Posts Tagged ‘Chris Paul’

Numbers notes: No drive in Russell


VIDEO: Assist of the Night: D’Angelo Russell to Tarik Black

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Much has been made of rookie D’Angelo Russell‘s playing time with the 11-41 Los Angeles Lakers. Though he ranks sixth among rookies in minutes per game, it seems like the No. 2 pick could have a bigger (or at least a more consistent) role with a team that never had a chance of competing for a playoff spot this season.

But how Russell plays is as interesting a question as how much he plays. According to SportVU, the Lakers have scored 1.35 points per possession when Russell drives, a mark that would compare with those of Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook.

But Russell has only recorded 145 drives, 2.9 per game and 3.9 per 36 minutes. SportVU says that he has turned a pick-and-roll into a drive only 10.3 percent of the time, a rate that ranks 86th among 94 ball-handlers who have come off at least 300 ball screens. Teammate Jordan Clarkson has driven more than twice as often (26.0 percent) when coming off ball screens.

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Emmanuel Mudiay, taken five picks after Russell, is another interesting comparison. The Nuggets’ point guard has been the league’s worst shooter from outside the paint, but he has driven 9.2 times per 36 minutes, almost 2 1/2 times as often as Russell.

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Only 38 percent of the Lakers’ shots have come in the paint, the lowest rate in the league. The shot selections of Kobe Bryant and Lou Williams are more jumper-heavy than that or Russell, but it would help if the rookie attacked the basket more often.

Potent drives

It should be no surprise that three All-Stars top the list of players who produce the most points for their team when they drive. Curry has become one of the league’s best finishers among guards, Westbrook has mixed it up more this season, and Chris Paul is the consummate playmaker.

But there are a couple of non-All-Stars on the list below that have produced for their team when they’ve attacked the basket.

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Felton has come back after a rough first season in Dallas and benefited from the potency of the players around him. He’s part of a Dallas lineup that has scored 115.2 points per 100 possessions, the third highest rate among lineups that have played at least 200 minutes together.

Holiday is another interesting name on the list, especially given how often he has driven. After driving about nine times per 36 minutes in his first two (injury-riddled) seasons in New Orleans, Holiday ranks fifth in drives per 36 among players who have played at least 750 minutes, trailing only Ish Smith (15.6), Jeff Teague (13.9), Reggie Jackson (13.0) and Isaiah Thomas (12.5).

Offensive picking up

If it feels like offense has picked up as the season has gone on, it’s because it has. Since Jan. 1, the league has scored 104.4 points per 100 possessions, up from 102.2 through Dec. 31. Through Thursday, efficiency is right where it was (103.0) at the end of last season.

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This isn’t a surprise. Offensive efficiency typically increases as the season goes on. But it might not keep going up in a straight line, though. Don’t be surprised if you watch some ugly games in late February.

Last season was the first time we had an extended All-Star break, with each team getting at least eight days off between their last game before the All-Star Game and their first game before it. And we saw a big dip in efficiency coming out of the break. After scoring 103.7 points per 100 possessions in the 85 pre-break February games, the league scored just 100.0 in 76 post-break February games, shooting worse and turning the ball over more.

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The league recovered in March and April, but not all the way to the level it was playing offensively before the extended break.

Irrelevant no more: Steady Celtics guard Thomas makes All-Star turn


VIDEO: Relive great moments from Isaiah Thomas’ solid 2015-16

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

To say Isaiah Thomas has come a long way in his NBA journey would be an understatement. The diminutive floor general, listed at a generous 5-foot-9, was consistently overlooked in the 2011 NBA Draft and wound up being that class’ “Mr. Irrelevant” for being selected with the final pick (No. 60 overall to the Sacramento Kings).

On Thursday, it was announced Thomas was voted an Eastern Conference All-Star for the first time in his career. He’ll also be the first player ever to ascend from the last pick in the NBA Draft to All-Star status, according to Marc D’Amico of Celtics.com.

That’s an incredible point of validation for Thomas, who was selected after fellow point guards Nolan Smith, Norris Cole, Charles Jenkins and Josh Selby. Those four guys have combined for 1.6 win shares, and Cole is the only one still in the NBA.

As for Thomas? He’s collected 29.2 win shares and counting — more than Klay Thompson and the 2011 Draft’s No. 1 overall pick, Kyrie Irving.

The Los Angeles Lakers bungled four shots at drafting Thomas in the second round of 2011, taking point guards Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock and forwards Chukwudiebere Maduabum (who they traded to Denver) and Ater Majok. The latter two never suited up in an NBA game, while Morris and Goudelock combined for negative win shares. In short, the Lakers’ passing on Thomas in favor of those unheralded prospects was a complete and utter failure.

Interestingly, scouting reports didn’t even paint Thomas in an aggressively negative light. NBADraft.net pegged Thomas as a “crafty scorer” who possessed “good speed” and “excellent quickness.”

The negatives, as you might expect, focused almost exclusively on being vertically challenged.

“Very small, even for a point guard,” the report reads. “Ability to get inside will be largely negated by the size of NBA players,” was another note followed closely by, “Will struggle to matchup (sic) with NBA guards defensively.”

And, as Matthew Kamalsky wrote for DraftExpress in 2009, “One thing that scouts won’t be questioning is what Thomas can do when he puts the ball on the floor.” He went on to praise the youngster’s “absolutely outstanding first-step” and “excellent speed in transition.”

He also proved to be an assassin in the clutch. While suiting up for the University of Washington, Thomas hit a difficult step-back fadeaway at the buzzer to beat Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament championship.

He possessed an impressive skill set and didn’t shy away from big moments, which you’d think NBA scouts would value. Somehow, Thomas tumbled down draft boards, but once he arrived in Sacramento, he made an immediate impact … and kept on improving.

Thomas averaged 11.5 points, 4.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds while sinking 37.9 percent of his 3-pointers as a rookie. His second season was much like his first and in his third season, he blossomed with averages of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists in 72 games (54 starts).

He left Sacramento as a free agent and landed with the Phoenix Suns via a sign-and-trade deal. In Arizona, his numbers took a dip as he filled a role as the sixth man behind Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. But a trade deadline-day deal in 2015 Boston gave him a fresh opportunity that he ultimately parlayed into his first All-Star game.

Through 47 games (44 starts), Thomas is averaging career bests in points, assists, rebounds, steals and free throw percentage. The Celtics (26-21) are No. 5 in the East thanks in large part to Thomas, who leads Boston with a 28.9 percent usage rate.

Individual and team accomplishments point to Thomas earning a nod. But the Washington product also stacks up quite well when compared to his peers.

Among NBA point guards, Thomas ranks tied for fifth in player efficiency rating behind Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry. All four of those guys are All-Stars as well (sorry, Damian Lillard).

