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Blogtable: Deciphering LeBron’s cryptic messages?

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: Are Thunder a great team? | Deciphering LeBron’s cryptic messages? |
More dangerous sleeper playoff team — Hornets or Blazers?



VIDEOInside the NBA’s experts discuss LeBron James’ visit to Miami

> LeBron James has taken to social media to either flaunt his philosophical wisdom or take subtle digs at his teammates. What should we make of LBJ’s cryptic messages?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst:  Nothing. LeBron likes messing with everyone; he knows we all breathlessly try to interpret everything he says on Twitter or Instagram or whatever. I think he’s laughing his butt off when he types those “inspirational” passages, knowing we’ll spend two or three news cycles trying to figure out what it all means. Is he passive-aggressive at times? Yes. But if he wants to tell Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving something, I think he just tells them, in private.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Drama king? Brand-building? I’d vote for a little of both, along with flexing the power to cut out the middle man of traditionial media. It’s got to be empowering to have 28.6 million followers on Twitter — most mainstream media outlets would kill for that audience — and he probably feels he has to give them … something from time to time to keep them chattering. Can’t be boring, regurgitating old locker-room clichés. Can’t be too revealing and still maintain his family’s privacy. Can’t be NBA snarky lest it end up as bulletin-board material. Can’t be too blatant about the selling of sneakers, cars, energy drinks or whatever. So that leaves cryptic. But it seems to me that a part of LeBron James loves lighting the stink bomb, tossing it into the room and closing the door to await the pandemonium that ensues.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: He’s bored, desperate, self-absorbed or playing with us. Possibly all four.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That LeBron is using any means possible to poke at some teammates in hopes of better results. There’s no great mystery. Coaches and players for years have been sending messages through the media with comments designed to get in someone’s face without getting in their face. Same thing now, only social media instead of traditional media.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Why won’t LeBron come right out and say it? He’s having second-thoughts about leaving the Heat strictly from a basketball standpoint (not a personal one) because he had a better vibe with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh than he does with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Wade and Bosh are battle tested and true, while Love and Kyrie are question marks. Meanwhile, LeBron isn’t getting any younger. My hunch is he’ll never win a title in Cleveland. Said so when he left Miami.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I have no clue and don’t really care. I’ll stick to evaluating what happens on the basketball court.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: What, you’re not impressed with LeBron’s beautiful mind venting on social media? I’m not sure what to make of all the drama, real and imagined, going on with the Cavaliers. I’m a firm believer that a certain amount of creative conflict in the workplace tends to produce better results. But these subtle digs from LeBron don’t appear to be working in the way he imagined. The Cavaliers seem to be operating like a team that has a championship hangover, except they didn’t win anything last season (unless you believe an Eastern Conference championship banner counts). Whatever system of checks and balances that worked in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh sharing the leadership load with LeBron is clearly absent in Cleveland.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: He is using the tools of his generation in hope of communicating with and applying pressure to his teammates. We don’t know the context because we don’t get to hear what he’s saying to them in private every day. As discouraging as their results have been, I’d still give them a better chance at reaching The Finals than the Warriors face in the far more competitive West — and maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe his Cleveland teammates assume they can breeze through the East when the time comes. But LeBron knows better.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI am a frequent and voracious user and consumer of social media, and I approach LeBron’s social media messages the same way as I do everyone else’s tweets and snaps and Instagrams and status updates: With an entire shaker of salt. What really matters is what happens on the court, not whether LeBron has posted a photoshop of him in a Batman costume. And what’s happening on the court lately (4-4 in their last 8) is more concerning than anything anyone’s posted online.

Morning shootaround — March 7


VIDEO: Highlight’s from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors were due for a game like this | Lebron’s tweets can cause nightmares | Gentry, Pelicans ready to look to the future? | Curry skeptical he could ever score 81

No. 1: The Warriors were due for a game like this Kobe Bryant credited the socks the Lakers wore for their stunning upset victory over the Golden State Warriors Sunday at Staples Center. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team got what it deserved, a beat down from the team with the second worst record in the league. But Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News believes the mighty Warriors, who host the Orlando Magic tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), were simply due for a game when they literally could not shoot straight from their normal sweet spots:

Every NBA team is susceptible to the big road clunker, even the Warriors.

Every really good team sometimes plays a really bad game.

Every championship contender will have wobbly focus and heavy legs once in a while, especially when the game is in Los Angeles, when tipoff is before 1 p.m., and when they’re overwhelming favorites over the Lakers.

So yes, the Warriors were due for a loss like they just suffered on Sunday, yes, they deserved it, and yes, I’m sure they were also pretty embarrassed by it.

For the greatest teams, what matters most is what happens next, and for the Warriors that means Monday night at Oracle against Orlando.

If the Warriors lose back-to-back games for the first time this season, well, then there might be cause for emergency sirens to blare and panic to strike throughout the Bay Area.

Not until then, and I doubt any of that will be necessary, anyway.

Every time a great team loses, it seems to come out of nowhere — just as Sunday’s 112-95 Lakers triumph over the Warriors was a tale of shock and astonishment.

But when you look back, you can always figure out the rhyme and reason — just as you can for this Warriors loss, which dropped them to 55-6, still on pace to break whatever record you want them to.

The Warriors lost this game because Curry and Thompson combined to miss 17 of their 18 3-point attempts, because the Lakers attacked the Warriors’ sluggish defense, and because sometimes you’re just due.

Did this game expose glaring weaknesses in the Warriors? No, it did not; they can be beaten by a lot of the same things that can beat everybody else, but it just happens to the Warriors less often.

***

No. 2: LeBron’s tweets can cause nightmares … if you let them: Yes, people are still trying to decipher the meaning of tweets LeBron James sent out last week, the same ones that caused a frenzy (with everyone weighing in on what he meant with those words). And yes, LeBron’s tweets can drive you crazy, if you let them, as Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com makes clear. But wouldn’t this time be better spent focusing on more pressing matters, like the Memphis Grizzlies, who visit Quicken Loans Arena tonight (7 ET, NBA TV)?

LeBron James and that Twitter account of his…together they’re either wreaking havoc and spelling doom for the Cavaliers, or simply messing with us.

Here’s James’ latest blast, to some more than 28.5 million followers, this morning, around the time many are finishing up with church:

We’re not going to speculate here as to whom or what he’s referring.

But there’s been a lot of speculating over the past week, mostly because James has unleashed a string of cryptic, either virtually innocuous or potentially loaded tweets since Tuesday.

James was asked about the first two on Thursday, and didn’t want to talk about it. He’ll be asked again Monday following Cleveland’s shootaround in preparation for the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Cavs are 44-17, lead the Raptors by 2.5 games for first place in the East, and beat their last two opponents by a combined 42 points over the weekend.

So, what’s the problem? Is there one? Is it all a ruse? Motivation tactic?

***

No. 3: Gentry,Pelicans ready to look to the future? The New Orleans Pelicans have already acknowledged that their pursuit of a playoff berth this season is dead. There have been too many injuries, too many missed opportunities for Alvin Gentry‘s bunch, they host the the Sacramento Kings tonight (8 ET, NBA League Pass), to repeat last season’s late-season push that saw the Pelicans punch their postseason ticket in the regular-season finale. So instead of waiting any longer, it’s perhaps time for Gentry and the Pelicans to look to the future, as Justin Verrier of ESPN.com suggests:

“At some stage we have to start thinking about the future, looking at the future,” Gentry said after a 106-94 loss to the Utah Jazz dropped the Pelicans to 3-5 since the All-Star break. “That’s one of the reasons why I stuck Jrue [Holiday] out there to start the second half. We have to start looking at Jrue as a starter some and playing him. And trying to find ways to get Anthony [Davis] the ball more in the flow of the game. Even if they’re double-teaming him, that’s gotta be something as coaches that we try to figure out also.

“At this stage, like I said, it would be a miracle almost for us to make the playoffs. We really have to start looking at developing a culture and how we’re gonna play in the future and figuring out guys on this team, how they fit into the system and if they’re going to be able to fit in a system.”

