Posts Tagged ‘Cleveland Cavaliers’

Morning shootaround — Dec. 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Five teams chasing Rondo | Blatt blasts Cavs after loss to Hawks | Crawford would welcome Allen on Clips | Report: Clips in pursuit of Brewer, too

No. 1: Report: Five teams pursuing Rondo — Late last night, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski and ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported that the Dallas Mavericks were in hot pursuit of Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. Since that news happened first broke, though, four more teams — the Sacramento Kings, New  York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets — have joined in on the Rondo chase, writes Stein:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Celtics and Mavericks have been discussing a swap that would furnish Boston with multiple draft picks — including at least one future first-rounder — as well as blossoming Mavericks center Brandan Wright and other players needed to make the salary-cap math work.

Sources say the Celtics also have been talking to teams such as the Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets about potential Rondo deals, but that the most advanced discussions have been with Dallas.

Because Rondo is in the final year of his current contract, sources say any team that can come to terms on a trade with Boston likely will request permission to confer with Rondo and his representatives to get Rondo’s input on the destination, giving them a level of influence into where he might be dealt.

Rondo shrugged off the latest trade talk Wednesday night after Boston’s 109-92 win over the Orlando Magic.

“[Trade talk has been] a way of life since I’ve been here,” he said. “It’s just part of it.”

Rondo, while maintaining that his preference is to continue his career in Boston, has left little doubt in recent months that he intends to test the market as a free agent in July as opposed to signing an extension with the Celtics. However, sources say that Dallas, amid growing concern about its point guard play and sensing the opportunity to acquire a top-flight player it has coveted for some time, is confident it could win over Rondo for the long term if trade terms can be finalized with the Celtics.

If a trade comes to fruition, Rondo would join Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons in a high-octane starting five.

The risk for Dallas, of course, is that Rondo could leave town in free agency in the summer if he is determined to move on or can’t come to terms on a new deal with the Mavericks. That scenario could burn the veteran-laden Mavs, given the multiple quality assets they would have to sacrifice to get him.

It remains to be seen whether Celtics general manager Danny Ainge will continue to try to shop for offers or jump on the assets Dallas is offering in exchange for the mercurial point guard, knowing that he could leave Boston in the summer without the Celtics receiving any compensation.


VIDEO: Rajon Rondo flirted with a triple-double in the Celtics’ win Wednesday

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 17


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Kings talk with Jackson | Reports: Cavs, Rockets still interested in Brewer | Bucks’ next moves after Parker’s injury | Kobe offered support to George

No. 1: Report: Kings’ brass meets with Jackson — Two days ago, the Sacramento Kings fired coach Mike Malone and replaced him with his top assistant, Tyrone Corbin, on an interim basis. Since then, there have been names aplenty — the foremost being George Karl and Chris Mullin — who have popped up as potential Sacramento hires for the coaching gig. Add another name to the list, writes Sam Amick of USA Today, as the team has also spoken with former Golden State Warriors coach and current ESPN analyst Mark Jackson:

In the days that have followed the Sacramento Kings’ surprising firing of coach Michael Malone, the only thing certain about where they go from here has been the uncertainty.

Tyrone Corbin was deemed the interim for the foreseeable future, though no one was quite sure how long that term might last. Longtime head coach George Karl was widely seen as a frontrunner to replace him, but his reported candidacy was followed by proverbial crickets. Golden State Warriors legend and current Kings advisor Chris Mullin was and remains an intriguing possibility, but early indications are that he won’t be taking on the head coaching title anytime soon.

Yet late Tuesday night at Sleep Train Arena, after the Kings fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-92, another possible candidate emerged in the most convenient of ways: former Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson. After calling the game courtside for ESPN, Jackson had a lengthy meeting with Mullin, Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro and franchise centerpiece DeMarcus Cousins inside the “Chairman’s Lounge” where they had requested that arena workers and others give them some privacy.

Jackson, Mullin, and Cousins entered the room at approximately 10:20 p.m. Pacific time, with Cousins sporting a black suit as he continues to recover from his bout with viral meningitis that has kept him out of action since Nov. 26. D’Alessandro joined them approximately 20 minutes into the meeting, and the group finally exited just before midnight, long after the room had been cleared so that they could have a moment to discuss, well, connect the dots yourself.

Or, of course, maybe it was just a couple of old childhood pals sharing stories with their Kings friends. Mullin and Jackson have been the best of friends since their high school days, when Jackson was coming up at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn and Mullin was a star at Power Memorial Academy in New York City. They played together at St. John’s University as well, then later spent three seasons side by side yet again with the Indiana Pacers (1997-2000).

What’s more, D’Alessandro was a video coordinator at St. John’s during Jackson’s senior season. Jackson, Mullin, and D’Alessandro have made a habit of visiting in this nature whenever their paths may cross, but the involvement of Cousins was certainly enough to warrant notice.

The Jackson possibility was previously known, and the dynamics on display leading up to their meeting said everything about why the Kings might be seriously interested in bringing him aboard. According to one of the participants, Cousins expressed a desire to meet Jackson, whose ability to connect with his players during the last three seasons with the Warriors was a very real and valuable part of his successes there.


VIDEO: Who should be the next coach of the Sacramento Kings?

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 16


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kings, Malone were a stylistic mismatch | Monroe denies trade rumors | Bucks win thriller but lose Parker | Blazers lose Lopez for ‘a while

No. 1: Kings, Malone were a stylistic mismatch — Two days after the surprise firing of coach Michael Malone in Sacramento, we’re finally starting to get a few explanations. In a session yesterday with the media, Kings GM Pete D’Allesandro said it didn’t matter what Malone’s record was, it was more about the team’s style of play and philosophy. As Jason Jones writes in the Sacramento Bee

Malone was a coaching disciple of defensive-minded Jeff Van Gundy and Malone’s father, Brendan, an assistant with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons when they won NBA championships in 1989 and 1990.