From being passed over 59 times in the 2011 Draft, to being traded by twice to making his first All-Star team, Thomas has had to silence doubters all along the way. For those who believed in him, this moment must be pretty sweet.

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.

All-Star 2016 Reserves Announced


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from 2016 All-Star Draymond Green

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Millions of fan votes decided who the starters would be for the 65th NBA All-Star Game next month in Toronto.

Only 12 to 14 were required, from coaches around the league, to decide the 14 other players who would fill out the rosters for the Eastern and Western Conference All-Stars.

And there will be a new school flavor to the festivities with a trio of rookie All-Star reserves joining the party.

First time All-Stars highlight the list of reserves, that was announced tonight on TNT. That group includes Golden State’s Draymond Green in the Western Conference and Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas in the Eastern Conference.

Joining Green on the Western Conference reserves list are LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento), Anthony Davis (New Orleans), James Harden (Houston), Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers) and Klay Thompson (Golden State).

NBA All-Star 2016Joining Drummond and Thomas on the Eastern Conference reserves list are Chris Bosh (Miami), Jimmy Butler (Chicago), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto), Paul Millsap (Atlanta) and John Wall (Washington).

Noticeably absent from the list are Portland’s Damian Lillard, Clippers’ star Blake Griffin (whose injury issues wouldn’t have allowed him to participate anyway), the Cleveland duo of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, Atlanta’s Al Horford and perennial All-Stars Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas) and Tim Duncan (San Antonio).

The Cavaliers have just one All-Star, LeBron James, despite owning the best record in the Eastern Conference and having their staff, headed by Tyronn Lue, in charge of coaching the Eastern Conference team.

James, Indiana’s Paul George, New York’s Carmelo Anthony, Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry are the Eastern Conference starters.

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, playing in his 18th and final All-Star Game headlines a Western Conference starting unit that also includes Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, first-time All-Star and San Antonio defensive ace Kawhi Leonard, reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry of Golden State and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.

Western Conference reserves


VIDEO: Discussing the West All-Stars

LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio: Aldridge’s numbers are down but that was expected when he made the move from Portland to San Antonio and the ensemble cast he’s playing with now. This is his fifth straight All-Star Game appearance.

DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento: Cousins has staked his claim to the title as the best big man in basketball and is the only true center on the Western Conference roster. This is his second straight All-Star Game appearance.

Anthony Davis, New Orleans: The Pelicans’ rough start to this season did not keep the coaches from making sure Davis made it to the All-Star Game for the third straight year.

Draymond Green, Golden State: The NBA’s leader in triple-doubles this season, Green missed out on a starting nod but takes his rightful place alongside Warriors teammates Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in his first All-Star appearance.

James Harden, Houston: The runner up for KIA MVP honors last season is still playing at an elite level, individually, even if his Rockets are nowhere near their conference finals pace of a year ago. This is his Harden’s fourth straight All-Star Game appearance.

Chris Paul, LA Clippers: Paul has been the Clippers’ rock with Blake Griffin out with a torn quad tendon the past 15 games (and now a fractured hand for the next 4-6 weeks). This is CP3’s ninth All-Star appearance.

Klay Thompson: The Warriors’ sweet-shooting swingman reminded everyone just how dangerous he can be with a season-high 45 points in Wednesday’s win over the Mavericks. He’s making his second straight All-Star Game appearance.

Data curated by PointAfter

Eastern Conference reserves


VIDEO: Discussing the East All-Star reserves

Chris Bosh, Miami: The 11-time All-Star has come all the way back from the pulmonary embolism that ended cut his season short a year ago. Bosh and Dwyane Wade have led the Heat back into the top four mix in the East after last season’s lottery twirl.

Jimmy Butler, Chicago: The new face of the Bulls has been the motor for a team that has battled inconsistency during the transition from the Tom Thibodeau era to the Fred Hoiberg experience. This is his second straight All-Star Game appearance.

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto: DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the driving forces on a Raptors team that is entrenched in the top three of the Eastern Conference standings this season, will play co-hosts for the All-Star festivities. This is DeRozan’s second All-Star Game appearance.

Andre Drummond, Detroit: The league’s runaway leader in double-doubles and rebounds this season, Drummond, like Cousins in the West, is the only true center on the East roster.

Paul Millsap, Atlanta: The Hawks’ summer re-investment in Millsap has paid off handsomely. He’s been the best and most consistent player for a team that had four All-Stars hit the floor in New York last year. This is the third straight All-Star appearance for Millsap.

Isaiah Thomas, Boston: The unquestioned leader of a Celtics team that wasn’t supposed to have any true stars, Thomas has shattered that myth since joining Boston last season and become the catalyst for Brad Stevens’ upstart crew.

John Wall, Washington: Wall has done yeoman’s work this season for a Wizards’ team that has dealt with a parade of injuries to other key players, most notably Wall’s backcourt mate Bradley Beal. This is Wall’s third straight All-Star Game appearance.

Data curated by PointAfter

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Sunday, Feb. 14.


VIDEO: Who should’ve been an All-Star?

All-Star Reserves announced tonight on TNT

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We already know who the first five are for both the Eastern and Western Conference. And we know Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue will coach the Eastern Conference and San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich will coach the Western Conference.

Now we’ll find out who will fill out those rosters for the 2016 NBA All-Star Game next month in Toronto.

The seven reserves for both teams will be announced tonight, live on TNT at 7 p.m. ET. Will Golden State’s Draymond Green and Detroit’s Andre Drummond make it for the first time? Will Portland’s Damian Lillard make the cut in a crowded field in the West and will Washington’s John Wall do the same in a thick mix in the East?

There is plenty of intrigue remaining. Will Kobe Bryant contemporaries like Dirk Nowitzki NBA All-Star 2016and or Tim Duncan be in uniform for Kobe’s 18th and final All-Star Game appearance? What about Anthony Davis and LaMarcus Aldridge, two players most of us expected to be locks for the game in the preseason?

The final decision comes from the coaches in each conference, who vote on the reserves (and are not allowed to vote from players on their own team). The fans vote for the starters, so it’s up to the coaches to ensure that the “right” (and most deserving) 14 players are selected to fill out the rosters.

The reserves will be revealed during a special one-hour edition of “NBA Tipoff presented by Autotrader” featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith. The special will air prior to TNT’s exclusive doubleheader featuring the Knicks at the Raptors (8 p.m. ET) and the Bulls at the Lakers (10:30 p.m. ET).