Despite mounting evidence that the team plays better with Holiday on the floor — his plus-1.0 net rating is best on the team, per NBA.com/Stats — and that Davis, the main cog in the team’s future, is more effective with Holiday alongside him — 5.3 points better in true shooting percentage, to be exact — the Pelicans have brought the 25-year-old guard off the bench since Dec. 4 to give a depleted second unit an extra “punch.” Gentry said he didn’t envision changing the setup as recently as two weeks ago, even though it put their two best players on the court together for only 19.3 minutes a game.

But a lot has changed even in the past two days. In his fourth game back, Eric Gordon refractured the same right ring finger that kept him out of 16 games. With three players (Tyreke EvansQuincy PondexterBryce Dejean-Jones) out for the season, the Pelicans have lost the fourth-most games (183) in the NBA to injuries and illness, according to InStreetClothes.com. And after a fourth straight loss, the Pelicans are now 6 ½ games behind the Rockets for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs with 21 still to play. Even the most optimistic would admit that the odds — 0.3 percent entering Saturday’s games, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index — are against them.

Holiday hadn’t heard about Gentry’s intentions after the loss to Utah, but when told by reporters his response was tantamount to: Oh, nice.

“Nah, that’s the first I’m hearing about it. I’m cool with it,” Holiday said. “With the lack of bodies I feel like [we] kinda have to. Whatever it is we need to win. Obviously our last three games haven’t gone the way we wanted them to, but we still gonna try to win every game.”

Even with the obstacles the Pelicans have faced, Davis made sure to note that he isn’t ready to concede.

“I’m playing every game,” he said after putting up 29 points on 11-for-31 shooting and 11 rebounds in the loss to the Jazz. “I still got hope for this team, still got faith in these guys. I feel like we still can do it. We just got to believe.”

***

No. 4: Curry skeptical he could ever top Kobe’s 81: For all of the magic Stephen Curry has created this season, he knows his limitations. He knows that even with is seemingly otherworldly ability to shoot the ball from distances and angles few can, he’s skeptical that he could ever reach the 81-point zenith that Kobe Bryant did. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News explains:

The question made Stephen Curry smile and shake his head. He showed the same disbelief many have when they watch him play.

The Golden State Warriors’ guard and defending regular-season MVP has seemingly made any shot at any angle and from any distance. But he cast serious doubts on accomplishing something else even more miraculous.

Could Curry ever break Kobe Bryant’s career-high 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors nearly a decade ago?

“Not a chance,” Curry told Los Angeles News Group. “There’s a reason why people are still talking about that game to this day. It’s so special.”

Yes, Bryant’s career game still represents the NBA’s second-highest scoring performance behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962. But Bryant does not consider the milestone special enough to think his record will remain sacred.

Said Bryant: “It’s just a matter of you have to believe it’s possible.”

The Lakers (12-51) enter Sunday’s game against the Golden State Warriors (55-5) at Staples Center with Curry doing what was once considered impossible.

He has averaged a league-leading 30.7 points per game despite playing only 33.9 minutes per contest. He has ranked first this season in posting 30-point games (29), 40-point games (11) and 50-point games (three). He shattered his own single-season three-point record (293) still with 22 games remaining.

According to NBA.com, Curry has made 3-pointers from basically anywhere, including the right corner (53.3%), the left corner (45.3%) and at the top of the key (46.5%). Very few can guard Curry no matter the distance, including shots from 10-14 feet (54.5%), 15-19 feet (39.7%), 20-24 feet (48%), 25-29 feet (45.9%) and 30-34 feet (58.3%).

Could all those numbers add up to what Bryant did on Jan. 22, 2006?

“Steph is a talented enough scorer that you could definitely say it’s a possibility.”said Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton, who played with Bryant during his record-setting night. “But it’s not very realistic. If we’re blowing someone out, he’s going to rest.”

Curry needed all 48 minutes to post a career-high 54 points on Feb. 27, 2013 against New York. Curry logged 36 minutes to score a season-high 53 points on Oct. 31, 2015 against New Orleans. Then there marked six games Curry played under 30 minutes this season amid the Warriors coasting to a double-digit victory. Through swarming double teams or rare off nights, Curry can still dish to Klay Thompson, Draymond Green or Andre Iguodala.

“If there’s one guy in the league that has a chance of doing it, it would be him,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said of Curry. “But they’ve got so many weapons that’s it not needed from him to have that type of game to shoot it 40 times.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES:  It appears that former Atlanta Hawks lottery pick Josh Childress is taking his talents to the D-League … The Los Angeles Clippers stumbled through a Thunder hangover when they fell at home to the Hawks … Erik Spoelstra says Chris Bosh is working out with the Heat staff … Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has a fan in Kevin Durant … The Rockets fire back at their critics with a big win in Toronto

 

Morning Shootaround — March 6


VIDEO: Recap Saturday night’s eight-game slate

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jimmy Butler returns | Beal injured | Mohammed: “I’m back” | Krause retires

No. 1: Jimmy Butler returns After missing ten games with a knee injury — during which his Chicago Bulls posted a 3-7 record — Jimmy Butler returned to action last night against the Houston Rockets. Butler picked up where he left off, as the Bulls got a much-needed win. As ESPN’s Nick Friedell writes, for a Bulls team clinging to postseason hopes, Butler’s return should be crucial…

Jimmy Butler didn’t miss a beat in the box score during Saturday’s much-needed 108-100 win over the Houston Rockets. After missing a month because of a left knee strain, the All-Star swingman racked up 24 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists to help the Chicago Bulls snap a four-game losing streak. Butler did everything the Bulls needed him to do. He was solid defensively while guarding James Harden, and he gave the Bulls the scoring punch they’ve been lacking without him. But after the game ended, the proud 26-year-old knew there was something missing from his game that wouldn’t appear within the gaudy numbers.

“I need to get in there and run some laps,” Butler said. “I’m out of shape.”

It didn’t matter that Butler was winded. He gave the Bulls what he had when they needed a win to right their dwindling season. With Butler back and Nikola Mirotic reappearing after missing over a month because of complications related to an appendectomy, the Bulls finally appeared almost whole in a season in which their starting five of Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Butler had yet to play a game together all season. It’s no wonder why Gasol called Butler’s and Mirotic’s presence the lineup “critical.” Butler set an example early that the rest of his teammates followed.

“Jimmy makes a huge impact on both ends of the floor,” Gasol said. “Especially on the defensive end. His physicality and his activity and energy make a big difference because it kind of picks everybody up as well and sets a tone for the rest of the guys.”

Aside from Butler’s return, the key for the Bulls is that they found a team in the Rockets that’s even more dysfunctional than they are. Watching the Rockets make mistake after mistake was similar to watching the way the Bulls have played many times during the season. The teams combined for 43 turnovers, 25 of which came from the Bulls.

That’s why any optimism coming from the Bulls’ locker room has to be tempered by the fact that Chicago beat a team even more underwhelming than itself. The good news for Fred Hoiberg‘s beleaguered group: With 21 games left, Butler has the ability to serve as a stabilizer for a team that still talks about making a push into the playoffs. Butler’s return gives the Bulls something they haven’t had much of in weeks — hope.

“It’s huge,” Rose said of Butler’s return. “Whenever he’s got the ball, you got to stick both of us. It’s hard to pay attention to both of us when we’re on the court. And we get to catch the ball with a live dribble so that helps the team out a lot.”

***

No. 2: Beal injured — Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal has consistently been counted among the NBA’s most promising young players. For Beal, though, injuries have seemed to consistently hinder him from taking that next step. After breaking his nose in January, Beal had been playing with a protective face mask. But last night, after finally being able to take off the mask, Beal suffered a pelvis injury. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, for a Wizards team fighting for a playoff berth, a healthy Beal is necessary…

He helped the Wizards record 64 first-half points in the crucial matchup between teams vying for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Then the evening went askew.

The fourth-year sharpshooter exited with 6 minutes 17 seconds left in third quarter of the Wizards’ gut-wrenching 100-99 loss, after falling hard on his right hip when he collided with Pacers big man Myles Turner at the basket. Beal remained on the floor in agony for a couple minutes and needed assistance walking off to the locker room.

