mavericks for smacking Justin Anderson in the face. Both Drummond and Thomas will not be suspended for contact against James and Schroder, respectively, that would have seemed to warrant suspension.

Game 3 of the Heat-Hornets series Saturday night featured plenty of opportunities for things to escalate and maybe even get out of hand, but cooler head prevailed time and again.

Hornets point guard Kemba Walker had one heated exchange with Heat center Hassan Whiteside that seemed like it was headed for craziness, only to have players on both sides calm each other down before things got completely out of hand.

“It’s the playoffs,” Walker said. “The intensity is up. Trying to win a series here. Both teams are going to be scratching and clawing, trying to do anything possible to win a basketball game. They have great ball pressure and so do we, so guys are going to get hit. It’s going to be tough out there … anything possible to win a game.”

Walker, however, went to make sure he set the right tone for Monday’s Game 4 showdown at Time Warner Cable Arena.

“I’m not a troublemaker,” he said and then smiled. “It’s just basketball, playoff basketball.”

Horford responds to Heinsohn’s critique


VIDEO: Al Horford goes up top for the alley-oop against Boston

ATLANTA — Al Horford didn’t take the bait. 

It’s the playoffs, after all. And he knows better than to partake in anything that will shift the focus away from the business at hand, namely his Atlanta Hawks focusing on their preparation for Game 2 against the Boston Celtics Tuesday night at Philips Arena.

So when Horford was informed that Celtics great Tommy Heinsohn made some disparaging remarks about him after he led the Hawks with 24 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and two blocks in their Game 1 win in this series, he shrugged it off. Heinsohn told a television audience watching the Celtics’ postgame show that Horford was “not a great player. Get a man on him and he has trouble scoring.”

“I didn’t see it, but that’s his opinion, you gotta respect it,” Horford said after the Hawks’ practice Monday afternoon. “I do. That’s his opinion and that’s how he feels.”

Horford is a four-time All-Star who has helped the Hawks to the playoffs in each of his nine NBA seasons. That includes his rookie season, when the Hawks pushed the No. 1-seeded Celtics to a Game 7 in a first-round series en route to Boston winning the title 2008 NBA title.

There’s no extra motivation needed, Horford said. Just being in the heat of playoff battle is enough, no matter the opponent.

“I’ve been in the league a long time,” he said. “I know I have to focus on my team and this is the playoffs, we’re in a great position and we have a great opportunity, so we’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”

Hawks swingman Kent Bazemore rolled his eyes when informed of Heinsohn’s comments, and offered up his own retort.

“Oh, wow, I’m sure Al is going to come out and prove somebody,” Bazemore said. “You know Al’s a great player and he’s extended his range. He can shoot it now, he protects the rim and blocks shots and he’s a great leader. I could go on all day about all the accolades he has. Al’s a great teammate. There’s always someone that’s going to say a guy’s not a great player. Even Jesus Christ had haters.”

 

Morning shootaround — April 17




VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING
It’s all about Curry’s ankle | Brooks eyeing Lakers | Familiar Raptors headache | Bradley injury could doom Celtics
No. 1: All eyes are on Stephen Curry’s ankle — Yes, the Warriors dominated, owned, locked up and threw away the key on the Rockets from the moment they walked onto the court at Oracle on Saturday. But after a 104-78 thumping in Game 1 all that anybody in the Bay Area — and all around Dub Nation — could think about was Stephen Curry limping off the court with a “tweaked” right ankle. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper says Curry seems to be the only one not worried about the injury, but Warriors coach Steve Kerr was taking no chances:

It was Stephen Curry and ankles, it was the first 48 minutes of what could be months of playoffs, and it was every bit the rout that could have been expected in a 1-8 matchup. He was lucky the Warriors hadn’t wrapped him in a mass of down pillows and called the cops to escort him home at halftime.

“Well, he saw I was writing the five players’ names on the board who I’m sending out there and he saw his name wasn’t on there and he was incredulous,” Kerr said. “And I said, ‘I don’t like the way you’re moving right now.’ He said, ‘No, I’ll be all right,’ and of course he’s going to say that. He’s a competitor. He wants to play. But we’re not going to let him play if there’s any risk of making it worse. Obviously we’re hoping that we’re going to be in the playoffs for the next couple of months. So we don’t want to make any chances.”

