Posts Tagged ‘Charlotte Hornets’

Morning Shootaround — July 22


VIDEO: Paul Pierce talks about joining the Clippers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pierce still has work to do | Harden beats Curry | Seth Curry gets crowned | Report: Players to study healthcare for retired players

No. 1: Pierce still has work to do As he enters the 17th season of his NBA career, Paul Pierce has pretty much seen and done it all, from winning a title to playing for a rebuilding team. But with his career entering its likely twilight, Pierce signed with the Los Angeles Clippers to play in his hometown, with the coach (Doc Rivers) with whom he experienced his greatest success, to play for a team that he hopes to lead over the hump, writes NBA.com’s Ian Thompsen

Paul Pierce was watching the Clippers on TV last May as they lost Game 7 of their Western conference semifinal. Pierce’s own team, the Wizards, had been knocked out of the Eastern conference playoffs two days before.

“I already knew I was either going to go home and play for the Clippers or come back to Washington,” says Pierce, who opted out of his Wizards contract to become a free agent. “So I watched the Clippers closely.”

He watched, horrified, as they surrendered a 3-1 series lead over Houston. Worst of all was a Game 6 loss in Los Angeles in which the Rockets scored 51 of the last 71 points.

“No way — if I was in that locker room — I would have allowed that to happen,” Pierce says. “You picture yourself being that voice or being that guy on the court that can help in those situations. I think I fill a pretty big need for them.”

So his career ends where it began. Pierce starred at Inglewood High School, one mile west of the Fabulous Forum where the Lakers played. He had grown up idolizing Magic Johnson and hating Larry Bird. He could not have imagined how his loyalties would change during 15 years as a Celtic, and that his preference ultimately would be to return home to play for the Lakers’ nearest enemy.

There was a time, three decades ago, when pro basketball was saved by the rivalry of Boston and Los Angeles. Pierce has grown up to straddle the NBA’s dueling capitals.

“I’m trying to cement my legacy in both,” he says. “If I could win the first Clippers’ championship here, that would be pretty much storybook.”

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No. 2: Harden beats Curry After months of discussion and debate, Stephen Curry ran away with the 2015 NBA Most Valuable Player Award, as voted on by NBA media. But last night on the first annual NBA Player’s Association “Players’ Awards,” the voting shook out differently. As Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle, the players voted for James Harden over Curry as the NBA Players’ Choice MVP

Following a season in which Curry won nearly everything there was to win, Harden was the choice of NBA players as the winner of the first NBA Players Choice Award for MVP announced on Tuesday, edging Curry, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.

Though other details about the voting were not released, Harden was said on the tape-delayed BET broadcast to have won by one vote.

“I want to thank God, thank my mom, my family and friends for all the support, the continuous support,” Harden said. “I want to thank BET for this beautiful event. To the NBA Players Association, (executive director) Michele Roberts for giving players a voice to speak their minds, and then just the players, the peers, I appreciate this vote. It means a lot and I’m really thankful for it.”

Curry was the NBA’s official regular-season Most Valuable Player award, taking 100 of the 130 first-place media votes, with Harden second with 25 first-place votes. Curry defeated Harden’s Rockets in the Western Conference Finals and helped lead the Golden State Warriors to the NBA championship. But Harden’s selection was surprising because of the results when many of the other award winners were announced.

Curry had been named the league’s ‘Top Clutch Performer,’ taking the award over Harden, James and Westbrook. He had also made the winner of the ‘Hardest to Guard Award,’ winning over Harden, James and Westbrook.

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No. 3: Seth Curry gets crowned Stephen Curry was a lottery pick who worked his way into becoming the NBA MVP. His younger brother, Seth Curry, has had a more circuitous route, spending most of his pro career bouncing around the D-League. Yet in the recently finished Samsung NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Seth looked like Steph, averaging 24.3 ppg for the New Orleans Pelicans summer squad. His big performance was rewarded yesterday, when Seth Curry inked a two-year deal with the Sacramento Kings

The Kings will look for perimeter shooting from the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Curry.

After leaving Duke in 2013, Curry wasn’t drafted. He has spent most of his pro career in the NBA Development League, where he has been an All-Star twice. He has appeared in four NBA games: one with Memphis and one with Cleveland in 2013-14 and two with Phoenix last season. He had 10-day contracts with those teams.