Beal, 22, was diagnosed with a sprained pelvis and didn’t return. He declined to speak to the media after the game and the team didn’t have an update on his status. Beal has missed 21 games this season because a shoulder injury, a stress reaction in his right fibula and a concussion.

Washington’s second-leading scorer, Beal is expected to travel with the team to Portland Monday for Washington’s three-game road trip, but whether he will play Tuesday against the Trail Blazers is uncertain. Garrett Temple would return to the starting lineup if Beal is ruled out. Temple tallied 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 26 minutes Saturday, shooting 24.6 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from three-point range. He has also shot 58.3 percent from the free throw line in his 10 starts since the break.

Gary Neal missed his 12th straight game Saturday with a right leg injury that he described as neurological. But the team, he said, was still unsure exactly what is wrong.

The firepower Washington holds with Beal in the starting lineup was evident Saturday as the Wizards posted 37 points in the first quarter. Beal finished 12 points on 5 of 13 shooting in 24 minutes before departing.

“We had gotten off to such slow starts the last couple games, I think we were down 12 in the first quarter in Minnesota,” Coach Randy Wittman said, referring to the Wizards’ win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. “Just trying to get a better start and we did.”

***

No. 3: Mohammed: “I’m back” — The Oklahoma City Thunder had an open roster spot, and to fill that open slot, they went after NBA veteran Nazr Mohammed, who they had to lure out of what he called “semi-retirement.” In a first-person piece written by Mohammed, he explains why he returned, and what he thinks his role will be with the Thunder…

It’s official. “I’m back.” I’ve always wanted to say that…like I’m MJ or something LOL. I’m officially back in an NBA jersey, and I could not be more excited for this opportunity.

You may not have noticed that I have been in what I call semi-retirement. And by the way, I’ve been calling it semi-retirement for two reasons. The first is that a 37-year-old professional athlete doesn’t really retire; we just transition to our next careers. The second reason being that in pro sports, most of us actually “get retired,” either because the phone is no longer ringing for your services or you’re no longer able to accept playing for just any team. As a young player, your only desire is to be in the NBA. As you get older, your desire is to play for certain organizations with certain circumstances, making it a little tougher to find the right fit. Mine was a combination of all of the above. Most of the teams that I had interest in didn’t need my services, and I didn’t have the desire to go just anywhere. And some teams just didn’t want me.

With all that being said – DRUMROLL PLEASE – I am now a proud member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the very team I competed for a Championship with in 2012. I was days away from turning “semi-retirement” into full retirement when I received word from Sam Presti that they had interest in me returning to OKC as a player. That quickly changed the course of my plans and forced me to do some real soul-searching to see if this was something my family and I wanted.

I believe in staying prepared for the opportunities that I think I want, whether they come to fruition or not. You can do no greater disservice to yourself than to secretly want something, but then be unprepared if the opportunity presents itself. I stayed prepared, but when I didn’t foresee any viable opportunities coming my way during “buyout season,” I contemplated shutting down my court workouts and facing the reality that my life as a basketball player was over. I started seriously considering accepting and starting one of my post-career opportunities. I even agreed with Debbie Spander of Wasserman Media Group to represent me if I chose to pursue broadcasting as my next career. But my agent, Michael Higgins, suggested that I give it a few more days to evaluate the landscape.

Like I said, I had a short list of teams that I would undoubtedly come out of semi-retirement for. Of course OKC was on my short list, which consisted mostly of teams I played for in the past. When I spoke to the Thunder, their first question was, “How does your body feel?” Anybody who follows me on social media knows that I’m probably a little addicted to my workouts. I’ve kept up my same training regimen (court work three to five times a week, conditioning, and lifting weights) with my guys at Accelerate Basketball, so I knew I was prepared physically. They happen to train Steph Curry too, so you know my jumper is wet right now LOL! After being a part of two NBA lockouts, I’m the master of staying prepared even when I don’t know when my season will start LOL. But the first thing I thought about was my family and whether or not they could handle me being away for the next few months when we were just getting acclimated to a new city and our new schedule (which had me as a big part of it for the first time in my kids’ lives). I knew I needed to talk to them before making a final decision. Regardless, I was shocked, flattered and excited for an opportunity to go into a comfortable situation.

I brought the offer to my wife and kids to see how they felt. My oldest son (10) is an OKC fan, so he was excited. And I better add that he’s a Steph Curry and Jimmy Butler fan too (he’d be mad if I didn’t include that!). My oldest daughter (13) was almost giddy with excitement for me. I’m starting to think they don’t love having me around, but I’ll save that for another blog down the road LOL. I also have a younger daughter (6), and she was very happy, although I’m not sure she truly grasps time and how long I will be gone. My wife, who knows how much basketball has meant to me, was very supportive. We’ve experienced mid-year trades and things like this before, so we know how to handle it. The only difference now is that the kids are older, and their schedules are a little more hectic with school, sports, practices, tournaments, etc. Now with me not being able to help out with that, more is on my wife’s plate. But we’ll figure it out. Whenever we get a day off, I’ll probably try to fly home, even if I just get to see the family for a few hours. We’ll do a lot of FaceTiming. When their schedule permits, they’ll be flying to OKC. We’ll make it work.

***

No. 4: Krause retires — The Warriors have been trying to put together the greatest regular season in NBA history, topping the 72-10 record of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. That Bulls team was constructed by general manager Jerry Krause, who this week announced he was retiring from scouting at the age of 76. K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune caught up with Krause and heard some great stories, particularly about Michael Jordan and those Bulls…

Nicknamed “The Sleuth,” Krause’s second stint leading the Bulls didn’t start promisingly either despite inheriting Michael Jordan, whom Rod Thorn had drafted.

In Stan Albeck, he whiffed on his first coaching hire. And Jordan broke a bone in his left foot in the third game of the 1985-86 season, leading to the first of many spats between him and Krause when Jordan wanted to play sooner than he was ready. Krause, Jerry Reinsdorf and doctors ordered a more conservative approach.

“Do I regret that I had not a great relationship with him? You know what? We won a lot of (expletive) games,” Krause said. “Right or wrong, when I took that job I thought the worst thing I could do is kiss that guy’s (rear). We’d argue. But I remember about two years after I traded Charles (Oakley) for Bill (Cartwright). He and Charles were as tight as can be. He called over to me at practice and said, ‘That trade you made was a pretty damn good trade.’ I just looked at him and said, ‘Thank you.'”

Krause replaced Albeck with Doug Collins, a surprising hire given Collins had no coaching experience. It worked, and, augmented by the dominant 1987 draft that netted Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, the Bulls kept knocking on the Pistons’ door.

When they lost to Detroit in six games in the 1989 Eastern Conference finals, Krause and Reinsdorf stunningly replaced Collins with Phil Jackson. Krause had hired Jackson as an assistant coach — one of his two Hall of Fame coaching hires along with Tex Winter — out of relative obscurity from the Continental Basketball Association.

“Everyone thought I was nuts,” Krause said. “I had a feeling about Phil. He has an amazing ability to relate to players.”

Jackson’s first season produced more heartbreak, a seven-game loss to the Pistons in the 1990 Eastern finals. Two days later, Krause said he walked into the Berto Center and almost the entire team was there, working with strength and conditioning coach Al Vermeil.

“I knew right then that we weren’t going to lose to the Pistons again,” Krause said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James passed Tim Duncan to move into 14th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list … Eric Gordon broke his right ring finger for the second time since January … Manu Ginobili returned from injury and scored a season-high 22 points, as the Spurs went to 30-0 at home … The Phoenix Suns are reportedly targeting Chase Budinger … While it’s not a full update on his status, Chris Bosh says he’s feeling goodChris Andersen says he’ll always remember his time in Miami … During a concert in Oakland this weekend, Prince gave a shoutout to Steph Curry

Morning shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Johnson heading to Miami | They the North | Rivers wants replay challenge system | Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line

No. 1: Johnson heading to Miami The Miami Heat are in the mix to finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams, but for the most part sat out the trade deadline, not making any major moves. Instead, it appears they managed to pick up a seven-time All-Star yesterday without having to move any assets: After accepting a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Joe Johnson will be signing with the Miami Heat, according to multiple reports. As Ethan Skolnick writes in the Miami Herald, Johnson’s relationships with Miami’s players probably had a lot to do with his decision

Dwyane Wade made it clear. If his contemporary and friend Joe Johnson accepted a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Wade would be “blowing up his phone” to recruit him to Miami.