But defense is not what the front office or ownership wants to sell to fans.

“It wasn’t about wins and losses,” D’Alessandro said. “I didn’t really care about what our record was. It’s about who we want to be, what we want our identity to be as a team.”

That vision is a team that plays a fast-paced offensive style Tyrone Corbin will try to implement as interim coach.

D’Alessandro would like to see the Kings play like the Rick Adelman-coached Sacramento teams more than a decade ago, when they piled up wins with a dynamic offense – especially with the new downtown arena expected to open in 2016.

“What we’re trying to do is put a style in that reflects the Sacramento fan base, which to us is a free-flowing, up-and-down style of play,” D’Alessandro said. “That’s what we’re striving for; we have time now to install it before we get there. I think it’s going to ignite the arena when we’re playing with the style of play we intend to play with.”

Now the questions are whether the Kings, 11-13 overall and 2-7 without Cousins, have the players to make that style work and direct the team long term.

D’Alessandro wouldn’t commit to Corbin for the rest of the season, though he said Corbin has his support. The Kings are interested in veteran coach George Karl, an analyst for ESPN who was fired by Denver following the 2012-13 season, according to league sources. D’Alessandro worked with Karl in Denver.

Chris Mullin, a Hall of Fame player and an adviser to primary owner Vivek Ranadive, might be interested in the job, league sources said.

Until a permanent coach is hired, Corbin will have the challenge of changing the team’s style.

“It’s so new right now,” Corbin said. “I’m just trying to weather the storm right now and get these guys ready to play a game (Tuesday).”

***

No. 2: Monroe denies trade rumors — A day after a story in the Sporting News reported that he “badly” wanted to be traded by the Detroit Pistons, both Greg Monroe and Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy strongly refuted the rumors that Monroe was on the block. As Vince Ellis writes in the Detroit Free-Press

“They put that stuff out there, say somebody said it and then I got to answer for it, I really don’t have time for that,” Monroe said before tonight’s game at the Los Angeles Clippers.

On the rumors, he added: “It’s getting more irritating. We lost 13 games in row, won a couple of games, and now you got to hear this.”

Sporting News writer Sean Deveney, citing sources, says Monroe “badly” wants out of Detroit and that the team is seeking a first-round pick in return.

He emphatically said he is open to re-signing with the Pistons.

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy also denied the aspect of the Sporting News report saying the Pistons were seeking a first-round pick for Monroe. “I don’t know where that stuff comes from,” Van Gundy said. “We haven’t talked to anybody about trading Greg Monroe.”

***

No. 3: Bucks win thriller but lose Parker — On the one hand, it was a big night for the Milwaukee Bucks in the desert, as they battled the Phoenix Suns and won on a game-winning buzzer beater. But on the other hand, the Bucks had to play most of the second half without rookie of the year candidate and franchise building block Jabari Parker, who went down with a non-contact knee injury and wasn’t able to return. As Charles Gardner writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Parker’s left knee buckled without contact as he made a drive in transition and he was unable to leave the floor under his own power. He was carried off the court by teammates Zaza Pachulia and Johnny O’Bryant.

“As of right now we don’t know anything. They’ll do all the tests tomorrow and we’ll be able to report something then,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said after the game.

Pachulia, who played a key role in the Bucks’ comeback victory, said all of Parker’s teammates were wishing him the best.

“I hope he’s going to be OK,” Pachulia said. “He’s a great young player. This team and this organization, the whole city counts on him. He has a lot of years ahead of him in his great career. Injuries are part of the game.

“I hope it’s not anything serious. We are all praying for him.

“It was tough to see your teammate going down and not being able to walk himself. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. The doctor is going to make a decision, obviously. But we want to him to have a speedy recovery, whatever it is. We really need him.”

Parker was driving to the basket but his knee gave way before he had mild contact with the Suns’ P.J. Tucker. A double foul was called on the play but there was little contact to merit that.

Jared Dudley said Parker “is the franchise.”

“He’s young; he’s a rookie,” Dudley said. “The good thing about it is he was smiling when he came in, so that’s always good. He was in, I don’t think it was a cast, but something where you couldn’t bend it, obviously.

“He’ll get an MRI. We’re hoping it’s just a sprain where you get him back in a couple weeks. You don’t want to have anything with him, so keep him in your prayers.”

***

No. 4: Blazers lose Lopez for ‘a while — Meanwhile in Portland, the Blazers knocked off the defending champion Spurs, but in the process lost starting center Robin Lopez to a fractured hand. According to Portland coach Terry Stotts, Lopez will be out “a while,” and having to make do without Lopez is not something that the Blazers are relishing, writes Joe Freeman for The Oregonian

“I don’t even want to think about having to play without RoLo,” All-Star point guard Damian Lillard said.

Lopez said he wasn’t sure how he suffered the injury, but it looked like he smacked his hand against the back of Boris Diaw‘s head while pursuing a rebound under the hoop. Lopez didn’t show any immediate pain or discomfort and he continued to play with the fracture for a few minutes. Eventually he was pulled from the game, however, and preliminary tests indicated that he fractured his hand in two places.

“At first I thought I just jammed a finger or something,” Lopez said. “I didn’t hear a pop and I didn’t feel any pain or anything. So I was just trying to shake it off. But as play went along, my hand never could regain any strength, so I figured I was more of a liability out there.”

The true liability lies in Lopez’s absence, particularly a lengthy one. In many ways, he’s the heart and soul of the Blazers’ starting lineup, a selfless, rugged, lane-clogging big man who is the unsung hero to their free-wheeling offense and linchpin to their improved defense. Lopez is averaging just 9.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, but his value is not measured solely in statistics. He’s the team’s best screener, best interior defender and most unselfish player.

How important is he to the Blazers’ success? They are 73-34 with him on the roster and last season — his first in Portland — he was an integral part of the first Blazers team in 14 years to win a playoff series.