NBA All-Star 2016 in Toronto will bring together some of the most talented and passionate players in the league’s history for a global celebration of the game. Along with the NBA All-Star Game, the Air Canada Centre will also host the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, Feb. 12 and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night on Saturday, Feb. 13. Other events at NBA All-Star 2016 include the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and the NBA Development League All-Star Game presented by Kumho Tire.

Blogtable: Thoughts on Griffin’s punching incident?

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: Takeaway from Spurs-Warriors? | Thoughts on Griffin incident? |
Four players who should be All-Star reserves?



VIDEODan Woike explains the impact of Griffin’s incident

> Blake Griffin has missed the last 14 games and will be sidelined four to six weeks after injuring his hand in an altercation with an equipment manager. Is this a big thing, a little thing, or much ado about nothing?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Oh, very much a big, big thing. This is the face of your franchise, who is not a kid anymore, making a series of increasingly stupid decisions (drinking, drinking in public, arguing, hitting someone, continuing to hit someone until you break your hand) that leave his team in a lurch after it had stoically excelled for a month without him. Not to mention that the Clips gave Josh Smith back to Houston anticipating Griffin’s return in the next few days. Bad, bad form. Gonna take a good long while for Griffin to earn back trust from his teammates and from Doc Rivers.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Little thing. Oh, it’s a big thing right now, in the dog days of the NBA season. And it will bubble up a little bit over All-Star Weekend – because of his absence and all the chatter there – and again when Griffin returns to the court for the Clippers. But this is a manageable “crisis” in that Griffin and the equipment manager are otherwise friends (presumably still), sizable checks can get stroked and there aren’t formal charges. As I see it, it’s a symptom of that team’s overall immaturity and unsuitability to seriously contend for a title. But nothing causal unto itself.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Of course, it’s a big deal. Regardless of the Clippers’ recent record without him, Blake Griffin is one of the top two players on the team and talent usually wins out. However, it also furthers the narrative that the Clippers underachieve each season in the playoffs because they are a loose collection of knuckleheads that won’t ever win a championship because they lack focus and professionalism. Breaking your hand on an equipment manager? Why not run head-first into a wall? At least that might knock some sense into him.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Big thing. Blake Griffin put his team’s season at risk, just when the Clippers had reason for optimism after a bad start. They were winning, they were about to get Griffin back from injury. And now this. Who knows how the hand will heal — or not heal. Who knows how many games this will cost L.A. in the standings and injure chances for homecourt advantage in a series. But his actions open up a lot of bad possibilities for the Clips.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I say it’s a big thing, because this is a franchise hauling a history of being Clipper-like, a stigma that was supposed to disappear once Doc Rivers took control. However, the Clippers got ambushed by a Rockets’ comeback in the playoffs last year and so far have nothing special to show for having Rivers, Chris Paul and Blake together. This team has plenty to prove and Blake’s silly and unnecessary “incident” doesn’t help matters at all.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Big thing. With how good the three teams ahead of them are, the Clippers’ margin for error is small. And though they’ve played well without him, his injury obviously hurts them with their need to build something toward the playoffs. It also feels like this is another step toward a summer-of-2016 break-up of the Clippers’ core, which has been very good, but not good enough, over the last few years.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s a huge thing and a potentially season-altering blunder by Griffin that not only shatters any defense of him as anything other than a fake tough-guy. In the absence of any concrete details as to why the dustup with the equipment staffer started, it’s fair to crush Griffin for exhibiting the some of the poorest judgment possible. He’s already missed 14 games with the torn quad tendon and now he’s going to tack on another 4-6 weeks with the fractured hand. Just brutal.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This is a big thing. The Clippers want to contend ultimately for the NBA Finals. This latest self-inflicted torment won’t necessarily knock them out, because Griffin may still have close to two months before the playoffs to regroup with his teammates. Will this be one of those events that convinces him and his teammates to refocus with greater urgency? Or are they going to enable another year to slip away?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe injury should be a little thing — as it turns out, the Clippers have been able to endure without Blake this season. So, being without Griffin for another 4-6 weeks during the regular season should be something they can endure with some relative ease. This could turn into a big thing, however, when you consider the circumstances of the injury, or at least what has been reported as the circumstances thus far.

Blogtable: East, West players who need to be named All-Stars?

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: Takeaway from Spurs-Warriors? | Thoughts on Griffin incident? |
Four players who should be All-Star reserves?



VIDEOTNT’s crew reveals their East All-Star reserve picks

> Give me two players in the East and two players in the West who absolutely, positively need to be named All-Stars Thursday night.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: DeMar DeRozan and Jimmy Butler in the East, and Chris Paul and Draymond Green in the West. All have been sensational all season for their respective teams.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: In the East, Jimmy Butler and Andre Drummond have to be All-Stars and in the West, it’s Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins who need to join the party in Toronto. Butler has taken his game to yet another level from his All-Star work in 2015 and the coaches surely respect his two-way excellence. Drummond puts up some monster numbers, is a fresh young face for the NBA and can’t be excluded by the Pistons’ record for a change. If Steph Curry is the motor of the Warriors’ dominance, Green is the transmission and it’s showing in is all-around impact. Finally, Cousins is the best center in the game and that still is a legit position in this league, regardless of “frontcourt” labeling in All-Star voting. One request: If Drummond and Cousins both go, please leave the typical All-Star cool-and-casualness to others and let’s see those bigs go at each other in the low post — hard — in a nod to a dying style and old-school fans.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In the East, it’s Jimmy Butler and Andre Drummond. During this tumultuous start to the season, Butler has firmly taken over the role as the Bulls’ alpha dog with career-best numbers of 22.3 points and 4.2 assists to go with 5.3 rebounds an 1.7 steals per game while also being a All-Defensive team player. Drummond is having a career year averaging 17.1 points and 15.2 rebounds. He’d be only the fourth player since 1982-83 season to hit those marks for a full season.