Including in Game 2 on Monday. More will be known as the Warriors gather for a workout Sunday morning at their practice facility, namely whether the joint stiffens and swells overnight, but Kerr is calling him questionable for now with Golden State obviously wanting to avoid an ankle that remains problematic for weeks.

“Right now I don’t see a scenario where I’ll be out,” Curry said after scoring a game-high 24 points despite playing just 20 minutes, making eight of 13 attempts overall and five of seven behind the arc. “Obviously if it’s not right and at risk of further injury and what not, that’s the only thing that I think we have to worry about. Pain tolerance and all that stuff, I kind of know what I can deal with on the court. But you don’t want anything more serious to happen favoring the ankle or what not. So that’s what we’ll pay attention to the next few days.”


VIDEO: Curry tweaks ankle

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Morning shootaround — April 2




VIDEO: Highlights from Friday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors’ home streak snapped | Lakers try to heal No. 2 | Morris lost trust | Barea delivers for Mavs | Rookie fires back at Durant

No. 1: Celtics take down Warriors — After setting an NBA record with 54 consecutive home wins, going undefeated at Oracle for more than 14 months, dominating many visitors and wriggling off the hook in handfuls of other testy situations, what did the Warriors do when they were finally beaten on their home court by the Celtics Friday night? Applaud, of course. That was the reaction of Golden State coach Steve Kerr as a tribute to both the Celtics’ effort and to the historic feat that had been accomplished by his own team in establishing such a run of dominance. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle was there to document the end of the streak:

“I congratulated them,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after one of the quickest postgame locker room meetings of the season. “Are you kidding me? We won 54 home games in a row. What our guys have accomplished is incredible. I don’t know if people understand the intensity and the work that it takes to put together a streak like that.

“To compete night in and night out, when you’re worn out, it takes a lot out of you — especially when every game is the opponent’s biggest game. People are coming after us. I told the guys how proud I am of putting together an amazing streak.”

The Warriors (68-8) were the first team among the four major professional sports leagues to reel off a home streak of 50 games, and they were five games from becoming the first NBA team to finish an undefeated home season.

They hadn’t lost at home in the regular season since Jan. 27, 2015, when Chicago knocked them off in overtime. The Warriors now need to win five of their final six games to break the NBA’s single-season victories record, which was established by the Bulls in 1995-96.

Despite being down nine points with fewer than 5½ minutes to play, it looked briefly as though the Warriors might at least send Friday’s game into overtime. Trailing 109-106, Stephen Curry and Harrison Barnes missed game-tying three-pointers in the closing seconds.

“We’ve gotten away with some games that we probably shouldn’t have won on shots like that,” Curry said. “Tonight, it wasn’t our time.”

***

No. 2: Russell and Young trying to pick up the pieces — While a forgettable season inexorably winds down to the end of Kobe Bryant’s career, the Lakers are trying to move past the unforgettable controversy involving rookie D’Angelo Russell and teammate Nick Young. Russell, who secretly videotaped a private conversation with his teammate, said he’s giving Young his space to let the festering wounds heal, but added that he would have been willing to defend himself if it had come to that. Bill Oram of the Orange County Register has the details:

Russell has been contrite and poised when addressing the awkward situation. But if the issue had escalated to more than a verbal altercation?
“I’d get physical back,” he said.

Russell said he and Young have tried to solve their problems “the right way,” and that the issues in the locker room never got to the point of violence, “but if it does you’ve got to deal with the consequences.”

Russell and Young both practiced Friday, (coach Byron) Scott said. It remains unclear how willing to forgive Young is, with various gossip outlets reporting that his engagement to Australian rap star Iggy Azalea is on the brink of collapse.

“It’s kind of at this point where you need your space,” Russell said, “and you can’t force peace if it’s not there. You’ve got to let the time heal it.”

Scott said he did not know what would happen to Russell’s relationship with Young, who is under contract for two more seasons. Before the video surfaced last week, the two were exceptionally close, with Russell among those attending a birthday party for Young’s son.

