Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Bulls’

Morning Shootaround — April 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Knicks back in playoff race | Noah: Bulls won’t be ‘soft’ down stretch | Hollins ready to coach again | Noel readying for Summer League play | D’Antoni, Kaman bury hatchet?

No. 1: Knicks show playoff fight vs. Nets — Entering last night’s Knicks-Nets game at Madison Square Garden, New York found itself on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and facing a Brooklyn team that has perked up over the last few months. But an inspired performance from Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the Knicks powered New York to a 110-81 rout that, combined with Atlanta’s home loss to Chicago, lifted the Knicks into the No. 8 spot in the East. While New York has the playoff berth this morning, finishing off the task is a tall order … and one that it may be up to, writes George Willis of the New York Post:

Maybe this how it’s going to work out for the Knicks. Maybe this is the way they’ll secure the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the postseason.

The schedule that sees them playing their final seven games against teams with winning records was supposed to work against them. But maybe just maybe, it will work for them as it did Wednesday night against the Nets at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks played with energy, passion and aggression, shooting 60 percent from the field, forcing 15 steals and dominating in rebounds 41-23. The Nets, meanwhile, looked like a team hung over after a playoff-clinching celebration.

The team that set a franchise record with its 14th straight home win one day earlier played uninspired against the Knicks.

“We’re playing for something,” Knicks point guard Raymond Felton said. “They’re already in the playoffs. We’re trying to get into the playoffs and capitalize on these wins and see what happens.”

Next come the Wizards on Friday, followed by games against the Heat, Raptors, Bulls, the Nets again and the Raptors. All those teams have clinched playoff berths.

Jobs and even careers are hanging in the balance. Newly named Knicks president Phil Jackson was at the Garden, trying to figure out who might stay next season and who needs to leave.

Coach Mike Woodson’s chances of remaining go from slim to none if the Knicks don’t make the playoffs, and the idea of remaining with the franchise might not be as attractive to Carmelo Anthony when he becomes a free agent in the offseason.

“We want to get there,” said Anthony, who scored 23 points. “That’s the goal. Despite this up and down season, it will be a big deal to get in the playoffs. That is our goal and we are fighting right now.”

Though percentage points ahead of the Hawks for the eighth spot, the Knicks will need to keep winning to secure their position.

The Hawks have what is viewed as a more favorable schedule with games against the Bobcats, Bucks, Pistons and Cavaliers. But those teams have nothing to lose, while the teams the Knicks play have less incentive to win.

Maybe this is how it’s going to work out for the Knicks.


VIDEO: Coach Mike Woodson talks about New York’s big win against Brooklyn

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No. 2: Bulls won’t try to lose way into better matchup — Given Chicago’s never-say-die attitude since coach Tom Thibodeau has been at the helm, what Bulls center Joakim Noah had to say after last night’s win over the Hawks should come as no surprise. The Bulls are the East’s No. 4 seed and would face a surging Brooklyn Nets squad if the playoffs started today. That matchup might be a challenge for Chicago in some senses, but don’t expect it (or Noah, for that matter) to try and lose games and get into a better matchup, writes Nick Fridell of ESPNChicago.com:

The Chicago Bulls didn’t tank games earlier in the season when they lost Derrick Rose to another season-ending knee injury and traded Luol Deng to Cleveland, so they aren’t going to do so now even if it means a better matchup in the playoffs. Bulls center Joakim Noah made that clear after the his team’s 105-92 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.

“We’re just trying to play good basketball,” Noah said. “There’s no way in hell we’re going to try and lose games to match up against anybody. I think whatever happens, happens, so we’re just going to keep playing our game, keep winning as much as we can, and then (we) can’t wait for the playoffs.”

“I think losing games to try to play somebody, I think that’s soft,” Noah said. “That’s soft. We’re not soft.”

Noah’s comments shouldn’t come as a surprise given how outspoken he was when it came to the notion of tanking games earlier in the year. When asked in January what he would say to fans who thought the Bulls should lose games on purpose to give themselves a better chance in the draft lottery, Noah made his feelings known.

“What do I say to those fans?” Noah told ESPNChicago.com after the Bulls’ 128-125 triple-overtime victory Wednesday over the Orlando Magic. “I don’t say nothing to those fans. It’s all good. You’re allowed to have your opinion. It’s just … that’s not a real fan to me. You know what I’m saying? You want your team to lose? What is that? But it’s all good.”


VIDEO: The Bulls pick up a win in Atlanta on Wednesday

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No. 3: Hollins ready to coach again– Former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins has done OK for himself since the Grizzlies decided not to renew his contract after last season’s end. He’s working parttime for NBA TV and co-hosting an NBA show on SirusXM Radio and enjoying life away from the NBA grind. But Hollins, as Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune reports, sounds more than ready to get back into a coaching job should one present itself:

Life is uncomplicated for Lionel Hollins these days.

The former Trail Blazers guard and NBA head coach is working as a studio analyst for NBA-TV and hosts a two-day-a-week NBA talk show on Sirius radio.

“I get to see my kids more often. Recently saw my grand baby in Arizona. I’m reading books again. Went grocery shopping the other day. I get to spend a lot of time on my charity. Get to support the charities of other people who have supported mine over the years.

“The freedom to not be in a gym, at practice, in a meeting … I’ve had an opportunity to enjoy what life is all about again.”

Though Hollins has enjoyed his time away from coaching, don’t get the wrong idea. Hollins would have liked nothing more than to have been on the bench with the Grizzlies when they played Portland at the Moda Center on Sunday. He’d love to be coaching Memphis, or another team, when the playoffs arrive in a couple of weeks.

“Of course,” Hollins says when asked if he’d like to return to the coaching ranks. “I miss coaching. What I miss is the teaching … the development of the team and the players. … the players working together and watching them grasp it mentally, and then have them go out and do it physically.”

Hollins pauses, then adds, “Don’t take this the wrong way. I mean no disrespect to Dave Joerger (his successor as Memphis coach). But anybody (the Grizzlies) hire, if he lets the players play the way they want to play, they’re going to win. They know how to win. When I got there, they didn’t know how to win.”

Hollins fell victim to a change in ownership and management. Former owner Michael Heisley sold the club to a group led by California tech billionaire Robert Pera, now 36. Jason Levien, an attorney and former sports agent who had worked in the front office of the Sacramento Kings, became CEO and managing partner of the Grizzlies. Levien took over the basketball operations from Chris Wallace, who remains the club’s vice president/general manager in title only.

“It seemed like they had their minds made up when they came in,” Hollins says. “They had an agenda of how they wanted to do things, and what they wanted to spend. I didn’t fit into that.

“I can accept that. It’s their prerogative. But when you look at the big picture, you say, ‘Wow, you’ve had some pretty good success.’ If I were at FedEx, for instance, I wouldn’t fire the employees who made it successful.”

The bottom line is very important to Pera and the new ownership group. Money surely played a part in Hollins’ demise, but there were other issues.

In the weeks that followed Hollins’ ouster, other reasons emerged through “inside sources.” That Hollins couldn’t accept analytics and the advanced scouting metrics that are becoming increasingly in use in pro sports. That he clashed with John Hollinger, the one-time Portland resident who is an analytics devotee hired last season by the Grizzlies as vice president/basketball operations. That Hollins bellyached about the midseason trade that sent small forward Rudy Gay to Toronto for Tayshaun Prince, a deal that save the Grizzlies millions in future salary. That Hollins was having increasing problems communicating with his players.

There is some truth to all of this. Hollins is an old-school coach, a strong personality who has developed a coaching style through the years based on a high level of expertise and intuitiveness about his players and how to put together a team. There was an incident with Hollinger at practice, during which Hollins loudly objected to his interference with a player. Hollins says he spoke with Hollinger afterward and that both men apologized to each other. (Hollinger did not return a pair of phone messages.)

“I have no problems with John,” Hollins says. “I have no problems with analytics. The only problem I have is with the idea there’s just one way to do things. You look for every advantage and whatever tools you can utilize to help your team be better. Part of that is having relationships with the players I have to deal with every day.

“It’s not just numbers. I’m dealing with emotions and egos and sensitivities and insecurities. It’s easy to say these guys need to play so many minutes and this group is the best group to have on the floor at the particular time. It’s not cut and dried like that.

“I want to be perfectly clear, I have no problems with analytics. I expressed that to management here. If there is a sophisticated mechanism to help us win, I’m all for it. But there has to be a balance. I don’t think basketball is as numbers-oriented as baseball, for instance. A coach knows who he can count upon at different times during a game. It’s why I trusted Zach (Randolph) to walk up there and make free throws at the end of a game. It’s a feeling that has nothing to do with numbers. The experiences a coach has cannot be discarded completely.”

After being fired, Hollins interviewed for vacancies with Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers.

“With the Nuggets, I don’t think I was high on their radar,” he says. “If Doc (Rivers) had stayed in Boston, I think I’d have been the Clippers coach. Doc was the better fit, and he’s a great coach. They made a good hire there.”

Hollins says he chose not to pursue an assistant coaching job in the NBA. “I’ve been a head coach the last five years,” he says.

Would he take a head coaching job in college? “It would have to be a really good opportunity,” he says.

Does Hollins think he’ll get another NBA head-coaching job?

“I have no idea,” he says. “I think I will, but with certainty? No. I have confidence I will, yes. But we’re in a crazy business.”

