Posts Tagged ‘Celtics’

Lottery madness is fool’s gold

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver address the tanking issue and revising the lottery system

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – No one dares utter the dirty seven-letter word without fear of retribution, well, no one other than Mark Cuban. The Dallas Mavericks owner has been vocal about the tanking issue and what needs to be done about it.

But if you ask NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell, lottery madness is much ado about absolutely nothing:

As the NBA regular season comes to a close you’re possibly one of two fans; either rooting for your favorite team to win out for better playoff positioning, or wanting your favorite stars to “rest” to gain better lottery positioning. Some call losing strategic others call it “tanking.”

Regardless of the preferred jargon, the practice is out of bounds.

Since 1985, the NBA put a system in place to award the NBA’s worst teams with the best chance for top picks in the subsequent draft. The first five years of the “Early Lottery System”, involved a random drawing of an envelope from a hopper. Under this system each non-playoff team had an equal chance to win the first pick. That didn’t directly help bad teams improve, so in 1990 the new weighted lottery system was implemented to give the team with the worst record the best chance of landing the first pick.

Currently the 14 teams that fail to qualify for the post-season are placed into a draft lottery. The team with the worst record has a 25 percent chance of receiving the No. 1 pick. Depending on who’s projected to be drafted first, some may argue it’s worth losing a ton of games for the 25 percent chance of selecting the new face of a franchise. The numbers say it’s closer to being 100 percent wrong.

​Since 2004 (the last 10 lotteries) the team with the worst record won the lottery once in 2004 when the Orlando Magic went 21-61 and used the pick to select a center named Dwight Howard. Not bad. Howard enhanced ticket sales, led the team to a Finals appearance and eventually bolted for greener pastures. Now, the Magic are back in the lottery for a second consecutive season. If that number isn’t startling, dating back to 1985 there have only been four instances were the team with the worst record won the draft lottery.

DRAFT​–TEAM​–#1 Pick
1988–​CLIPPERS​–Danny Manning
1990​–NETS​–Derrick Coleman
2003–​CAVALIERS–​LeBron James
2004–​MAGIC–​Dwight Howard

​Simply put, this league is all about obtaining results. If a team is going to throw a season away in an attempt to get the No. 1 pick, let’s hope the player can return more than jersey sales. Which brings us to a more startling number. Since 1985 there have only been two No. 1 overall picks to win a Championship with their original team; David Robinson (1987) and Tim Duncan (1997).

Call it good fortune but the Spurs organization has been known to draft well regardless if it’s the first overall pick or the first pick in the second round. As for the two worst teams with the best odds to win the lottery, the Milwaukee Bucks (14-63) and Philadelphia 76ers (17-60), have been in a battle for who can lose the most games all season long. Milwaukee has maintained the title despite the Sixers tying a NBA record with 26 consecutive losses.

If the balls bounce their way one should win the coveted No. 1 pick. Milwaukee won the lottery twice in their team history, selecting Glenn Robinson (1994) and Andrew Bogut (2005). As for the Sixers they won the lottery in 1996 which resulted in one of the greatest Sixers in team history, Allen Iverson.

Memo to non-playoff teams and their fans, there’s no art to the science of winning the draft lottery.

Therefore instead of focusing on losing now to get better later, encourage your team to compete throughout an 82-game season. Besides, even if a team fails to win the #1 pick in a lottery doesn’t mean they won’t hit the jackpot, just ask the Oklahoma City Thunder (Kevin Durant, No. 2 Pick in 2007 Draft).


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has had a remarkable season by anyone’s standard

Morning Shootaround — March 10


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Jackson to decide on Knicks’ offer today | Report: Sixers’ Noel wants to play this season | Bynum ready for action, too | Durant could score more | A J-Smoove/Rondo reunion?

Update, 1:31 p.m. ET: From the looks of things (literally) per a report from ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard, Phil Jackson seems headed for a front-office job with the New York Knicks:

All indications are that Phil Jackson will accept the New York Knicks’ offer to join the club’s front office, according to a league source.

“The Knicks have a sense of what’s going to happen,” the source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “And as of right now, it looks like Phil’s taking the job.

“There’s always the possibility of something falling apart at the last minute, but the Knicks’ sense is that he’s joining them.”

The two sides are still working out all the details, including what Jackson’s title will be, how much time he will spend in New York, and when in the next few months he will start his job.

Jackson’s answer is expected to become official within the next day or so. The Knicks have not yet scheduled an announcement.

Jackson will not be a mere consultant for the Knicks, as he was recently for the Detroit Pistons. Whatever his title, he will be an integral part of the club’s basketball operations. Jackson will definitely not coach the team.

And here’s our earlier entry from this morning about the Knicks and Jackson expected to reach a deal sometime today …

Report: Knicks expect decision from Jackson today – New York Knicks fans are nervously awaiting word from Phil Jackson today, wondering and many of them hoping that the legendary coach will join the organization in a front office position that will help lift their team out a season-long (and some would say decade’s old funk). It’s unclear whether or not Phil’s presence alone will change the fortunes of the franchise. Frank Isola of the New York Daily News details the countdown to the latest decision:

According to an NBA source familiar with the negotiations, the Knicks expect to have a decision on Monday, approximately two weeks after Jackson turned down an offer to coach the club. The 68-year-old Hall of Fame coach is considering a lucrative deal to join the Knicks’ front office and be placed in charge of the basketball operations.

The possibility of Jackson returning to the franchise that drafted him would give the Knicks instant credibility since Jackson has won 11 NBA titles as a coach and two as a player.

The downside, of course, is that Jackson has never been an executive and, at this stage of his life and career, on-the-job training could be a risky proposition for both sides. Jackson, though, believes he can make the same transition that Pat Riley made nearly 20 years ago when he left the Knicks to run the Miami Heat.

The Knicks have not commented on Jackson’s potential hiring and have not even acknowledged that an offer has been made. In recent interviews, Jackson has made it clear that he has no interest in coaching and instead prefers a consultant’s role similar to the one Jerry West has with the Golden State Warriors.

Whether Jackson wants to live full-time in New York or would be required to do so remains unclear. Jackson splits his time between his Montana ranch and his beach house in Playa Del Rey, Calif. Jackson is not enamored with traveling, which is crucial if he takes the job. In fact, with all the college basketball tournaments starting, it would be essential for Jackson to be on the road scouting. However, Jackson has no appetite for that aspect of the job and is not a big fan of college basketball. Friends say his true passion is following the NHL.

In that case, perhaps Dolan will give Jackson the same freedom he gives to Rangers president Glen Sather, who lives in both California and Canada. Whether that arrangement works with the Knicks, considering the club’s current state, is debatable.

It is also unclear if Jackson is sincere about joining the Knicks or perhaps leveraging James Dolan’s offer to return to the Los Angeles Lakers in some capacity. Jackson’s girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, is a club executive and the daughter of the onetime Lakers owner, the late Jerry Buss.


VIDEO: Isiah Thomas talks about the challenges of fixing the Knicks

***

No. 2: Report: Noel wants to play on April 4 – Nerlens Noel has every intention of making his rookie debut with the Philadelphia 76ers before this NBA seasons ends. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that  Noel has been preparing himself for a action all season and believe he’ll be ready to make his first appearance in a Sixers uniform in his hometown of Boston:

The sources said this is just a wish that he had not disclosed to the Sixers as of Sunday afternoon.

Noel has been sidelined this season due to the anterior cruciate ligament tear he suffered in his left knee in February, 2013 during his lone season at Kentucky.

The 6-foot-11, 228-pounder is slowly increasing his activity on the court and has yet to participate in five-on-five scrimmages. Minor back spasms held him out of Sunday’s open practice for Sixers Camps participants and their families at Haverford College.

There’s a thought that the franchise doesn’t want him on the court and would be content if he missed the entire season. In October, Sixers coach Brett Brown said Noel was not likely to play this season, something the team has stood by ever since.