“Will they ever be buddy-buddy again?” Scott said. “I don’t know. But they do have to coexist as long as they’re both here, and I think they can.”

***

No. 3: Morris says he could no longer trust Suns — Before going out and scoring 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds to help the struggling Wizards keep their Eastern Conference playoff hopes alive, Markieff Morris took the occasion of his return to the desert to say he wanted out of Phoenix because he just didn’t trust the Suns any longer. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic caught up to Morris:

“I always felt free to play,” Morris said before his first game against the Suns, his NBA home for 4 ½ seasons. “It was just tough to do certain things with no trust and play for people that you really don’t trust.”
Morris would not specify whom he mistrusted.

“I ain’t getting into that but I’m happy where I am now,” Morris said. “I look back on the happy years I had here. It was definitely a great time.”

Morris, 26, was considered a key building block for the Suns and he backed up that assertion by improving his play annually. He became a candidate for the NBA Sixth Man Award and NBA Most Improved Player and was empowered as a future leader of the franchise.

When an assertion was made that the Suns traded their best player in February 2015, Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough contented that the Suns’ best players – Morris and Eric Bledsoe – were still on the roster.
“I’ve seen this play out before,” Morris said. “There have been a couple players I’ve been here with that have been the best players on the team that came back next year in a new uniform so it’s nothing new.”

During Morris’ tenure, Goran Dragic asked to be traded because he was disgruntled, Isaiah Thomas was traded because he was not content with his role and Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Channing Frye said they wanted to stay in Phoenix before negotiations soured them on returning.

“I’ve seen so many do it,” Morris said. “I just didn’t think it would be me like that but it is what it is.”

Morris was traded to Washington in February for the Wizards’ first-round draft pick, which conveys to Phoenix if it is No. 10 or lower. The draft slot is working out ideally for the Suns with Washington currently slotted at No. 12 unless long-shot draft lottery odds changed that.

***

No. 4: Barea leads another big Mavs win — Point guard J.J. Barea spent Thursday back at home in the Dallas area for the birth of his daughter, but arrived at The Palace of Auburn Hills in time to deliver another clutch performance that keeps the Mavericks in the thick of the tight Western Conference playoff race. Barea has been on a scoring tear of late and Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News was on hand to see the latest outburst:

What the Mavericks did have going for them was J. J. Barea, who continued one of his hottest streaks of his career with 29 points. He’s averaged 24 points in the three-game winning streak and this game came after he was in Plano Thursday for the birth of his daughter, Paulina Barea Ortiz.

“One of the best (weeks) ever,” Barea said. “My daughter’s healthy and everybody’s happy and we’re winning some games. I’m playing pretty good. Other than 2011 championship week, this is pretty good.”

Barea’s play was crucial. He had a huge second quarter when the Mavericks scored 15 consecutive points to go up 40-25.

Detroit, playing their ninth consecutive home game, came back to tie the game at 58 in the third quarter.

Barea refused to go down, however. His 3-pointer and midrange jumper rebuilt the Mavericks’ advantage to 86-79. The Pistons hung around, but Wesley Matthews’ three-point play with 2:38 to go made it 93-85 and the Mavericks walked out of the Palace at Auburn Hills winners for the fifth season in a row.

It was against some tough odds with only Barea and Devin Harris available at point guard.

“Our guys are dropping like flies,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “Hopefully Ray will be OK. J.J. flew in today and was big for us. I thought defensively we played a solid game. It was a big win for us with some key guys out.”

On Barea, coach Rick Carlisle added: “He was tremendous. We’re all very happy for him. He’s got to be really happy and I think there was probably a little inspiration seeing his daughter come into the world. It’s a great day.”

This also was the third consecutive game that the Mavericks have held an opponent under 90 points, easily a first for this season. Zaza Pachulia and Salah Mejri also had a nice defensive night against Andre Drummond, the Pistons’ dominant big man who had 17 rebounds, but only 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

“A combination of (a slower) offensive tempo and defensive intensity,” Carlisle said about what’s brought about the defensive uptick. “The guys are buying into a style of play that puts us in a better position to defend. Going forward, sometimes, we got to go a little faster, sometimes we got to tempo it down. We’re trying to do whatever it takes.