Curry is the second player to strike a deal with the Kings since the end of summer league. On Monday, the Kings and forward Quincy Acy agreed to a two-year contract with a second-year player option.

Acy played with the Kings during the 2013-14 season after coming from Toronto in the Rudy Gay trade. The Kings dealt him to New York last August, and he averaged 5.9 points and 4.4 rebounds in 68 games with the Knicks.

The Kings will have 13 players on guaranteed contracts once the additions of Curry, Acy and Caron Butler become official. Eric Moreland’s deal becomes guaranteed Aug. 1. Second-year guard David Stockton’s contract does not become guaranteed unless he is on the Kings’ roster after Jan. 10.

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No. 4: Report: Players to study healthcare for retired players At a recent meeting of the NBA Player’s Association, the executive committee has decided to set aside some money as they study a plan to provide healthcare to retired players. As Ken Berger writes for CBS Sports, there are no concrete plans, but the players are interested in studying the idea

At its summer meeting in Las Vegas on Monday, union leaders agreed that they liked the concept of funding retired players’ medical costs, but no vote was taken on whether to go forward with the plan. The executive committee, led by president Chris Paul of the Clippers, voted to set aside an undisclosed sum of the shortfall check the union is due to receive from the NBA to fund the initiative if it is acted upon.

The issue will be discussed further at the union’s All-Star meeting in Toronto.

Since the players’ negotiated salaries for the 2014-15 season came in below their 50-51 percent negotiated guarantee, the union will receive the entire escrow fund of approximately $200 million plus the amount of the shortfall — estimated to be $57 million, according to a league source. The committee did not vote on how to divide the shortfall money — evenly among all the players or prorated based on their salaries, sources said.

It is expected that the players also will receive shortfall checks after the next two seasons as league revenues continue to rise higher than expected. With the infusion of the NBA’s $24 billion TV deal beginning in 2016, commissioner Adam Silver said last week that the amount of the shortfall due the players in 2017 could approach $500 million.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New Wizards signee Jared Dudley will miss 3-4 months following back surgery … The Pelicans have added veteran leadership by signing Kendrick Perkins to a one-year deal … The Hornets have reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with former UNC star Tyler Hansbrough … The Rockets have re-signed K.J. McDaniels … The Celtics signed second-round pick Jordan Mickey to a four-year dealBaron Davis is trying to launch an NBA comeback

Report: Hansbrough, Hornets agree to terms



VIDEO: Latest news around the NBA

Maybe familiar surroundings will provide the boost that Tyler Hansbrough‘s NBA career seems to need.

Hansbrough, a four-year star at the University of North Carolina, agreed to terms to play for the Charlotte Hornets in 2015-16, according to the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell.

Hansbrough, known for his “motor,” his intensity and his physical play, hasn’t approached the status he enjoyed as a Tar Heels player in six NBA seasons. He has averaged 7.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in 17.9 minutes with Indiana and Toronto — his best season coming in 2010-11 (11.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 21.9 mpg). The Pacers selected Hansbrough with the No. 13 pick in the 2009 draft after he averaged 20.2 points and 8.6 rebounds across four UNC seasons.

Morning shootaround — June 16


VIDEO: Should the Cavs go to their big men more in Game 6?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant motivated by Curry, LeBron in Finals | Malone gets his chance in Denver | More moves ahead for Clippers? | Report: Embiid could miss all of 2015-16

No. 1: Durant motivated by Curry, LeBron in Finals — For five games through these NBA Finals, reigning MVP Stephen Curry and four-time former MVP LeBron James have keyed an epic series. Yet as the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers ready for Game 6 tonight (9 ET, ABC), one former MVP is keeping an eye on things as he recovers from injury. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant tells ESPN.com’s Royce Young he can’t wait to get back on the court and have a shot at the 2016 Finals:

Once upon a time — as in a little more than a year ago — Kevin Durant was probably the only player worthy of being included in any discussion alongside LeBron James for title of best player in the game.

But after three surgeries to repair a fracture in his right foot that caused him to miss 55 games this past season, the 2014 MVP understands why his name has slipped from a lot of minds as fans marvel at James’ and Stephen Curry’s electrifying performances in the NBA Finals.