***

No. 3: Bynum ready for work next week – The Indiana Pacers are mired in a slump right now, losers of four straight even though they are still sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings this morning. Could there be a remedy for their woes in the form of Andrew Bynum, the former All-Star center who has yet to suit up in a game with the Pacers? Could be. But he has to get on the court first. And Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star explains the Pacers’ plans regarding Bynum:

On Sunday, Bynum said that he hopes to be “cleared to play next week,” believing that he could be on the floor by Friday, March 14 when the Pacers play in Philadelphia. Pacers coach Frank Vogel said the team planned to re-evaluate Bynum after the road trip.

“We’ll see after (Sunday’s) game goes and then we’ll probably meet about it (Monday),” Vogel said, “and try to come up with a firmer plan.”

Through his career, Bynum, a 7-0 center, has shown flashes of dominance but has also been limited with knee problems. Bynum, 26, began his career with the Los Angeles Lakers and started alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol when the team won its second consecutive NBA championship in 2010.

Last season, Bynum was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers then signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Cavaliers over the summer. In 24 games this season with the Cavaliers, Bynum averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds. Through Bynum said that he was “probably at 90 (percent)” at the end of his time in Cleveland, the team traded him to the Chicago Bulls.

After being waived by the Bulls on Jan. 7, Bynum took several weeks off before deciding to sign with the Pacers as a backup to Roy Hibbert.

Bynum has worked with the team’s training and medical staff to build up his knee strength. Over the past weeks, Bynum has slowly picked up more work on the basketball court and on Saturday he participated in a full practice that included 5-on-5 action.

“He looked good,” Vogel said about the Saturday practice, “and he looked like he can give us some short bursts.

***

No. 4: Durant could score more if needed – The Oklahoma City Thunder’s recent woes don’t include any individual struggles from Kevin Durant, who continues to light it up, win or lose. He could score more, according to Thunder coach Scott Brooks, if he wasn’t so focused on the team. Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com has the details:

“Let’s face it: If he wanted to score a bunch of points or more than he’s scoring now, he really could do that,” Brooks said before the Thunder played the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. “His assist level has gone up, he impacts the game. Defensively, he impacts the game. He can guard 1 through 5. So a lot of things that he does (are) all about the team.”

Durant entered Sunday’s game averaging a career-high 31.8 points per game, but his 5.5 assists per game are also a career-best mark for the seven-year veteran.

On Sunday he had a triple-double through three quarters and finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in the Thunder’s 114-110 loss to the Lakers.

While Durant leads the league with 10 games of 40 or more points this season, Brooks said the rangy forward really stood out with his all-around game while Russell Westbrook was sidelined with a knee injury for two months.

“When he was out, (Durant) definitely had to continue to lead us,” Brooks said. “Not only on the court, but off the court. Just from the emotional standpoint of losing Russell, he had to wrap that type of stress around his game and continue to work our way as a team through that. It’s not easy losing players, (especially) a dynamic player like Russell is. But Kevin came in and led us.

“He improved his defense and his playmaking, the ball was in his hands and the decisions were more so in his hands and he did a good job with that. With adding Russell now, it gives us two dynamic players, and that’s better. That’s better for us because you can’t load up on one. The thing about KD, he knows that he has the ability to impact the game on both ends and he does it every night. The consistency level that he has, it’s remarkable that he’s so consistent every night.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant records a triple-double in OKC’s loss to the L.A. Lakers

***

No. 5: J-Smoove is dreaming of a reunion with Rondo – As seniors at Oak Hill Academy, Josh Smith and Rajon Rondo formed one of the most dynamic duos in the history of the boarding school/basketball factory. A reunion at the NBA level is not in the offing, but it’s also not impossible. Smith admitted to fantasizing about it, never mind that he plays for the Detroit Pistons and Rondo is under contract for at least one more season after this one in Boston. Dan Feldman of ProBasketballTalk.com connects the dots for you:

They watched film together. They walked to the gym together for extra workouts together. They played games together.

Could they team up again in the NBA?

“The conversation comes up,” Smith said. “We always tell each other how surreal a moment that would be, for us to be able to reconnect again in that realm. With the different free agencies that we both have, it could be far-fetched, but it could be possible, too.

“I’m always optimistic. I’m always thinking different scenarios. It could happen, but who knows?”

Smith said he and Rondo talk frequently and vacation together, but he adds, he’s happy with the Pistons and Rondo is still making his mark with the Celtics.

But if it were to happen, what would work?

The Pistons have previously shown interest in Rondoand there also has been Smith-to-Boston buzz. So, either player could swap teams.

If they were to join forces in Boston, how about Smith for Jeff Green and Gerald Wallace this summer? Then, the Pistons should have the cap room to make that deal, accepting Wallace’s toxic contract as a tax for upgrading – in age, fit and contract status – from Smith to Green.


VIDEO: Rajon Rondo and the Celtics dispatch Josh Smith and the Pistons

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony has not been consulted on the Phil Jackson business and has been kept in the dark about the Knicks’ future plans … Eric Bledsoe is ready to come back to the Suns … The Nets are down to just two (of their six) All-Stars and somehow, someway they keep winning … Are the Rockets the best team in the league right now? Our Fran Blinebury tackles that one

ICYMI of the Night: Move over Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Make room for in the annals of the Los Angeles Lakers for Jodie Meeks …. that’s right, Jodie Meeks, who showed up and showed out with 42 points in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder …


VIDEO: Jodie Meeks shreds the Thunder for 42 points

Season On The Brink For The Hawks?

.

Atlanta Hawks vs. Magic

The Atlanta Hawks have struggled to keep up their early-season success of late.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Sooner or later, one way or another, you knew it was all going to catch up with the Atlanta Hawks.

The injuries.

The close losses.

The missed opportunities.

The injuries.

They weren’t going to stay above the fray in the Eastern Conference mix behind the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat forever. Not without Al Horford. Not with coach Mike Budenholzer pushing every button possible to make up for the loss of the team’s franchise player after his season-ending pectoral muscle tear the day after Christmas.

It’s amazing it took this long for the wheels to come off for the Hawks. They held on to their top-four status in the East for a good month after Horford went down. Jeff Teague played his guts out before injuries interrupted his season and he hasn’t been as consistent since. Elders like Elton Brand and Kyle Korver and pups like Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack rose up when they were needed. Paul Millsap even earned an All-Star nod, the first of his career, stepping into the void to replace what Horford gave the Hawks on a nightly basis.

But here they are now, with the smoke clearing and the mirrors smashed, facing their most grueling stretch of the calendar with their season on the brink as they cling to the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

Wednesday night’s game in Boston begins a season-defining road stretch that includes stops in Phoenix Sunday, Portland (March 5), Golden State (March 7), Los Angeles (the Clippers on March 8) and finishing up in Utah (March 10). Survive this stretch and there is still hope that the Hawks can get healthy enough in time to at least fend off late-season charges from issue-laden Detroit, Cleveland and even woeful New York.

If the Hawks get buried on this road trip, they’ll surely get caught (and be passed up) by one of those teams. Not that they are looking that far ahead.

“You never should look ahead that far,” forward DeMarre Carroll said. “We’re just trying to get better and trust the system and let our work do the talking.”


VIDEO:
Al Horford suffers a season-ending pectoral injury in Cleveland

The power of positive thinking might not save the Hawks this time around. They overachieved early this season and their above-.500 work through early February was fool’s gold. The Hawks are 2-9 this month and don’t exactly boast a road reputation that gives reason to think this big trip will end well.

They are 9-19 on the road with wins over the likes of Sacramento, Charlotte, New York, Detroit, Cleveland, Boston, Orlando, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Of that group, only the Bobcats are in the playoff mix.

The only saving grace for the Hawks is that they are not alone. Every team in the Eastern Conference not named the Pacers or Heat have to operate like their season is on the line over the course of the next four to six weeks. That’s how fluid the playoff picture is. Whoever gets hot the fastest can chew up some real estate in the standings and push their way into that No. 4-5-6-7 mix in the pecking order.