***

No. 5:Pistons rookie “not scared” of K.D. — The war of words continues between the Pistons and Thunder. First the OKC players didn’t like the way their former teammate Reggie Jackson celebrated a bit too much after a win on their home floor. First Russell Westbrook and then Kevin Durant expressed their displeasure. Now it is Detroit rookie Stanley Johnson who is fanning the flames in the verbal skirmish as he fires back at Durant, according to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

At first, Stanley Johnson could see the Oklahoma City Thunder’s point.

Maybe teammate Reggie Jackson enjoyed himself a bit too much toward the end of the Detroit Pistons’ 88-82 victory Tuesday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

But things changed when he read the comments from Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, who said “I wanted to play against Detroit, for sure, but you know, it’s Detroit. Who cares about Detroit?” to explain his reasoning for skipping the game.

Johnson said such comments were “uncalled for” and said Durant “disrespected” the franchise.

“If he wanted to have an impact on the game, he should have just played,” Johnson said after this morning’s shootaround.

He continued.

“No one is scared of playing against him on this side of town,” Johnson said. “Next year we have two games scheduled, and I know, for me, it’s circled on my schedule from now on.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James moved ahead of Oscar Robertson for 11th place on the all-time scoring list … Isaiah Thomas is wasting no time making his mark on the Celtics … Keith Smart hopes to return to Heat soon following battle with cancer … Festus Ezeli gets his April Fools Day revenge on Andre Iguodala … Obscene gesture costs Lakers’ Julius Randle $15K … Steve Kerr’s attempt at humor falls flat in Warriors locker room … NBA veteran Terry Porter takes over as new head coach at University of Portland.

Grizzlies’ woes grow as Chalmers hurt

VIDEO: Grizzlies’ Mario Chalmers hurts foot.

The road to the end of the regular season keeps getting longer, harder and also more dangerous in Memphis. The question might no longer be whether the Grizzlies can hang onto the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference playoff race, but if they can just make it to the end of the regular season.

Two nights after they pulled off a stunning win at Cleveland with just eight healthy players suited up, the Grizzlies suffered another loss when backup point guard Mario Chalmers was helped off the floor midway through the third period in Boston on Wednesday with what described by the team as a “right foot injury.”

Celtics sideline reporter Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports tweeted:

For a Grizzlies team that suffered 30- and 50-point losses with a full roster in the first week of the 2015-16 schedule, the season has turned into a punishing, unrelenting grind where the roster has been ground down practically to the bone.

Memphis already was playing without Zach Randolph (sore knee), Mike Conley (sore foot), Chris Andersen (partially separated shoulder), Brandan Wright (knee), Marc Gasol (broken foot) and Jordan Adams (knee).

According to Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, the Grizzlies have applied for an injury exception and plan to sign point guard Briante Weber of the NBA D-League if the exception is granted.

The Grizzlies trailed the Celtics by just 64-61 when Chalmers left the game with 6:57 left in the third quarter, but eventually lost 116-96. Memphis is now 38-26 with a 4 1/2 game lead over No. 6 seed Portland.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 228) Featuring Klay Thompson and Arash Markazi

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — History will determine where these Golden State Warriors rank all time.

They have to finish the deal, of course. None of it will matter if the Warriors don’t break the NBA record for wins in the regular season (the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls still own the top spot at 72 wins)

But Klay Thompson and the Warriors are not intimidated by the task. Thompson told us during All-Star Weekend that the chase for 73 wins is on. And the Warriors are currently ahead of the pace, 50-5 and counting.

Where will the Golden State Warriors rank all time?

Ahead of those outlandish Michael Jordan-led Bulls? Certainly alongside them and the Showtime Lakers, the Larry Bird-led Celtics, the Shaquille O’NealKobe Bryant-led Lakers and others.

We debate that and so much more on Episode 228 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Thompson and Arash Markazi of ESPN.com, a Los Angeles native who provides a local perspective and also schools us on Echo Fox (owned by our very own Rick Fox).

***

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.

***


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Golden State Warriors historical chase for 73 wins

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 223) Featuring Dominique Wilkins

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Comparing NBA eras, be it individuals or teams, is often a painstaking process that relies more on your intuition and sharp eye than it does any real science.