“I don’t like it, I don’t like it, I don’t like it,” LaMarcus Aldridge said, when asked about the prospect of playing without Lopez. “That’s it. I can’t get past I don’t like it.

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Pacers owner Herb Simon says he’d be fine with a trade to bring back Lance Stephenson, but it’s not his call … Billionaire businessman Warren Buffet sat courtside in Cleveland last night to see LeBron James play … Kobe Bryant on passing Michael Jordan and the time he almost quit basketball for soccer … Mike Fratello will remain coach of the Ukraine National Team for at least a few more years … Darko Milicic will make his kickboxing debut later this week …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 13


VIDEO: Top plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Swaggy P goes primetime | Down goes Davis | Nets’ patience running short | Pistons snap 13-game skid

No. 1: Swaggy P goes primetime — Last night in San Antonio with the Lakers in town, all eyes were on Kobe Bryant, who entered the night 31 points from passing Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. But during the pursuit of the record — and one day after Kobe publicly criticized his teammates while the media was at practice — something interesting happened: The Lakers knocked off the Spurs in overtime for their second straight win. And while Bryant finished with 22 points, the game-winning bucket came from Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who, according to ESPN’s Baxter Holmes, fully enjoyed the moment

Nick Young is all jokes, all the time. But Friday, after playing the surprise role of hero in an overtime win here against the San Antonio Spurs, the quirky Los Angeles Lakers guard turned his cartoonish personality all the way up.

Exhibit A, referencing his remarkable, go-ahead 30-footer with 7.4 seconds left in a 112-110 victory, a highly contested prayer of a heave that turned AT&T Center silent:

“Once it left my hand, I kind of knew it was cash,” Young said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t miss.’ That’s my new name — ‘I.D.M.’ Call me ‘I.D.M.’ You feel me?”

Exhibit B, referencing his game and season-high 29 points off the bench on 9-for-14 shooting, including 6-for-9 from 3-point range:

“Man, you know, I’ve just got to do what I’ve got to do when I’ve got to do it,” Young said. “So basically, I’m just doing what I’ve got to do every time that I step on the court to do what I’ve got to do. You feel me?”

Then Young offered more not-so-veiled remarks — hard truths and backhanded compliments, if you will, that made it once again difficult to tell when exactly he’s joking and when he isn’t.

Such as here:

“I’m glad I had a chance to hit a game-winner with somebody like Kobe [Bryant] on the floor, who normally has the ball in his hands all the time,” Young said.

Or here, when he nodded to Bryant’s chase of Michael Jordan for third place on the all-time scoring list (Bryant stood 31 points shy of passing Jordan entering Friday):

“No offense to Kobe, but I didn’t think I was going to get the ball that much [Friday],” Young said. “I thought he was going to break that record — at least get 40 or 50 [points]. With all the cameras that were around, I didn’t think I was going to get the ball that much.”

Young, known as “Swaggy P,” in a nationally televised game indeed stole the spotlight away from Bryant, who many expected would gun for Jordan’s record. Instead, Bryant shot 7-of-22 from the field and scored 22 points, leaving him nine shy of passing Jordan’s total (32,292).

“It’s going to come,” Bryant said of the milestone.

But the fun-loving Young also touched on Bryant’s trash-talking tirade in practice Thursday, when Bryant called his teammates “soft,” comparing them to Charmin toilet paper, among other things.

“When I’m out there, I don’t play like Charmin,” Young said. “I like Scott Tissue. It’s a little rougher.”

***

No. 2: Down goes Davis — One of the most versatile players early this season has been New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who has averaged a double-double and established himself as an MVP contender even with the Pelicans hovering around the .500 mark. But early in the first quarter last night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Davis went down with what is being called a “chest contusion.” While the Pelicans managed to hang on for the win without Davis, they obviously need to get him back if they want to continue to fight for a playoff spot. As John Reid writes

Despite Friday’s win, the focus was clearly on Davis’ health. He never came out the locker room after suffering the injury. The Pelicans had initially listed him as questionable to return.

However, when the Pelicans took the court before the start of the third quarter, there was no sign of Davis. At the end of the quarter, the team announced that Davis would not return.

It appears unclear when Davis’ chest problems began. But midway in the first quarter, forward Tristan Thompson bumped into Davis at mid-court. However, Davis continued playing.

During a timeout with 5:44 remaining in the opening quarter, Davis had his hands on his chest appearing to be in discomfort. He returned to the court but asked out of the game at the 5:30 mark.

“I just know when he was on the bench, he was wincing as if he couldn’t breathe,” Williams said. “So I was hesitant to put him back in the game and he then he wanted to go back out. We watched him for awhile and he took himself out. That’s when I knew he didn’t feel right. And he was waiting for himself to feel better when he was in the back (locker room), but it never came back. So we’ll have a better idea of what’s going on (Saturday).”

***

No. 3: Nets’ patience running short — Reports of the Brooklyn Nets’ hastened demise have been greatly exaggerated…this according to Brooklyn GM Billy King. At a press conference last night, speaking before the Nets’ 88-70 win over Philadelphia, King said stories about the Nets attempting to quickly trade their core three are exactly that: Stories. With the team currently sitting at 9-13, however, King acknowledges an urgency to get things turned around. As the New York Post reports

“My job is to listen to people and to make calls and to make calls back,” King said before the Nets’ 88-70 victory over the 76ers on Friday night at Barclays Center.

“Does that mean we’re having a fire sale? Absolutely not. I’m doing my job, as well as asking the players and the coaches to do their job. But my job is to work the phones, see what’s available.

“If things make sense you make trades. If they don’t, you don’t do it. But we’re not shopping or having a fire sale.”

King’s comments came in the wake of reports Tuesday the Nets had made their three highest-paid players — Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez — available in trade discussions recently after Brooklyn got off to a rough start for a second straight season.