“We talked about that Monday in our meeting after the [Sunday loss to Miami],” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said, taking his cue from Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Thibs said it best, we cannot exhale right now. We have to push through these next couple of games and weeks because this next stretch can alter your season and what you want to do if you let the fatigue of the season get to you. We look at the loss columns for everybody and we feel like we’re right there. You have to bounce back from tough losses and get back at it. Miami and Indiana have separated themselves from the pack, so everybody else has to be fighting for that next spot, that No. 3 seed. And we’re grinding for it right now.”

The Bulls are also grinding without the face of their franchise, Derrick Rose. They’ve surely dealt with their fair share of injuries and adversity this season. But some teams handle it better than others. They are 16-8 since trading Luol Deng to Central Division rival Cleveland. While the Hawks struggle to dig out from under their February avalanche, the Bulls surge along.

Thibodeau oozes confidence when talking about his wounded group, insisting that they have more than enough to get the job done each night. The Bulls’ experience operating under duress in recent seasons certainly aids that cause. Their familiarity with one another (and Thibodeau’s hard-charging style) are assets as well.

The Hawks, with a first-year coach in Budenholzer and a largely revamped roster, have no such benefits. General manager Danny Ferry had a chance to look for some temporary roster help at the trade deadline, but didn’t come away with anything that would make a significant impact.

The fact is, the Hawks are still finding out if they are cut from that same tough fabric the Bulls are. Time will tell. And time, particularly the next 13 days or so, will tell about these Hawks. They are 10-17 without Horford and their confidence seems to be fading.

“The interesting thing about the East,” Hawks veteran guard Lou Williams said, “and I’m trying to say the politically correct thing here … a couple of wins in a row here and you’ll be right back in the fold. We recognize and understand that. So our job is just go out, take it one game at a time and see if we can put a string of wins together and get there.”

That’s much easier said than done at this juncture for the Hawks, who can hear the clock ticking on their season.


VIDEO: The Hawks fight back, but can’t finish off the Bulls in Atlanta

Rockets Trading On Patience This Time


VIDEO: Brent Barry breaks down the Rockets’ recent success in this version of ‘Breaking Bones’

HOUSTON — Birds fly. Fish swim.

Daryl Morey trades.

Underneath all the talk of the Rockets adding a wing shooter and perimeter defender at the deadline — they landed Jordan Hamilton from the Nuggets – was a huge, hard-wired part of Morey’s DNA that said: Do something. Something big.

Surely, Morey would have leaped at the chance to, say, reel in Rajon Rondo from his old Boston stomping grounds, if Danny Ainge had been so inclined. But the truth was the Rockets never really had the chips to the put onto the table — a premium first round draft choice or two — to even get the Celtics thinking seriously.

Daryl Morey, James Harden (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Daryl Morey, James Harden
(Bill Baptist/NBAE)

There was the one rumor that Boston would have very much been interested in Chandler Parsons. But who wouldn’t be? Parsons is young, athletic, talented and still plays on a rookie, second-round pick contract. That’s the kind of real value that is very much at a premium in today’s NBA.

Morey’s jumping-the-checkers-all-over-the-board approach has been on display for more than a half-decade now. He landed the All-Star pair of James Harden and Dwight Howard with it. So, if he couldn’t wallop another another home run this time around, it surely wasn’t because he didn’t wear out his beloved Blackberry trying. You can’t hit the pitches you don’t swing at.

Yet for the first time since he began calling the shots in the front office in 2007, the Rockets’ general manager didn’t feel the same sense of urgency.

“We feel like as a team as we are coming together at the right time,” Morey said. “We had a lot of opportunities to mix things up. But we feel like we have a core with stars in Dwight and James and we have a good group around them that we feel good about, and we feel like when you have that core you want to keep the guys around them.”

A seemingly endless of string of nagging injuries since the start of the season had prevented the Rockets from developing any cohesion or consistency. Even with Howard back close to his pre-back surgery, pre-shoulder injury level of fitness, there was also the matter of trying to blend his low post game with Harden’s one-on-one skills.

While the two of them can sometimes look like would-be dancers with no sense of rhythm, there is a feeling that the pieces are growing together. And the Rockets’ record is showing it.

As they close out a five-game road trip with a back-to-back at the Kings and Clippers that starts Tuesday night, the Rockets are now an NBA-best 17-5 since Jan. 1. They have climbed solidly into the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference and now set their sights on the No. 2 Spurs, whom they have already whipped three times this season.

It is a wholly different attitude for Morey, to let the pot he’s filled come to a slow boil rather than just keep grabbing for new ingredients. Inside he believes his team still needs that third All-Star level player to stand toe-to-toe with Miami, Indiana and Oklahoma City. But with Howard and Harden contented in their roles on the team, their place in Houston and locked into max-level contracts, patience is probably the most prudent path.

The Rockets were able to trade veteran guard Aaron Brooks, a fan favorite, to Denver because they feel they have enough talent in the pipeline. Last year’s draft pick, Isaiah Canaan, plucked in the second round, has been simmering in the NBA D-League and earned his chance to contribute significant minutes with the Rockets. Hamilton is another below-the-radar talent that the Rockets believe can flourish if give the opportunity to play. And it is that cycling through of young players that has kept the Rockets both moving forward steadily in terms of overall progress and flexible enough with their payroll to remain open and available to make that next big deal. As sure as summer follows spring, they’ll be standing on the high dive looking to make another big splash in the talent pool in July.

The Rockets would likely be a tough out in any best-of-seven playoff series in the rugged Western Conference, the Thunder included. But with an offense that relies so heavily on the 3-point shot, the question is whether they can perform consistently enough over eight weeks of the playoffs — or even two rounds — to be taken seriously yet.

We’ll find out. Sometimes, the answers do come when you sit and wait.


VIDEO: Daryl Morey discusses the Rockets’ trade for Jordan Hamilton

The Trade Deadline: Let’s Make A Deal?




VIDEO: Thunder guard Reggie Jackson gets it done on both ends

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The clock is ticking.

The trade deadline is near. It’s time for general managers and front office executives around the NBA to earn their money. Fix your team. Make it better. Pave the way for a brighter future by pulling the trigger on the deal, blockbuster or not, that creates the space for your franchise to go to the next level — whatever that level may be.

It’s easier said than done in most cases, mostly because a willing partner is needed to complete the trade dance. And everyone is out to fleece their potential partners in one way or another. Whether we see a blockbuster deal or not, we are guaranteed to see a flurry of activity by Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline.

A team’s wants and needs are two very different things. We’re focusing on what is needed here, which should coincide with what these teams want out of the trade deadline. Planning for the future is fine, but these deals are designed for immediate returns for (almost) all involved …

1. Reggie Jackson to the Bulls – Jimmy Butler to the Thunder 

The skinny: This is a nuts-and-bolts trade for both teams, one that doesn’t rise to the blockbuster ranks by any means. But this deal involving youngsters with extremely manageable salaries allows the Thunder and Bulls to shore up their key weaknesses. Jackson would be Derrick Rose insurance for the Bulls, a young point/combo guard who could be groomed to play alongside a healthy Rose whenever Rose returns. He’s acquitted himself well in Oklahoma City in Russell Westbrook‘s absence but will be reduced to a role player when Westbrook returns and assumes his position alongside Kevin Durant (which is expected to happen Thursday). Butler fits the Bulls rough-and-rugged mode perfectly, but if they are in rebuilding mode, he’s expendable. He offers the Thunder something they simply don’t have on the roster right now, and that’s a player capable of matching up with elite small forwards on defense. Imagine him in a Thunder uniform in The Finals going after LeBron James the way Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard did last year.

2. Rajon Rondo and Kris Humphries to the Pacers — Danny Granger and George Hill to the Celtics

The skinny: This is a risky move for a Pacers’ team that has rock-solid locker room chemistry and has played at a consistently high level without boasting an elite point guard. Hill, an IUPUI star, is a hometown guy and is widely regarded as one of the league’s most respected professionals. He’s a guy Pacers All-Stars Paul George, Roy Hibbert and team leader David West trust to run the show. But Rondo gives the Pacers the chance to add a game-changer at point guard, a guy who, come playoff time, has an edge in either the talent and/or championship-experience department with any other East point guard. The hang up, of course, is going to be Danny Ainge trying to do his usual and shake everything he can out of the Pacers’ pockets in the name of his rebuilding efforts. Granger and Hill are established players who could help facilitate any rebuilding plans for the more immediate future. Of course, Pacers boss Larry Bird doesn’t have to play ball. He doesn’t have to deal. He can go to battle in the playoffs with the roster as is, though there is a consensus among most observers that an upgrade at the point would give them a clear edge in matching up not only against the Miami Heat but any team that they could potentially face in The Finals, were they to reach that summit.