Johnson, after initial resistance, did take that buyout.

It appears that Wade got his man.

According to several league sources, Johnson, a seven-time All-Star, has chosen to join the Heat after he is expected to clears waivers Saturday night. Johnson was pursued by nearly all of the NBA’s top contenders, including LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, with James even saying “he knows we want him” while speaking to reporters at Friday’s Cavaliers shootaround in Toronto.

But, according to sources, Cleveland, with its crowded backcourt and wing rotation, wasn’t one of the finalists. Johnson narrowed his choices to Miami, Oklahoma City and Atlanta due to the possibility of greater playing time, and the chance to prove worthy of another contract this season, even after earning nearly $200 million in his career.

Also helping Miami? His relationships with many of the Heat players. That started with Wade, with whom he became close when they were U.S. teammates in the 2008 Olympics.

While Johnson isn’t quite what he was — and got off to a terrible start with the broken Nets in the 2015 portion of the 2015-16 schedule — he has played extremely well since New Year’s, averaging 13.4 points and 4.4 assists and shooting 46 percent from three-point range. Miami is last in the league, shooting 32.1 percent from three-point range, and its two most reliable three-point shooters, Chris Bosh and Tyler Johnson, might both be out for the season, Bosh with a blood clot and Johnson with a surgically-repaired shoulder.

Joe Johnson has had an odd career arc, going from underrated to overpaid to somewhat underrated again. He was the player the Heat most feared in the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals, because of his ability to post up, catch-and-shoot, play isolation and made critical plays down the stretch.

The question wasn’t whether the Heat would be interested. It was whether Miami could make it work, while also meeting another aim — staying under the luxury tax, to avoid being classified as a “repeater” team, and dealing with the punitive tax multipliers.

To stay under the tax, when it was roughly $218,000 from the line, Miami would have needed Johnson to wait to start a new Heat contract for at least another 10 days. But, with the Johnson commitment, the team began exploring options that would allow him to come sooner, and still stay under the tax. That could include waiving a current player, such as injured point guard Beno Udrih, but it would only help if another team claimed him. Miami has also explored adding outside shooter Marcus Thornton, whom it nearly signed this summer, signing Gerald Green instead; Thornton was recently traded from Houston to Detroit but, after that trade was negated by the league, was waived by the Rockets.

There was no official update on Bosh on Friday, and he didn’t speak to the media at the team’s annual gala Thursday night. But teammates are proceeding as if he won’t return this season. But now, if he doesn’t, Miami appears to have an opportunity to remain highly competitive in the Eastern Conference, with a lineup of either Amar’e Stoudemire or Hassan Whiteside at center, Luol Deng (coming off four straight double-doubles) at power forward, and either Johnson or Justise Winslow at small forward, with Wade and Goran Dragic in the backcourt. Johnson, who is 6-foot-7, could also play some power forward in smaller lineups, or some shooting guard, occasionally pairing with Wade in the backcourt.

***

No. 2: They the North The Toronto Raptors entered this season with high expectations, fueled by last season’s 49-win team and the addition of free agent DeMarre Carroll. Yet even with Carroll missing most of the season with injuries, the Raptors have met those expectations, and entered last night’s game against the Eastern Conference champ Cleveland Cavaliers looking to make a statement. They didn’t disappoint, as Kyle Lowry was up to the challenge, scoring a career-high 43 and leading the Raptors to a come-from-behind 99-97 win. As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst writes, it was a much-needed win for the Raptors, who still have plenty to prove

Trying to play it cool in the wake of one of the greatest moments of his career, Kyle Lowry went straight Bill Belichick.

“We’re moving on to Detroit,” Lowry said with a straight face, in reference to the Raptors’ next game, after his Toronto Raptors upended the Cleveland Cavaliers 99-97 after a furious fourth-quarter comeback Friday night. “It’s just a win.”

The Raptors do not have a storied history or much of an inventory of unforgettable moments outside the Vince Carter early years file. As such, it was not much of a stretch to say Lowry’s 43 points, a career high, against the Cavs rank as one of the greatest shows in team history.

Lowry’s stepback jumper over Matthew Dellavedova with 3.8 seconds left, the winning points, was unequivocally one of the best moments of Lowry’s career. It was his first game winner since he tipped one in at the buzzer when he was at Villanova. It was a moment to celebrate under any circumstances. If Lowry did so, though, it was in private.

“I will maybe enjoy it for a few minutes,” Lowry said.

Here is why.

There isn’t a day or so that goes by in which the Raptors don’t remind themselves of the past two seasons. Their first-round playoff exits, despite home-court advantage, hang over them like a cloud, amplified by the two Atlantic Division banners hanging above their bench that can feel like a needless, pointless taunt.

As masterful as Lowry was Friday — his relentless attacking and aggression wore the Cavs’ defenders out — it only briefly covered up the sting of his wilting a year ago. He refuses to let the way his body betrayed him with back and leg injuries be driven from his mind. Lowry was almost helpless in his team’s four-game sweep by the Washington Wizards last year. Injuries or no, it is a black stain on his record that doesn’t easily come off.

That’s what inspired him to report to this season in tremendous shape, and it is what won’t allow him to accept February success as anything but that.

“I know this sounds boring, and you’re going to get tired of hearing it,” Lowry said. “But we have to just focus on the process. We’ve been here before.”

Lowry has twice taken down the Cavs this season. Back in November, he scored six points and had two assists in the final five minutes of a quality win. In this one, with DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph battling illness and DeMarre Carroll recovering from knee surgery, the Raptors appeared to be toast without Lowry. They were almost toast anyway; the Cavs held the lead for most of the first 44 minutes.

For the Cavs, it was infuriating to watch, with Lowry getting to the line 15 times and thoroughly outplaying Kyrie Irving, who had just 10 points and one assist.

“We’ve got to get somebody who can guard him,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.

***

No. 3: Rivers wants replay challenge system The Los Angeles Clippers have developed a reputation as a team unafraid to let referees know when the disagree with a call. But Clips coach Doc Rivers has an idea that might simplify the appeals process. As Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, Rivers is in favor of an NFL-style replay challenge system

While the NBA has instant replay, it currently doesn’t allow coaches to challenge a ruling on a play. Rivers said the NBA has discussed the subject of a coach’s challenge during competition committee meetings in recent years, but it has not come close to being approved. NFL coaches are allowed two challenges per game before the snap of the ball at any time before the two-minute warning of each half or overtime period.

“I would throw it out [a challenge flag] with both hands like a shot. That’s why I couldn’t shoot,” Rivers said Friday morning during the Clippers’ shootaround for the Sacramento Kings game. “It’s a tough one to me. It’s not like officials are trying to make mistakes, but they do at the end of the games.”

A controversial call during the Clippers’ 87-81 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday sparked Rivers’ call for a challenge system.

With 30.4 seconds left and the Clippers down 85-81, Los Angeles forward Jeff Green was called for an offensive foul on a made basket after driving into defender Danilo Gallinari. The NBA admitted on its “NBA Officiating Last Two Minute Report” on Thursday that the referee made a mistake on the offensive foul call on Green. Green potentially could have had a made basket with a free throw. Rivers described it as a “horrible call, which the league acknowledged.”

“I’ve been pushing for a [challenge] flag for a year now,” Rivers said. “We should have a challenge flag. That is the third time this year [against the Clippers] that [the NBA] has come back and said it was a bad call. It doesn’t do anything for us.”