But while King said there are reasons why the Nets haven’t played up to expectations, he wasn’t ready to say everything about the team’s slow start could be attributed to outside factors.

“I think one, Brook was playing himself back into shape, after being out so long,” King said. “I think a lot of guys were trying to adjust to the new system.

“But some guys just haven’t played up to the level we need them to play.”

The Nets have sputtered out of the gate each of the past two seasons, and since the start of training camp, coach Lionel Hollins repeatedly has said he expects them to play much better in January and February than they are now, once the group grows more comfortable with him and vice versa.

King, however, said the Nets can’t afford to simply wait for things to get better with time. They entered Friday with an 8-12 record and were riding a three-game losing streak.

***

No. 4: Pistons snap 13-game skid — When Stan Van Gundy signed on this summer to take all things basketball for the Detroit Pistons, there was an expectation that things would improve from last year’s 29-53 season. Thus far, however, things have been worse before they got any better, as the Pistons entered last night with a 3-19 record and 13 consecutive losses. But the Pistons finally got summer signee Jodie Meeks back from injury, and went into Phoenix and squeaked out a 105-103 win to end the streak. As Vincent Goodwill writes

All the stops were pulled Friday, as Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy went back to Greg Monroe in the starting lineup, used Jodie Meeks for the first time this season and even did what he’s been previously reluctant to, playing his two point guards simultaneously.

The Pistons were desperate, doing everything they could to counteract the balanced Phoenix Suns attack.

Buzzer-beating triples, passionate pleas to the officials followed by calm diplomacy when the emotion died down, but in the end, they had to make plays, and did just enough to beat the Suns, 105-103, at U.S. Airways Arena.

Easy, it surely wasn’t, and the ending will never be confused with being smooth or a coaching clinic, as the Pistons nearly gave it away multiple times in the final minutes.

Andre Drummond, an unlikely figure to be sure, hit one of his two free throws with 2.5 seconds left to give the Pistons a two-point lead before the Suns’ final attempt made its way to Drummond’s massive mitts before the buzzer sounded, ending the misery, punctuating his 23-point, 14-rebound night.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the player who was alleged to have “no heart” by Suns forward Markieff Morris during their earlier meeting, hit a corner 3-pointer with 1:13 remaining to break a 97-all game, and the quiet kid shot a cool stare at the Suns bench on the way downcourt, the last of his 14 points.

“Ha! Nah, I did kind of look at the bench or whatever, let them know I do have heart. I’ll take that shot any day,” Caldwell-Pope said with a bit of a grin afterwards. “It felt good. Jodie had a nice cut to the basket, (Eric) Bledsoe helped and I was wide open. I spotted up and knocked the shot down.”

Meeks played 22 minutes off the bench, hitting four of his 10 shots to score 12. Meeks, who’s rather mild in most instances, was fouled with eight seconds left after a Goran Dragic layup, and after his two made free throws, pounded his chest in joy.

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Don’t look now, but the Hawks have won 9 straight … The Knicks got a win but lost Iman Shumpert with a dislocated shoulderDion Waiters spent the night in Cleveland after experiencing abdominal pain … Bulls forward Doug McDermott will undergo an arthroscopic procedure on his knee … Jermaine O’Neal will make a decision about returning after the holidays … While Kobe closes in on Michael Jordan’s scoring record, Byron Scott doesn’t think anyone will catch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar … Someone allegedly stole a truck filled with 7,500 pairs of LeBron‘s signature shoes

Morning shootaround — Dec. 12


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Carmelo got cake, wants to eat it too | Wall ranks top PGs | Cavs exhale after Irving injury scare | Durant doesn’t ‘give a damn’

No. 1: Carmelo got cake, wants to eat it too — Maybe a better version of the old “cake” proverb in this case would be: Carmelo Anthony can’t have his Big Apple and beat it, too. Or can he? The Knicks’ scoring star had a chance to sign – unencumbered – as a free agent with one of several legitimate NBA contenders over the summer. Instead, after wining and dining, he went about re-signing for the biggest paycheck – a five-year, $124 million deal – returning to New York despite an obvious rebuilding plan under new boss Phil Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher. So now Anthony is whining, or at least is glum enough to consider “dropping his no-trade clause.” We’ll offer the standard “reader beware” warning on this one because it’s one of those nebulous, unprovable, “so-and-so might be thinking about” types of stories. And it has been labeled “a fiction” by one of the New York Post‘s competitors. But here are the details, regardless of how untradeable Anthony’s contract might be or how unappealing his lack of leadership through these tough times makes him:

For now, Anthony has no desire to be traded, but his willingness to consider giving up the no-trade clause shows how frustrated he has become with the Knicks’ historically bad start to the season.

The Knicks have lost 10 straight games — two shy of a team-record — and at 4-20 have the most losses in the NBA, one more than the laughingstock Sixers.

On Wednesday, it was revealed Anthony got into an on-court scuffle with teammate Tim Hardaway recently, which resulted in a players’ only meeting on Saturday.

Anthony can be traded beginning Monday — the unofficial start of trade season when all free agents and draft picks signed over the summer can be moved.

A trade to a contender would be a financial boon to Anthony as he has a trade kicker attached to his contract that is worth 15 percent of the remaining value at the time of the deal. That kicker was put in place by Anthony’s handlers to deter teams from approaching the Knicks about Anthony. He would receive a lump-sum payment of roughly $17.5 million if he is traded Monday.

“He thought things would be better than this, but he still wants to stick it out for now, ’’ a source said. “He trusts Phil, but I think he’s afraid of Phil.’’