3. Harrison Barnes, Marreese Speights and Jason Smith to the Cavaliers — Austin Rivers, C.J. Miles and Anthony Morrow to the Warriors — Earl Clark and Dion Waiters to the Pelicans 

The skinny: Believe it or not, the Cavaliers are just three games out of the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase as the post-All-Star break portion of the season kicks off. As Kyrie Irving showed us at the All-Star Game, he knows how to shine amongst other elite players on his team. Since he hasn’t had any suit up with him in Cleveland, Thursday’s deadline is acting general manager David Griffin‘s opportunity to upgrade the crew around Irving and see if the playoffs can become a reality. Barnes needs a fresh start somewhere, as a starter, and would be a great running mate for Irving and Luol Deng. Both Speights and Smith would provide much-needed big man depth. The Warriors get role players to help fill out their roster and Waiters, a HT fave whose talents have never shined in Cleveland the way they have when we’ve seen him during All-Star weekend or during his stints with USA Basketball, gets a fresh start of his own in New Orleans. He and Anthony Davis could help elevate the Pelicans to a playoff-level team in the future.


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving stole the show at All-Star Weekend

4. Omer Asik to the Hawks — Elton Brand, Gustavo Ayon, John Jenkins and a Draft pick to the Rockets

The skinny: This is certainly not the way Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is used to doing business. He’s used to fleecing much more from the opposing team’s executives (that mode of operation would explain the bevy of assets the Rockets have piled up the past few years). Brand and Ayon aren’t big names but when healthy, yet they have been surprisingly productive for the Hawks. That said, the Draft pick is the Rockets’ real prize … that and getting Asik out of town. And that’s where the needy Hawks swoop in and rescue their season — they had lost five straight heading into All-Star weekend. Asik helps stabilize the frontcourt rotation and joins All-Star Paul Millsap as the staples up front for a team that still has lofty aspirations for playoff positioning. Fellow All-Star center Al Horford is not walking through that door in Atlanta as his torn pectoral muscle will keep him out of action until well into the summer. Adding a physical presence like Asik at a relatively reasonable price makes a ton of sense for the Hawks right now. And the three of them together in the future is complicated, but certainly something Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer could tinker with and make work.

5. Emeka Okafor, Alex Len and Chris Singleton to the Grizzlies — Zach Randolph to the Wizards — Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely and Eric Maynor to the Suns

The skinny: Randolph and Marcin Gortat balancing the frontcourt in Washington with All-Star point guard John Wall and sharpshooter Bradley Beal would be an interesting mix for a Wizards team that is definitely on the rise in the Eastern Conference. Just think of Randolph and Gortat as the Eastern Conference version of Randolph and Marc Gasol (Grit and Grind lite?). The Wizards have been an above-average team defensively, and now they’d add some serious toughness in Randolph. The Grizzlies need a building block for the future and would get that in Len, who was always viewed as a long-term project when the Suns selected him with the 5th pick in the 2013 Draft. The Suns are taking the opportunity to seize their surprising playoff moment in the Western conference with the aid of quality veterans in Ariza and Maynor and would also have a developmental prospect to work with in Vesely. There’s always a healthy dose of risk involved when you talk about trade deadline deals. And this one would come with plenty for all involved.


VIDEO: John Wall talks with the Game Time crew after shining on All-Star Saturday night

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No place for ‘Melo in LA? | KG and Pierce; the return | Wounded Wall will rise from USAB snub | Heat ready for season to crank up

No. 1: Lakers cool on recruiting ‘Melo? – Kobe Bryant has already declared himself out of the Carmelo Anthony recruiting sweepstakes, choosing the role of big brother instead.  He tried the recruiter hat with Dwight Howard last season and it didn’t work. But Bryant wasn’t the issue then and he’s not now for the Lakers. That responsibility belongs to Mike D’Antoni, the Lakers’ coach whose rough relationship with Howard (and now Anthony) could have a negative impact on the thinking of the coveted free agent. D’Antoni, who coached Anthony with the Knicks, is taking a similarly hands off approach where the soon-to-be free agent is concerned. Marc Berman of the New York Post explains (D’Antoni also offers up some support for his successor) :

When asked if he got a chance to see Anthony, D’Antoni said after the 110-103 loss, “I said hi to him. He said hi to me. What do you want us to be, pen pals or something? We’re fine.’’

D’Antoni was short in his praise of Anthony’s 62-point Friday record-setter and wanted no part of a question regarding Anthony’s future.

“I watched clips, it looked like he was making baskets,’’ D’Antoni said. “He’s got that ability. If he’d played the whole game he probably would’ve had about 80. Obviously scoring talent he does not lack.’’

D’Antoni, however, thought Anthony never bought into the spread-the-wealth, speed-ball attack that earned him the offensive genius label in Phoenix. It seems farfetched Anthony, a free agent this summer, and D’Antoni would make the perfect marriage in Los Angeles. But you never say never.

Asked about Anthony’s free-agent future, D’Antoni demurred: “I’m good. I just want to drink my water and watch a little basketball.’’

D’Antoni defended Knicks coach Mike Woodson, who has been on shaky ground. Woodson replaced D’Antoni late in the 2011-12 season. Fans that year chanted “We Want Wood-son.” Now they chant “Fi-re Wood-son.’’

“Woody does a great job,’’ D’Antoni said. “They’ve had injuries, it’s a tough league, and some years it doesn’t go well. [But] they have a lot more basketball to play, and they win two or three in a row they’ll be in second place in the East, so they’ll be fine. It’s a great organization, I enjoyed my four years here, but you’ve got to win. Everything is going to be questioned. It should be.’’

***

No. 2: Celtics honor KG and Pierce in their return – Credit Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for keeping their composure during an emotional return to Boston Sunday. They held it together during an intense and relentless stream of praise from the fans and folks in TD Garden and around the city of Boston. Not every city maintains the bond with its former sports superstars. And now KG and Pierce understand what it must have been like for the Boston sports heroes that came (and left) before them. Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com has more from the emotional return for two-thirds of Boston’s Big 3:

Suggesting his return to Boston was tougher than his first trip back to Minnesota, where he started his NBA odyssey, Garnett detailed his ride on an emotional roller coaster while back at TD Garden on Sunday. But he stressed that, even without Gino, the video tribute and the fans’ reaction exceeded even his wildest expectations for coming back.

“This was over the top,” Garnett said. Later he added, “What comes to mind is unbelievable, I didn’t expect anything like that for myself. It shows the first-class type of organization that this is and the appreciation from this organization for you. And I couldn’t put it into words.

“Paul and I were joking before the game, who was going to tear up and drop a tear. I had lumps in my throat. I kept them under control and I focused as much as I could on the game and not take away from it. But, man, this was over the top. I couldn’t put that into words.”

Boston fans delivered an extended standing ovation when Garnett and Pierce were the final two Nets players announced during pregame introductions. With 2:25 to play in the first quarter, the arena hushed in anticipation of what was about to come.

Then came a roar at the mere sight of a green No. 5 flashed on the screen. Garnett’s tribute opened with a clip from “SportsCenter” detailing the trade that delivered him to Boston from the Timberwolves. After a clip of the Big Three holding up their jerseys at Garnett’s introduction, highlights from his Boston tenure rolled, including his bloodied head during a game against the Lakers in 2011, his in-game pushups versus Miami from 2012, and a wild montage of chest pounds and emphatic fist pumps. The video closed with Garnett kneeling to kiss the parquet floor and him screaming, “Anything is possible!” after the Celtics’ Game 6 victory over the Lakers delivered Banner 17 in 2008.