***

No. 4: Sixers won’t see Noel take court until Summer League – If you’ve paid attention to the comings and goings of hobbled Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel and the team’s plans to get him ready for the NBA, you already know the team has been rebuilding his jumper, watching him progress in workouts and drills and saw him try to tease of a debut this season (which Philly quickly shot down). While Noel won’t play this season, one place you will be able to see him is during the 2014 Summer League, writes Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com:

The date Nerlens Noel tweeted that was speculated as being his Sixers debut is only three days away.

Noel had fans excited when he initially sent that message out on social media, but now it’s the big man’s coaches that are getting riled up about his progression.

“The first thing that I have fallen in love with is that he is beyond competitive,” coach Brett Brown said after Thursday’s practice. “There is a dog in him, a toughness in him that I misjudged.

“He doesn’t talk a lot, but he is a fantastic listener. You go through all those months shooting one-handed with him and then you see him come out here.”

With just eight games remaining it seems unlikely Noel will participate in a contest this season. However, Brown would not confirm that. The coach simply reiterated the special ability he sees in the center and how that bodes well for the franchise’s future.

“He is a fierce competitor and that is the number one quality for me that makes someone special,” Brown said. “Then you get into the athleticism. He has a bounce. People that can block a shot, hit the floor and go back up are special and he can do it with both his right hand and left hand.”

Noel will likely participate in a game for the first time since February of last year during this summer when the Sixers field a summer league team. When Noel does finally take the court how will that year and a half out of action with an ACL tear impact his game?

“He’ll do what everybody does — he will play too fast,” Brown explained. “He will try to rush things. He won’t let the game come to him. He will try to impose himself on the game. He will be very erratic. He will be turnover prone and foul prone.

“He’ll do all those things, but that’s to be expected. But for him to be doing what he is doing now in itself is exciting and this city should be really excited.”

Brown doesn’t know how much or how little the Sixers will play Noel whenever the center returns to game action. The coach just knows it will be a process and he will trust his gut.

“We won’t make him play 38 minutes and try to force feed it,” Brown said. “We will go at a pace that is realistic and see how he goes. It will be more of a gut-feel formula than anything. We won’t be shy with him, but we will be smart.”


VIDEO: Brett Brown talks about Nerlens Noel’s progress of late

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No. 5: D’Antoni, Kaman burying the hatchet? — Just a little over a week ago, Lakers center Chris Kaman was openly complaining to the media about coach Mike D’Antoni‘s gameplan and useage of him this season. But it appears a chat with D’Antoni’s agent may have helped Kaman see just how hard D’Antoni’s job has been and softened the tension between the two, writes Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Warren LeGarie, the agent for embattled Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, was doing all the talking.He was doing the pointing, jabbing his index finger into Chris Kaman’s chest. LeGarie also stood up periodically to yell down at the Lakers center hunched in a courtside seat Tuesday night, ball in his lap, postponing his pregame court work to listen.

Head bobbing in emphatic declarations, LeGarie gestured numerous times toward the Lakers bench where D’Antoni is positioned during games. Kaman threw his hands up a few times but had little to say to LeGarie, who represents so many NBA coaches and executives that he qualifies as more of a power player in this league than any 7-footer.

Kaman is the type who has done far more talking than listening in his life, and some of his talking this season has been about D’Antoni’s rigid, uncommunicative, distrustful coaching of the Lakers while not giving Kaman consistent playing time. Just one week earlier, Kaman had revealed that D’Antoni hadn’t talked to him for the previous three weeks.

D’Antoni has one more guaranteed season left on his Lakers contract, and the club is leaning toward retaining him despite some privately disgruntled players and massive public disdain. It’s not clear which way the organization will go with him.

But Kaman’s 15-minute conversation with LeGarie ended with the agent yelling two words to Kaman: “Thank you. Thank you.”

After the Lakers’ 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers was complete, I asked Kaman about his pregame chat with LeGarie and whether it had given him any new perspective on D’Antoni’s situation.

“We were just talking,” Kaman said. “We were just talking about everything. He’s just a good buddy of mine.”

I asked Kaman where he stands now in his feelings about D’Antoni.

“It’s been a tough year for him, as it has been for a lot of guys,” Kaman said. “Me, in particular, just being in and out, in and out, just trying to figure my way through all of this, I can sort of put myself in his shoes and try to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘What would I do if I was him?’ And it’s hard to answer that question; it’s a tough position.

“Especially with all the injuries we’ve had and all the different things we’ve had to go through, I think it’s no easy task for a coach. Especially with the Lakers. This is a first-rate organization, and they do things better than most. They’re used to winning, and it’s a lot of pressure. And all these injuries didn’t make it any easier for him.”

Bear in mind, just one week ago Kaman was saying this season was “by far” and “tenfold” worse than any other in his 11-year NBA career.

While not naming a name and saying “it doesn’t get anyone anywhere” to spout negativity with the season a lost cause, Kaman said last week that the key to good coaching is “being a mediator as opposed to being someone in authority all the time. It’s about putting little fires out—small fires here or there—and keeping everybody’s egos together and managing that. Players know how to play if you give them enough guidance in the beginning.”

Late Tuesday night, when I asked Kaman if D’Antoni’s communication could’ve been better, Kaman said generously: “It always can be better with any coach, not just Mike. It’s such a big balance to be a head coach. It takes a lot. It takes a lot out of you. You see guys who can’t even finish years sometimes; they have to defer and hand it over to someone else. It drives people nuts.

“It takes a special person to coach a team, and in this day and age, the way the game is played, it’s a lot of pressure. You get two, three years, maybe, and then you’re outta there if you don’t produce. It’s no easy task. So I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and put myself in his shoes; it’s tough. It isn’t easy. With all the injuries and everything, it’s hard to say what would’ve happened if we would’ve had a healthy team.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Some potential bad news for the teams gunning for this year’s NBA Draft Lottery: Kansas’ Joel Embid and Duke’s Jabari Parker may end up staying in schoolDaniel “Boobie” Gibson is eyeing a comeback next season … Lakers young big man Jordan Hill will not re-sign with L.A. unless he will have a bigger role next season … Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko, who has a player option for next season, will decide to stay or leave based on Detroit’s next coachDonnie Nelson says he expects Samuel Dalembert to be back on the Mavs next seasonGreivis Vasquez has learned to humble himself as a backup point guard in Toronto …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Ummm, why was Marcin Gortat in the middle of the Celtics’ huddle last night?

You all know we love Kenneth Faried around here when he’s in full “Manimal” mode, as he was last night against the Pelicans.

And, lastly, there are deep 3-pointers … and then there’s this shot Paul George nailed last night against Detroit …


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat joins the Celtics’ huddle


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried runs wild in Denver’s win over New Orleans


VIDEO: Paul George nails a stand-still 3-pointer from just inside halfcourt

Bulls’ Gibson adds scoring, flips switch of Sixth-Man chatter

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Taj Gibson notches a double-double to help the Bulls defeat the Sixers

CHICAGO – Joakim Noah, who plays at a full-on froth for the Chicago Bulls, works his way to that boiling point with a very personal, specific routine of physical and mental preparation that has him literally bouncing on the court by tipoff.

So he marvels at the on/off switch his friend and teammate Taj Gibson has, coming in cold off the Bulls bench and then – wham! – impacting the game in almost no time at all.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Noah said, eyes widening as he leaned back in his chair the other night. “He barely … I mean, I’ve seen Taj barely warm up and then he’s just dunking all over the place. It’s crazy. He’s very lucky to have that. Some people have that unbelievable gift.

“He’ll do things – he’ll lift weights before the game and get prepared, but it’s a lot easier for him than it is for me, I’ll tell you that.”

It’s a legitimate skill, catching up to a game already five, eight, 12 minutes old, stepping in among players already lathered and loose, when you’ve been sitting on the side in warm-up clothes. It’s one of the traits that has thrust Gibson into late-season conversations for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.

Gibson’s individual development on the offensive end might argue for Most Improved consideration instead, or as well. But it has been the 6-foot-9 power forward’s work in reserve – along with Noah’s ascension and D.J. Augustin‘s makeover – that has helped pushed Chicago beyond the doldrums of the Derrick Rose re-injury and Luol Deng trade.

And in Gibson’s case, it comes from his ability to hit the game balling.

“Oh man, I felt that today,” Gibson said after boosting the Bulls against Philadephia on Saturday with 16 points and 10 rebounds in not quite 29 minutes. “It’s rough. Some days he plays me at the five-minute mark, some days I have to wait till the second quarter.”

This time, Gibson entered with three minutes left in the first and got busy with a rebound and a block. Later, as has been coach Tom Thibodeau‘s practice for a long time, he played the entire fourth quarter, scoring eight points, grabbing three boards and getting another block.

Gibson finishes on most nights because his offense has improved and his defensive versatility makes him invaluable on pick-and-rolls. But starting quickly is what matters most at the game’s front end.

“Luckily I just know my routine,” Gibson said. ” keep a good rhythm going on the sideline. I’m jumping up, I’m cheering, I’m directing, I’m doing a lot of stuff to try to help my teammates from the bench.”

He sits on hot packs, Gibson said, and stretches with every timeout while waiting his turn.