In the West, it’s Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins. Green should get the spot denied him by sentimentality toward Kobe Bryant by acclamation of the coaches. While Steph Curry is the heart of the Warriors attack, Green is their relentless, unforgiving soul. I don’t want to hear any more excuses about the Kings’ bad record. Cousins has been nothing short of a monster putting up All-Star numbers by any standards.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: In the East, it’s Jimmy Butler and Andre Drummond. Butler is the best shooting guard in the conference, an elite player on both sides of the ball, while Drummond is a force inside, so much of a force that he is an automatic even playing for a team scrambling to hold on to a playoff spot. In the West, it’s Draymond Green and Chris Paul. Green would be (or should be) getting MVP votes if ballots went out today, though not for first or second place, so, yeah, he is the definition of “absolutely, positively need to be named” an All-Star. Paul clearly remains among the elite, particularly with his play that continues to give the Clippers a puncher’s chance in the West during Blake Griffin’s absence.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: In the West, it’s DeMarcus Cousins and Draymond Green. Cousins has finally shut his mouth and opened his game and the results have been nuclear — he’s the best center in basketball. Green proves his value to the best team in basketball on a nightly basis and is a most unlikely star. In the East, it’s DeMar DeRozan and Jimmy Butler, a pair of shooting guards. Butler should be a starter instead of Dwyane Wade. Meanwhile, DeRozan will be a worthy addition to the game hosted by Toronto — the hottest team in the East.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: In the East, it’s Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan. Butler has been critical on both ends of the floor for the Bulls, while DeRozan has carried a huge load (and scored more efficiently) for the league’s sixth best offense. In the West, it’s Draymond Green and Chris Paul. Green has been a defensive anchor and the league’s best playmaking power forward. Paul hasn’t been as good as he was the last couple of seasons, but is still the best player on a top-four team and has helped the Clippers go 12-3 in the absence of Blake Griffin.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: In the East, it’s Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan. Butler’s performance this season for a Bulls team in disarray deserved a starter’s nod, so there is no doubt he better be on that seven-man list Thursday night. DeRozan has made a similar case for himself in Toronto and should enjoy the spoils of playing host during All-Star Weekend. In the West, it’s Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins. Both are, in a sense, locks. Green’s credential are found in the pile of highlights he’s amassed this season and Cousins has been spectacular (more often than not) for a Kings team poised to make a playoff push the second half of the season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: In the East, it’s DeMar DeRozan and Jimmy Butler. DeRozan is the leading scorer of the No. 2 Raptors and the All-Star Game will be played on his homecourt – that ought to suffice. Butler, who leads No. 4 Chicago with 22.3 points after scoring 53 a couple of weeks ago, is another must-select. In the West, it’s Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Both have been indispensable to the NBA’s far-and-away best team. They join Steph Curry as the most deserving All-Stars this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: In the East, it’s Paul Millsap and Kyrie Irving. I’ve been all-in on Millsap all season, so why stop now? He’s the best player on the Hawks and is averaging career highs across the board. And I know he’s been injured for most of the season, and probably won’t get named by coaches, but I’d love to see Irving in the All-Star Game. He’s the type of player that the All-Star Game is made for, with the ability to pull off crazy dribbling tricks and throw wild alley-oops. In the West, it’s DeMarcus Cousins and Will Barton. Cousins has simply been great all season and, in the spirit of Kyrie, Denver’s exciting scoring machine (Barton) is kind of made for this all-out scoring stage.


VIDEOTNT’s crew reveals their West All-Star reserve picks

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
No panic in Warriors after another loss| Kevin Durant loves the media | Kyrie says Cavs are in a better space | The Clippers’ schedule is about to crank up

No. 1:  No panic in Warriors after another loss — It’s happened so rarely this season that the shock of it all could be a little much to take for the Golden State Warriors. They’ve walked off the court after a loss just four times all season, but lost their second straight road game Saturday night in Detroit. But there is no panic now that the Warriors have come back to earth, a bit, from their unbelievable start to the season. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle explains:

The Warriors’ post-practice session Sunday started with Draymond Green playfully mocking Luke Walton’s work ethic and ended with Stephen Curry proudly wearing a Carolina Panthers cap while singing the team’s theme song.

If the Warriors are panicking about their declining play during the past 11 games, including an 18-point spanking by Detroit on Saturday, they sure weren’t conveying it before flying to Cleveland for an NBA Finals rematch.

“There’s no need to panic, turn on each other or point a finger. We all sucked,” Green said. “… You want to keep the environment loose. You don’t want to tense up and feel like it’s the end of the world and play like that. Yeah, we have to play with a chip on our shoulder, and we have to play with that fire and intensity, but you don’t want to play like you’re in a panic.”

The Warriors (37-4) will have a good barometer for their keep-it-loose approach during the next five games. They play road games at Cleveland and Chicago before hosting Indiana, San Antonio and Dallas — teams that went into Sunday’s games a combined 131-68 (.775).

To have success during the challenging stretch, the Warriors know they’re going to have to play better than they have in the past 11 games.

“It matters to us, every game that we don’t play well. We’re trying to figure it out,” Curry said. “At 37-4, I’m happy that it bothers us. … It shows that it’s a long season, but we’re on a mission to do something big this year. The game (Saturday) night was not in line with our identity and who we are as a team.”

The Warriors went 28-2 in their first 30 games, beating opponents by an average of 13.4 points per game. They’ve gone 9-2 in their past 11 games, beating opponents by an average of 4.8 points per game.

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No. 2: Kevin Durant loves the media —  He has a strange way of showing it, but Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant does not hate the media. In fact, Durant said he has nothing but love for the folks covering him and his team on a regular basis. Sure, he’s had some heated exchanges with reporters recently and has criticized the media for not holding his Thunder in the same regard as other elite teams around the league, for “nit-picking” the way he and Russell Westbrook operate, for disrespecting Kobe Bryant and various other perceived transgressions. But in the end it’s, all love. Erik Horne of the Oklahoman has more:

“I also have something else to say, if you guys don’t mind. I was talking to Matty earlier and I’ve seen over the last couple days – couple of years, actually – that I hate the media. I actually do love you guys. If I hated someone I wouldn’t talk to them. I wouldn’t interact with them. I wouldn’t laugh and joke with them. I wouldn’t talk with them about anything other than what you guys ask me. When I disagree, that doesn’t mean that I hate you guys, so … my whole deal is to spark a conversation and hopefully we can talk about the topic, or whatever it is at hand we can talk about, and we all can grow from it. That’s my whole deal.

“I know I’m not necessarily talking to all you guys – all you guys with all these mics here. My whole thing is when I disagree that doesn’t mean I hate you, that just means … what you guys really wanted is someone who’s open and honest with you and who’s opinionated and that’s who I am. I haven’t changed, I’m the same person. I just grew as a man. Hopefully you just appreciate it and know that I don’t hate you. That’s a harsh word and my mom never brought me up to be a hater of anyone. I always believe that if I’m open and honest and opinionated that I can grow as a person and hopefully you can learn that’s what I’m about, and hopefully you all can get better. The main goal is to help the fans know the game a little bit more than they know today, so that’s my goal and hopefully that’s your goal instead of getting headlines and clicks. That’s my take on it, that’s the last time I’ll talk about it, but I had something I had to get off my chest. I appreciate it.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant clarifies his recent comments about the media

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No. 3: Kyrie says Cavs are in a better space — It stands to reason that weeks after Christmas, the Cleveland Cavaliers are something of a different monster than the one we saw that day against the Golden State Warriors. Kyrie Irving, who made his debut just a week before that game, is in a different place now. He says the Cavs are in a better space. And he’s ready for tonight’s rematch of the rematch between The Finals combatants (8 p.m. ET, TNT). Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com has the details:

In the first meeting between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, an NBA Finals rematch, point guard Kyrie Irving was playing in his third game, trying to get back in rhythm after a rehab-filled off-season.