As the crowd delivered another standing ovation, the camera cut to a banner with retired jersey numbers with a couple open spots at the bottom — spots that eventually will house Garnett’s No. 5 and Pierce’s No. 34. But Garnett was already back in the huddle at that point, barking at teammates while trying to power through his emotions.

The cameras cut back to Garnett as play resumed on the court and, after a couple of deep breaths, Garnett smiled and appeared to tell teammates he had been on the verge of losing it.

In the days leading up to Sunday’s game, Garnett pledged to keep his focus on the game and he lived up to that promise. The Celtics rallied in the fourth quarter, trimming a 12-point deficit to three, and had a chance to tie the game with less than 30 seconds to play. With Rondo dribbling in a late-clock situation, Garnett cheated off his man to double the ball and managed to intercept a pass intended for Brandon Bass.

The 37-year-old Garnett, 18-plus years of NBA mileage on his tires, had 70 feet to cover, but he outraced Jeff Green and Chris Johnson before delivering a layup that essentially sealed Brooklyn’s 85-79 triumph, capping a perfect trip back to Boston.

“It took me two days to get the layup up; I thought I was going to get caught, but I got it still — put the ball in front of me, and I got the layup,” Garnett said. “Like Paul said, I’m glad we came here and got a win. A lot of distraction, but they were good distractions.

“It felt good to be showered and for the city to show their appreciation [and] the organization, man. You give yourself. People always say that players can be too loyal. I don’t believe that. A city like Boston is worth it and tonight’s the epitome of all that.”



VIDEO: Garnett and Pierce on their emotional return to Boston

***

No. 3: Wall will use USA Basketball snub as motivation – John Wall‘s Olympic dreams are fading. The Wizards point guard did not make the cut on USA Basketball’s roster for 2014-16, a 28-man that includes his backcourt mate Bradley Beal. Granted, Beal is a shooting guard and a specialist in one area that the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team can never have enough of for international competition. Wall, meanwhile, is one of the many talented point guard options the USAB brass had to choose from. The fallout from this snub, however, could very well work in the Wizards’ favor. Michael Lee of the Washington Post tries to make sense of it all:

Wall is the one of two American-born No. 1 overall picks in the past 11 years not to receive an invitation to Team USA. The other former top pick left out of the mix is Greg Oden, who is back in the NBA after missing the previous four seasons with chronic knee problems. LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis were included.

“I been through it before. The main thing for me is try to be professional. I went out there and played. I did it the right way,” Wall said of his experiences with Team USA minicamp. “I just use it as more motivation. It’s nothing I could do. It’s nothing I can say, and I don’t want nobody to babysit me or try to make it work for me. They made their list, they made their decision and that’s what they’re happy with, and I just have to look past that. It’s more motivation because I didn’t make McDonald’s game. I wasn’t national player of the year. I wasn’t rookie of the year. So those are just tabs I keep to motivate myself to prove people wrong.”

The Wizards gave Wall a five-year, $80 million maximum extension last summer, solidifying his standing as the foundation of the franchise’s efforts to get back to respectability. In his fourth season, Wall has been producing the best numbers of his career with averages of 20.0 points, 8.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals. He finished a distant third in all-star fan balloting for Eastern Conference guards but is expected to be chosen by the coaches as a reserve with the Wizards positioned to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Wall is having a better season than some of the point guards on the list, but despite his slow-but-steady improvement, he lacks the skill as a consistent shooter that is a necessity for international basketball. Beal, however, is a noted marksman who has connected on 42.3 percent of his three-point attempts this season and could be more of a threat with a shorter international three-point line.

Team USA only invited three other shooting guards in James Harden, Gordon Hayward and Klay Thompson but has been known to use two point guards on the floor at the same time.

“A lot of these guys can go either way. Like LeBron can play” point guard, Beal said with a laugh. “It really doesn’t matter, so I just have to be able to come in and show what I’ve got. It’s totally different than the NBA.”

***

No. 4: Heat just getting started on the 2013-14 season? – So playtime is over now for the Miami Heat. Dwyane Wade came back for Sunday’s Finals rematch and win over the San Antonio Spurs. Chris Bosh made up for his woes against the Spurs during The Finals with a huge effort and the Heat looked energized and much more like the outfit that is chasing a third straight title and fourth straight trip to The Finals, where the Spurs could once again await them. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com dissects the Heat’s season and where they stand going forward:

After weeks of clearly struggling with motivation, the Heat are about to have plenty of it put before them. Sunday’s strong 113-101 victory over the San Antonio Spurs kicked off a stretch where the Heat will play teams with winning records in seven of 10 games. Not by accident, eight of their next 12 games are on national television.

More importantly, Sunday was also the first day the Heat had their full roster since the start of the season. Though they’re hardly alone in that distinction, with the league ravaged by injuries to stars, the Heat had a rather large variable in play because of the recent appearance that Greg Oden could end up being a factor at their weakest position.

The Heat have been rapped across the knuckles recently for what has been dubbed a “malaise” as they’ve swallowed nine losses against teams with losing records. What that fails to recognize is that the Heat were actually two games better this season through 43 games than they were last season. There were plenty of “what the?” games in the first few months last season as they struggled to get traction after winning the 2012 title.

It was last season in their 44th game when they truly got serious, after a losing road trip. It started Super Bowl weekend and they eventually reeled off 27 wins in a row and found a rhythm that carried them to another title.

It’s Super Bowl week again and the Heat have those several reasons to start getting serious, including a 2-4 road trip that ended grimly last week. Forget about another one of those crazy winning streaks (though the current one is at three and counting) but it wasn’t hard to miss how the Heat seemed to start to depress the gas against the Spurs.

Leading by 29 points at one point before the gap closed in garbage time, they delivered one of their most impressive performances of the season and their first quality win of the new year. It wasn’t a sterling defensive performance — those have been particularly elusive for the Heat this season and what they are really looking for — but there was no missing their increased intensity.

“They came with their A-game,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.


VIDEO: The Game Time crew unveils their Sunday Feast

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: We didn’t mean to snub Stephen Curry and the Warriors, who knocked off the Portland Trail Blazers in an exciting Grammy night show which also served as a homecoming for the heir apparent of Oakland’s point guard legacy … Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is doing his due diligence to pump Dirk Nowitzki up as an All-Star reserve … New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis is content to let his play do the talking for him … Nuggets point guard Nate Robinson is operating behind enemy lines this week as an unabashed fan of his hometown Seattle Seahawks

ICYMI of The Night: Between the highlights and the narration of Beau Estes, the Top 10 Plays is a must-watch and must-listen on a daily basis. Sunday’s Top 10 plays is no different. Watch the players shine and enjoy Beau’s soundtrack while you do it:


VIDEO: Check out Sunday’s Top 10 plays, the best highlights and delivery in the business

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant’s beautiful mind | Heat hunting for inspiration | Magic hit the floor to end skid | Dragic has to sustain his energy for Suns

No. 1: Durant’s got it between the ears, too – Seven straight games with 30 or more points from the greatest scorer in the game should surprise no one. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant can do 30 a night with his eyes closed. And when you are a scoring genius and think through the game the way Durant does, eyes opened or closed … it doesn’t matter. At least that’s the way Thunder coach Scott Brooks explained (sort of) to Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman after Durant and the Thunder dismantled the Sacramento Kings:

Durant hit his scoring average, needing only 15 shots (and 10 makes) to score 30 points for a seventh straight game.

But his nine assists — the most he’s recorded in the last 25 games — was a more encouraging and revealing sign of the Thunder’s impressive night.

“I just love the way he thinks,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said of Durant. “He thinks about the team … He took 15 great shots and made 10 of them. Everybody else got involved and had an opportunity to score.”

The biggest benefactor was Serge Ibaka, who scored 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting. But he wasn’t the only one.

For the first time this season, OKC had six players in double-figures: Durant, Ibaka, Reggie Jackson (16), Thabo Sefolosha (10), Jeremy Lamb (10) and Nick Collison (10).