“I just stay active, stay mobile, ’cause you can get real stiff waiting,” said the fifth-year product of USC and Brooklyn, N.Y. “When I get in there, the first look I take, I just take it to get a rhythm right away. That’s what Derrick told me – I’ve got good people giving me good advice. And it works out.”

How well? Gibson has scored in double figures in 26 of his last 31 games, averaging 15.1 points on 47.3 percent shooting, with 7.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.32 blocks. The Bulls are 20-11 record in that time.

He is averaging career highs in points (13.2, vs. 9.0 in 2009-10), assists (1.3) and minutes (28.7). He has reset his career scoring high to 26 and hit it three times, has scored 20 points or more in 11 games and has 13 double-doubles.

He’s the poster guy for that old coach’s saying: “It doesn’t matter who starts, it matters who finishes.”  Gibson averages 10.1 of his minutes in the fourth quarter. He started 70 games as a rookie in 2009-10 – Chicago’s Tyrus Thomas era hadn’t worked out so well – but has been a reserve in 278 of 310 games since Thibodeau was hired and Carlos Boozer signed in the summer of 2010.

Their early work together earned Gibson a four-year, $33 million contract extension in October 2012. His recent work has earned Thibodeau’s praise and endorsement for that SMOY honor.

“The biggest thing for him is what he’s contributed to us winning,” the Bulls coach said. “I hate to lock into individual awards. I think players are recognized when the team has success. … The things he does for our team are all team-oriented.

“Plays great defense. Challenges shots. Guards everybody. Runs the floor hard. Sets great screens. Does his job. Offensively, gets deep post position. Gets a quality shot up. When a second guy comes, he makes the play. He’s gotten comfortable in pick-and-roll situations.”

You want advanced stats? When Gibson has been on the court, the Bulls’ offensive and defensive ratings have been 103.7 and 100.7 respectively. When he sits, those numbers droop to 99.9 and 101.3.

Gibson’s offense, meanwhile, has benefited from equal parts confidence and patience. He saw what defenses were yielding to him, video of last spring’s playoffs and such, and has begun to consistently take those shots.

The Sixth Man award typically favors guards and wing players, the guys who bring instant offense. Eight of the past nine winners, with the exception of Lamar Odom in 2011, have fit that that description. And the top candidates this year – Reggie Jackson, Markieff Morris, possible repeat winners in Jamal Crawford or Manu Ginobili – all tend to help their teams most at one end.

Still, Gibson, who gives the Bulls both quickie offense and defense, lights up at the idea of the recognition. There’s that on/off switch again.

“It’d mean a lot,” he said. “Coming from a guy that played on the Bench Mob my entire career since we got Carlos, so many different guys coming and going. Just being able to come in, play defense, go from a guy that’s just focused on defense and now my teammates are looking for me on offense, it’s just great. … The coaching staff believing in me, it would be a dream come true.”

Don’t expect Pacers to pace themselves

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: David West talks about the Pacers’ approach to the final stretch

INDIANAPOLIS – Tom Thibodeau, not given to chuckling, did just that as the question washed over him. The Chicago Bulls’ head coach shook his head and seemed truly flummoxed.

“I have no idea where that comes from,” Thibodeau said. “I really don’t. What, they should apologize for playing hard? Come on.”

The topic was the Indiana Pacers, the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 team and the Bulls’ opponents Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (7 ET, League Pass). There have been rumblings in the media and the Pacers’ fan base that, maybe, coach Frank Vogel and his guys ought to be, well, pacing themselves better as the regular season runs out and the postseason nears.

Asking Thibodeau about easing through something is like asking Richard Petty if Jimmie Johnson ought to take some pedal off the metal while making all those left turns.

“It’s a long season. There’s going to be some ups and downs. You’ve got to navigate through things. Hey, they’re a terrific team,” Thibodeau said. “You can’t pick and choose when you’re going to play hard and not play hard. When you look at the teams I know… From my own experience, with Boston, that team practiced hard every day, they played hard every day. That’s the way it was.”

It stayed that way when Thibodeau got hired by Chicago. In 2010-11, his team tore through the season at a 62-20 record, securing the No. 1 seed all the way through the Finals if only it had advanced that far (the Bulls lost to Miami in five games one step short). In 2011-12, Chicago’s 50-16 again topped the East, making Thibodeau the fastest coach in league history to rack up 100 victories, though Derrick Rose‘s knee blowout stopped them in the first round.

Thibodeau faces criticism annually for running up minutes on some of his players, certainly during certain needy stretches of each season, and takes heat at least indirectly for the Bulls’ injury history in recent seasons. Yet he and the Bulls are praised for their effort, their energy and their overachievements.

While shrugging that off, Thibodeau claims to have done his homework on workloads and doesn’t feel he – or Vogel, for that matter – is overdoing a thing.

“I don’t see any negative from practicing hard. I don’t see any negative from playing hard,” Thibodeau said. “You’re building habits every time you step out there. I think you’ve got to develop a physical toughness and a mental toughness along the way. Because down the road when you do get there, there’s going to be a lot of fire that you’ve got to go through. And you’ve got to be prepared to deal with it.”

Vogel swats away talk of fatigue and rest with facts. “We don’t have anybody averaging over 35 minutes,” he said. “So I don’t think we’re overplaying guys. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to win every night. Anybody who tries to convince me otherwise is crazy.”

There was, for instance, a piece on CBSSports.com Thursday (after Indiana’s loss in New York the night before) headlined, “Did the Pacers push too hard, too soon?” It focused on the tightened race with Miami for the East’s No. 1 seed, a goal of the Pacers since Opening Night but one that might not be secured until the season’s final week. If at all, as Ken Berger of that Web site wrote:

Of all the things that the Pacers worked on to try to get back on track, rest hasn’t been one of them. And now, with two of their 14 remaining games against the Heat, there may not be time.

Vogel was off just a bit in his numbers. All-Star wing Paul George tops the Pacers at 35.9 minutes per game, but that’s down from his 2012-13 average of 37.6. Lance Stephenson (35.8) is the only other Indiana player averaging more than 32 minutes and, like George, he’s 23 years old.

The focus on finishing first in the East has driven Indiana most of the season but mocked them a little lately. Since beating Portland on Feb. 7 to reach 39-10, the Pacers have gone 11-8 overall and 0-4 against teams with winning records. This is no time to get well, either, with six of their next season against playoff-bound teams, including Chicago twice, Memphis, Miami and San Antonio.

Then again, panicking isn’t restful either, as forward David West was quoted in the Indianapolis Star:

“We talked in film session today about how we’re not going to overreact to the perception coming from the outside,” [West] said. “I have full confidence in this group. If we had given up the one seed or whatever, that’s one thing. But one of the reasons we got off to a good start was in case we had a stretch like this.”

Thibodeau – whose team has gone 14-5 during the Pacers’ slump, making up only three games in the Central Division – talks of overwork the way MLB war horses Nolan Ryan or Jack Morris might talk about modern hurlers’ pitch counts. No hand-wringing or mollycoddling allowed.

“When you study the teams that win it and you study the drive behind it… any team from when [Larry] Bird played or Magic [Johnson] played, Isiah [Thomas] played, [Michael] Jordan – all those guys had incredible drive. When you hear the stories about the incredible things they did – I know Kevin Garnett with us in Boston – there’s a driving force beind it. I think that’s necessary.

“There’s not a lot of difference between the elite teams,” the Bulls coach added. “It’s will, determination. That’s not something you develop once you get there. You’d better develop it all along the way.”

Vogel did admit to one area of overwork: George has been asked all season to lead the Pacers’ offense, while also serving as their best perimeter defender. It might be time to lighten his defensive load, Vogel revealed.

“Every time he goes 4-for-17, I tell myself we need to do that,” the Indiana coach said after Friday’s shootaround at the Fieldhouse. “So I would expect to see a little of that going forward.

“He’s such a competitive guy that he wants to guard the other team’s best player the whole game. So there’s a little bit of reluctance to take him off some of those guys, and that’s a good thing. But it’s also, I think, smart for our basketball team.”

Just don’t expect to see the Pacers pacing themselves.

Hang Time Podcast (episode 152) featuring Joakim Noah and Steve Aschburner

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Phil Jackson‘s basketball roots run deep in New York, dating all the way back to his playing days with the Knicks, when he was a part of teams that won the franchise’s only championships, all the way up to his being introduced Tuesday as the Knicks’ new team president.

But there is no denying his connection to Chicago, the place where he enjoyed some of his greatest moments in the game, including the six titles he helped bring to the city along with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the dynasty Bulls.

And Phil and Chicago is where we go on Episode 152 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Bulls All-Star center Joakim Noah and NBA.com’s senior writer and Chicago-area native and Hang Time bureau chief Steve Aschburner. Whether or not that championship connectivity comes into play for Phil Jackson and the Knicks (and right now, Carmelo Anthony and his current crew) remains to be seen, but if Jackson’s Knicks grind the way Noah and the Bulls do under Tom Thibodeau, Knicks fans would have plenty cheer about.

The bigger and perhaps better questions center around what kind of power, drawing and otherwise, Phil brings to the Knicks. Can Phil attract the other superstar needed to pair with Anthony so the Knicks can contend? Would LeBron James listen to a pitch from The Zen master if and when he becomes a free agent? And what does that mean for Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Pat Riley in Miami?