Heading into Monday night, another crack at the league’s best team that celebrated inside Quicken Loans Arena about seven months ago, Irving feels different, inching closer to his old form.

“A lot better,” Irving said following Sunday’s practice, the first workout since returning home from a season-long six-game road trip. “Definitely trying to prove it out there every single time I go out there and play. Just trying to continue to be better every single game for my teammates.”

Since that Christmas Day showdown, an 89-83 loss, Irving has hypnotized defenses with his slick ball handling, made a pair of clutch three-pointers in the closing minutes and had a few scoring outbursts. He has given Cleveland an offensive boost, averaging 103.8 points in his 12 games.

“Coming back it was a tough adjustment at first, missing a few shots here and there, being on the minute restriction, just had some things to get used to,” Irving said. “And as I continue to progress and the more games I play, the better I am getting.

“I just didn’t want to come in and break anyone’s rhythm. We had a great thing going, and me just being an added piece, just wanted to come in and make it seem seamless and do whatever it takes to win. I mean, it was a tough transition coming back, I’m not going to lie, but I think it’s getting easier and easier every single game.”

Irving is averaging 17.0 points on 42 percent from the field, including 26 percent from three-point range. He’s also averaging 3.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds.

His numbers are down and his play has been dotted with inconsistency. But Cavs head coach David Blatt is focusing on the positives.

“Kyrie has been doing well,” Blatt said Sunday. “I said on a few occasions after some of his bigger games that still we had to understand and show patience. And he has gone more or less up and down a little bit and it’s totally understandable. He missed a long time, came off a serious injury. But he’s worked hard and he’s played well since he’s come back. Some games better than others. And it’s just part of the process and we understand it. And that will continue for a little while.”

***

No. 4: The Clippers’ schedule is about to crank up — Winning feels great, and the Los Angeles Clippers have been doing it as well as anyone lately — even after their 10-game win streak was snapped Saturday — as they head into tonight’s matchup against Houston (10:30 p.m. on TNT). But the schedule is about get a lot tougher and Clippers coach Doc Rivers knows what’s coming. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times explains:

Starting with Monday night’s game against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center, five of their next six opponents have records above .500. And the only team below .500, the 20-22 New York Knicks, has been playing better recently.

Not only that, but five of the six games are on the road, including a back-to-back set at Cleveland and New York on Thursday and Friday and, after a game at Toronto on Sunday, another back-to-back Jan. 26-27 at Indiana and Atlanta.

“I don’t look ahead but to the next game, obviously,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Saturday night after the loss to the Kings at Staples Center. “[But] defensively we’re a better team. And that’s all you need to be is a better team defensively. Offensively, I’m never that concerned about us. I think most nights we’re going to be a good offensive team. . . . I just think our team has grown and that’s where we’re a better team.”

Only two of the opponents during the 10-game win streak were above .500 when the Clippers played them, and only one is now. They won nine of the games without Blake Griffin (partially torn left quadriceps) and went 1-1 in the games DeAndre Jordan missed because of pneumonia.

The Clippers are hopeful Jordan can return against Houston, and they expect Griffin to return during the trip — hoping it will be at Cleveland but figuring it’s more likely to happen at Toronto or Indiana.

The fact that the Clippers haven’t faltered without Griffin prompted a question to Rivers: Had they sent a message to the NBA about how strong they can be despite missing their All-Star?

“No, we’re not trying to send any messages,” said Rivers, whose team didn’t practice Sunday. “We’re just trying to win games. The messages have to be sent at the end of the year by winning.

“We just have to keep getting better. I think through this stretch we have improved as a basketball team. And I think when DJ comes back first and then Blake, we’re going to be a much better team because of all of this. But we’ve still got a long way to go. Neither one of them are back yet. So, we’ve just got to keep plugging away.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: If you had plans Saturday night and missed out on the raucous celebration at The Palace of Auburn Hills, relive the moment the Detroit Pistons retired Ben Wallace‘s No. 3 … Washington Wizards swingman Jarrell Eddie has found his dream job … You won’t have to think long and hard about who has been voted the NBA’s dirtiest player (here’s a hint, it rhymes with sell him a nova) … Even after all of these years, Kobe Bryant is still reaching milestones in the Lakers’ record books

Morning shootaround — Jan. 11


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The call for Cal to save the Nets | LeBron survives pregame plunk, lifts Cavaliers | Warriors stealing glances at all-time record | Lillard backs up his words with actions in win over Thunder

No. 1: The call for Cal to save the Nets — For what seems like the umpteenth time, there is a NBA coaching opening with John Calipari‘s name written all over it. With Lionel Hollins out as coach in Brooklyn (and Billy King reassigned within the organization), Calipari’s name has surfaced immediately as a possible replacement, even though he has routinely denied in any interest in leaving Kentucky. That won’t stop the rumblings about Cal being the right name for the job, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

The Brooklyn Nets will undoubtedly make the celebrity hire here because the team’s Russian owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, simply wouldn’t have it any other way.

That’s why John Calipari goes right to the top of any and all searches when you have a desperate billionaire who is looking to make a big splash calling the shots. Do the names James Dolan and Phil Jackson ring a bell?

Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé, who thinks he’s John Wooden because he once coached his daughter’s fifth-grade team to a championship, was ready to offer Calipari everything last summer before Coach Cal decided to return to Kentucky and wait for something better/more lucrative to come along.

Now it’s Prokhorov’s turn. Prokhorov woke up Sunday, looked at his terrible club and with his deep accent essentially mumbled: “I must break you.”

Billy King, the general manager, was reassigned while head coach Lionel Hollins was canned.

You don’t blow up your organization six weeks before the trading deadline unless you have a plan in place, right? Only Prokhorov, Nets CEO Brett Yormark and Dmitry Razumov, the owner’s right-hand man behind the Iron Curtain, know for sure.

Calipari is the primary target, according to several sources close to the Nets and Calipari. It will take a lot to get him, which means power and money, perhaps even a small piece of ownership. Remember, Cal’s not the desperate one here.

Calipari has been down this road before with the Nets and knows he’ll have to hire a smart general manager to handle the day-to-day business. The job requires heaving lifting. The Nets are in a complete rebuild without many assets.

The disastrous trade with the Celtics will haunt this franchise for a decade. Boston owns the Nets’ first-round pick in 2016 and 2018 and has the option to swap first-round picks in 2017. The Nets will have to start rebuilding through free agency and if we know one thing about Calipari it’s that he can recruit his designer suit off.