“It used to piss me off, but I love it now,” Durant told ESPN.com. “Just gotta show and prove. I don’t deserve to be up there with them this year. Next year is a different story.”

In ESPN.com’s 2014 NBA Rank project, Durant finished a stunning eighth overall, after coming in No. 2 overall in 2012 and 2013. With his season clouded by foot surgery, the reason for the drop was obvious. But that doesn’t mean Durant isn’t using being overlooked as motivation.

“Sometimes you gotta remind people what you do,” Durant said last season. “They tend to forget.”

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Blogtable: Lottery team that must get it right at the 2015 Draft?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Who wins it all (and why)? | Advice for Doc Rivers? | Lottery team that must get it right?



VIDEORelive the 2015 Draft lottery

> Which lottery team is under the most pressure to nail it on Draft night?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com No reason to scan the list or break a sweat on this one. It’s Minnesota. Whoever they pick – Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns – has to be a hit, a star, eventually an All-Star. This franchise can’t afford a Michael Olowokandi, Kwame Brown, Greg Oden or Anthony Bennett at No. 1, not after waiting the entire 27-season history of the franchise for the right to select first in the Draft, not after a playoff drought dating back to 2004. And whichever of the two the Timberwolves select, he needs to be as good or better than the guy they don’t, because second-guesses have piled up higher than snow drifts at Target Center through the years. After having only two No. 1 picks even play for the franchise (Joe Smith and Olowokandi) Minnesota will have the top guys from the past three drafts — Bennett (2013), Andrew Wiggins (2014) and this year’s choice — on its roster come October. Time to howl for the right reasons, Wolves.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Lakers. Nobody really wants to see Kobe Bryant‘s head literally explode from another losing season.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com Like it’s possible to pick one. I could barely narrow it down to half the lottery. The Timberwolves have to nail it because picking No. 1 comes with a scrutiny that will never go away. The Lakers have to nail it because they have so little to build on heading to the future. The Knicks have to nail it because they have even less than the Lakers. The Kings have to nail it because it’s the first big decision for Vlade Divac as head of basketball operations. The Pistons have to nail it because it’s time to make a move up the East standings. The Hornets have to nail it because this season was a step backward and must be fixed. Against that backdrop, the 76ers already have a future even without knowing how the 2015 pick develops. Talk about strange.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comUh, is this a trick question? After getting squeezed out of the top three, and out of the Big Man Sweepstakes, the Knicks need to make this one count if only to justify such a stinky season. At No. 4 there’s really not much of a decision to make. Just take whomever’s left over between D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay, because the Sixers at No. 3 will take one of them. Phil Jackson doesn’t need to overthink it unless he gets a sweet trade offer. Then it gets dicey.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Lakers have Julius Randle and, at the No. 2 pick, the easiest choice in the Draft. The Knicks don’t have any serious talent under the age of 30 on their roster, and, at No. 4, might have a difficult decision. It seems like Emmanuel Mudiay could be the best player available when they draft, but it’s not clear that he’d be a good fit for the triangle offense. This is the first top-five pick the Knicks have had in 29 years and Phil Jackson‘s record as team president doesn’t look so hot right now. That’s some pressure.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Los Angeles Lakers are off the hook with that No. 2 pick. You simply sit there and let the stud big man the Minnesota Timberwolves pass up fall into your lap. So that leaves the New York Knicks at No. 4 with all of the pressure on Draft night. They’ll have their pick of talented players but not necessarily any transcendent talent. The Knicks don’t have the luxury of just selecting the best available basketball talent at No. 4. They need to identify the one player who projects as both a true difference-maker and one who can come in and pay immediate dividends alongside whatever free-agent haul Phil Jackson is able to round up. But finding a role player at No. 4 won’t do it. The Knicks need to find a future star, an All-Star even, with this lottery pick.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It’s the Lakers, because they’re used to winning, they expect to win again, and they absolutely need a transformational player to emerge from this pick. The other teams at the top of the lottery are not faced with such high expectations.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I can’t believe we’re here again, but right now, the answer to this question is the Knicks. They’re rebuilding, sure, but they’ve traded away some good assets — Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith — and haven’t really gotten much in return. They needed a home run in this Draft, with two potential franchise centers available, and now it looks as though they won’t get either one. Who can they get at the four spot? There are potentially terrific selections available, but the stakes are much higher. Considering this is their only first-round pick in the next two years, they need to get this right.