So many questions … and needed answers, plus this week’s edition of Braggin’ Rights, can be found here.

Check out all of that and more on Episode 152 of the Hang Time Podcast Featuring Joakim Noah and Steve Aschburner …

LISTEN HERE:


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

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

Blogtable: Pacers, Heat … then what?

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


BLOGTABLE: The rest of the East | The MVP of the Clippers | Phil Jackson’s debut



VIDEO: The Starters break down John Schuhmann’s weekly NBA.com Power Rankings

> OK, so it’s Miami and Indiana. How do you see the rest of the East shaking out?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No one should want to be No. 7 or No. 8, no matter how vulnerable Miami or Indiana has looked in recent weeks. That creates some serious pressure from down under in the East bracket even if the newly invigorated Knicks do not. Six games separate Nos. 3-8, which could make for a wild finish. But I expect the current order to hold. Toronto is the best of the bunch overall, followed by the ever-overachieving Bulls. Brooklyn and Washington each might think it is better off facing the Raptors, but then, there’s that nuisance of going back and forth through customs in a long series. Charlotte is just happy to be there and Atlanta, as the sub-.500 entry, is just lucky to be there. Viva la status quo! (Oh, and the Raptors, Bulls and Bobcats have the best chance of making upset mayhem in the conference semifinals, depending on matchups.)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Since the Knicks have won six in row, we know from past experience that things will soon turn bad. I don’t expect them to creep into the playoffs just because of Phil Jackson’s Zen magic. The Cavs are also dead. So we have the eight teams. It’s only a question of the order. I could see the Nets beating out the Wizards for No. 5. But do they want to walk into a possible 4-5 first round meeting with the meat grinder that is the Bulls? I could really look forward to a first round series between the Heat and Bobcats. Charlotte is a team that finally has a purpose and a direction and Al Jefferson could make things interesting.

Carmelo Anthony (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Of course you have to be impressed with Toronto and the job coach Dwane Casey has done in the final year of his contract. And coach Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls, what more can be said about this group’s resiliency? But check out the Brooklyn Nets. Coach Jason Kidd has figured out a thing or two, not the least of which is how to stalk a sideline. The talent on this team has really shown itself since the calendar turned to 2014. Deron Williams has endured injury and struggle and is playing some of his finest ball of the season. Joe Johnson‘s been solid. Paul Pierce has seemed to finally embrace the journey. The addition of Marcus Thornton has provided a nice jolt. Put it all together and the Nets are a savvy, veteran ballclub that won’t wilt under pressure.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bulls get past the Raptors, the Nets get past the Wizards, and the Bobcats stay in the top eight. Most of all, I see the playoff group is set. The Knicks have some forward momentum so breaking in wouldn’t be the biggest surprise. But the jockeying will mostly be within, the order of the first eight. One of the subplots will be getting to at least sixth to avoid a 1-8 or  2-7 with the Heat and Pacers.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Bulls have the easiest remaining schedule (they have six more games against the Sixers, Bucks, Celtics and Magic), so they should grab the 3 seed, with Toronto, Brooklyn and Washington finishing behind them in that order. There’s very little chance that Charlotte or Atlanta budge or win more than one game in the first round. Those 3-6 and 4-5 series should be a lot of fun (even though Bulls games are the ugliest in the league) and the teams with the experience (Chicago and Brooklyn) should have the edge. But I love that we have some fresh blood in there with the Raps, Wiz and future-Hornets.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams we’ll see in mid-April are the same eight teams that are occupying those spots today. New York and Cleveland had their windows of opportunity to catch the Hawks for that eighth and final spot in the standings (the Hawks lost almost every time they hit for the floor for dang near an entire month and still had a cushion). Whatever that 3 through 8 breakdown is at the end of the this regular season is almost inconsequential to me. In fact, I joked to Lang Whitaker and Rick Fox last week on the Hang Time Podcast that we should go ahead and play the No. 3-vs-No. 6 and No. 4-vs-No. 5 series, whoever matches up in those spots, give the Pacers and Heat a first-round bye and tell the bottom two teams that we appreciate all of your hard work but there is no need in you getting your noses bloodied merely for our entertainment.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: One of the teams that is currently in the playoff picture — but only one team — will not make the postseason. I think Atlanta is due for a run, after their long losing streak, and even as well as Charlotte has played of late, my guess is they’ll hit a tailspin as we head down the stretch. Which means? That’s right, Phil Jackson’s New York Knicks will make a late push and qualify for the playoffs. They don’t have their own Draft pick anyway, so why not go all out?

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I think it will stay as-is, meaning that the Knicks won’t make it. The eight teams that are in there should stay, it’s just going to be a question of where they’ll all finish and who will secure third and fourth position –  and that hugely important home court for the first round. Charlotte and Atlanta seem to be the obvious candidates to finish in seventh and eighth, but the battle between Toronto, Chicago, Washington and Brooklyn will be intriguing. Just 2.5 games separates those four teams.

XiBin Yang, NBA China: The Bobcats really played some good games after the All-Star break. Al Jefferson has reached his summit of career, and he demonstrated that he could play some solid defense, if the coach is able to establish an effective system. Maybe they could make a leap in the last month. The schedule of Brooklyn is better. So, if the Nets continue to embarrass their opponents, maybe it’s not so far away to see them eventually seize a home-court advantage in the first round.

Morning Shootaround — March 19


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: ‘Melo to explore ‘options’ in free agency | LeBron backs off vs. Cavs | Bynum suffering from swollen knee | Rondo struggling with how to lead rebuilding Celts | Pau backs Jackson’s move to N.Y.

No. 1: Report: Bulls, Rockets top suitors for Anthony — As Phil Jackson was introduced as the Knicks new team president yesterday, one of the main topics of conversation was the future of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony. Anthony intends to opt out of his contract this summer and test the free-agent waters and while the Knicks can offer him more money than any other team on the open market can, rumors have bubbled up about him being interested in leaving. In a review of the Knicks’ addition of Jackson, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski says that two teams — the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets — are in the lead to make a big push for ‘Melo this summer:

Jackson has limitless resources to construct a front office, coaching staff and roster. Everything’s on him now. James Dolan won’t be cramping Jackson’s style in those big free-agent meetings, because it will be Jackson playing the part of Miami’s Pat Riley now. Throwing his rings on the table, selling management credibility born of coaching genius.

And make no mistake: One of the most important things Jackson offered on Tuesday was a nod toward his old Chicago Bulls nemesis and GM, Jerry Krause, whom, he said, set a standard for thoroughness and legwork in the evaluation of talent. All of them mocked Krause, but no one – not Jackson, nor Michael Jordan – would’ve had multiple titles without him. Or maybe even one.

The NBA is a talent business, and the Knicks’ most important asset, Carmelo Anthony, will welcome listening to Jackson’s pitch on the future. Anthony heard part of it in the news conference when Jackson went out of his way to suggest the Knicks star’s freewheeling, isolation-scoring days are done.

Anthony has free-agent options, and two have risen above everything else: Chicago and Houston, sources with direct knowledge of his plans told Yahoo Sports. The Bulls have an easier path to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign Anthony, but the Rockets believe they can shed the contracts necessary to offer a third near-max deals alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden, league sources said.

“He’ll give New York every option,” one source with knowledge of Anthony’s plans told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. “But he has options – and he’s going to explore them all.”


VIDEO: Phil Jackson talks about his desire to keep Carmelo Anthony in New York

***

No. 2: LeBron backs off a bit after epic start vs. Cavs — After the first quarter of last night’s Heat-Cavaliers game from Quicken Loans Arena, LeBron James had 25 points on a 10-for-11 shooting performance in the first quarter. In short, it looked like James was headed for another record scoring night just weeks after he set the team mark for points in a game with 61 against the Charlotte Bobcats. But a funny thing happened as the game went along: James tapered off his field goal attempts and worked to get others involved. While he still finished with 43 points, ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst notes how James chose to back off against Cleveland after his hot start:

LeBron James had the hammer raised on his former team Tuesday night, the chance to inflict another lasting scar with the sort of record-setting performance that would hang on the books for years.Maybe it was mercy, maybe it was maturity and maybe there was just some pride from the injury-ravaged Cleveland Cavaliers. It was hard to figure exactly what happened, but James uncharacteristically stood down and perhaps allowed a chance at a record to pass and left satisfied that his Miami Heat took a 100-96 victory.

James, who possesses a flash-drive memory, easily remembered Allen Iverson scoring 54 points on the Cavs back in 2001 when he was a teenager in nearby Akron. It was a vendetta that night, Iverson upset the Cleveland crowd had mistreated him in his view in an earlier visit and he was determined to make a statement.

Iverson’s angry night still stands as the Quicken Loans Arena record and it was so within James’ grasp. James himself carries the date Dec. 2, 2010, around in his head like a family member’s birthday because of the rancor he encountered in the building in his first game back after signing with the Heat. He mentions that date numerous times a year, usually when brushing away someone insinuating he’d run into a hostile crowd that particular day.

He referenced that date again Tuesday, in fact. But James doesn’t seem to have the same desire to strike back as Iverson. If nothing else, James played almost 400 games in his life in the building and never eclipsed 50 but was halfway to that number just 12 minutes in.

“With that type of start, you see if you can go for 70,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s just human conditioning to think like that.”