***

No. 2: Wizards’ Wall ranks top PGs — We’ve been through this before, as far as NBA players ranking themselves atop some particular pile. OKC’s Kevin Durant did it again this week when he said he believes he’s the best player in the league. Houston’s James Harden did it in the offseason when he proclaimed he was the best player in, what, the world? The universe? Anyway, Washington’s John Wall was asked about the league’s current crop of point guards and acknowledged that, yes, in his mind, he’s No. 1. Remember now, CSNWashington.com asked Wall, he didn’t volunteer it. His next four, in order: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. And it all had to do with the start of 2015 All-Star Balloting and Wall’s desire to start for the East squad (notice where his other top PG picks play):

[Wall] has made it clear that he will deserve to start for the East when the All-Star Game is played in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Feb. 15.

“Yeah, I think so,” Wall told CSNwashington.com on Thursday, when balloting opened for fans to select two guards and three frontcourt players as the starters. “You definitely want to be the starter in the All-Star game because you want to be able to play them last six minutes of the game. Last year, I was itching to get out there. I was playing good and they had to sub me out. I was like, ‘What?” I’m used to being in in those situations. You definitely want to be a starter.”

Wall had to wait to be voted in as a reserve to make his first All-Star appearance, playing behind Kyrie Irving who was the more popular choice but wasn’t the most deserving in terms of accomplishment. Wall had a better team, leading the Wizards to 44 wins and a second-round playoff berth. Irving, who was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011 which was the year after Wall went in the same spot, never led his team to the postseason.

“As an individual that’s one of my biggest goals. It’s a big honor for me to go back if I get the opportunity,” Wall said. “It all comes from me helping my team to play the right way and win games. Everybody has got individual goals.”

***

No. 3: Cavs exhale after Irving injury scare — When the TNT broadcast of Cavaliers-Thunder went to the “Inside The NBA” crew at halftime, the tone was somber enough to have all those holiday poinsettia plants on set swapped out for black crepe and lilies. Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving had just gone down – and out – with what looked, in repeated and unpleasant video replays, to be a serious knee injury. But a surprise put the fun back in funereal moments later when Irving was shown running before the third quarter started. He played nearly 23 minutes after halftime and scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the loss in Oklahoma City. Clearly, the Cavs (already without LeBron James for the night due to knee soreness) had dodged a major mishap, and our own Fran Blinebury wrote about it:

“Fear. Worry. Concern,” [coach David] Blatt said when asked to describe his emotions at the moment when Irving hit the floor with 1:31 left in the second quarter Thursday night. “And hope. Which ultimately won the day.
“There’s a great saying in Russian, which means: ‘Hope dies last.’ And thank goodness he got up and he was able to play.”
It is no exaggeration to say those who did watch the replays with eyes uncovered inside Chesapeake Energy Arena were shocked to Irving standing back on the baseline bouncing all around and loosening up before the end of halftime.

In those first few seconds, after all the worst thoughts raced through his mind, Irving was able to calm himself down.

Steve Spiro, our head trainer just coming out there and letting me know the necessary steps to take and when to bend my knee and how to control my body to make sure I’m alright,” Irving said. “He takes a look at it and asks me if this is OK and that’s OK and just make sure I can get up and walk to the locker room.

“When we came back in the tunnel the Thunder’s doctor looked at me. I told our training staff as I was walking back and LeBron and D. (Damon) Jones were helping me, I kinda started walking on my own and we did some tests and decided to go back out there.”

Irving nodded at the memory of James literally being there to pick him up and support him.

“It meant a lot, just that he sprinted out in just his tights and his t-shirt,” Irving said. “It’s just great. He’s awesome and sincerely cares and that’s just the relationship that we have going around this whole entire locker room. We’re more than teammates. We’re friends and to know that your teammates care about you like that, it goes far.”

***

No. 4: Durant doesn’t ‘give a damn’ — About the perceived woes facing his team in Oklahoma City, that is. Or about your sympathy for the Thunder’s plight, created by both Kevin Durant‘s and teammate Russell Westbrook‘s injury absences. Or about the criticism that might come his way anyway if OKC doesn’t reach and make serious noise in the postseason. Michael Lee of the Washington Post spoke this week with the 2014 MVP, just revving up in an NBA season that began 17 games late for him:

Kevin Durant is in a hole that is mostly not of his own doing but he has been around long enough to know that he won’t be forgiven if another season ends without the Oklahoma City Thunder capturing an NBA championship.

Durant, the reigning NBA MVP, doesn’t want or expect to get a pass with his eighth season starting at a decided disadvantage after he suffered a broken right foot in the preseason, Russell Westbrook broke his right wrist on opening night, and the Thunder piled up more devastating injuries than wins in the season’s first six weeks.

“I really don’t give a damn what people got to say,” Durant said. “I really don’t care if they cut me slack or they don’t. I’m not looking for no sympathy from nobody. I’m not looking for no praise from nobody. It’s all good, either way with me. I just look for respect from teammates as a player and as a man. That’s what I want. All that other stuff, I learned how to tune that stuff out and not worry about. I used to think about it. ‘Are they going to cut me slack? Do they love me if I play this way.’ I really don’t give a damn.”

Durant, 26, has developed more of an edge as he’s matured in the league, hardened by the disappointment that has come from losing in the NBA Finals in 2012 and having injuries to Westbrook and Serge Ibaka derail Oklahoma City’s chances of getting back the past two seasons. He also understands that four scoring titles and an MVP trophy won’t shield him from criticism after depositing seven seasons into his career without winning a championship ring.

“You can’t please everybody,” Durant continued. “I can go out there and average 50 points a game, it’s always going to be something people say. If you don’t like me for it, so what?”

And:

Oklahoma City entered training camp as a team seemingly poised for a title breakthrough. James broke up with Miami and got back with his first love and San Antonio got a year older after making it through a six-game series with the Thunder last postseason. With Durant under contract with Oklahoma City through 2016, the pressure for the organization to win a title has been magnified, with each wasted opportunity sure to increase speculation about his future.