Blogtable: 2015’s biggest surprise and disappointment?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Surprise and disappointment? | Under-the-radar free agents? | Your All-Defensive team



VIDEOThese guys might have been the League Pass team of 2014-15

> With one week left, what has been the biggest surprise of this NBA season? And biggest disappointment?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No way, no how did I expect the Atlanta Hawks’ leap in the standings off of last season’s 38-44. Two of Atlanta’s big offseason moves were trading away Lou Williams and drafting Adreian Payne in the first round, so the help didn’t come from the outside. That’s development, building, bonding. My biggest disappointment: the rubble of Oklahoma City’s 2015 championship aspirations. It’s a bummer for the Thunder, the nasty West bracket is a little less head-spinning and it’s always tricky business propping open a window of contention to accommodate injuries. So often, either the time is right or it’s not, and OKC’s might be passing.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Everybody’s been waiting for the injuries to catch up with the Rockets all season, but James Harden’s MVP-level play hasn’t let them fall and could even produce the No. 2 seed in the West. We knew he was good. His play has been shockingly good. The biggest disappointment has been the long list of injured stars that have unfortunately made for more headlines off the court than on: Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, DeMar DeRozan, Jabari Parker, just to name a few. But for sheer, jaw-dropping, oh-my-God-how-did-that-happen, awfulness, I can’t neglect to mention that huge hole in the ground at 7th Ave, between 31st and 33rd Sts. in Manhattan. Nobody expect that big of a crater from the New York Knicks.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The biggest surprise is easy: John Stockton, fresh off releasing a book, starring in insurance commercials, in costume and everything. Who is this guy? The Knicks will come back to make the playoffs on the last night of the regular season, then win the championship, and it still won’t top Stockton, who worked hard to avoid the spotlight as a player, as the king of all media. (If you’re going to insist on a surprise on the court, it’s anyone blowing away the field in the Western Conference standings. This was supposed to be a tight race, right? The Warriors have turned it into a non-race.) Biggest disappointment: Injuries. They happen every year, only this time fate ganged up on the Thunder, costing OKC the chance for a long playoff run, and on the rookies, costing everyone the chance to see three of the best newcomers for more than a portion of the season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Celtics might make the playoffs despite dumping their top two players (Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo) and watching another miss games because of injuries (Jared Sullinger). Yes, the East is so bad that somebody with a losing record was destined to make the playoffs, but still this rates as a surprise to a degree. Disappointing? Lance Stephenson bombing almost immediately in Charlotte and never recovering. I figured if nothing else, he’d be a pain off the court, not on it.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The biggest surprise is the dominance of the Hawks and Warriors in their respective conferences. I had Atlanta eighth among East teams in my preseason Power Rankings and only two GMs picked them to win the Southeast Division. They were, by far, the East’s best team until it was time to ease off the gas pedal, beating a lot of Western Conference contenders along the way. The Warriors were projected higher than the Hawks, but I don’t think anybody saw them registering the best point differential since Steve Kerr was playing for the Bulls. The biggest disappointment is Oklahoma City suffering through a wasted season with Kevin Durant’s ongoing foot issue. The Thunder are a title contender when healthy and while they’re still in the mix for a playoff spot, their season really never got off the ground.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The biggest and most pleasant surprise has been the Atlanta Hawks and their improbable rise from an offseason filled with uncertainty. I don’t think anyone but the most die-hard of Atlanta fans would admit to believing the Hawks would put together the sort of season they have. How they finish the story in the playoffs remains to be seen. But there is no doubt the Hawks achieved the unthinkable finishing atop the Eastern Conference regular season standings. The biggest disappointment, and I don’t think we need to belabor the point, has been the bi-coastal dumpster fires that have consumed the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks this season. I knew they’d struggle mightily. But the Lakers and Knicks have been brutal this season. Just brutal.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Hawks have been the most inspiring team: They may be benefiting from the Spurs’ system, but they’ve been running it without Hall of Fame talent, and if their devotion to teamwork could produce a championship then it would be a huge breakthrough for the NBA. The biggest disappointment has been the physical breakdown of so many players: The Rockets, Clippers, Spurs, Cavaliers, Blazers, Bulls, Thunder, Pelicans, Raptors, Wizards, Bucks, Jazz, Pacers, Heat, Hornets, Pistons, Kings, Lakers, 76ers, Timberwolves and Knicks have all been diminished by meaningful injuries this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: You’re baiting me, right? How can I not go with the Atlanta Hawks, the team that was pegged by many to be a playoff team, but nobody, not in their wildest dreams, expected the Hawks to have the season they’re having. As for biggest disappointment, it’s hard to overlook the team right up I-85 from the Hawks, the Charlotte Hornets. I know they’ve had injuries throughout the season, but adding Lance Stephenson seems to have just made that whole situation into a mess.