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski digs into exactly what it might cost to get Calipari to Brooklyn, which surely will not come cheap if he’s right:

For the $123.2 million in luxury tax that Prokhorov has paid out, he’ll be toasted on the verandas and yachts of rival owners who’ve bathed in his wayward excesses. They pocketed his millions, pilfered his picks and beat the Nets senseless.

Prokhorov has drained his franchise’s natural resources – unloading seven first-round and 11 second-round picks in the five-plus years of deposed general manager Billy King’s regime. The Nets have no present, no future, no identity. They’re too impatient to hire an accomplished NBA GM and slowly, surely work themselves out of this ditch.

As much as anything, that’s why Nets CEO Brett Yormark is determined to repackage John Calipari as a franchise savior. The Nets couldn’t get star players to sell tickets and TV ratings, so he wants to try a star college coach. Again.

Yormark is pushing Prokhorov to reach back to the Nets’ Jersey roots, dust off a failed ’90s experiment and sell it as something sparkling and new. Twenty years ago, the Nets stunned everyone with a five-year, $15 million contract for the UMass coach. For Calipari to consider the Nets – and, yes, the Sacramento Kings, too – league sources tell Yahoo Sports that the teams have been informed of his asking price: 10 years, $120 million.

When Calipari spoke with minority ownership in Sacramento last spring, he told them that it would take an offer of $11 million-plus a year to get his attention, league sources said. Calipari turned down a 10-year, $80 million-plus offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, because he wouldn’t leave Kentucky with only an incremental raise on what is now an $8 million to $9 million annual package on campus.

Cleveland’s offer has become a baseline for Calipari’s contractual demands: He wants the 10 years and now the $12 million a year that Phil Jackson makes to run the Knicks.

Calipari’s sell will be this: As his old Kentucky stars – DeMarcus Cousins (2018), John Wall (2019) – become free agents, he’ll have the Nets positioned to sign them. His former players have largely kept excellent relationships with him, but there are those close to them who say that most of his ex-stars remain reluctant to committing to 82 games a year of Cal’s abrasive style. It wore out players fast in the 1990s in New Jersey, and Calipari would need to bring a different disposition to the NBA and prove that he’s willing to treat NBA players like men, not teenagers.

Around Calipari, there are some who prefer him to take the Kings job, because there’s more of an infrastructure in place. Brooklyn has been left in shambles, with immense limitations on reshaping the roster. Nevertheless, New York is New York, and Calipari has never stopped thinking about redeeming himself in the pros. His enshrinement into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September makes it even easier to justify the years of NBA losing that will likely prelude a turnaround, because he no longer needs to keep shining that résumé for Springfield.

For Calipari, the perfect scenario will be engaging the Kings and Nets in a bidding war. In that instance, Prokhorov could be hard to beat. So now, there promises to be two parallel searches for the Brooklyn Nets’ next GM and coach: one that includes traditional candidates; and one that is the dance with Calipari. There were cringes within the Nets over the PR ramifications, but ownership plans to use King as a consultant on the search process.

Between now and the end of the college basketball season, Calipari will issue his typical denials on a return to the NBA, but talks will be ongoing and the leveraging intense. Calipari has always wanted back in the NBA, and the Nets give him a chance for everything he wants: the money, the power, the geography.

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No. 2: LeBron survives pregame plunk, lifts Cavaliers — LeBron James took a ball to the face during his pregame warm up routine before Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. He got the last laugh, though, finishing with a season-high tying 37 points and saving his best for the finish in the Cavaliers’ win. Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com explains:

Perhaps the signs were there during pregame warmups, as an errant pass plunked James in the face, leading to chuckles on social media.

The Cavaliers just didn’t look like themselves, far from the East’s best.

There were a few different chances to stretch the lead and turn the outcome into a laugher, just as they had done during the first two stops of the current six-game road trip.

But the plucky 76ers kept fighting.

In the NBA, though, fight and determination only take a team so far. Oftentimes having a four-time MVP, a player capable of single-handedly taking control, can erase an otherwise frustrating night.

That’s what James did, putting on a show for the near-sellout crowd in Philadelphia.

With the Cavs’ clinging to a two-point lead, 81-79, Cavs head coach David Blatt put his star back in the game.

James, who has traded the new-school “dab” celebration and his familiar “Silencer” for the mid-90’s “Raise the Roof,” lifted his team to victory before heading to Texas for a tough three-game stretch.

A 22-foot jumper ignited a 14-0 run, pushing the Cavaliers’ lead to a game-high 16 points past the midway point of the final period. James scored 12 of the 14 points during that stretch and did it in a variety of ways. There were pull-up jumpers, three-points bombs and circus layups.

James finished with 37 points, tying his season-high total, on 15-of-22 from the field. He also added nine assists, seven rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes. As James was scorching, the rest of his teammates were struggling, showing frustration on a cold shooting night.

James could sense it and took it upon himself to change it.

“I was able to get enough of a break to get a little energy,” James said after the game. “I understand when I go back into the game I have to make plays. They needed me to put the ball in the hole tonight, especially in the fourth quarter.”

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No. 3: Warriors stealing glances at all-time record — The Golden State Warriors can’t help themselves. Even with the San Antonio Spurs hot on their trail and plenty of potential roadblocks between them and history, they refuse to be intimidated by the thought of chasing a 73-win season. They remain on pace to top the 72-win mark set by Michael Jordan and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. With a win over the Miami Heat tonight they’d be halfway there, writes Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group:

With so many team and individual milestones to keep track of, it was easy to overlook that the Warriors’ 35th victory of the season put them halfway to 70 wins after just 37 games.

Another victory against the Miami Heat on Monday night at Oracle Arena will put them halfway to 72, the NBA regular-season record established by Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.

So is it OK to start talking about chasing the record yet? After all, the Warriors need to go “only” 38-7 the rest of the way to finish 73-9 and break the mark.

After Game 37 a year ago, the Warriors were 31-6, and they went 36-9 from there. That’s not far off from 38-7, so if nothing else, they are making it more plausible with each victory.

The Warriors will begrudgingly talk about the record if asked. But they still don’t really like thinking about it and won’t for a while.

“People ask us after games what it feels like to be whatever our record is at that point, and you get reminded where we are,” Stephen Curry said after the Warriors beat the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night. “But when we’re out there on the floor, we’re not playing like if we lose, we’ll be off the pace. There’s no pressure when we’re out there, so that’s a good feeling.”

The pressure is certain to mount if the Warriors continue to stay ahead of the Bulls’ pace, but that will be difficult in itself. Michael Jordan and Co. were 34-3 after 37 games and would win seven in a row from there to go 41-3 before their fourth loss. They did not lose in the entire month of January that season, going 14-0.