That’s one reason why Hall of Famers like Dominique Wilkins, do their best to stay away from the ghost chasing many of us do when we try to rate the basketball legends of the past and present. So when Larry Bird is asked to assess his vaunted 1986 Boston Celtics and the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors, there’s really not a right or wrong answer.

There is only his perception of what those teams accomplish in their respective eras and the fantasy of what it would be like to see Bird, Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson match up against Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Same goes for any glorified rankings of the top players in league history at any position (#ESPNrank is stirring up fantastic debates these days) or any other attempt to reflect the current crop of superstars and teams against their historical counterparts. Too many of the dynamics have changed from say 30 or 40 years ago to now. There are fare too many variables to get a handle on anything other than a theory about who would come out on top in any hypothetical equation.

None of that stopped us from quizzing Wilkins about these very topics, and so much more, Episode 223 of The Hang Time Podcast. Just because there are very few easy answers doesn’t mean you don’t ask the question.

So see if you can make sense of it all on this week’s episode.

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.

***


VIDEO: Dominique Wilkins talks about competing with Larry Bird in their collective primes

Can you imagine Kobe as a Celtic?


VIDEO: Closer look at Kobe’s biggest moments against the Celtics

Two decades wearing just one uniform. All those years and games and shots and heroics and histrionics in the purple and gold of the team he grew up idolizing.

Is it even possible to envision Kobe Bryant as anything but an L.A. Laker?

Well, close your eyes, clear you mind and try to think of Bryant as a — gulp! — Boston Celtic.

After a sizzling pre-draft workout and an impressive interview that included none other than the legendary team president Red Auerbach, the Celtics gave serious consideration to taking the high school phenom out of Lower Merion, Pa. back in 1996. But head coach M.L. Carr eventually opted for Antoine Walker or history could have been completely different.

Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com details the conversations and how the choice was made in a story that even surprised Kobe:

“That’s like the coolest thing I’ve ever heard, dude, because I grew up watching Red! You know what I’m saying? I read books about Red.

“I’ve never even known that he knew of my existence!”

Never mind that he calls the 2010 win over the hated Celtics the favorite of his five championships and that he even had trouble putting on the shamrock green practice gear of the Celtics for the workout way back then. Bryant said if Boston had drafted him, he’d have spent the past two decades trying to emulate the other side of the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry:

“I would’ve tried to carry on Bird’s legacy,” Bryant says without hesitation. “Absolutely. I would’ve done it with a tremendous amount of pride and honor.”

Bryant’s reverence toward Bird might come as a surprise to some, given the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, but Bryant says he studied Bird just as much as he did Magic and Jordan.

Anything specific?

“Timing. Reading situations. Tenacity with his teammates,” Bryant says. “I’ve really studied. That’s like the holy trinity for me — Bird, Michael and Magic. I really watched everything about them.”

And of Bird, Bryant says, “You have no idea how much I’ve studied this guy. Oh, man.”

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 12



VIDEO: Friday’s Fast Break

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry, Green rescue Warriors in Boston | Shumpert’s return sparks Cavaliers’ defensive effort | Aldridge finding his groove with Spurs | Report: D’Antoni set to join Brown’s staff in Philadelphia

No. 1: Curry, Green rescue Warriors in Boston No Klay Thompson. No Harrison Barnes. No problem for the Golden State Warriors. As long as Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are in the lineup, it’s going to be extremely difficult for anyone to stop the Golden State Warriors and their historic march. They improved to 24-0 Friday night in Boston, outlasting the Celtics in a double-overtime thriller with Curry and Green coming to the rescue. They are one win away, tonight in Milwaukee (8:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) from completing the first 7-0 road trip in league history. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains how the Celtics escaped Boston with the streak intact:

The Warriors won despite missing starters Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, who were both nursing sprained ankles. The Warriors won despite shooting a season-low 39.3 percent and Curry committing a season-high eight turnovers. They won despite trailing by five points with less than two minutes left in regulation.

“We never get rattled,” Draymond Green said of what he learned about the team. “We continued to fight. We believe in ourselves. We believe in each other, and we trust each other. So, nothing new. The same old, same old.”