One of the games Rivers noted was a 100-99 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 21 that he said included three missed calls late in the contest. The Clippers (37-20) are in fourth place in the Western Conference standings and 3 ½ games behind the third-place Thunder (41-17).

“The league has done a great job of transparency and that has been phenomenal,” Rivers told Yahoo Sports. “But the problem with it is you don’t get anything from it if you’re the [losing] team. … The one thing I keep saying and make the point of is the refs are trying to make it right, too. It’s not like we’re mad at refs. We just want to get it right.”

***

No. 4: Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line Shooting a 3-pointer used to be something of a novel concept around the NBA, a high-risk, high-reward chance at a bonus point on a field goal attempt. But these days some teams (e.g. the Warriors) throw up threes like they’re layups, and as ESPN’s Tim McMahon writes, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wonders if perhaps moving back the 3-point line would open up the floor even more …

Mark Cuban has a suggestion to reintroduce the midrange shot to the NBA game: Move back the 3-point arc.

“It’s getting too close,” the Dallas Mavericks owner said Friday night of the 3-point arc, which is 23 feet, 9 inches at the crest and 22 feet in the corners, where there is no room to move it back. “Guys are shooting a foot behind it anyways. … That’s something we should look at. It’s worth looking at.

“I don’t think the number of shots would decline, but I think it would reward skill and open up the court some more. So guys would still take [3-point] shots if it’s seven inches back or whatever, but at the same time, it opens up the court for more drives, more midrange game.”

The midrange jumper has become an endangered species of sorts, while NBA players are firing 3-pointers at record rates. The single-season record for 3s is 55,137; according to ESPN Stats & Information, teams are on pace to hit 58,477 this season.

Cuban thinks moving back the 3-point arc is an idea the NBA should consider, not to discourage the deep ball, but to improve the spacing of the game.

“I think it’d open it up more so guys with different skill sets could play,” Cuban said. “It would open up play for more drives. Guys with midrange games would be rewarded and that would stay in the game. There would be more diversity of offensive action in the game.

“You’d see a little bit of decline in the 3. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that we shoot so many 3s, but it’s worth it in the D-League to see what happens [with a deeper 3-point line].”

Cuban quickly dismissed a question about whether the NBA would benefit from adding a 4-point line, perhaps 30 feet from the basket.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jerry Colangelo says it’s too soon to come to any conclusions about the 76ers … Is Gregg Popovich mellowing? … Dwight Howard has parted ways with his longtime agent Dan FeganTiago Splitter had successful hip surgery … Vince Carter’s eponymous restaurant is closing

Analytics Art: Deng filling gaps nicely for Heat in Bosh’s absence


VIDEO: Luol Deng delivers in Heat’s win over Wizards

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Luol Deng is trying to get his groove back. The two-time All-Star floundered throughout the first half of the season for the Miami Heat, averaging just 10.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting 43.1 percent from the field prior to the All-Star break.

Since then, however, Deng has experienced a resurgence. The timing couldn’t be better, as teammate Chris Bosh may be forced to sit out the remainder of the season following another blood clot scare, according to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Without Bosh on the floor (four games since All-Star weekend), Deng has rattled off four straight double-doubles.

In Deng’s first two games after the break, he scored 30 and 27 points, respectively. Those performances mark the two highest-scoring games of the 30-year-old’s season.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Deng’s post-All-Star averages are more favorable than his lackluster numbers before the break.

Save for 3-point shooting — Deng’s only made two of his 11 attempts from deep since the break — he has upped his game across the board. His scoring uptick to 21.5 points headlines his impact sans Bosh, but he’s been great defensively as well.

With averages of 8.5 defensive rebounds and 1.5 steals per game in his past four games, Deng’s defense is providing a huge boost. According to NBA.com, Deng’s defensive rebound percentage of 22.8 percent is vastly superior to his pre-All-Star mark of 13.3 percent. His defensive rating of 99.0 since All-Star festivities also bucks a trend Heat fans have been seeing far too often this season — that opponents are better offensively when Deng is on the floor.

When taking the season as a whole, Miami’s opponents have scored more points at a more efficient clip while also dishing out more assists when Deng plays. Now, his two-way play has led to three big wins against key Eastern Conference opponents: Atlanta, Washington and Indiana.

The Heat are still good without Bosh, but there’s just something missing. At least for a short stint, Deng has helped Miami overcome that glaring limitation by scoring in bunches and crashing the glass.

Chances are he’ll regress to the mean moving forward, but at least Deng appears to have some pep in his step. He no longer looks as if he’s lacking confidence, which provides a silver lining for a Heat team facing plenty of adversity heading toward a playoff push.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 26


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Heat exploring all medical options with Bosh | Curry, Warriors amaze again | Rockets CEO: Harden didn’t push for McHale’s firing | Report: Wolves, Martin in buyout talks

No. 1: Bosh, Heat exploring all medical options — Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh has been dealing with a blood clot issue in his leg and the circumstances surrounding his future with the team remains decidedly unclear. Bosh hasn’t played in a game since before the All-Star break (Feb. 9) and may or may not play again this season. As he and team officials try to figure out what’s next, they aren’t ruling out any possible treatments, writes Michael Wallace of ESPN.com :

Team president Pat Riley confirmed Thursday that Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh continues to seek medical evaluations for a condition that threatens to sideline him for the rest of the season.

“They are continuing to find ways and to explore options,” Riley said of Bosh and his representatives. “That’s probably the best way to deal with it. I’m not going to comment (further) right now.”

Riley was the first Heat official to address Bosh’s status since Miami’s leading scorer was held out of All-Star Weekend activities two weeks ago for what initially was disclosed as a calf strain.

This is the second time in the span of a year that Bosh, 31, could miss the second half of the season. Last season, Bosh missed the Heat’s final 30 games after it was discovered that a blood clot had traveled to his lungs. He was hospitalized a week after participating in the 2015 All-Star Game in New York.

Riley refused to speculate when asked specifically Thursday if he believed Bosh would return to play at some point this season for the Heat (32-25), who are fourth in the Eastern Conference standings.

“I’m not a doctor,” Riley said. “I’m not going to comment on that.”

Heat players were initially optimistic that Bosh could return this season, but that sentiment has waned in recent days as teammates have spoken more about the prospects of finishing the season without him. Star guard Dwyane Wade, who is closer to Bosh than anyone on the team, said Bosh remains in good spirits as he contemplates his medical condition and basketball career.

“You have to ask him what he wants to do — that’s not my position,” Wade said Thursday. “As a friend of mine, all I care about his how he’s feeling in his everyday life. As far as health, he’s feeling good. He’s been around every day. He’s been positive. From there, it’s a decision he’s going to have to make.”

***

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Heat to make determination on Bosh

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — For the second straight year, Chris Bosh‘s season could be over two months early.

Bosh is once again dealing with a blood clot issue, the same thing that ended his season after the All-Star break last year. He has missed the Miami Heat’s first three post-break games and could be done for the year.

Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Bosh will meet with the Heat on Wednesday to determine how to approach the next two months

Miami Heat All-Star forward Chris Bosh is under increasing pressure from physicians and the organization to sit out the rest of the season because of the potential dangers of a recurring medical condition, league sources told The Vertical.

After a blood clot in his calf moved to his lungs in 2015, Bosh missed the final 30 games of the season. He took blood thinners for several months following the 2015 clotting.

Bosh has a meeting planned with Heat officials, including owner Mickey Arison and president Pat Riley, in the next 24 hours to move closer to a final determination on his status, league sources said.

The Heat are 3-0 since the break, winning two of the games without Bosh or Dwyane Wade. That has pushed them to third place in the Eastern Conference, with a relatively easy schedule down the stretch. After hosting the Golden State Warriors and visiting the Boston Celtics this week, they’ll play 15 of their final 24 games against teams currently below .500.