“When we move the ball like that,” Durant said of the Thunder’s 23 assists, “everybody touching it, that helps our defense as well.”

And so it did on Sunday night, allowing OKC to stifle every King not named Isaiah Thomas (a career-high 38 points), holding Sacramento under 100 points for only the third time in its last 16 games.

“They, for years, do a great job of turning you over,” Kings coach Mike Malone said, pointing to his team’s 20 giveaways. “But more importantly, (they) convert them.”


VIDEO: Check out Kevin Durant’s seventh straight 30-point outing for the Thunder

***

No. 2: What’s Miami’s motivation at this point of the season? – The two-time defending champion Miami Heat have a problem. They cannot seem to locate the proper motivation at this stage of a regular season that they know means little if they don’t finish it off with another parade. They have the luxury of not being pressed about finding it immediately, courtesy of a weak Eastern Conference playoff field that includes just the Indiana Pacers and Heat at the top. But, as Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald points out, they still have to find something to motivate them, some sort of rallying cry for the second half of the regular season:

Last February, the Heat watched the Super Bowl in Toronto, listened to Shane Battier give a theatrically hilarious, yet poignant speech on the team bus, and then won 27 games in a row. The streak was such an important part of the Heat’s season that the team’s ownership inscribed the accomplishment on the championship rings.

Players have called that day in Toronto one of the most memorable of their careers, and Sunday in Atlanta was a similar experience.

Of course, up until now, little has been memorable about this season, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the Heat is 29-11 through the first 40 games of the season. Last season, before the streak, the team was 28-12 at this point, and on the way to 28-13.

On Monday, the Heat plays the grand finale of an unconventional six-game road trip that has dragged on for 11 days. Miami has played five consecutive games against teams with losing records and will end the road trip against the Hawks (20-19), who have the fourth-best record in the East, but are without their best player, forward Al Horford, for the remainder of the season.

The Heat’s overtime victory against the Bobcats on Saturday salvaged the six-game swing, which began with back-to-back losses to the Knicks and Nets, and gave Miami a chance to break even on a road trip that began with three consecutive losses.

“We haven’t lost three in a row in a very long time, so we got to put together a run and head into this All-Star break and this is the way to do it,” said Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who had 10 rebounds against the Bobcats. “You look at the two teams that we’ve beaten, they’re young, they’re energetic, and even though their record doesn’t say so, those are the teams we struggle with, the teams that are .500 and below, so for us to come out here and be professional and get this win says a lot.”

Of the Heat’s 11 losses, nine have been to teams currently with losing records. The Bobcats were in position to become the 10th team on that inglorious list, but a staunch defensive effort by the Heat forced overtime, and the Heat dominated the extra period for a 104-96 victory.

“We were really upset with ourselves and we had to be honest,” Chris Bosh said of the Heat’s first-half effort against the Bobcats. “Charlotte is a good team, but 60 points in a half is too much. I don’t care if you’re playing the best offensive team in the league, that’s too much.

“They just seemed to be scoring at will, and we wanted to change that. We didn’t do a very good job of defending in the first half, but we picked it up in the second and got the win.”


VIDEO: The top five plays from Sunday’s action around the NBA

***

No. 3: Magic hit the floor to end their skid – When you are mired in a complete free-fall, any solution to get out of that mess needs to be considered. For the Orlando Magic, a team that endured a 10-game slide before ending it with a win over Boston Sunday, elbow and knee pads were the solution. Actually, they didn’t sport the elbow and knee pads, but they could have used them with the way they hit the deck repeatedly against the Celtics, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

After their losing streak reached 10 games, Orlando Magic players and coaches realized something fundamental needed to change. Not X’s-and-O’s, but something intangible.

Players and coaches talked together when they gathered for practice Saturday.

Whatever they had been doing during the first half of the season, and especially during their 10 consecutive losses, wasn’t working. They faced a choice: Either they would make a change and modify their collective spirit, or the second half of their season would devolve into a freefall of epic proportions.

They made that adjustment Sunday night. Magic players repeatedly dove to Amway Center’s parquet floor to collect loose basketballs. They covered for each other when they made defensive lapses. And that sustained intensity and improved cohesion, they said, played a direct role as they beat the Boston Celtics 93-91 and ended their losing streak.

“I could feel no personal agendas,” Arron Afflalo said after the win. “I could feel nothing but five guys who were on the court and the two guys who came off the bench really looking for a way to get a victory tonight.”

Afflalo scored 20 points, tied a career high by grabbing 13 rebounds and dished out six assists.

He also provided one of the game’s key baskets, tying the score 89-89 on a driving layup with 1:08 remaining.

After Rajon Rondo missed a jumper on Boston’s ensuing possession, Jameer Nelson drew a foul with 35.3 seconds left and hit a pair of free throws.

Boston’s Jeff Green countered a few seconds later, scoring on a layup as Afflalo fouled him. But Green missed the foul shot, and Victor Oladipo fell to the floor to corral the loose ball.

“When you have a mindset of just playing hard from the jump, you just continue to play hard,” Oladipo said. “When your teammates have your back, when they’re positive throughout the game, it’s hard not to be involved and it’s hard not to be focused and locked-in all night.”

***

No. 4: No slowing down for Dragic without Bledsoe – Goran Dragic doesn’t have the luxury of slowing down at the catalyst for the Phoenix Suns, not without Eric Bledsoe healthy and in the lineup. That means the veteran point guard has to keep his motor cranked constantly for a Suns team trying to stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff chase. Dragic’s ability to sustain his high level of energy could very well be the key to the Suns’ season. He has to hold up. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic explains:

It is becoming taxing for Suns point guard Goran Dragic to take on more playmaking and more of the burden to score with more defensive attention on him. All the while, he is guarding the playmaker on the other side, a duty that usually fell to Bledsoe.

“I’m not thinking about that,” Dragic said. “If I’m going to think about how I’m tired, then it’s going to be even worse for me. I just try to battle. I try to be positive. I’m from Slovenia so back home it’s no excuse if you’re tired. Even when I was growing up, my father always said there’s going to be some hard days so you have to go through that. You can sleep after the thing that you do, if it’s work or a basketball game. Now, I’m feeling tired. But when the game is going on, I’m not thinking about it so much.”

Dragic had averaged 41.3 minutes over the previous three games entering Sunday night’s game against Denver. He does not back off his effort and now has a collapsing defense concentrating on him too.

“That’s always a concern, trying to keep an eye on a guy’s minutes and seeing if he’s getting worn out,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We’ve had a pretty tough stretch of games where they haven’t had a lot of rest. When we’ve had days off between games, we’ve limited them from really doing anything trying to get their legs back. As we move forward, it doesn’t get any easier but we’ve got to get through that time.”

Dragic gave the Suns control Sunday night with 15 rebounds and six assists and he got some needed rest in return, logging only 24 minutes.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Are there rotation changes coming in Denver? Could be … Jonas Valanciunas gets benched for not producing … The Bucks get yet another lesson, this time from the best in the business … Danny Ainge assess all things for the Celtics at the halfway mark of the season … LaMarcus Aldridge will go left if need be for the Trail Blazers

ICYMI(s) of The Night: DeMar DeRozan has blossomed into a potential All-Star and the scoring leader for the playoff-bound Toronto Raptors. But he’s still one of the league’s elite above-the-rim finishers, as he shows here:


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan is what we call a finisher, especially above the rim

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 18




VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kobe’s return | Rondo returns | Durant explodes | Rubio’s thrill is gone | Red-hot Grizzlies

No. 1: Bryant has no intention of sitting out — It doesn’t matter that if his Lakers continue to plummet in the standings. It doesn’t matter if the team might be better off the long run — and for the end of his own career — by getting a high lottery pick and maybe a budding young star. It doesn’t even matter what legend Magic Johnson thinks. Kobe Bryant says he has every intention of returning to the court this season because, well, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, he’s Kobe and that’s all he knows:

“The only thing I can afford to consider is getting better, getting stronger,” Bryant said before the Lakers’ 107-104 win over the Boston Celtics on Friday. “I can’t allow myself to think any other way. I can only think about the next step. To do anything else becomes distracting if you allow yourself, if you give yourself wiggle room to not push yourself as hard as you possibly can. To think about sitting out and this, that and the other, your motivation is all wrong. I refuse to think that way.”