Schedule says Thunder have edge on Pelicans for playoff spot


VIDEO: Pelicans GM Dell Demps assesses his teams hopes for a playoff berth

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — With just 30 days to go in the 2014-15 season, the battles for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference and the last two spots in the East have never been tighter.

After losing in Dallas on Monday, the Oklahoma City Thunder have a half game lead on the New Orleans Pelicans for eighth in the West. The Pelicans have the tiebreaker with a 3-1 head-to-head record, but the Thunder have an easier remaining schedule, with more home games, fewer back-to-backs, and fewer games against teams with winning records.

Here’s an updated look at remaining schedules for the entire Western Conference …

20150317_sos_west

Here’s an explanation of the “Adj.,” column, which starts with the opponent NetRtg for each game and makes the following adjustments:

  • plus-2.6* for a road game.
  • minus-2.6 for a home game.
  • plus-2.6** when the team is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the opponent isn’t.
  • minus-2.6 when the opponent is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the team isn’t.

* Home teams have outscored road teams by 2.6 points per 100 possessions this season.
** When one team played the night before and the other didn’t, the rested team has been a plus-2.6 this season.

A couple of notes on the West:

  • Mathematically, the Phoenix Suns still have a shot at a playoff spot. But the toughest remaining schedule in the league is enough to dismiss them. They’re 1-5 against teams currently over .500 since the All-Star break and play 12 of their final 14 games against that group.
  • The L.A. Clippers just finished a stretch where they played 17 of 21 games against teams that are currently over .500. They’re rewarded with the easiest remaining schedule of the 10 teams that have a shot in the playoffs. They’re currently in seventh place, but are just a half game out of fifth and are 24-4 against teams that are currently under .500.
  • The Grizzlies still have some work to do to hold on to the No. 2 seed. They have just a one-game lead in the loss column over the Portland Trail Blazers, who have an easier remaining schedule.

Here’s the remaining schedules in the East …

20150317_sos_east

  • The Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are all tied with 36 losses, and they all have relatively tough schedules remaining.
  • None of the four have more home games than road games remaining.
  • The Hornets play more losing teams than winning teams, but also have the most back-to-backs remaining in the league, starting with Tuesday’s visit to the Clippers after Monday’s drubbing in Utah.
  • The Pacers and Celtics have the most momentum of the group, but also have the toughest remaining schedules. Both Boston (3-2) and Indiana (4-2) do have winning records since the All-Star break against teams with winning records, though.
  • The most home games remaining should be an opportunity for Brooklyn to get back in that 7-10 mix, but the Nets are a league-worst 3-11 at home in 2015.
  • Don’t hand the Cleveland Cavaliers the No. 2 seed just yet. The Toronto Raptors are only a game behind in the loss column, play 12 of their final 15 games against teams under .500, and are 25-7 against that group so far.
  • An easier remaining schedule should give the Chicago Bulls an edge over the Washington Wizards in the race for the No. 4 seed (and home-court advantage in a first-round matchup). They’re currently tied in the loss column, with Chicago holding the tiebreaker edge (better conference record, with a 2-2 tie in head-to-head meetings).

Blogtable: Upset-minded team in East?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Extend the season? | Rethinking age limit? | Upset-minded East playoff team?