The Warriors would rather not know the specifics.

“We understand what the big goal is, but in the moment, we just try to play well and do what we do, and hopefully that means we’ll get wins,” said Curry. “You hope to bottle up those emotions as you go through the season, because you can’t fast-forward to April and think about if we’re going to be within striking distance of the record or whatever.

“We want to be healthy and we want to be playing well, and if we have an opportunity at the end of the season to go get it, we should go get it, because that’s a huge record most people thought could never be broken. So we’ll talk about that when we get closer. But for now, let’s stay in the moment and play free, play our game and have fun doing it.”

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No. 4: Lillard backs up his words with actions in win over Thunder — A day after declaring his intentions for the franchise and the city of Portland, Damian Lillard backed up his words with decisive and explosive actions to lead the Trail Blazers past Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was a vintage performance from one of the league’s most dynamic players. It also reinforced Lillard’s message, his vow to carry the team and city on his back, if need be, as they scratch and claw their way back to respectability. It was “Lillard Time” when it mattered most against the Thunder, writes Mike Richman of the Oregonian:

You have seen “Lillard Time” before. But not quite like this.

Damian Lillard scored 17 of his 31 points in the final 3:07 of the game, connecting on five three-pointers to power the Trail Blazers to a 115-110 comeback victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday night at the Moda Center.

“That was quite a performance by Dame in those two minutes,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “We were battling the whole game and he came up big. I mean, he hit five threes in two minutes. You don’t see that very often.”

While Lillard was spectacular, dropping long-range step backs with defenders right in his face and adding a familiar tap of his wrist in the process, the Blazers pulled out the win on the defensive end.

Lillard hit back-to-back threes to cut a seven-point Thunder lead to 107-104 with 2:11 left. After Thunder big man Steven Adams split two free throws, Allen Crabbe got in on the long range assault, hitting a three-pointer from the wing to cut the lead to one.

Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook pushed the lead back to three with two free throws, only to have Lillard tie the game at 110-all with a deep three-pointer right over the outstretched arm of Westbrook.

The Blazers defense backed up Lillard’s firepower. Al-Farouq Aminu came away with a key steal, tipping a pass from Thunder big man Serge Ibaka that led to a transition opportunity for the Blazers. Lillard, who had already made four three-pointers in the quarter, didn’t wait long to get another shot up, quickly hoisting a three-pointer from the right wing to put Portland up 113-110 with just over a minute remaining.

“It’s like that sometimes. When you see the ball go in a few times and then the team is defending you the way we defended and you just keep getting it back,” Lillard said. “You get a stop and you keep getting the ball back. I just wanted to ride it out and I was able to do it tonight.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall is doing his best to strike a balance while grinding through an injury-riddled season for the Washington Wizards … Spurs veteran David West had a special rooting interest in the Army All-American bowl over the weekend in San Antonio … Tired Jazz whip brutal Lakers, who worked without Kobe Bryant for the seventh time this seasonLuke Walton has fond memories of playing in Sacramento, dating all the way back to his high school days … The Detroit Pistons are eyeballing a top four spot in the Eastern Conference standings and all that comes with itZach Randolph and the Grizzlies keep it grimy and rolling at home

Morning shootaround — Jan. 9




VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Spurs survive close shave | Davis injures back | Brand goal is to teach | Raptors take down Wiz again | Mbah a Moute shines

No. 1: Spurs survive close call against Knicks — Admittedly, the blowout wins the Spurs have been enjoying at home this season are much easier on the nerves. But when Jose Calderon’s last-ditch shot missed and San Antonio survived a nail-biter against the Knicks Friday night, it might have been the kind of game the streaking Spurs needed as they head into the meat of their schedule. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News has the scoop:

That their latest victory took the full 48 minutes to secure was not lost on Spurs players, who in recent games had grown accustomed to playing fourth quarters with their starters’ feet propped up.

“I think we needed it,” David West said. “I think we figured out some execution stuff, some timing stuff you can only do in a tight game.”

Throughout a stellar start to the season that left them at 32-6 on Friday, keeping pace with the best start in club history, the Spurs have been on the lookout for cracks to fill.

Not everything New York threw the Spurs’ way will prepare them for what is to come.

It will be a while, for instance, before they face another 7-foot-3 Latvian who can shoot the 3-pointer.

Rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis, all of 20 years old, scorched the NBA’s top-rated defense for 28 points and 11 rebounds. Porzingis was a thorn in the Spurs’ side on the offensive end, and an easy mark on defense. Aldridge got a batch of his points posting up the slender Porzingis.

The Spurs scored 60 points in the paint Friday, and Popovich thought they could have gotten more.

“It’s a strength that we have,” Popovich said. “And we’re getting better and better at recognizing it.” The Spurs did a better job against Anthony.

Tag-teamed by Leonard and Danny Green, Anthony started 2 for 12. The eight-time All-Star eventually found his way to 20 points and 12 boards, thanks to 10 trips to the foul line, but nothing came easy.

“I think they did a good job,” Popovich said of Green and Leonard. “As good as can be expected against a Hall of Fame player.”

***

No. 2: Pelicans lose A.D. to back injury — Another day, another injury for the Pelicans in what has rapidly become a painful and star-crossed season. Star forward Anthony Davis crashed into the seats while chasing a loose ball early in Friday’s loss to the Pacers and suffered a lower back contusion. He was unable to return to the game and according to John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Pelicans are still waiting on an update on Davis’s availability:

Davis initially returned to the game, but shortly afterwards Alvin Gentry was forced to call a 20-second timeout to get Davis out of the game. Davis headed to the locker room for treatment and did not return. He was not made available after the game and his status for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers has not been determined but an update may be issued by the team after Saturday’s practice.
But X-rays were negative, and he is listed as day-to-day.

”I don’t know anything yet,” Gentry said after Friday’s game. ”He was telling me that he had back pains when he left the court. So I’m sure we’ll find out later on.”

Davis has missed three games this season due to injury, which included a right hip contusion injury and sore right left shoulder.

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No. 3: Teaching is the thing for Elton Brand — If 36-year-old Elton Brand drops in a basket or two and chases down a rebound for the 76ers, that’s all just gravy. The veteran forward came out of retirement to join the team this week with one task in mind, says Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer. That’s to show the ropes to Jahlil Okafor and the other young members of the Sixers’ roster:

“He’s here to guide the young guys and anything else is a bonus,” coach Brett Brown said. “I see him at practice pulling Nerlens [Noel] and Jahlil aside and showing them some of [Atlanta forward Paul] Millsap’s tricks, how he scored on him in practice, how can that not just be priceless?”