Green thumped his chest and wrecked the Celtics with 24 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, five blocks and five steals, playing a career-high 50 minutes and with five fouls during the overtime periods.

Andre Iguodala scored nine of his 13 points in the two overtime periods — including the go-ahead putback layup — and added 10 rebounds in 44 minutes.

Curry exhausted himself playing 47 minutes, going 6 for 13 from 3-point range and scoring 23 of his points after halftime despite finding little room to operate without Thompson on the court.

Avery Bradley and Evan Turner made things difficult, but Curry outlasted the Celtics. He was the one on the free throw line, capping off his night by going 14 for 14 from the charity stripe with two of them giving the Warriors a three-point lead with 13.4 seconds left in the second overtime.

“In my opinion, he’s the best player that this game has right now,” Warriors interim coach Luke Walton said. “He can score in so many different ways. They did a phenomenal job on him, and he scored 38. But that’s how superstars are in this league. I played with Kobe (Bryant). I know what that’s like.”

Ian Clark’s first career start came at shooting guard alongside Curry. Leandro Barbosa played through an illness with Thompson, whose ankle was not yet 100 percent, sidelined.

The Warriors still extended their streak to 28 straight regular-season wins dating back to last season, making it the second longest in league history. They did it in the sixth game of their seven-game trip.

“I think the beauty of our team is when we get out there, nobody’s thinking about if we lose, the streak’s over,” Curry said.

“I think that’s why we are where we are. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves, (we’re) staying in the moment. We’re having a blast chasing history.”

***

No. 2: Shumpert’s return sparks Cavaliers’ defensive effort LeBron James did his part, as always, to make sure the Cleveland Cavaliers handled their business against the Orlando Magic. But he had plenty of help, including a welcome spark from the season debut of Iman Shumpert, whose attention to detail on defense had been sorely missed. Shumpert kicked off his season in typical style (his hair was a showstopper, per usual and he made an immediate impact on both ends of the floor). Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com has more on Shumpert’s opening night:

Shumpert didn’t start the game. Cavs head coach David Blatt went with Jared Cunningham, hoping to ease Shumpert back and get him some more practice time before he takes back his previous role as starter, one he excelled in during the Cavaliers’ playoff run.

At the 6:05 mark of the first quarter, Shumpert entered, making his presence felt immediately.

I remember having a conversation about Shumpert last year with Cavaliers general manager David Griffin when I was trying to pinpoint Shumpert’s value after the trade.

Griffin explained how Shumpert not only provided the Cavs athleticism on the perimeter — something lacking while the team was giving minutes to worn-down veterans Shawn Marion and Mike Miller — but Shumpert gave Cleveland an edge.

They needed a player like him, one who gained a reputation early in his career as a hard-nosed defender.

That edge, an intangible quality, became clear on Friday night.

He finished with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 25 productive minutes. He also helped hold the Magic to 28-of-72 (38.9 percent) from the field. That’s his true impact, which can’t always be measured by the box score.

Shumpert is a rare defensive playmaker who brings much-needed toughness.

The schedule didn’t help Orlando, playing at home for the first time after an exhausting five-game Western Conference road trip that ended in Phoenix on Wednesday night. But it isn’t a coincidence that the Cavs played their best all-around defensive game on the night Shumpert debuted.

In the previous four games, Cleveland had allowed 102.5 points per night.

***

No. 3: Aldridge finding his groove with Spurs Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge needed a little time adjust to life in an ensemble cast in San Antonio. But now that he’s comfortable, the rest of the league will have to deal with him. And that’s a daunting challenge, as the Los Angeles Lakers (one of his many suitors during free agency over the summer) found out Friday night and the Atlanta Hawks will find out tonight (8 p.m. ET, League Pass) at Philips Arena when the Spurs battle their Eastern Conference doppelgänger. Our very own Fran Blinebury examines Aldridge’s all-business adjustment:

Aldridge scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and did not play the fourth quarter in the Spurs 107-89 win over the Lakers on Friday night.

“I’m getting into a rhythm now and feeling more comfortable,” Aldridge said. “I’m starting to feel like myself.”