And it’s human conditioning for the coach to let his player try. Instead of sitting James to start the second quarter as normal, Spoelstra sent him to the floor to continue the streak.

Then something odd happened. James backed off. He started passing up open driving lanes. He started looking for teammates inside. He started calling plays for teammates, especially looking to get Ray Allen some open looks. He eased off the pure attack mode he seemed to be reveling in only moments before.

“When I started the game off, I felt like I could have went for 50 or 60,” James said. “But you can’t really dictate what’s going to happen.”

James would take just eight shots the rest of the game, which is simply incomprehensible after one starts 10-of-11. He took just three shots in the entire second half when the Cavs, who were also without All-Star Kyrie Irving because of a biceps injury, were pushing back and trying to pull an upset.

Just imagine how many shots Iverson might’ve taken had he started a game 10-of-11, much less a game in Cleveland during his prime.

James did reach the 40-point mark, getting there with some late-game free throws when the Cavs starting intentionally fouling him to stop the clock to keep comeback hopes alive. In all, he had 43 points on 14-of-19 shooting. It was barely above normal: James averages 17.5 shots a game and most of the time he’s sharing the load with Wade.

“He’s not a selfish player, never has been,” said Chris Bosh, who was the Heat’s main offensive weapon in the second half as he scored 12 of his 21 points despite a little scare when he twisted his right knee in the third quarter.

“He’s still had [43], that’s pretty good. Some guys probably don’t have the maturity to handle that but he did a pretty good job of playing a complete game.”


VIDEO: LeBron James gets off to a quick start in Miami’s win in Cleveland

***

No. 3: Bynum dealing with swelling in knee — The Pacers have to be more than pleased with what they’ve seen from center Andrew Bynum in the two games as the big man is averaging 11.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg while shooting 40.9 percent. But it appears they’ll have to wait a while to see him on the court again as knee swelling will keep him sidelined as the Pacers travel to face the Knicks tonight, writes Scott Agness of Pacers.com:

Andrew Bynum won’t join the Pacers on their trip to New York, but instead will stay in town to treat swelling in his knees that are causing him pain — and to miss games.

“The knees are still swollen so he’s going to stay behind to get some work in here and some treatment here,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said following Tuesday’s practice. “We’ll see where he’s at when we get back.”

Bynum, who was in practice gear but didn’t participate on Tuesday, admitted there’s some concern for his recent setback. After scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds in exactly 20 minutes of work Saturday night in Detroit, Bynum has experienced significant swelling in his right knee to the point where he underwent an MRI and had it drained Monday afternoon.

“This one is a little concerning for me because it caused a lot more fluid,” he said. “I haven’t had that much fluid in there since like the (2010) Boston Finals in L.A.”

That was almost four years ago.

“It’s not fun,” Bynum added. “It is what it is at this point.”

Doctors analyzed the MRI Tuesday morning, according to Bynum, and he expects to know more Tuesday afternoon.

As Vogel has said, they knew what they were signing up for. But that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to deal with.

“[It's] not really disappointing at all, to be honest,” he said. “We knew he was going to be in and out of the lineup. He’s got some problems with his knees, we’re well aware of that, and we’ll be excited with what he can give us when he’s in there.”


VIDEO: Andrew Bynum talks about his knee injury

***

No. 4: Rondo struggling to lead Celts during rebuild – After Monday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Boston Celtics have an 0-15 road mark against the Western Conference, a feat no other Celtics team had accomplished. If nothing else, that’s proof of a rebuilding season in Beantown as Boston tries to figure out its direction for next season and beyond. Star point guard Rajon Rondo is the de facto leader of these Celtics, who are comprised of many players on expiring contracts, and as Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe points out, Rondo is finding it tough at times to lead a group with an uncertain future:

There’s always some degree of uncertainty as the front office works to reshape the roster.It’s an unsung challenge for rookie coach Brad Stevens to keep his players united even though they know they might be on unsettled ground.

Likewise, it’s an unsung challenge for the team’s captain, Rajon Rondo.

And around the time Rondo returned to action in January after missing nearly a year following a knee injury, former Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he brought up this topic with his former point guard.

It’s not unusual for the two to talk, even with Rivers now coaching the Los Angeles Clippers. They have history, with Rivers coaching Rondo from 2006-07 until last season.

“I speak to Doc all the time,” Rondo said. “I’ve talked to him on the phone. I’ve talked to him after games, text-wise. He gives me advice all the time.”

“Everybody is not going to buy in, because all they hear is that they’re all getting traded because they’re in the middle of a rebuild,’” Rivers said he told Rondo. “So you’re going to go in there and talk about, ‘Hey, let’s buy in as a team,’ and half of them are going to say, ‘I’m not even going to be on this team.’ ”

“Well, the first concern is to make it through the trade deadline,” Rondo said.

Indeed. The Celtics made two swaps before the deadline. And though he involved in numerous rumors, Rondo wasn’t moved.

But the roster is by no means settled.

The Celtics figure to be especially active this summer, and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck recently told the Globe, “This June there could be some fireworks.”

Technically speaking, only Rondo, Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Vitor Faverani, Kelly Olynyk, and Jared Sullinger are on guaranteed contracts for next season.

Jerryd Bayless, Kris Humphries, and Avery Bradley will become free agents, though Bradley will be restricted, meaning the Celtics can match any offer he receives.

“For the most part, guys are playing for contracts,” Rondo said. “It’s not a matter of being here. It’s a matter of staying in the league.”

That pressure can weigh on a player.

“If a guy is not under contract, obviously he wants to play well every game,” Rondo said. “He wants to make all his shots, do all the intangibles.

“I’m not necessarily saying that a guy under contract won’t do all those things, but obviously it’s amplified when you’re playing for your life or you’re playing for your career.”

Leading a locker room in which players might be playing for their career is new for Rondo, but Wallace recalled being in that situation in Charlotte.

In 2004-05, his first season there, the team was rebuilding (it finished 18-64) and most of the players were set to become free agents. Ideally, Wallace said, players buy into the system, but that’s easier said than done.

“It’s a big challenge,” he said, “because even though you don’t want to think about that, once you start losing, you start thinking about your career — ‘Oh, I’m up next summer, I’ve got to figure this [expletive] out.’

***

No. 5: Pau backs Knicks’ signing of Jackson — With Phil Jackson officially entrenched as the Knicks new team president, he’s got his work cut out for him in trying to turn New York into a stable franchise again (as our John Schuhmann points out). But for now, many folks are commending New York on getting a person of Jackson’s caliber to lead the charge and one of those backers is none other than Lakers power forward Pau Gasol. Gasol won two championships and made three Finals trips under Jackson when both men were in L.A. and Gasol told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin he backs the Knicks’ latest personnel move:

The New York Knicks officially announced the hiring of Phil Jackson as their new team president Tuesday, and will reportedly pay him $60 million over five years for the job. It may have been an unprecedented payday for a front office executive, but it also qualifies as a sound financial decision by the Knicks in Pau Gasol’s eyes.

“I think the Knicks are fortunate to have him,” the Los Angeles Lakers big man said after practice Tuesday. “I know they gave him a big contract and a big investment, but I think he’s worth every cent of it.”

Gasol, who played under Jackson in L.A. from 2008-11 and reached three NBA Finals while winning two championships in the process, said it will take some adjusting seeing Jackson working on the opposite coast.

“It’s weird,” Gasol said. “It’s weird to see him with a Knick logo behind him in the picture today. But I know he’s in a good place.”

Gasol said he still sees Jackson “regularly” since the 11-time champion coach retired from the sidelines following the 2010-11 season, but will have to curtail that contact because of Jackson’s new role.

“Apparently we can’t really talk to each other from now on since I’m going to become a free agent and he’s an executive for another team, so it’s under rules that we can’t communicate,” Gasol said, referring to the league’s tampering clause. “He can be penalized. So, our communication has been cut off until July 1st.”

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who was hired over Jackson last November, said Jackson will do a “great job” in New York, but also detailed the challenge the former coach will face. D’Antoni coached the Knicks from 2008-2012 before being unceremoniously showed the door, so he knows the pitfalls associated with the franchise more than most.

“It’s a big job anywhere,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t think just New York. I think it’s a big job anywhere to turn it around. I think you have to look at the cap room and what they have and how quick you can do it? Can you get lucky? So there’s a lot of things. I know that there will be a lot of effort put into it. Good, sound decisions. And you hope — well, I’m not a Knick now so I don’t hope — it works out for him. But it’s a tall order for anybody at anywhere at anytime. This league is not easy to get on top. And we know in New York, you’re either winning or you’re a failure. So, it will be tough but they got a good man and he’ll do a heck of a job.”

D’Antoni does not believe that Jackson’s coaching resume will automatically translate to front office success.