VIDEOPaul George is holding out hope he’ll be able to return for a potential playoff run

> If I told you a sleeper team was going to pull off a major upset in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, which team would you tag to make that prediction come true: Bucks, Pacers, Hornets or Heat?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Pacers, though I say that without trying to predict the first-round matchups. Indiana already is a different team that most foes have faced this season, and if Paul George is able to return and blend into what’s already working, the Pacers could bite a top seed in the behind. Now, if they wind up eighth and Atlanta stays at No. 1, that’s a tall order because the Hawks came close to upsetting them a year ago and are better now. But given the Pacers’ pride and desire to salvage what had been a mostly lost season, I’d take them very seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Bucks with their stingy, No. 2-rated defense, 3-point shooting ability, rising youth in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams and the been-there-done-that smarts of coach Jason Kidd. They could be a we-having-nothing-to-lose handful.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Maybe I’m just getting caught up in the good vibrations of the moment — stringing together wins, Paul George back on the practice court — but I’ll go Pacers. Same problems scoring, but Indy defends and rebounds. Tough not to like that as a starting point for an upset, obviously depending on the matchup. I’d put the Bucks a close second.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Honestly, I don’t like any of their chances, but I’ll go with the Bucks. They’ll likely have a better seeding and therefore a more evenly-matched first round. Plus, they’re young with fresh legs that’ll come in handy in late April, and their coach, Jason Kidd, has been there and done that in this league.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Indiana is the clear pick. The Pacers have been the best team in the league (both in regard to record and point differential) since Feb. 1. They have a great defense and an offense that has improved with a healthy George Hill in the starting lineup and Rodney Stuckey coming off the bench. They have a coach and a roster with playoff experience, and maybe one of the league’s best players coming back. But I would still have a hard time picking them against Atlanta, Chicago or Cleveland. 

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m tagging the Pacers and relishing the idea, based on the standings at this moment, of a Cleveland Cavaliers-Pacers No. 2 vs No. 7 first-round matchup. Talk about a major upset, this one would be colossal. Paul George comes back. Roy Hibbert rediscovers the All-Star within. Coach Frank Vogel gets his revenge for last season’s meltdown and the team’s staggering fall from grace. Doing it at the expense of long-time foe LeBron James would only add to the intrigue of a storybook scenario for the Pacers … and it is indeed an absolute fantasy. I don’t think there are any upsets to be had in the first round. Not based on what we see in the standings right now.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Pacers are the East’s poor-man version of OKC. Based on their current trend with their best players – including Paul George – returning to health, then no one at the top of the standings is going to want to see Indiana.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I have a hard time pegging the Pacers as an underdog, even as long as Paul George is out. This is a team with guys like Roy Hibbert, David West, George Hill, Luis Scola — quality NBA veteran players. I know that they’ve been without George this season and have dealt with other injuries, but if anything, to me the Pacers have the pieces to be better than they’ve been for most of this season. And then it’s not if George returns, it’s which George might return — I don’t expect to see the George who was one of the best players in the NBA, because that will take time to find and get back to, even just mentally. But I do think if they can get back any version of George that provides depth and is able to knock down an occasional open jumper, that could be a huge postseason help.

Upset-minded East teams
For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Anthony Mason, an underdog who became an alpha dog


VIDEO: In Memoriam: Anthony Mason

NEW YORK – Anthony Mason, a fringe basketball prospect who made himself into an NBA All-Star through his indomitable will and unyielding strength, died this morning at the age of 48. Mason reportedly suffered a massive heart attack a few weeks ago, and had been trying to battle back ever since.

New York Knicks v Sacramento Kings

Anthony Mason was a key member of the Knicks team that reached the 1994 NBA Finals.

If the news of Mason’s death feels particularly shocking, perhaps it’s because we just weren’t used to seeing Mason lose many battles. A stout, 6-foot-7 forward, Mason played collegiately at the small Tennessee State University, before launching a peripatetic basketball existence. In search of a hoops home, Mason went from Turkey to Colorado, from stints in the NBA to the CBA to the USBL, before finally catching on with Pat Riley’s rough and tumble Knicks in 1991.

In a city defined by its superstars, as a Knick, Mason shined as bright as any of them. His ornate haircuts made him distinctive, but his hard-nosed play made him indispensable. His averages in New York weren’t eye-popping — 9.9 ppg and 7.7 rpg — but Mason provided airtight defense and a post presence, bullying players even when he gave up inches or pounds.

In 1994, the Knicks advanced to the Finals, losing in seven games to the Houston Rockets. The next season, Mason was named Sixth Man of the Year and, with his value at a high and the Knicks looking for a minor rebuild, Mason was traded to Charlotte in a package centered around Larry Johnson.