The Spurs keep cruising along with the second-best record in the NBA, while the Lakers are now 3-20 and left to wonder how things might look if they’d have landed Aldridge to be the key cog in their offensive attack.

“It is a big what-if,” said Lakers coach Byron Scott.

Scott said the Lakers received the same feedback after their first meeting with Aldridge last summer and changed their strategy when given a second chance.

“The second meeting was just myself and (general manager) Mitch (Kupchak)…It was all basketball,” Scott said. “I think the first presentation, I think we probably looked at it more as a business presentation more than basketball and that’s probably where we made our mistake.”

Right from the start, the Spurs’ approach that eventually landed Aldridge to a four-year, $84-million contract couldn’t have been more different than L.A.’s.

“We don’t try to convince people, very honestly,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “I think it’s overblown, like we’re going to have some kind of salesman deal. We tried to sell Jason Kidd (2003) and it didn’t work. We had mariachis and everything. We had all kinds of stuff and after that I decided never again. If they come, they come. If they don’t, I don’t care.

“It’s as simple as that, especially for a guy that’s been in the league for nine years. You know what he can do. You know what he can’t do. You know what you like. You know what you don’t like. Whatever it might be.

“But more importantly, he knows who you are and he knows what team he would like to go to for whatever reason. So everything is pretty much out there on the table. If a guy had been in the league for a split second and then he had to make some decisions, it’s different. But he’s seen a lot. He’s been around a long time and we just did the polite thing. We met with him. Our guys talked to him. He talked to us and asked a few questions, he and his agents and that was that.”

Aldridge came into Friday’s game averaging 15.4 points, lowest since his rookie season. He’s also struggled with his shot, making a career-low 45.5 percent. But the Spurs aren’t making a peep of complaint.

“He’s been great,” Popovich said. “It’s a totally new system. When you’re playing with a whole group of new players, it takes time to understand where your place is. Sometimes I think he’s deferred too much because he’s trying to fit in and usually that’s the right thing to do when you enter an organization. Any of us who has a new job defers in the beginning and tries to fit.”

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No. 4: Report: D’Antoni set to join Brown’s staff in Philadelphia — The extreme franchise makeover in Philadelphia that began with the hiring of Jerry Colangelo as chairman of basketball operations earlier this week could get another high-profile addition, and soon. The Sixers are reportedly in talks with Mike D’Antoni to join Brett Brown‘s staff as an assistant coach. Brown’s two-year contract extension was announced Friday afternoon and soon after word of the possibility of D’Antoni coming on board began circulating. Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer provides some context:

It turns out that Jerry Colangelo doesn’t have to be in Philadelphia to have an influence on the 76ers.

The team’s recently hired chairman of basketball operations is in talks with Mike D’Antoni to become an associate head coach with the Sixers, according to Yahoo Sports. The website said that Colangelo and coach have spoken to D’Antoni about a role on the Sixers bench that could be filled in late December.

The Sixers introduced Colangelo as chairman on Monday. The former four-team executive of the year for the Phoenix Suns flew back to Phoenix on Tuesday.

D’Antoni and Colangelo have a relationship that dates backs to the Suns and USA basketball. The 64-year-old spent five seasons as the Suns head coach.Colangelo owned the Suns when D’Antoni was named their coach in 2003.  he coached four teams in a total of  12 seasons.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: There was a Kevin Durant takeover in the fourth quarter for the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night … Kyrie Irving is getting close to his return for the Cleveland Cavaliers … The confidence in D’Angelo Russell’s game is growing in Los AngelesNick Stauskas is struggling with his shot and all of the losing in Philly … The Hornets unleashed the Jeremy Lin-led bench mob on the Memphis Grizzlies … Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett notches another career milestone …

 

Celtics stick to their own formula for turnaround


VIDEO: Isaiah Thomas has been critical to the Celtics’ turnaround

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The playoff berth, the turnaround, the return to relevance, if you will, sans a superstar after the end of the Big 3 era.

It wasn’t supposed to happen overnight for the Boston Celtics.

Danny Ainge‘s current rebuilding project is the model for doing it without the saving grace of a marquee superstar. And that’s fine by Brad Stevens, the coach Ainge plucked from the college ranks to guide these surprising Celtics through this process.