“I don’t think one correlates to the other,” D’Antoni said. “I think they’re two completely separate jobs. It’s like turning a great player into a coach. It’s a different job. So you don’t know if they can do it or not. I think that obviously he’s got a good basketball mind, so he’ll approach it a different way and let’s see if it works out. I think there’s a lot of great qualities there, so there’s no reason it doesn’t. But there’s no reason it does. So we’ll see what happens.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: As our Scott Howard-Cooper reported last night, the Hall of Fame is weighing a potential change to the voting format … A detailed look at what it might take for Chicago to bring over prized foreign talent Nikola Mirotic to the NBA next season … A groin strain will sideline Lakers guard Jordan Farmar for at least two weeks … Cool little chat with Pacers coach Frank Vogel about his game day routine and more … Blake Griffin doesn’t think he has much of a chance in the MVP race this season … The shared grandfather of the Magic’s Tobias Harris and the Suns’ Channing Frye was a Tuskegee AirmanMo Williams has been playing better since LaMarcus Aldridge has been out of the lineup … Quick guards have been giving the Raptors fits of late … Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas may get some rest down the stretch of the season

ICYMI of the Night: Wizards swingman Trevor Ariza is in the midst of a great season, to be sure. But sometimes even a great season needs a little luck, as demonstrated by his wild fadeaway bank shot last night in Sacramento …


VIDEO: Trevor Ariza nails a wild off-the-glass fadeaway jumper

Morning Shootaround — March 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Rockets could push for ‘Melo | Pau backs Kobe’s L.A. viewpoint | McHale: Noah should win DPOY | Bynum focusing on playoff role | Jazz home-game attendance in major slump

No. 1: Report: Rockets could push for ‘Melo — The rumors about where Carmelo Anthony might sign this summer have been buzzing ever since he said he’d opt out last October. While the Los Angeles Lakers and perhaps Chicago Bulls have led most of the chatter — as well, of course, is the option that ‘Melo will stay in New York — a new team may be entering the fray. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that the Houston Rockets could make a big push for Anthony this summer:

Could Carmelo Anthony rocket off to Houston?

According to a league source, the Rockets will make a bid for Carmelo Anthony this summer, even though they probably won’t have cap space and would have to orchestrate a creative sign-and-trade. The source said Houston asked the Knicks about Anthony before February’s trade deadline.

The Knicks have held discussions with the Rockets about power forward Omer Asik. Even though Rockets president Daryl Morey is the pioneer of advanced statistics and Anthony has never fared well in some efficiency categories, Morey’s old-school instincts believe he could form a terrific Big 3 with Dwight Howard and James Harden. Rockets management also believes Anthony has made advancements in the grit department the past two seasons.

The only way the Rockets can get under the cap is by dealing the expiring contracts of Jeremy Lin, who is entering the poison pill year of $15 million, and Asik, also scheduled to make $15 million.

But even if the Rockets don’t, a desperate Knicks team could take on Lin or Asik and draft picks if Phil Jackson doesn’t believe in building around Anthony. The Knicks still would be set for 2015’s free agency and Lin wold be a drawing card during a season the Knicks may want to tank and fall into the lottery.

Howard has been most outspoken in encouraging Anthony to consider smaller markets than New York just like Howard did in eschewing Los Angeles.

The Lakers, Clippers and Bulls are other potential destinations for Anthony, who said his “first priority’’ is to remain a Knick if he likes their future blueprint.

***

No. 2: Pau glad Kobe called out Lakers’ front office — If you somehow managed to miss it Tuesday night or all day Wednesday, Kobe Bryant — in announcing his season was over — was not happy when asked about the Lakers’ long-term outlook and front office (you can read all the quotes here).In short, Bryant is wondering what kind of direction the Lakers are going and he’s not about to wait around for a full rebuild. While what L.A. does next is anyone’s guess, teammate Pau Gasol supported Bryant’s words, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

The bond Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol formed runs in many directions, and it doesn’t just include winning two NBA championships and meshing complementary personalities together.Gasol also supported Kobe Bryant for publicly questioning the front office. Those included issues ranging from wanting executives Jim and Jeanie Buss to improve their relationship, decide Mike D’Antoni’s future as head coach and build a championship caliber roster this offseason.

“I’m glad that he spoke his mind,” Gasol said following the Lakers’ 131-102 loss Thursday to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “He wants to win. He’s got two years under contract with the franchise. He wants to be in the best possible position to win. Whether you do that publicly or internally, that’s totally up to you. He spoke his mind and you have to respect him for that.”

Will the Lakers pull that off?

Perhaps easier said than done.

Meanwhile, the Lakers don’t expect LeBron James to leave the Miami Heat if he opts out of his contract. The Lakers aren’t thrilled about Carmelo Anthony should he opt out of his deal with the Knicks. The Lakers wouldn’t want to spend a max-level contract on Cleveland’s Luol Deng and on Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. GM Mitch Kupchak had suggested earlier that the Lakers may use their financial flexibility more conservatively both to save up for a star-studded 2015 free-agent class and because of recently-imposed harsher penalties for high-spending teams.

“It makes things harder for teams, but it is what it is,” Gasol said. “The rules keep changing over the years. But you have to adjust and make the best out of it.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant sounds off on the Lakers’ future during his news conference

***

No. 3: McHale backs Noah for DPOY — Rockets coach Kevin McHale knows a thing or two about defense. As a player, he was an All-Defensive Team first or second teamer six times, is the Celtics’ second all-time leading shotblocker and, oh yeah, currently coaches former three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner Dwight Howard. So it carries some hefty weight when McHale, speaking before last night’s Rockets-Bulls game in Chicago, says that Joakim Noah of the Bulls is the DPOY. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com has more:

Kevin McHale said Thursday that Bulls center Joakim Noah should win the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award based on his performance this season.

The Houston Rockets coach knows a special defensive big man when he sees one. He was one himself, being selected multiple times to the NBA all-defense team. He has also coached two previous award winners in Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard.

McHale included Noah in that elite category Thursday. Noah is averaging 12.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.5 blocks this season.

“He’s played very well,” McHale said after his team’s shootaround at Moody Bible Institute. “He should be defensive player of the year. He’s done a great job with these guys. They’ve been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates.”

McHale was complimentary not only of Noah’s defensive game but of his offensive one as well.

“He’s just more confident in what he’s doing,” McHale said. “He’s making plays with the pass. He’s driving and kicking. When he was coming out, I thought he’d be a pick-pop-and-drive playmaking 4. He’s doing more of that now.”


VIDEO: Joakim Noah talks after the Bulls’ win over the Rockets Thursday

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No. 4: Bynum embracing long-term view to season, playing time — Center Andrew Bynum made his Indiana debut on Tuesday night and gave Pacers fans a nice taste of what he can bring to the court: eight points, 10 rebounds and solid interior defense in about 15 minutes. Bynum won’t play tonight in Philly (7 p.m. ET, League Pass) and told Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth that he’s more concerned with gearing up for the playoffs than getting in tons of regular-season game action:

Short-term, Andrew Bynum sat out the Pacers’ practice on Thursday, will sit out their game in Philadelphia on Friday, and then return the following night in Detroit.

Long-term? That question mark will follow him everywhere he goes for the remainder of the season, particularly on the walks from the training room to the basketball court. Does the 26-year-old eighth-year pro have enough left in his knees to recapture something resembling his All-Star level of two seasons ago, or is backing up a healthier player his future job description?

“I don’t think back-to-backs are prime right now,” he said, resting in an end zone seat at Hinkle Fieldhouse following the team’s workout. “There’s two more left after this one, and we don’t want to risk anything. It’s more about being healthy for the playoffs.

“I’m pleased with the way it’s responded to the treatment I’ve been getting. I don’t have any swelling, just general arthritic conditions, I guess. We want to calm it down. Everything is about not causing a flare-up that causes me to miss four or five consecutive days. If I can play two really strong hard days and take a day off and it’s fine, that’s the remedy we want. We don’t want to have any bone bruises or flareups, because that’s when you start to lose conditioning.”

Bynum is to the Pacers what Greg Oden is to Miami: a talented 7-foot center with tender knees, being nursed along in hopes he can be a difference-maker in the quest for a championship. They’re in a gimpy-legged race to the finish line, and who remains healthiest could have a lot to say about who reaches the NBA Finals.

As for Bynum, the Pacers would be thrilled to keep getting what they got in Tuesday’s game against Boston.

“He got me excited,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Thursday. “He’s one heck of a basketball player and he’s really going to help us. Now it’s a matter of getting as much work as we can in with him while managing the soreness in his knees. Hopefully come playoff time he’s healthy and as far along as we can get him.”

Beyond that, Bynum has no way of knowing what lies ahead. But he wants as much as he can get out of his remaining years.

“I think I have to monitor my body, always staying in shape, being more professional,” he said. “A lot of times in the summer I would take two months off and then attack it like a boxing training camp where I’d go for eight weeks twice a day, really hard. I obviously have to change that. It’s a young man’s game, and I’m still young in the human sense, but as a basketball player, a thoroughbred, I’m pretty old. So I have to revamp my training strategy.”


VIDEO: Andrew Bynum talks after Wednesday’s practice about his role and his debut

***

No. 5: Jazz home-game attendance in sharp decline – Given that the Utah Jazz are firmly in rebuilding mode and are tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the worst record in the Western Conference (22-43), the fact that attendance is down in Salt Lake City isn’t shocking. But according to Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune, the rabid fan base in Utah has taken attendance for the team’s home games to levels not seen since before 1991:

As he walks out onto the court with his team before each home game, of course Tyrone Corbin sees them.

“You notice,” the Utah Jazz coach says. “You notice the green seats.”