“Everybody wants to tell you when your window is closing. Everybody want to tell when they think you can win a championship or ‘you will never win.’ It’s not about the outside noise,” Durant said. “We feel as though, in this organization, we can compete every year. Injuries have hit us, but it’s a part of the game, and we’re going to push through that. But when you start listening to people who aren’t experts of the game of basketball, who have never been inside a huddle … you can’t listen to that stuff. Even if they tell you you’re a great player or it’s your turn to win. We’re not going to worry about windows here.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant did a whole lot of cursing at teammates, but it was just old Kobe being young Kobe. … Golden State’s David Lee did some 3-on-3 work in the Warriors’ practice but has a ways to go before he’s playing again, post-hamstring injury. … The Spurs got some good news in the negative about forward Kawhi Leonard‘s sore hand. … Sam Cassell lured Paul Pierce to Washington, then abandoned him there. It sounds like D.C. political intrigue. … Former Phoenix player Richard Dumas has run afoul of the law again. … Is there anyone who would protest against a shortened NBA preseason? Anyone? Bueller?

NBA All-Star Balloting 2015 Starts Now

HANG TIME BIG CITY — It’s time to get out the vote.

With about a quarter of the NBA season in the books, and the 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend about two months away, voting begins today for the 2015 All-Star Game thanks to NBA All-Star Balloting 2015 presented by Sprint…with a decidedly new twist.
For years, fans have been able to cast All-Star votes for most of their favorite NBA players. But this year, for the first time ever, they can vote for literally any NBA player. In years past the ballot contained 60 players from each conference who were determined by a panel of broadcasters and media members. While fans will continue to select two guards and three frontcourt players when selecting starters, with the new online ballot they have the ability to choose from the entire NBA player pool.

Another wrinkle new to the ballot is SAP, which will integrate daily stats into the online ballot. Fans will have the ability to sort players by their current stats from NBA.com/stats powered by SAP HANA.

Updating the official ballot on NBA.com to include all NBA players will complement the options afforded by the NBA’s all-digital voting program, which also includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SMS, NBA Game Time and NBA Game Time from Sprint applications, as well as Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblog in China. Balloting concludes on Monday, Jan. 19, and starters will be announced live on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 22, during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by Autotrader.com at 7 p.m. E.T.
Last season, LeBron James was the leading overall vote-getter with 1,416,419 votes, although this season he may see his voting power base shift from South Florida to Ohio. Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder finished second last season with 1,396,294 votes.

Although he didn’t play last season while recovering from Achilles tendon surgery, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has the chance to make his 17th All-Star roster, which would put him two games behind all-time leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

While this has been one of the most competitive early seasons in recent memory, there may not be much room for new All-Stars. Last season, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Paul Millsap and John Wall all made their All-Star debuts, and thus far this season, all would seem to be on paths toward returning. With so many incumbent All-Stars reprising their performances early on this year, it bears watching to see if a player like Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, who is currently tied for the lead league in rebounds per game at 12.6, will be able to play his way on to the roster. Similarly, Boston’s Rajon Rondo, a four-time All-Star who missed last season’s game while recovering from injury, currently leads the league at 10.8 assists per game.

At least one starting position on the Eastern Conference team will be up for grabs, as 2014 starter Paul George from the Indiana Pacers is out recovering from a fractured leg. Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan also made last season’s Eastern Conference roster as a reserve, but is currently out and hasn’t played since November 28 after suffering a torn tendon.

A strong contender for George’s starting spot may come from Cleveland. Last season, then-Minnesota forward Kevin Love was voted to the Western Conference starting line-up, but his off-season trade to Cleveland not only shifts his Conference allegiance, it also opens a starting spot for the Western Conference. Love narrowly beat out Houston’s Dwight Howard for that starting position in 2014.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 9


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

John Wall fights through emotions | Phil Jackson must deal with the Knicks | Royals land in Brooklyn

No. 1: Wall wins, then bemoans a loss — It was a bittersweet night for Wizards guard John Wall, who somehow survived his emotions. He led the Wizards to a pulsating 133-132 double-overtime win over the Celtics by scoring Washington’s final 10 points. Wall had a career-high 17 assists and tacked on 26 points. But his postgame was anything but euphoric. Wall spoke through tears while describing the death earlier Monday of Miyah Telemaque-Nelson, a 6-year-old fan he’d met in March and supported her fight against Burkitt’s Lymphoma. J. Michael of CSN Washington brings some clarity:

“It said my little buddy has passed,” Wall said. “I didn’t respond. I went back to sleep and didn’t really want to think about it. It was kind of tough throughout the day knowing how hard she fought for it. Her last game she was supposed to be able to come to was the Lakers game [last week] and she couldn’t make it. It was tough for me. It was tough for her family. I haven’t had the opportunity to talk to them today. … This game was really meant for her. It would’ve been even tougher to lose it. God has a plan and I just went into a mode where I didn’t want to lose this game.”

Wall had a tearful walk-off interview with CSN Washington that made your heart ache. It showed how truly affected he was about someone who clearly meant plenty to him, even though she wasn’t part of his life until recently. Wall also took to Twitter to convey his grief:

“If you were blessed to meet and get to know Miyah you know how special of a little girl she was. I’m saddened by the news but I know that she’s in a better place. Keep her family in your prayers. I’ll definitely miss my buddy. Rest In Peace Miyah.”


VIDEO: John Wall emotional speaking about young girl

***

No. 2: Phil gets Phrank about the Knicks — Phil Jackson gave a rather pointed analysis of the Knicks in a semi-regular meeting with reporters and there was no sense candy-coating the worst start in team history. The team president said the Knicks have a “loser’s mentality” right now because they’re not finishing games. Ian OConnor of ESPN New York went a bit further and put the plight of the Knicks right in Jackson’s lap. He wrote:

Those aren’t Dolan’s 4-18 Knicks with the loser’s mentality. Those are Jackson’s 4-18 Knicks with the loser’s mentality and the potential to inflict unnecessary damage on what had been a near-perfect NBA career.