Ainge sold Stevens on a long-term vision, signing him to a six-year deal in 2013 that made him the youngest coach (36) in the NBA at the time, that included a transformation of the culture for the winningest franchise in league history. The days of leaning on future Hall of Famers like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to lead the way was over.

And in the early stages of the third year of this new era, the Celtics appear ready for prime time. They face off against the Atlanta Hawks tonight (8 ET, TNT), the first of seven national TV games they’ll play this season after just one last year.

Their 20-9 finish last season led to that playoff berth, where they went after LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a first-round sweep and served notice that planning for the future didn’t necessarily mean drowning in the misery of the typical rebuilding plan.

Winners of six of their last nine games, the Celtics have shaken off a 1-3 start and gotten back to the ways that led them to the playoffs last season.

Built on a bedrock of defense, depth, player development and shared sacrifice, the Celtics are on to something. With a starting lineup that includes three second-round picks and roster dotted with as many journeymen as high draft picks, Stevens has molded this group into one of the scrappiest crews in the league. And to a man, they point to their young coach and his measured ways as the key to their success.

“His approach is everything, he’s always prepared no matter what the situation, be it in games or practice and that says a lot about a coach in this league” said Isaiah Thomas, the veteran guard who leads the Celtics in scoring (21.6) and assists (6.5). “You never know if he’s happy or mad because he’s so even-keeled. He won’t show it. And that’s how this team is. He’s always talking about looking to the next play. He’s instilled that in us and it’s really defined us as a group. We’re a next play team, no matter what the situation.”

In an environment where basically half of the league is rebuilding perpetually, Stevens has made sure to avoid discussing anything of the sort with his team. Why bother with the obvious, when just talking about it won’t speed up the process?

“We’ve never once talked about it as rebuilding,” Stevens said. “We’ve talked about it as building, growing and improving. We’ve got a lot of young guys. We’re still super young. And we have to take every opportunity as a learning experience. We have to say, there aren’t any excuses in being young and not having that extra experience. That means we have to watch more film, we’ve got to put more time in the gym, we’ve got to shoot more on our own and we’ve to be better to catch up.”

David Lee, 32, is the only player on the roster over the age of 28. He’s also the only former All-Star and he arrived via trade after winning a title with the Golden State Warriors last season. But he doesn’t hold a position above or beyond any of his teammates based on that body of work.

That’s not the way this group works.

“Young and hungry, that’s us,” said fourth-year center Jared Sullinger, the Celtics’ leading rebounder (8.8). “We’ve got a lot of guys who are still trying to establish themselves throughout the league. And we play as a team. On any given night it could be someone’s time to shine and we’re so unselfish. We feed off of that.”

Buying into the system was easy, Sullinger said, because of the collective understanding that none of this would be possible without the entire group diving in. Roles change on the fly, a starter one week could be a key reserve the next. Stevens has fostered an ego-free environment and instead mandated that guys serve the greater good and emphasize the team over all else.

It’s the backbone of any successful team, but particularly in today’s NBA, where the universal embrace of the pace-and-space style has changed the landscape. Stevens pointed to the Hawks and the way they busted out last season, winning a franchise-record 60 wins and earning a trip to the Eastern Conference finals, as the prime example of a team whose success shined a light on what the Celtics are trying to create.

“Offensively, they are who they are. They are outstanding moving the ball,” Stevens said of the Hawks. “They are very intelligent. Their team savvy is off the charts. They are just really organized but still play with a lot of freedom. And they are just fun to watch … I thought it was just awesome last year they got four All-Stars because it talked about what was most important, and that’s the team winning, and all of those guys were playing great off of each other.”

The Celtics might not have four All-Star ready talents just now, but the players are convinced that the foundation and the culture for that kind of success in the future is in the works.

“I always say guys don’t play with each other, they play for each other,” Thomas said. “And on this team, it feels like a college team, for the most part. Guys aren’t running around with big egos, everybody just wants to see each other succeed. And that’s hard to find in the NBA. I think we’ve got a great group of guys and it starts with our coaching staff. Everybody has an equal opportunity to be themselves. And that’s what works for us.”