Magic Johnson disagreed, as the former Lakers star questioned whether Bryant should come back at all this season in an interview with the Los Angeles Times this week.

“What is he coming back to? He’s not going to be able to stop the pick and roll, all the layups the Lakers are giving up,” Johnson told the newspaper. “He’s been hurt twice, give him the whole year to get healthy.”

In the same interview, Johnson called hiring Mike D’Antoni last season a “wrong decision.”

“Normally I don’t hear it until [the media] brings it up,” D’Antoni said, adding that he has never spoken to Johnson in person since joining the Lakers. “There’s voices everywhere, and it’s a hard job to do no matter what team you’re with. You do the best you can and you feel like every day is a new battle, and everybody has their opinion. There’s a saying about that. … So, that’s the way it is. You go on and do your job.”

Bryant, sidelined since Dec. 17 when he suffered a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee during the Lakers’ 96-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, said he will return this season so long as he is medically cleared.
“We’ll see where it’s at in February and see if it’s good to go,” Bryant said, pushing back his return timeline ever so slightly, with D’Antoni having recently said Bryant would be re-evaluated Jan. 27, at the conclusion of the team’s current seven-game trip while the Grammy Awards take over Staples Center.

***

No. 2: Rondo looks and feels good in first game of season — It was his first game in almost a year, but Rajon Rondo showed no ill effects of the surgery to repair his torn right ACL. Even though the Celtics let the Lakers close with an 11-0 run to win the game, the new team captain told A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com that overall conditioning in his biggest hurdle going forward:

“I felt pretty good,” said Rondo, who didn’t have any significant pain but knows that could change within the next 24 hours. “When I got back in the second quarter I got pretty winded, but that was expected. Other than that, I didn’t feel like I was limited to anything tonight.”

Rondo has reiterated time and time again that his conditioning, more than anything else, remains his biggest hurdle.
For the 19-plus minutes he played, Rondo didn’t appear to show any concern or apprehension on the floor relative to his surgically repaired right knee.

In fact, the biggest issue facing Rondo going forward doesn’t appear to be what he’s doing on the floor.
It has to do with what happens when he’s not on the floor for long stretches of time, something that will inevitably happen as long as he has to play with minute restrictions.

Prior to Rondo’s first game, head coach Brad Stevens said he would be limited to 18-20 minutes per game.
It is unclear how long he will have minute restrictions.
“Coach (Stevens) and I talked about my minutes, how we were going to spread it out, you know, five minutes a quarter,” Rondo said. “I think that’s the best way to do it.”

***

No. 3: Durant takes his game to new heights with 54 points — If there comes a times next May or June when Kevin Durant is raising the MVP award above his head, will this have been the night when he wrestled the trophy out of the grasp of LeBron James? K.D. took on the Splash Brothers Friday night and gave them a dunking with a career-high 54 points on just 28 shots and staked his claim in leading the Thunder past the Warriors. Berry Trammel of The Oklahoman says it was Durant’s best night ever:

“He’s a special talent, a superstar basketball player, an all-time great,” said Golden State coach Mark Jackson.
The game started as a sharpshooting duel between teammates. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who put the gold in Golden State, seemed to be playing a solitary game of H-O-R-S-E in the first quarter.

But by game’s end, there was no doubt who wore the crown. This was Durant’s finest offensive game as a pro.
Durant made 19 of 28 shots and virtually matched the long-range bombs of Curry and Thompson. The Warrior backcourt duo each nailed two 3-pointers in the first seven minutes and each nailed three treys in the first quarter.
Curry and Thompson finished with a combined 63 points. Curry had 37, making six of 10 3-pointers; Thompson had 26 points, making six of nine deep balls.

But Durant finished five of eight on 3-pointers. His 19 field goals tied a career high. The only two times he’s made more than 16 baskets in a game, he’s gone 19 of 28 overall. Friday against Golden State and Feb. 2012 against Denver, when Durant scored 51 points in a 124-118 Thunder victory.

But this performance was better. That Denver team included Andre Iguodala, one of the NBA’s few defenders capable of giving Durant a rough time, but Iguodala missed that game.

Now a Warrior, Iguodala played 29 1/2 minutes Friday night but was no match for Durant.

“The great players, you can play great defense and he can have numbers,” Jackson said. “It’s just a question of making him work. He hit some tough shots, some incredible shots. Give him credit.”

Durant now is averaging a career high 30.6 points a game this season. He was asked to carry a heavier load when Russell Westbrook underwent another surgery just after Christmas, and Durant has responded. He’s averaged 36.8 points the last five games.

***

No. 4: Rubio says he isn’t having any fun these days playing ballRicky Rubio says a lot of the blame for the Timberwolves disappointing 18-21 start to the season should be placed on his shoulders. The flamboyant point guard admitted to John Krawcyznski of the Associated Press that he just isn’t enjoying playing the game this season:

“I’m going to be honest. I’m not feeling comfortable out there,” Rubio told The Associated Press after a light practice on Thursday. “I’m not being myself and the team is noticing. I just have to be back where I was, be myself. I’m working on that. It’s something that’s missing. It’s tough for me, too.”

Rubio’s shooting numbers have never been great, but harping on that always seemed to be nitpicking for a player who sprinkled magic point guard dust all over the court — slipping passes through a defender’s legs for an open 3-point shot, picking a player’s pocket to start a fast break and seeing windows open before the defenders knew what hit them.

Even when he wasn’t starting his rookie season, the arena would crackle when he stepped to the scorer’s table to check in and his teammates’ eyes would widen in anticipation of a passes that came from impossible angles. It was still there last season when he returned from a torn ACL in December, even though his body took some time to ramp back up to the NBA’s pace of play.

“It’s basketball. I love it,” Rubio said. “But I’m just not having as much fun as it used to be. I know it has to be professional. But I just want to have fun. It’s hard to find it right now.”

***

No. 5: The Grizzlies are finally making their move –Just in case anybody forgot how important Marc Gasol is in Memphis, the All-Star center made a game-saving deflection to clinch a win over the Kings. The Grizzlies are now 3-0 since he returned to the lineup after a knee injury, have won five in a row overall and have crept back above the .500 mark and into the playoff picture in the West. Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal has the details:

Gasol said later that he got fortunate on a gamble. But nothing about the Grizzlies’ season-high, five-game winning streak could be reduced to a stroke of luck.

The Griz (20-19) moved above .500 for the first time since early December and now they can claim a steadily improving defense. Memphis trailed 86-79 with 5:19 left and allowed Sacramento just one field goal the rest of the game.
Gay’s putback dunk cut the Grizzlies’ lead to a point with 38.9 seconds left. There had been no movement in the score when the Kings received the ball with 15.1 ticks remaining.

The Griz were as disruptive on the final possession as they had been the second half of the fourth quarter. Gay had the ball slapped away twice as he tried to attempt a game-winner from 15 feet. The Kings never got a clean look at the basket down the stretch.

“We’re making the right decisions at the right time,” Conley said after scoring a game-high 25 points. “I told the guys that it’s good to have games like this where you have a little adversity and come back. Those are the ones you learn from the most.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: J.R. Smith shows signs of positive life in Knicks loss … DeAndre Jordan wants to be more than just a dunker Jimmer Freddette could be turning a corner with steady playing time.

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 23


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sometimes Love isn’t enough | Stephenson spoils Indy return for Stevens | Pistons ride roller coaster | Wade’s Holiday surprise

No. 1: Timberwolves get monster effort from Love and still lose – Kevin Love has been toiling like this now for a while. He puts up monster numbers, epic numbers often, only to see his Minnesota Timberwolves come up short in seemingly winnable games. Sunday night was no different, with Love posting just the fourth 45-points on 65-percent shooting, 15-rebounds and 5-assist game since the NBA/ABA merger and the Timberwolves found a way to fumble away a late lead in regulation and lose to the Los Angeles Clippers in overtime.