Bosh has been an improved shooter this season, especially at the basket. He’s also registered the highest assist ratio and lowest turnover ratio of his career.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 16


VIDEO: Inside Access — 2016 All-Star Game

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers say Griffin not being dealt | Assessing trade market for Love | Report: Bosh may have blood clot in calf | Report: Knicks still interested in Teague

No. 1: Clippers say they’re not dealing Griffin — Just yesterday, ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported that the Los Angeles Clippers offered up star forward Blake Griffin as the centerpiece in a trade with the Denver that the Nuggets ultimately turned down. Griffin’s name will continue to be bandied about as a potential trade target as Thursday’s dealing deadline looms, but as Dan Woike of the Orange County Register reports, the Clippers’ front office says Griffin is not being made available in deals:

High-level members of the organization say they remain adamant about not dealing Griffin, the best young player the franchise has ever had, despite another round of rumors suggesting they called Denver about Kenneth Faried, Danillo Gallinari, Will Barton and Nikola Jokic.

“One hundred percent not true,” according to one executive involved in any trade discussions. Clippers coach Doc Rivers has also been vocal, saying the team isn’t trading Griffin.

Still, a combination of factors continues to dump kerosene on the speculation.

For one, the Clippers have been extremely good with Griffin out of the lineup, first with a partially torn tendon in his left quad and currently with a broken right hand. The team has gone 18-5 since Dec. 26, becoming one of the most efficient teams on both sides of the court since.

Secondly, Griffin’s off-court issue, the broken hand, has teams smelling blood in the water, hoping to score one of the NBA’s top young stars for less than market value.

Also, attaching Griffin’s name to a trade proposal could increase the perceived value of the other players in the deal.

Lastly, why would the Clippers move Griffin if there was even a sliver of hope the team could use him to land Durant, free agency’s top prize (and there is some hope)? Regardless of how interested the Oklahoma City forward is in joining the Clippers, the team would need to create cap room to sign him, which could be accomplished by moving Griffin in a sign-and-trade.

A more realistic approach for the Clippers at the trade deadline would be using Lance Stephenson to somehow upgrade their roster.

The Clippers would love to land a two-way player on the wing and could use a backup big man and short-term help at point guard.


VIDEO: The Starters discuss Blake Griffin’s injury and his future in L.A.

***

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 14


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from All-Star Saturday Night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest | Hack-A-Gone? | Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother | Horford embraces uncertain future

No. 1:  LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest For years, the Verizon Slam Dunk was All-Star Weekend’s marquee event. The electricity surrounding the event may have waned in recent years. But last season, Timberwolves rookie Zach LaVine gave it a jolt of excitement, notching his first win. And Saturday night in Toronto, a couple of 20 year olds, LaVine and Magic forward Aaron Gordon, took turns making jaws drop, posting alternating perfect scores in the contest’s final round until LaVine was ultimately able to grab the win in arguably the greatest dunk contest in All-Star Weekend history. And as Lang Whitaker writes, with the contest on the line, LaVine went to the free-throw line

High expectations? No problem.

After bringing the Dunk Contest back to prominence one year ago with a series of electrifying dunks, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine picked up where he left off, with help from Orlando’s Aaron Gordon.

And with the Verizon Slam Dunk on the line, Zach LaVine went to the free throw line. Well, almost.

With a through-the-legs dunk from just inside the charity stripes, Zach LaVine earned his fifth score of 50 on the night, making him the 2016 NBA dunk champ. The 20-year-old LaVine became the first back-to-back winner since Nate Robinson in 2009 and 2010.

Going against Magic forward Aaron Gordon in the contest finals, LaVine and Gordon got locked into a heavyweight bout where they traded incredible body blows. After the contest, LaVine said, “We should share the trophy, because [Gordon] did some stuff I’ve never seen before.”

To begin the final round, Gordon completed a dunk with an unbelievable degree of difficulty, snatching the ball from Orlando Magic mascot Stuff — who was spinning on a hoverboard — and throwing down a twisting dunk. This earned a 50. LaVine countered by throwing himself an alley-oop and floating through the air for a one-handed finish, earning another 50.

Gordon then again used Stuff, this time clearing the mascot with his rear end while passing the ball below for a lefty finish. That earned another 50, putting the pressure on LaVine.

LaVine responded coolly, with a windmill from just inside the free throw line, for another 50. This marked the first time in Dunk Contest history the final round saw four scores of 50.

They didn’t stop. In the first dunk-off, Gordon enlisted teammate Elfrid Payton to throw an alley-oop off the side of the backboard. Gordon caught the ball and completed a reverse dunk while flying through the air. 50. LaVine responded by throwing an alley-oop to himself from the baseline, catching the ball and passing it through his legs for a reverse dunk. This earned another 50.

On the second dunk-off, Gordon ran along the baseline and did a two-handed double-pump reverse reminiscent of Dominique Wilkins. Gordon scored a 47. To win it, LaVine went back to the free throw line.

***

No. 2: Hack-A-Gone? A Q&A with the Commissioner of the NBA has become a staple of All-Star Saturday Night, and last night Adam Silver faced the assembled media to address several topics. As Steve Aschburner writes, among the many topics addressed, one change Silver is clearly looking to implement is an end to the Hack-A- intentional fouling that has become en vogue around the NBA lately …

If the Hack-A-Whomever strategy currently raising such a ruckus in some NBA precincts is actually something you like, take solace: It’s going to be with us, extending the real time of games, disrupting any sense of flow and showcasing a whole lot of bricked free throws, at least through the end of the 2016 playoffs.

If, though, you believe in the tactic as a coach’s best friend — something to encourage bad foul shooters to improve, lest they look silly and cost their teams victories — those guys had better get in the gym soon and practice their form, release and follow-through fast.

Change almost certainly is coming, based on NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s comments Saturday in the annual state-of-the-league All-Star news conference.

Silver, addressing and fielding questions from reporters before the skills, slam dunk and 3-point shooting contests at Air Canada Centre, reiterated what he has said on several recent occasion. “I’m beginning to feel that a change needs to be made,” Silver said, citing conversations he has had with broadcast partners, sentiment expressed in fan data and feedback from players, GMs and owners.

As for coaches, Silver said “Clearly our coaches who are smart and using very complex analytics believe it is benefiting them.”

But changing the rules wouldn’t be pursued to make life tougher on the league’s coaches, any more than it would be done to let the most frequent targets of the tactic — notoriously poor free-throw shooters such as DeAndre Jordan (.423 free-throw percentage), Andre Drummond (.351), Dwight Howard (.532) and a handful of others — off the hook. It would be a decision driven more by the NBA product as entertainment, not merely athletic competition.

Silver did share that, when the league’s competition committee discussed the strategy last summer, it sought data from an additional season before making a recommendation. That data so far? “We’re seeing the Hack-a-Shaq strategy used at roughly a five-and-a-half-times greater rate than it was used last season,” the commissioner reported.

That’s a lot of standing around, stoppages in play and, for folks viewing from the stands or on TV at home, a procession of finely tuned, multi-millionaire athletes failing at one of basketball’s fundamental skills. That’s not a good look for anyone involved.

Interestingly, Silver said that there is no consensus among the practice’s critics what remedy should be pursued. Treat the entire game like the final two minutes, when fouls away from the play equal one free throw and retained possession? Come up with something more stringent to snuff even the temptation to hack a targeted player intentionally?

Silver said he would want to have a specific alternative to propose. And even then, that sort of change would need the approval of two-thirds of the league’s members (20 of the 30 teams).

“So we’re nowhere near that point where we’re even starting to count heads,” Silver said. This summer would be the soonest, he indicated.

***

No. 3: Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother It was no big surprise last season in Brooklyn when Stephen Curry managed to win the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest; after all, he was midway through an MVP season and establishing himself as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. Last night in Toronto, when it came time for Curry to defend his title, he posted a fine performance, making the final round, until his Splash Brother and Warriors backcourt ‘mate Klay Thompson was able to get hot and edge Curry. As Sekou Smith writes, if there was any questions left about the league’s best-shooting backcourt, those doubts were officially laid to rest night

For the second straight year, one of the Golden State Warriors’ Splash Brothers walked off the All-Star Saturday night stage as the champion of the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.

But it wasn’t defending champion and NBA three-point king Stephen Curry. This time it was teammate Klay Thompson taking home top honors in a competition that, by the final round, looked like something the Warriors might do at the end of every practice.