Brand has put a price on it, and it isn’t monetary. It’s about giving back to the game, about acquiescing to pleas from his college coach and his agent and, maybe a little bit, to the idea that he can get back on the court again for a few minutes at a stretch and show a little something one more time.

“Before practice yesterday, I dropped my son off at school at 8 a.m. I got to practice early, did some cardio, shot with the coaches, lifted, then had a whole long practice,” Brand said. “I ate lunch with the team, shot free throws afterward, and still picked up my son. I was home by 5 o’clock.”

It sounds so reasonable, and perhaps Brand can pull off this balancing act. If it doesn’t work, the season will be over in three months and he can look everyone in the eye and say he tried.

***

No. 4: Raptors keep getting back at Wizards — If you think players have short memories and easily forget things that happened last season, think again. That four-game playoff sweep at the hands of the Wizards last spring was a shocking eye opener to the Raptors. Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star says that miserable experience still motivated DeMar DeRozan and his teammates in Friday night’s win:

DeMar DeRozan didn’t blink before the words were out of his mouth.
“We got swept last year,” the Toronto Raptors shooting guard said, after he’d hung a season-high 35 points on the Washington Wizards, the offensive backbone in a defensively-sound 97-88 win. DeRozan’s previous season high was 34 and one of those games came against the Wizards too.

Last year’s playoff sweep at the hands of the Wizards is old news by now, hammered home by 2016’s arrival. But being on the Verizon Center court, hearing a crowd of 17,064 cheering the Wizards on and seeing those painfully familiar red, white and blue jerseys, brings the burn of failure back to DeRozan, at least for one night.

“I was here for the playoffs, and that was a bad feeling to get swept,” he said. “Coming back here just playing against them (gives) the same reminder of what happened.”

The Raptors (now 23-15) know that avenging that loss can’t happen until the playoffs, whoever their opponent would be. Friday’s win was a testament to how different these Raptors look now, getting back to their defensive roots after two embarrassing losses earlier this week to the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers.

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No. 5: Mbah a Moute helps Clippers thriveChris Paul has stepped up his All-Star level game. DeAndre Jordan has shouldered more of the burden. J.J. Reddick, Paul Pierce and others have made big shots. But a big part of the secret to the Clippers’ success in the absence of the injured Blake Griffin has been the below the radar efforts of Luc Mbah a Moute, says Dan Woike of the Orange Country Register:

“Luc is the most under-appreciated person on our team, in all honesty,” Paul said Friday. “We used to talk about DJ all the time, but everyone sees what DJ does on a nightly basis.

“But Luc is the guy. He does everything. He defends. He cuts. He does everything a coach would appreciate but a fan has no idea that he’s doing.”

And, technically, until Thursday his contract wasn’t fully guaranteed for the season.

Ultimately, the decision to keep him wasn’t much of a decision at all.

The Clippers lucked into Mbah a Moute last summer after the Sacramento Kings voided his free-agent deal due to a failed physical – the results of which have been disputed.

Looking for a landing spot, the former UCLA star ended up with the Clippers right before training camp, competing with veteran big man Chuck Hayes for the final roster spot.

Last season, Clippers coach Doc Rivers chose Jared Cunningham over Joe Ingles for the Clippers’ final roster spot. Cunningham was traded to Philadelphia in early January and was waived. Ingles, who was claimed by the Utah Jazz, ended up starting 32 games at small forward, a position where the Clippers could’ve used him.

This season, clearly, Rivers chose right.

Hayes hasn’t played this season, and Mbah a Moute is the Clippers’ starting small forward.

Since inserting him into the starting lineup, the Clippers are 15-5 – the third-best record in the NBA. They have the fifth-best offense in the NBA during that stretch and the sixth-best defense.

“What I love about Luc also is Luc can play a lot of minutes in a game or he can play very little minutes in a game, there’s still no body language change or anything like that,” Rivers said. “He understands there are nights we need offensive guys on the floor, we need floor-spacers. There are nights where we need a stop, and Luc does it.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephen Curry is now wearing soccer style shin guards to keep playing through his injury…One front row fan in Minneapolis got a little too up close and personal with Timofey Mozgov…Lamar Odom has been moved out of hospital as rehabilitation continues…Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t ruling out a return to Phoenix to conclude his NBA career…LeBron James wants to see J.R. Smith the All-Star Weekend 3-point Shootout.

Kobe, Curry continue leading All-Star voting

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — It may be Kobe Bryant‘s final season on the court, but he is clearly as popular as ever.

In the second returns of All-Star voting, released today, the Lakers’ guard remains the NBA’s overall leading vote-getter with 1,262,118 votes, increasing his lead over Golden State’s Stephen Curry (925,789) since the first round of voting results. Bryant, the leading scorer in All-Star Game history, led Curry by just over 200,000 votes in the previous voting results.

It appears fans have also rewarded Golden State’s red-hot start to the season, as Warriors forward Draymond Green (332,223) has moved into the top three among Western Conference frontcourt players, joining Bryant and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, narrowly ahead of San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (330,929) and Clippers forward Blake Griffin (298,212).

Durant’s Oklahoma City teammate, point guard Russell Westbrook (479,512), ranks second in voting among Western Conference guards. He has a healthy lead over the third-ranked guard, Clippers point guard Chris Paul (268,672).

Cleveland’s LeBron James leads all Eastern Conference players with 636,388 votes. His former Miami teammate, Dwyane Wade, is second with 562,558 votes. James’ current teammate, Kyrie Irving (271,094) — who has played just seven games this season since returning from injury — is second among Eastern Conference guards. Irving is outpacing Kyle Lowry (242,276), who plays for All-Star host Toronto and used a late push last season to get into the starting line-up.

Detroit’s Andre Drummond, the NBA’s leading rebounder this season, is still among the top three frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference, which would qualify him to start. But Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, an eight-time All-Star, has closed Drummond’s lead to about 6,000 votes. Anthony’s teammate, Kristaps Porzingis, is the highest-ranked rookie, with 160,170 votes — good for ninth among Eastern Conference frontcourt players.

The Spurs and the Warriors each have five players among the Western Conference’s leading vote-getters. After sending four players to the All-Star Game last season, the only player the Atlanta Hawks have among the leading vote-getters this season is Paul Millsap (21,625), who is 15th among Eastern Conference forwards.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be held on Sunday, Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. TNT will televise the All-Star Game in the U.S. for the 14th consecutive year.

NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon is an all-digital program that gives fans everywhere the opportunity to vote for their favorite players as starters for the All-Star Game. New to the voting program this year, fans can cast their daily votes directly through Google Search on their desktop, tablet and mobile devices. They can also vote on NBA.com, through the NBA App (available on Android and iOS), SMS text and social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.