It makes you wonder if the Timberwolves are ever going to figure things out with this particular group … Rick Adelman in charge, Love and Ricky Rubio leading the way and Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and others as role players.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com ponders the thought:

It’s getting harder and harder to believe in Minnesota, even for those among us who were ready to anoint them as this season’s Warriors. It all looked so promising six weeks ago. The Wolves were quickly mastering Adelman’s read-and-react offense from the high post and perimeter, but could also bully opponents down on the block.

The defense wasn’t half-bad either. Through the end of November, the Wolves ranked 9th in defensive efficiency. They didn’t have a legitimate rim protector on the roster, but they had good size, Ricky Rubio’s pressure up top, Corey Brewer’s skills as a stopper on the wing, and a very large man in Pekovic who nobody wants to encounter in the paint.

The December schedule hasn’t been terribly friendly, but the Wolves have been terrible, their big home win over Portland last Wednesday the one strand of hope. The offense looks nothing like anything Adelman has ever presided over. Half-court possessions are labored affairs, slow grinds into post isolations for either Love or Pekovic.

Martin has battled a knee injury for much of the month and hasn’t looked like himself. As a linchpin of the corner offense, Martin is often a bellwether for Adelman offenses, and if he’s not producing, chances are the offense is dragging.

The Wolves’ 3-and-D guy, Brewer, is shooting 17.1 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, defenses willingly slough off Rubio, practically begging him to shoot. With his confidence waning, Rubio is still racking up assists, but is less a playmaker than a reversal machine, swinging the ball to the second side without truly challenging the defense.

Speaking of defense, the Wolves have given up 106.6 points per 100 possession, a mark that would rank 28th in the NBA. Asked to identify the specific problem prior to the game, Adelman said, “We’re not guarding anybody.” Those big bodies now just look slow. Whether it’s Martin or J.J. Barea alongside Rubio, the Wolves don’t get much defensively at the 2. Brewer has conceded that his wayward shot is affecting his defense.

***

No. 2: Stephenson’s triple double trumps homecoming for Stevens – So much for that storybook homecoming for former Butler and now Celtics coach Brad Stevens. The Indiana Pacers, particularly Lance Stephenson, were having no part of the Holiday cheer. Stephenson collected his league-leading third triple-double of the season as the Pacers trounced the Celtics. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t help but dance a little bit (something Pacers coach Frank Vogel could have done without) on his way to yet another stellar performance.

Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star explains:

Stephenson finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists and looked very much like a player deserving of his first All-Star berth. No other player in the NBA has more than one triple-double this season.

“I’m happy I did it,” he said. “It was in the flow of the game. My teammates helped me out. We played smart. It was easy because I know my teammates are going to knock down shots.”

Stephenson did get plenty of help, most notably from Paul George, who scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. Danny Granger, playing in his just his second game after returning from a calf strain, was 4-for-5 from 3-point range and had 12 points. Roy Hibbert had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

But his teammates acknowledged afterward that Stephenson provides them an emotional lift like no one else.

“He’s just starting the game off more aggressively,” George said. “In practice, he’s been great. We’ve seen it develop over time. Now, when he gets into the game, it’s second nature to him.”

Added veteran forward David West: “One of the biggest things for young guys in the NBA is that once you work your way into the rotation and you become a guy we rely on, that just fills you up. We give him a lot of room to go out and play his game. … He definitely keeps us on our toes and keeps things light. He’s able to just do something we’ll talk about on the plane. It’s just who he is.”

Vogel wasn’t thrilled with a couple of celebration dances Stephenson did after baskets, but didn’t have much else to complain about.

“He’s such a gifted passer and playmaker for us and a huge part of our team success,” Vogel said.

STEVENS‘The emotions are in coming back and seeing friends’

Stevens, the former Butler coach who left the school in July to join the Celtics, got a warm ovation during pregame warmups and his team kept it close for one quarter.

But after that, the Pacers (22-5) showed why they have the Eastern Conference’s best record. They outscored Boston 50-22 in the paint, got 40 points from their bench and held the Celtics to just 38.1 percent shooting (32-for-84) en route to an easy victory.

As the game ended, Stevens shook hands with Vogel, a rarity at the end of a NBA game. He also shook the hand of several Pacers players.

“It was just because we’re friends and we know each other well,” said Vogel, noting they also shook hands after the Pacers’ 97-82 victory in Boston last month. “I came down and told him he was doing a great job with that team.”

***

No. 3: Pistons’ roller coaster season confounds – If Maurice Cheeks had the answers he’d have pushed those buttons already. But he doesn’t and he hasn’t. And therefore, the curious ride of the Detroit Pistons continues as the coach and his staff try to figure out how to stop the roller coaster ride that is their season and stabilize things. That’s a lot easier said than done, however, as Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News points out:

The last two home games, losses to the Houston Rockets and Charlotte Bobcats on consecutive nights over the weekend, is a clear example of nobody knowing which team will step on the floor on a given night.

“You know we’re still trying to get better,” Cheeks said. “As I said to our players, there’s going to be some good nights and bad nights. Last night (Friday) and (Saturday) was not our best.”

Cheeks believes the Bobcats loss led to the poor showing against the Rockets. The Pistons blew a 20-point lead to Charlotte on Friday and looking almost apathetic on Saturday.

“I believe there could’ve been some carryover,” Cheeks said. “I can’t discount that because it was a tough loss.”

Losing five of six at home is an unexpected circumstance, although there isn’t much shame in losing to the Miami Heat in a game where the champions were intent on sending a message.

But blowout losses to the Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves are combined with come-from-ahead losses to the Bobcats and Portland Trail Blazers, mixed in with a win against the Brooklyn Nets that was tougher than it needed to be.

“I don’t know, I don’t know. I guess that’s determined when we go up and down the floor a few times,” said forward Josh Smith, when asked about getting a pulse on the team’s energy before games.

.***

No. 4: Wade surprises Union with Holiday ring – Heat guard Dwyane Wade has no problem mixing business with pleasure. He used Heat boss Pat Riley‘s annual Holiday party as his impromptu engagement party after officially popping the question to longtime girlfriend Gabrielle Union before they arrived at Riley’s affair. The surprise engagement was announced via social media. But Union showing up with a huge diamond ring on her finger added an extra dash of flair to the festivities, upstaging Riley at his own gig in the process, not that anyone was complaining about that. In fact, Wade popping the question was a bit of a team effort, so says Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

Wade proposed to Union before the party at his home and then announced the engagement on Twitter and Instagram.

Wade said his children helped him pop the question.

“We asked her to marry all of us, not just me,” Wade said. “It was a package deal.”

Wade and Union have dated since 2007.

“She was ready,” Wade said. “She had the ‘yes’ in her back pocket.”

At the holiday party, Wade then surprised his teammates with green custom-made sports coats commemorating their 2013 championship. The blazers featured the players’ jersey numbers on the sleeves and white Heat logos on the front pockets.

Wade said his inspirations for the unique mementos were the Masters golf tournament and Rasheed Wallace. Wallace famously had pro wrestling-style replica championship belts made for his Pistons teammates for winning the 2004 NBA Finals. Wade liked Wallace’s idea but wanted something a little classier.

Said Wade: “You know me, I’m always trying to do something different and out of the norm, and I started thinking about what have previous champions done … and then it came to be me, because of fashion and because of the Masters and how amazing it is when they win the green jacket and all the previous winners come back and take pictures with the green jackets and how prestigious it is … so I got with my stylist and created this Masters kind of feel.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Thunder fell victim to the red-hot Raptors and the schedule in their first home loss of the season Sunday … Much like their NFL counterparts, the Dallas Mavericks are having no problems scoring. It’s the defense that they are struggling with these days … The Hawks have brought big man Lucas Nogueira to Atlanta for treatment of his ailing knees.

ICYMI Of The Night: Kevin Love put up the stat line of the night and delivered the elbow of the week, but Blake Griffin got the win, the knot on his forehead and the shine on Nightly Notable …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin gets the shiner (on his forehead) and the shine in the end