It marks the first time in Three-Point Contest history that different players from the same team have won it in consecutive seasons.

“Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool,” Thompson said.

Thompson saved his best for last, finishing with 27 points in the final round to conquer one of the deepest fields in the history of the competition, a group that includes some of the best long-range shooters in the game today and perhaps ever.

“He definitely shot well tonight,” Curry said. “I still think I can hold my own in the competition, but the way that he finished off that second round was amazing. So trust me, the pressure of knowing what number he had to hit and making five out of five was fun to watch.”

Curry collected 23 points in his final round, but was on his feet cheering with the rest of the contestants as Thompson drained shot after shot on his final rack. Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker, the youngest player in the league, finished third after netting 16 points in the final round.

***

No. 4: Horford embraces uncertain future All-Star Weekend is traditionally something of a swap shop for trade rumors, and with his contract expiring this summer, All-Star Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford hasn’t been immune from hearing his name. But considering the trade rumors and that he was swimming in the Caribbean when he got the last-minute call to get to Toronto, stat, as Sam Amick writes, Horford says he’s thrilled to be in Toronto and taking everything day by day

It’s no secret that the Hawks have been exploring trade options that include Horford, but that doesn’t mean the four-time All-Star’s days in Atlanta are necessarily done. The relationship between the player and the team that drafted him third overall in 2007 remains strong, with nine seasons of history between them and a dynamic between Horford and president of basketball operations/coach Mike Budenholzer that could still lead to him re-signing this summer. And yes, it should be noted, the Hawks are well aware that retaining a talent like Horford in today’s NBA will come with an enormous price tag not only because of his talents but because the league’s salary cap is about to spike from $70 million to $89 million next season (and $108 million in 2017-18). He would earn approximately $25 in his first season.

But the 31-24 Hawks, like any team that isn’t playing to its anticipated level, must consider all options this time of year. They are also known to be engaging in trade discussions relating to point guard Jeff Teague, who is less of a flight risk than Horford because he has one year left on his contract ($8 million). The New York Knicks and Utah Jazz, to name a few, could be serious suitors for Teague in the coming days.

The Boston Celtics are widely believed to be a potential fit as a Horford trade partner, but the real level of interest from general manager Danny Ainge remains to be seen in the coming days. And while Horford continues to speak positively about the city and his situation, there’s an inherent uncertainty to this process that always acts as the driving force.

“I’m very happy in Atlanta,” Horford said when asked if the Hawks had reason to be concerned that he might leave. “I’ve said it repeatedly. I love the city. My family, we all live in Atlanta, we stay there in the offseason, so my focus is just to keep playing and taking it day by day and, right now, it’s to enjoy this weekend. … Just taking it day by day. That’s the only thing I can do. We really can’t worry about three or four months from now.”

Especially when a welcome All-Star berth comes your way.

While Horford wasn’t selected to the team initially, he was given the nod on Friday when Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh unexpectedly pulled out because of a calf strain. Horford was vacationing with his family near Cancun, Mexico, when he got the call.

“I had my phone off (and) I was in the water,” said Horford, who is averaging 15.3 points and 6.9 rebounds this season. “I was doing my morning swim out there, and I got the call (around 9:30 am).

“I’m so excited to be here, man. Words don’t describe it. Being here in this city, in Toronto. I remember last year looking at it, and I was like, ‘It’s going to be in Toronto, I would love to be a part of that,’ because, you know, the fans here are so lively and just being around these guys and it happens to be Kobe’s last All-Star. It’s kind of a big deal, and for me to be a part of this I’m very grateful.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony says he’s not getting tradedKarl-Anthony Towns struck a blow for bigs in the Skills Challenge … If you haven’t heard, it’s really, really cold in Toronto this weekend … The Indiana Pacers are eyeing a future All-Star Weekend bidJimmer Fredette was named MVP of the D-League All-Star GameKevin Hart tied Draymond Green in their own three-point shootout.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 13


VIDEO: All the highlights from All-Star Friday Night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Redick ready to rack it | Trade season takes no All-Star break | Warriors open to chasing 73 | Shaw might be next ex-Laker on Knicks bench

No. 1: Redick ready to rack it — J.J. Redick is one competitive cuss, which is why he took so seriously his failure to advance in last year’s Foot Locker Three-Point Contest on All-Star Saturday and why he ramped up his preparation this time around. Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News looked at Redick’s determination to win or at least push deeper into the shootout this time around:

The rack will just represent the mechanism that holds the basketballs J.J. Redick will shoot. The money balls will just represent the extra points the Clippers’ guard hopes to accumulate.

But when Redick participates in the NBA’s 3-point contest as part of All-Star festivities on Saturday at Air Canada Centre, the rack and moneyballs will also represent something else.

It will mark the key part of Redick’s preparation in hopes to rectify last season’s finish, in which he did not advance out of the contest’s first round.

So, Redick completed shooting workouts on Thursday and Friday that included using racks and moneyballs in his routine.

Redick sounded optimistic that could help him win, which would prompt him to celebrate Saturday evening enjoying a bottle of Pinot Noir.

“Last year I grabbed the balls from the wrong side, so I feel like I’m already ahead of where I was last year,” Redick said. “I’ll try to maintain somewhat of a routine that I would have if I was playing a game.”

When Redick plays in a game, that usually means one thing: He will make outside shots with deadly accuracy. Redick has averaged a career-high 47.6 percent clip from 3-point range to help the Clippers (35-18) go 18-5 without Blake Griffin, who has an injured quadriceps and broken right hand, the latter ailment happening after punching team assistant equipment manager Matias Testi at a local restaurant here.

But Redick could not stop Golden State’s Stephen Curry from winning last season’s contest for reasons beyond Curry seemingly making every shot he takes.

Redick did not advance out of the first round amid two startling developments: A few of Redick’s shots did not count since he could not keep his feet behind the 3-point line.

“I shot a lot of long twos last year,” Redick joked.

Redick also struggled transitioning from catch-and-shoot opportunities toward hoisting 3-pointers after grabbing the ball from the rack.

“I didn’t really have an issue with the timing last year, it was more the rhythm,” Redick said. “Depending on which side of the rack you grab the ball from, your footwork is a little different.

“Not that shooting 3s off a rack is an exact science or anything. Ultimately the ball just needs to go through the net.”

And they need to go into the net more than Curry, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Houston’s James Harden, Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Phoenix’s Devin Booker and Portland’s CJ McCollum will also be in the contest

Redick predicted Curry and Thompson will “shoot the ball really well and be relaxed.” Redick also considered Booker a “darkhorse.”

***

 No. 2: Trade season takes no All-Star break — Just because the NBA’s regular season gets put on hold each year over the longer-than-ever All-Star break, that doesn’t stop league business for chugging along. And with the annual February trade deadline fast approaching – it’s Thursday, before the schedule actually resumes for anyone that evening – rumors and speculation were flying in Toronto, including an alleged three-team, multiple-star blockbuster if it were to come to fruition. Always keep your eye on the big “if,” of course, but this one between Cleveland, New York and Boston was reported by Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

The Daily News has learned that the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers have discussed a blockbuster trade centered around Kevin Love. There were very preliminary discussions with the Knicks about expanding the deal to include [Carmelo] Anthony, who would have to waive his no trade clause in order to facilitate a deal to the Cavs.

The Knicks would receive draft picks and players in return. One of those players is believed to be Timofey Mozgov, who five years ago was traded by the Knicks to Denver in the Anthony deal.

Those talks have not progressed. Plus Anthony reiterated on Friday that he has no plans to seek a trade. However, when asked if he’s thought about his future with a losing organization, Anthony gave a cryptic answer.

“Not yet. I’m pretty sure I’ll have that conversation with myself and my family and my team,” he said. “But it’s not a conversation for right now.”

The NBA trading deadline is Thursday and Knicks president Phil Jackson is exploring ways to upgrade the 23-32 Knicks and get them back in the playoff race. Trading Anthony would signal a complete rebuild centered around 20-year-old Kristaps Porzingis.