As a rookie team president marrying into a dysfunctional corporate family, Jackson knew he was taking a high-stakes gamble here. He knew the Knicks owner and amateur-hour musician could put down his guitar at any moment and, without notice, that James Dolan could go back to thinking he was James Naismith.

But there’s been little evidence of much meddling to date, and here’s the truth: Dolan paid Jackson superstar money, in part, so the executive would also take the blame if the new program unraveled like all the old programs did. So Jackson has to be looking around now and wondering if this was all some big mistake, wondering if he has any chance over the next five seasons to make it out of New York alive.

***

No. 3: ‘The King’ meets real Royalty — So there was a big buzz in Brooklyn Monday night; maybe you heard. No, it wasn’t about the Nets; expectations have been lowered about them for some time. Prince William and Kate Middleton were in the States on a goodwill tour (and yes, some shopping as well) and Barclays Center was filled to the gills with paparazzi and whatnot. It takes quite an event to make LeBron James the No. 2 attraction; he and the Cavs were the “other” visitors in the building. Fil Bondy of the New York Daily News thought it was quite odd that the Royal Couple would take in a basketball game, of all sports. His take:

The Brits are so much like us, they’re practically Canadian. They speak our language, join us in both our valiant and wrongheaded wars. It’s only natural we want them to love us, love our games.

Except they don’t. Not really, no matter how hard we try to transplant our professional sports overseas and generate even more revenues. The Brits don’t need our American football because they have their beloved rugby to fill that violent niche. They don’t really get our basketball, not viscerally, not like the Italians, French and Spaniards.

Why not? Simon Barnes, the former Times of London columnist, once summarized his indifference toward basketball in two words: “No midfield.” There you have it. Football isn’t rugby. Basketball isn’t soccer, or tennis. Odds are that William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, prefer sitting quietly in the royal box at Wimbledon watching Andy Murray moan and groan his way to another Grand Slam quarterfinal. We still remember how Princess Diana was uncannily transfixed by Pete Sampras’s one-handed backhand.

Still, for the sake of their charitable Royal Foundation and a partnership with the NBA in wildlife conservation, William and Kate headed to Brooklyn on Monday night to watch several minutes of the Cavs’ 110-88 victory over the Nets, featuring the world’s greatest basketball player. Or, as one perplexed British news-side journalist asked on the phone, back to his editor, “Luh-Braun James, is it?”

The Duke and Duchess arrived with seven minutes left in the third quarter to a standing O and sat next to Dikembe Mutombo, the popular NBA ambassador. They later posed for pictures with commissioner Silver and LeBron. In all, it was a jolly good time.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Steph Curry thinks recent comments by Warriors owner Joe Lacob were a distraction  …  Steve Clifford‘s final deal with the Hornets is now guaranteed for 2015-16

ICYMI of the Night: Blake Griffin‘s final points in a 45-point performance against the Suns came on a 3-pointer, of all shots


VIDEO: Blake Griffin nails the game-winner 3 at the buzzer

 

 

Morning shootaround — Dec. 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving takes spotlight at MSG | Raptors set to honor McGrady | Report: Mudiay’s future in China in doubt

No. 1: Irving’s big game at MSG draws compliments — Dressed in his newly released line of Nike sneakers, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving ran roughshod over the Knicks last night at Madison Square Garden. Irving totaled 37 points — including a late, clutch layup — that lifted Cleveland to its fifth straight victory and got him plenty of praise from his teammates afterward. Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Chris Haynes has more:

“Man, I think he’s right up there at the top and he’s still so young,” Kevin Love said. “He’s only going to get better. He does whatever we need to win and tonight it was scoring the ball. He loves the bright lights, too. He always plays well when we need it.”

After the game, head coach David Blatt referred to Irving as a two-way player. That wasn’t an applicable moniker in the past. His much-improved defense has elevated his game to different altitude.

And he’s nowhere near close to a plateau. The Garden couldn’t bottle up his unlimited ability. He was too big for the Knicks. The Big Apple got a taste of an All-Star on the rise destined to give them fits for many, many years to come.

“He has the potential to be the best guard in our league,” Tristan Thompson said. “I think he’s probably one of the most complete players in our league. His defense is getting better and that is taking him to another level.”

Entering the game, he was averaging 29.0 points at Madison Square Garden. It’s his highest scoring average in any road arena. It’s plain to see – Irving revels in the New York stage.

“Spectacular,” LeBron James described Irving’s performance. “Anytime we needed a bucket, he made it. Anytime we needed some energy, he gave it. I took over the point guard duties as far as getting guys involved and he took over the scoring. And we needed it.”

Irving has cemented himself as one of the finest finishers around the rim. He doesn’t use much athleticism to maneuver around bigger defenders in the paint. He’s simply crafty. He can make the basketball do tricks on the glass and somehow it finds its way in the bottom of the net.

It doesn’t matter which hand he goes up with, his craftiness is ambidextrous.

“I always knew he was a great finisher. I think he’s even better than what I even thought,” James said. “As far as finishing around the rim, he’s probably one of the greatest this game has ever seen. I’ve never seen someone finish how he finishes underneath the rim. It’s unbelievable. With both hands.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks about his big game against the Knicks

***

No. 2: Raptors ready to honor McGrady tonight — About two or so weeks ago, the Memphis Grizzlies visited the Toronto Raptors in a big West vs. East showdown that had an always interesting subplot for Raptors fans: the return of Vince Carter as well. That night, the team paid tribute to Carter and the former Toronto superstar was overwhelmed with emotion during the in-game salute. Tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors will honor another former star (and subsequent favorite target of Raptors’ fans ire), Tracy McGrady. Josh Rubin of The Toronto Star has more:

T-Mac is coming back, after all.