And for Corbin, who spent three seasons in Utah as a player and a decade as a coach, he’s seen more of them this season than ever before. With the Jazz, owners of a 23-42 record, firmly in rebuilding mode, attendance — an average of 17,947 announced fans per game, though there are often far fewer than that actually in the building — has dropped to the lowest the franchise has seen since moving out of the Salt Palace and into the Delta Center in 1991.

It’s a four-percent decline from a season ago, and a nine-percent decline from a peak of 19,908 six seasons ago when the Jazz won the Northwest Division and made it to the Western Conference semifinals.

The drop, however, was not unexpected for a franchise that let four of its five top scorers from last year leave for free agency to make playing time for a younger, developing base.

“We anticipated that we would have a slight decline,” Jazz president Randy Rigby said.

It would be a hit to the bottom line, Rigby added, especially in one of the league’s smallest markets, where ticket sales are a “critical component” of financial viability. Helping ease concerns, Jazz officials believed the team had a fan base that was “supportive of the plan and strategy.”

With just nine home games remaining in the season, franchise leaders have been happy with the numbers they’ve drawn. After drawing the ninth-most fans in the NBA on average last season, the Jazz have dropped to 14th-most and are still above the league average of 17,297. Among teams with losing records this season, only the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics are drawing more fans.

Commitment to the rebuild took faith and market research. Rigby said Jazz officials also heard the message from fans last season that they would endure rebuilding, taking “short-term pain for a long-term reward.”

“They’ve been very supportive of the plan and the strategy,” he said.

And as the season draws to a close, Rigby is still preaching “patience in a very impatient business.”

“We all want to have a winner sooner than later,” he said. “But we’re not going to skip steps. We’re going to do it right, so we can have something that will be sustainable for a long period of time.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In a Q&A on the team’s website, Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro said he hopes Rudy Gay sticks with the team long term … It doesn’t seem likely that Al Horford will be be back anytime this season … Jazz veteran forward Marvin Williams is having an MRI on his back today … Wizards guard John Wall says the reason Kemba Walker gets calls is because he screams a lot … The Blazers got some bad news: both LaMarcus Aldridge and Mo Williams will be out for a little while … Milwaukee’s guard rotation of Nate Wolters, Brandon Knight and Ramon Sessions have been playing well lately …

ICYMI of the Night: The Bulls’ Taj Gibson made up for his dunk fail the other night with this monster slam on Omer Asik last night …


VIDEO: Taj Gibson powers one down against the Rockets

Down goes Dunleavy…before getting back up to spark Bulls


VIDEO: Stitched-up Dunleavy scores 21 second-half points to lead Bulls to rout of Rockets

CHICAGO – Despite his years at Duke and his status as NBA offspring, factors that might cast him as one of the game’s bluebloods, Mike Dunleavy made it painfully clear he bleeds Chicago Bulls red Thursday night in his team’s 111-87 victory over Houston at United Center.

Dunleavy’s head got in the way of Chandler Parsons‘ elbow as the Rockets forward bore down on a fast break in the second quarter. Dunleavy got the call – a charge on Parsons – along with a gash over his right eye that bled instantly and profusely. The Bulls wing player, though dazed, pushed himself up to the floor and hurried to the dressing room, where he took 10 stitches.

Video and photos showed blood running down his face, and ball boys had to mop on the diagonal from the lane nearest Houston’s bench to the far corner to clean up the trail.

Naturally, since he wasn’t more seriously injured, Dunleavy’s mishap was met with amusement and a little locker-room admiration – especially since he returned in time to start the second half and score all of his game-high 21 points from that point, despite the bandage, the throbbing and the swelling.

“That gash looked scary, man,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “That gash looked like a Rocky cut, like when Rocky was in the movie going ‘Cut me, Mick. Cut me!’ Everybody was like, ‘Yo, if you get hit one more time, it’s over for you.’ And he kept a smile on his face. He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m gonna light it up.’ “

Said Dunleavy: “It was pretty hard initially and kind of knocked me back. But once I hit the ground and realized I was bleeding, you’ve got to go to the locker room and get stitched up. No point in hanging around the court and getting blood everywhere. … I just knew, once they got the stitches done, I was coming back.”

He hit 7 of his 11 shots in the third quarter, including 3 of 4 3-pointers, for 18 points. The Bulls, up 50-42 at halftime, outscored Houston 35-16 in the third. But Dunleavy stuck around for nearly nine minutes in the fourth anyway – Rockets coach Kevin McHale largely had yanked his starters by then – to finish 8-of-15 with seven rebounds. He even took another charge.

“That was very impressive and I think it inspired the team,” Chicago’s Joakim Noah said. “He had a huge knot on his head. Looking like Holyfield – the white version. And just coming out there, putting on a new jersey and gutting it out in the second half … it was good for Duke’s street credibility.

“It shows a lot about the character of this team, that somebody could get hit the way he got hit. I’d never seen nothing like that really, getting rocked the way he got rocked. It [blood] was really coming down. Ten stitches. Then to play the second half the way he played? I like that [stuff].”

Easy for Noah to say. Dunleavy said the Bulls’ medical staff checked him for symptoms of whiplash and also peppered him with some questions as part of the NBA’s concussion protocol. “They were asking me questions and I was answering them in a way that wouldn’t lead them to believe I had a concussion,” he said.

At that point, Dunleavy said he had no doubt he would play in the second half, though he didn’t attribute his performance to the blow or any emotions from it.

“It was just a matter of how long it took ‘em to stitch me up. I’ve had that happen a couple times. Sometimes it’s 10 minutes, sometimes it’s 20,” he said. “It wasn’t a malicious hit on Parsons’ part. Sometimes in that case, when it is intentional, yeah, it can fire you up. But I was kind of sitting back here bored, getting stitched up. I wanted to play.”

It’s been a long season for Dunleavy, who signed a bargain contract (two years, $6.5 million) with the Bulls last summer in the hope of becoming a valuable reserve on a championship contender. Then Derrick Rose went down again, Luol Deng got traded and Dunleavy got bumped into the starting lineup for 44 of 65 games so far.

He’s averaging 30.4 minutes, his most in six years, while shooting just 42.8 percent, 37.0 percent from the arc. Right up to the trade deadline three weeks ago, there were rumors that Dunleavy might be moved, an extra shooter for an ambitious team. But the Bulls kept him, and coach Tom Thibodeau has used him every which way.

“That is the price of winning,” Thibodeau said of Dunleavy’s gash, “and that is why he is so valuable to our team. When you talk about toughness, that is toughness.”

Teammate Jimmy Butler said: “He’s on this team for a reason. He’s a tough SOB. Mike’s been big for this team. Helluva player, helluva shooter, helluva scorer.

“But I will make fun of him when he comes in tomorrow with a black eye.”

Noah sears his way into MVP talk

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

JoakimNoah_March13_575x275

CHICAGO – When Joakim Noah switched on screens a couple times Sunday to find himself against LeBron James, the world saw the Chicago Bulls’ adrenalized, frenetic 6-foot-11 center seizing the moment, squaring up and – wait, no, really? – clapping his hands almost in James’ face.

Here he was, isolated against the NBA’s three-time MVP, who had the ball in his hands, the rim 20 feet away and a game to win. Noah might as well have been throwing rocks at a grizzly bear or wading into traffic on the Kennedy.

Noah, though, didn’t see it that way. For an instant on the court at United Center, in some recess of his mind, he was back in Teaneck, N.J., a dozen years ago. James was a high school underclassman from Akron, Ohio, already having his every movement scouted and stalked as the NBA’s next big thing. Noah? He was the gawky kid with the frizzy hair shagging rebounds for James.

LeBron James, Joakim Noah (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James, Joakim Noah (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

“I was a ball boy,” Noah said after a Bulls practice this week, asked about the famous Adidas ABCD basketball camp he first attended as a sophomore. He hadn’t done enough to earn a spot as a player, so he went with his high school coach and rebounded for James, Lenny Cooke, Sebastian Telfair and other phenoms.

Every once in a while, you hear about an NBA player who spent time as a ball boy, helping and staring a lot while navigating wet towels and giant men in locker rooms. This was different, though.

“At least they’re fetching things for guys who are in the NBA,” Noah said. “I was fetching things for guys who were my age. I didn’t have my own bed – slept on the floor.

“I could have been in France with my father [tennis star Yannick Noah], I could have been traveling with my mom [Cecilia Rodhe, Miss Sweden 1978] in the summertime. But I knew that was where I needed to be if I wanted to make it. My dream was to play at that camp, to play in college and to play one day in the NBA.

“Y’know, I think it gives me my underdog mentality. I cherish those times because those are the sacrifices I had to make. Even as a ball boy, it wasn’t humbling – I just knew I had to be there, because it gave me an opportunity to see where I needed to get to.”

James, Noah said, has not mentioned their initial brush in the years since and probably doesn’t remember it.

“I wasn’t ready,” Noah said. “Physically I was a late bloomer. Y’know, I was 6-5 and 140 pounds. They used to call me ‘Stick Man.’ “


VIDEO: Noah’s All-Star journey

> Bringing it every night

James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Miami Heat might have called Noah a few other things Sunday, after he helped Chicago beat them 95-88 with 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks in 42 matinee minutes. The Bulls outworked Miami, getting 27 second-chance points, and Noah outworked everyone else in the building.