On Friday, Anthony bemoaned not having a proven star as a teammate and revealed that he’s had talks with fellow All-Stars about joining forces.

“I think everybody kind of dreams and hopes that they can play with another great player, another star player. It’s a star player’s league,” Anthony said. “I think that’s what we talk about when we all get together — ‘I want to play with you, I want to play with you.’ Even here different guys say, ‘Come play with me, come play with me.’ So that’s always the mindset. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it don’t. But I think everybody that’s in my situation, that’s in my position, they all want the load off especially the older they get. Because you realize you just can’t do it all by yourself. Everybody knows that.”

The Cavaliers are in first place in the Eastern Conference and the odds-on favorites to return to the NBA Finals for a second straight year. The Cavs and LeBron James, however, are not convinced they have enough to beat the top teams in the West, in particular Golden State and San Antonio.

The Cavs are 1-3 against those clubs with the one win coming against San Antonio one week after Tyronn Lue replaced David Blatt as coach. Anthony would give Cleveland a proven scorer to join LeBron and Kyrie Irving.

For every trade rumor that pops up, there usually is one or more reports poking holes in the scenario. Some in response to this Cavaliers-Knicks-Celtics scenario popped up on Twitter:

***

No. 3:  Warriors open to chasing 73 — It has become de rigueur these days for NBA coaches and teams to seek the path of least resistance to a championship run, with special attention paid to rest and limited exposures to injuries and physical or mental fatigue. But the Golden State Warriors remain refreshing that way – they didn’t shy away from the winning streak with which they began the season, chasing after the old 1971-72 Lakers’ 33-game mark with enthusiasm. And from their remarks during interviews Friday at All-Star Weekend, including Marc Stein‘s report for ESPN radio, it’s clear they’ll tackle the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ all-time record (72-10) the same way if they get close:

The Golden State Warriors need a 25-5 finish after the All-Star Game to break the NBA’s all-time single-season record of 72 wins. And at least one Warrior says they will indeed be going for it.

“Oh, we will,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson told ESPN Radio on Friday.

In an interview that will air in full on Saturday night’s “Meet The All-Stars” show on ESPN Radio at 5:30 p.m., Thompson acknowledged that the Warriors, who are 48-4, will likely rest some of their players as the season winds down.

“We’ll probably rest guys down the stretch,” Thompson said. “But we’re so deep of a team that we should have a chance to win every night.

“Just to be in the conversation of ‘You guys can do it’ is crazy. It’s great. I would have never imagined this. Growing up, I always thought that record was untouchable. Obviously we’re playing for more than just 73 wins — we’re playing for a championship — but if it’s right there for us, we might as well try and take it.”

Both Thompson and teammate Draymond Green, however, made it clear that even surpassing the Chicago Bulls’ record 72 wins from the 1995-96 season would feel somewhat hollow if the Warriors don’t also repeat as NBA champions.

“It wouldn’t matter,” Green told ESPN Radio. “I don’t think anyone will care. It’ll be talked about initially, like, ‘Oh, they broke the record.’ But it’ll fade away so quick.

“I think it’s one of those things where obviously we don’t talk about it at all. It’ll come up every now and then, but it’s more so, ‘Man, could you imagine if that happened?’ But it’s never like, ‘Hey, let’s focus on getting 72.’ Our focus is always to get better each and every time we step on the floor. And I think if we do that, we get to 72. But if we win 72 or 73 games or 74 and we don’t win a championship, nobody will ever care about the 70-whatever wins in the regular season. Everybody cares about the Bulls because they won a championship while winning 72. So it’s more important to win the championship than winning 72 games.”

Said Thompson: “73 wins doesn’t mean a thing without the ring.”

Golden State’s ringleader, Steph Curry, also chimed in on the topic:

“There’s not many opportunities that you probably have to go after that record,” Curry said Friday to CNN’s Andy Scholes. “Obviously, going to win a championship, that’s the main goal. But there’s a reason that we’re still talking about that ’95-’96 Bulls team that was able to accomplish the 72-and-10 record. They were on a mission that year and ended up winning the championship as well. So that’s kind of where we want to be.

“But when you have a shot at history and being the best regular-season team in the history of the NBA, I think you’ve got to go for it.”

And at least one very-interested rival, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, spoke about how avidly he’ll be tracking the Warriors’ progress. Which apparently is nothing new:

“I’ve spent more time thinking about Golden State than I have any other team I’ve ever thought about in my whole career,” Popovich told ESPN Radio on Friday. “Because they are really fun. I’d go buy a ticket and go watch them play. And when I see them move the ball, I get very envious. When I see them shoot uncontested shots more than anybody else in the league, it’s inspiring. It’s just great basketball.

“So I’m actually enjoying them very much. You try to solve them, but they’re in a sense unsolvable because it’s a particular mix of talent that they have. It’s not just that Steph [Curry] can make shots or that Klay can make shots or that Draymond Green is versatile. Everybody on the court can pass, catch and shoot. And they all get it. They’re for real.”

***

No. 4: Shaw might be next ex-Laker on Knicks benchBrian Shaw‘s reputation as a basketball mind and solid approach to dealing with today’s players didn’t spare him from being fired during the 2014-15 season by the Denver Nuggets. But Shaw remains a legitimate candidate for vacancies that invariably crop up and the one that will get filled in New York by Knicks boss Phil Jackson will be no different. Marc Berman of the New York Post kicked around the idea of Shaw taking over for interim coach Kurt Rambis, who has taken over for fired Derek Fisher:

Brian Shaw didn’t run the triangle offense in Denver, but he hasn’t forgotten any of it.

Shaw is expected to be a Knicks head-coaching candidate in the offseason if Phil Jackson doesn’t retain interim coach Kurt Rambis. Fired by Denver midway through last season, Shaw, a former Lakers player and assistant coach, was at All-Star weekend, helping the NBA with skills competitions for fans.

“I was 12 years involved in it as a player and coach,’’ Shaw told The Post. “The funny thing about it is everybody makes a big deal about the triangle. Almost every team in the league runs different aspects. They’re not dedicated solely to the triangle. It’s something that will always be ingrained in me — the fundamentals of that offense. In Denver, I didn’t run the triangle. I could adapt to any style the personnel dictates.’’

Shaw said he speaks to Jackson periodically, last talking to him about five weeks ago.

Shaw became the scapegoat of a daffy situation in Denver marred by player unrest and a serious injury to Danilo Gallinari.

“It was a situation I don’t really feel I was able to succeed in,’’ Shaw said. “I don’t think anyone placed in that situation could’ve succeeded. I hope I’m not judged on the year-and-a-half I was there more so than the 27 years prior to that I’ve been involved in the NBA.’’

Shaw said he’s hoping to dive into interviews, but didn’t want to talk specifically about the Knicks’ job until it’s open. He did praise Kristaps Porzingis and said he feels Carmelo Anthony is running the offense better this season than last.

“I have to wait until this season is over and see what opens up,” Shaw said. “If the right situation presents itself, definitely. I think I’d be more careful what I jumped into.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: One moment Chris Bosh was talking like a healthy and happy All-Star Weekend featured player, the next he was a surprising scratch, his spots to be filled by Atlanta’s Al Horford (in Sunday’s game) and Portland’s C.J. McCollum (in the 3-point contest). … With everyone talking about Kevin Durant potentially leaving Oklahoma City, it’s a little surprising Durant hasn’t made his intentions known to Thunder management, just in case GM Sam Presti were to consider a pre-emptive strike by the trade deadline. … The firing of Derek Fisher hit New York rookie forward Kristaps Porzingis a little hard. … If it were up to the L.A. Clippers, point guard Chris Paul would be lying flat on his back this weekend, probably in a protective plastic bubble. … ICYMI, the Indiana Pacers had a closed-door meeting to address their pre-break tailspin and it was said to have been led by Monta Ellis. … Jimmy Butler is as hobbled these days as his Chicago Bulls’ championship dreams, but that didn’t stop the sidelined All-Star wing (who came to Toronto anyway) from talking about a bunch of topics. …


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