In three full seasons as a Hornet, Mason developed into a more well-rounded player, averaging a double-double (13.4 ppg and 10 rpg) in his time in the Queen City. He then was reunited in Miami with Riley, and played one season with the Heat, carrying the team while Alonzo Mourning dealt with kidney issues. It was as a member of the Heat that in 2001, at the age of 34, Mason made his only All-Star team, averaging a career-high 16.1 points.

After two more seasons in Milwaukee, Mason retired and returned home to Tennessee, though he made occasional appearances at Knicks games over the years, always to thunderous applause. Perhaps nowhere is an underdog embraced the way they are in New York City, a city built on the hopes and dreams of millions of citizens who feel if they can make it there, they can make it anywhere.

And nobody defined the underdog quite like Anthony Mason.

Wiggins, Carter-Williams headline BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge


VIDEO: USA vs. World in new format for Rising Stars

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge has always served as All-Star Weekend’s showcase for first- and second-year NBA players, using a variety of different formats from rookies versus sophomores to a fantasy draft.

This year, though, it’s us against them. No matter which team you’re rooting for.

This season, the Rising Stars Challenge introduces a new format, with players from the United States going against a team of international players. The rosters were selected by the league’s assistant coaches, with one ballot for each of the NBA’s 30 teams. Both 10-man rosters include four guards, four frontcourt players and two players regardless of position. Each team also features a minimum of three first-year players and three second-year players among its 10 spots.

This year’s edition showcases 10 of the top 15 picks from the 2013 NBA Draft, and all four participants in the 2015 Sprite Slam Dunk. The Minnesota Timberwolves are the most represented team, with four Timberwolves split evenly between the two teams. The Utah Jazz will have three players involved, and the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic each are sending two players.

Team USA is heavy on perimeter and wing players, including Utah’s Trey Burke, Detroit’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad, and Orlando’s starting backcourt of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo.

The World Team will be heavy on big men, including Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Minnesota’s Gorgui Dieng, Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic and Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. Canada will be the most represented international country with Olynyk and Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins.

The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 13, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The head coaches for the 21st BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge will be assistants from the 2015 NBA All-Star Game coaching staffs. Hawks assistant coach Kenny Atkinson will lead the World Team, and Golden State Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry will coach the U.S. Team. The game will be televised live on TNT at 9 p.m. ET.

USA Team
Trey Burke (Utah)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Detroit)
Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia)
Zach LaVine (Minnesota)
Shabazz Muhammad (Minnesota)
Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia)
Victor Oladipo (Orlando)
Elfrid Payton (Orlando)
Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn)
Cody Zeller (Charlotte)

World Team
Steven Adams (Oklahoma City)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Bojan Bogdanovic (Brooklyn)
Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota)
Dante Exum (Utah)
Rudy Gobert (Utah)
Nikola Mirotic (Chicago)
Kelly Olynyk (Boston)
Dennis Schröder (Atlanta)
Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota)

Report: Nets, Hornets talk Joe Johnson trade

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Will Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King pull the trigger this time?

The Nets have been looking to unload one or more of their three biggest contracts for a while now. Last week, they reportedly came close to dealing Brook Lopez to Oklahoma City in a three-team trade, but pulled out because they were hesitant to take back Lance Stephenson.

Now, they may be bringing Stephenson home to Brooklyn in a different trade. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Nets and Hornets are in discussions to swap Joe Johnson for Stephenson and a couple of his teammates …

The Charlotte Hornets and Brooklyn Nets have restarted trade discussions, this time focused on guard Joe Johnson, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Hornets and Nets are discussing a larger package that would likely include guards Lance Stephenson and Gerald Henderson and forward Marvin Williams, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Johnson said Saturday that he has tendinitis in his right knee and left ankle. But he would be a boost to a Charlotte offense that ranks 28th in efficiency. The Hornets have won nine of their last 11 games to make a charge toward a playoff spot, but have done it with some ugly basketball.

The deal wouldn’t save the Nets much money (assuming Henderson exercises his player option next season), but it would give them some added depth in the wake of the news that they’ve lost Mirza Teletovic for the season, and it would make them a little more flexible if they want to make future deals. The Henderson/Stephenson/Williams trio would conceivably give them more shooting, but none of the three have shot particularly well this season.

Wojnarowski additionally reports that the Nets have talked with the Denver Nuggets about a deal for Lopez.