In fact, with his father beaming along with other family member in the stands, and with the red meat of the team he “hates” most as the opposition, the ever-emotional Noah seemed about to boil over a few times. He picked up one technical foul in the third quarter for playing keep-away on a dead ball with Miami guard Mario Chalmers. But the dude abided after that, with help from his friends.

“Sometimes I talk to him because you don’t want him to get another tech,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “But he knows his limit. He’s been doing that for years. You really can’t tell him much. He’s ‘Joakim Noah.’ He’s going to do it regardless. But he knows his limits.”

Most of the time, anyway. There was the game at Sacramento Feb. 3, when Noah got bounced in the third quarter after arguing a phantom foul whistled against him. The anger seized up on him and he appeared to drop an F-bomb on each of the three officials before he was hustled off the floor. Noah apologized after the game, but it still cost him a $15,000 fine. It at least gave Noah the distinction of being the first player penalized under new commissioner Adam Silver.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, before Tuesday’s game at United Center, was asked if his roster of adults could accommodate a player who runs as “hot” as Noah.

“I think so,” Popovich said. “He is a highly emotional guy, but he brings it every night. It’s something that infuses the whole team. He sets a standard on the court for the team. Each of us is different, our personalities. He’s like the opposite of Timmy [Duncan] in that respect. Tim is the most introspective and non-emotional guy on the court, but the fire’s burning, just in a different way. … As long as it’s directed for the good of the team, which it obviously is 100 percent, I think it’s great.”

So does the Bulls’ marketing department, which sells the “heart of Chicago basketball” with a commercial that’s nothing more than super-slo-mo video of Noah in full emotional eruption. All spasm and gyrations, sweat and spittle, primal scream, arms pumping, body quaking.

“Does it sometimes go over the edge? Yeah,” former coach-turned-ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said over the weekend. “But would you ever ask him to tone it down? Absolutely not. You have to accept that 99 percent of the time it’s a positive. The 1 percent of the time it’s a negative, you don’t overreact to that. Him and [Tom] Thibodeau, they’re both intense, passionate people. That’s why I think they’re perfect for each other.”

Thibodeau, who signed on as Bulls coach four years ago, had watched Noah from afar and seen the same frenzied guy. Then he went to work with Noah.

“You never want to take that away from a player,” Thibodeau said. “That’s his make-up. It’s who he is. When we were in Boston with Kevin Garnett, Doc [Rivers] once talked to him about [toning down his intensity]. By halftime, Doc was screaming, ‘Go back to being who you are.’ Whatever it is that makes you go, that’s what you’ve got to stay with.”

Noah’s game used to run on emotion and little else. He was a glorified energy guy chosen No. 9 by Chicago in the 2007 Draft, picked after Al Horford and Corey Brewer, his teammates with the Florida Gators. They had won NCAA titles together in 2006 and 2007, but Horford’s and Brewer’s games allegedly translated better to the NBA.

What people didn’t grasp was that Noah, a slow hoops learner in high school and college, would have the same trajectory as a pro. In his sixth NBA season, he became an All-Star. In his seventh, he did it again and has heard his name dropped in MVP and Defensive Player of the Year conversations.

“I think Noah is the best ‘non-scorer’ in the NBA,” Van Gundy said. “He’s not ever going to average 16, 17 points, but you have to take into account his defense, his rebounding, his passing. Tom’s not trying to force him to be something he’s not by scoring in the low post. He’s got him in the high post, initiating offense. It opens up the basket area for the rest of the guys, which really helps.

“Let’s face it, the special teams have those guys who can force double-teams. Chicago doesn’t have that. But you want hard-playing, unselfish, low-maintenance players, too, and that’s exactly what Noah is.”

> Learning to play smart

For someone whose game isn’t best measured by numbers, Noah, 29, has put up some stellar ones. With three triple-doubles in the last month, he became the first center to post three in a season – with assists as one of the categories – since David Robinson in 1993-94. Noah is averaging 12.2 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists – 7.1 in his last 16 games – and is trying to join Garnett (six times), Charles Barkley (three) and Anthony Mason (once) as the only players since 1990-91 to average 12.0, 11.0 and 4.5 over a full season.

His knack for facilitating the offense and finding cutters has earned him a “point center” reputation of late, and Noah has gone beyond that.


VIDEO: Noah notches a triple-double against the Knicks

“He’s just playing smart,” Thibodeau said. “He’s playing from the high post a lot and when people get up on him, now he’s reading: Are they sitting on the pass and backing off? If they are, he’s going to make another play. So I think you have to play him honestly. If you try to take the pass away, he’s going to score. That’s what I like, he’s making quick decisions, that’s probably the most important thing.”

Thibodeau said that, contrary to some elite players who add particular moves or skills each summer, Noah has ratcheted up his game across the board. After four years of continuity with Thibodeau’s system, he has blossomed.

“He’s not getting a lot of iso’s or plays where he gets on the block and gets post-ups,” said San Antonio forward Boris Diaw, Noah’s teammate in international competition on France’s national team. “He’s getting points a different way, which is hard. But he’s a hard roller [on pick-and-rolls], he’s getting in the slots all the time. He’s smart, getting always in the right place at the right moment. And getting a lot of offensive rebounds and second chances.”

Said Noah:

“I’m just being myself. I’m working on my game. I’ve never felt so confident as a basketball player. Derrick [Rose] gives me a lot of confidence, too, always telling me what I need to work on, what type of shots I’ve got to take for when he comes back.”

It is a long way off, but Thibodeau and Noah are eagerly awaiting the day Rose returns from his second season lost to knee injuries. Maybe, Rose can throttle back some of his explosive fury thanks to facets added this season by Noah.

“That’s the plan,” Noah said. “I feel like I can affect the game in a lot of different ways. And I think Derrick can as well. I’m not worried about none of [the doubts about Rose's future], because I know his mind is in the right place and he knows my mind is in the right place. All the other stuff – the accolades and all that – it’s bigger than that.”

> Getting his due

The MVP talk – even if he’s destined to be no higher than No. 3 on anyone’s ballot, slotting in somewhere after Kevin Durant and James – makes Noah uncomfortable. He’d welcome the DPOY, though he’d never campaign for it, nor for all-NBA center status that will focus both on him and his matchup Thursday against Houston’s Dwight Howard.

Howard told NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan that he was looking forward to the matchup and planned to have fun against Noah when the Rockets and Bulls clashed. Noah talked about Howard as a guy he has known since high school, too, and who finally looks happy and healthy in Houston.

Noah, while healthier than he’s been in years (mostly avoiding plantar fascitis foot issues), isn’t quite ready to be happy. Not the way he’ll be if he, Rose, Thibs and the rest – minus friend Luol Deng (a midseason blow emotionally when he was traded) – get someday what Miami has.

In the meantime, he’ll get low in his defensive crouch and, whether it’s against point guards, centers or the best player on the planet, clap excitedly in the other man’s face. So what if he is risking the most glaring sort of embarrassment in those moments? (For the record, Noah and James split their little showdowns, Noah getting a stop and triggering a fast break once, James cutting by him for a left-handed layup on the other.)

“It’s the life we choose,” Noah said smiling. “Being in the public eye, playing basketball in front of a lot of people who are watching. I’m an emotional guy, that’s who I’ve always been, if there were 10 people at an AAU game or now. I’m not going to change who I am.

“I feel lucky. There’s not a lot of jobs where you can just make a play and scream as loud as you can. There’s nobody sitting at the office who’s going to stand up and scream. It’d be like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ “

It’s all going on for Noah these days, and he can’t help but share it.

Air Check: Honesty and emotion

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – For NBA fans like us, there’s nothing better than League Pass. Having the ability to watch every game every night (and then again the next day) is heaven.

Of course, with local broadcasts, you get local broadcasters, which can be good and bad. It can be good, because these guys know their teams better than most national broadcasters. It can be bad, because these guys love their teams more than most national broadcasters. And they’re usually not afraid to show that love.

Air Check is where we highlight the best and worst of NBA broadcasts.

This edition of Air Check features the unique styles of some former players at the broadcasting table.

Stealing a slam from ‘Nique

In a game last month against the Hawks, Paul George stole a pass and was all alone for a breakaway, right in front of the best windmill dunker in NBA history…


VIDEO: George Impresses ‘Nique

You don’t want beef with Dominique Wilkins, so George should probably just lay the ball up the next time he’s on the break against Atlanta.

On second thought…

The Sixers are pretty painful to watch these days, but you still have Marc Zumoff and Malik Rose to keep you entertained. This clip starts out with a pretty funny conversation about Eric Maynor‘s college stats (“I got no choice, man!”), and then gets hilarious when Rose describes Byron Mullens a little too generously…


VIDEO: Air Check: Zumoff and Rose

Mullens, who likes to shoot threes, is a 31-percent career 3-point shooter.

“Yeeeaaahhhhhh!”

Quinn Buckner kind of calls a Pacers game like he’s sitting next to you on the couch. Even though they can’t hear him, he’ll tell players what they’re supposed to do on certain plays and he’ll instinctively let out an “Ohhhh!” at a big moment.

No one got more excited about George’s in-game 360 when it happened, and Buckner had a similar reaction when George Hill hit a circus shot last week…


VIDEO: Hill Tosses in a Prayer

Fatherly pride

We couldn’t close this edition of Air Check without Sunday’s classic in-game interview with Joakim Noah‘s father, Yannick.


VIDEO: Classic Noah Interview