Fourteen years after he left town to escape Vince Carter’s shadow, Tracy McGrady is getting honoured by the Toronto Raptors on Friday night as part of their 20th anniversary celebrations. McGrady, who’s in town for GM Masai Ujiri’s Giants of Africa fundraiser honouring Nelson Mandela, will be introduced to the crowd during the game. A highlight reel of his time in Toronto will also be shown.

While Carter drew an unexpected standing ovation during a video tribute last month at the Air Canada Centre, it’s unclear whether Raptors fans will be equally magnanimous with his distant cousin. Like Carter, McGrady was heavily booed in subsequent visits to Toronto after leaving the Raptors.

The talented, athletic small forward left Toronto in 2000 after the end of his three-year rookie contract. His departure left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Raptor fans, who had staged a vocal public campaign for McGrady to re-sign. McGrady, who had come off the bench in his first two seasons, had just become a starter, and together with Carter, helped lead the team to its first-ever playoff berth.

He went on to put superstar numbers with the Magic and the Rockets.

In a 2013 interview with the Star’s Dave Feschuk after retiring from the NBA, McGrady expressed regret for leaving what could have turned into a contender (in the 2000-01 season, the Raptors fell one game short of the Eastern Conference final).

“In hindsight, looking back, obviously I wish I had stayed in Toronto,” McGrady said. “There’s no doubt we could have contended for a championship. I think about that often.”

***

No. 3: Report: Mudiay’s future in China in doubt — As our Scott Howard-Cooper pointed out a month or so ago, NBA scouts were gearing up this season for at least one trip — and perhaps more — to China to watch top prospect Emmanuel Mudiay. The 18-year-old phenom has had a solid run for the Guangdong Southern Tigers, but an injury has sidelined him of late and has his future with the team in doubt. Adrian Wojnarowski of YahooSports.com has more:

Mudiay, a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, has missed four consecutive games with an ankle sprain and will be replaced – at minimally in the short term – with veteran NBA guard Will Bynum on Friday, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Bynum is finalizing a deal for the rest of the season in Guangdong, but has yet to sign the contract, a source said. That could come within hours, however. Chinese teams are allowed only two American players on the roster, but Bynum can replace Mudiay as the teenage American star is rehabbing his injury, sources said.

DraftExpress.com – the No. 1 site for NBA draft information – has Mudiay as the No. 2 overall projected pick in the 2015 draft.

Mudiay was unable to qualify academically to play basketball for coach Larry Brown at Southern Methodist University, which led to him accepting the $1 million-plus contract and an endorsement deal with Under Armour.

Mudiay, 18, has played 10 games in China, averaging 17.7 points, six rebounds and six assists. NBA executives who’ve watched him told Yahoo Sports he’s only enhanced his draft value with his performances in China so far.

It is possible that Guangdong could release Mudiay and pay him the balance of his contract, or hold onto the teenager and watch how Bynum impacts the team until Mudiay’s ankle allows him to return to the lineup. Eventually, Guangdong could make a decision on which guard to keep – and release the other. Nevertheless, it would be an immense investment to bring Bynum over on a guaranteed $1 million-plus agreement – only to use him for one or two weeks.

Mudiay has to protect his draft value, and his representatives will be exceedingly careful to make sure he doesn’t risk further injury or poor performance in China. If released, Mudiay could simply return to the United States and train in preparation to begin predraft workouts with NBA teams prior to the June draft.

NBA teams planning to scout Mudiay in China had been on hold with the uncertainty surrounding the guard’s availability. Several teams – including San Antonio and Phoenix – sent representatives to scout Mudiay early in the season, but many more curtailed planned trips in recent weeks.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo had breakfast together yesterday in Boston, and there’s really nothing more to the story than that … Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders confirms that Ricky Rubio won’t be back until at least JanuaryIvan Johnson has signed into the NBA D-League … The New Orleans Pelicans may sign ex-Mavericks point guard Gal Mekel soon … Indiana Pacers forward David West has more thoughts on the recent police-related deaths in the news

ICYMI of the Night: Remember when Amar’e Stoudemire used to do this sort of thing every night? … 


VIDEO: Amar’e Stoudemire dunks on Anderson Varejao

 

 

Morning shootaround — Dec. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant could be game-time decision | Report: Cavs submit bid to host All-Star Game | Green shining for Golden State | Faried’s game off the mark

No. 1: Durant could be game-time decision Tuesday — The Oklahoma City Thunder got All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook back from injury last week and he looked more than fine in his debut, roasting the New York Knicks to the tune of 32 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Could his All-Star partner in crime (and the reigning MVP) Kevin Durant be back from his injury as soon as tonight in New Orleans (8 ET, League Pass)? We likely won’t know until OKC holds its morning shootaround, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

Scott Brooks stopped and thought about the question before answering.

“Any lineup changes?” the coach was asked Monday.

Brooks began with an “Um” before proceeding with a pregnant pause that left all in attendance at the end of the Thunder’s practice wondering if this would be the moment he announced Kevin Durant is back.

“No,” Brooks then said, finally. “Nothing as of yet.”

The “as of yet” part left Durant’s timetable up to interpretation, and it’s looking and sounding more and more like the reigning MVP is extremely close to making his season debut, perhaps as early as Tuesday at New Orleans.

It’s not out of the question that Brooks will announce Durant as a game-time decision at the team’s Tuesday morning shootaround. Traditionally, the Thunder has preferred to see how players coming back from injuries respond to that light morning session before penciling them into the lineup. In rare cases, like Andre Roberson at Denver on Nov. 19, the Thunder will even wait for a player to go through a final pre-game workout before determining whether he will suit up that night.

But in the case of Durant, all indications are that he’s set to return from a season long absence caused by a broken right foot. He appears to be so close that any game from here out could be the night. If he doesn’t take the court Tuesday night at New Orleans, it would be surprising if he doesn’t play Friday at Philadelphia. If he skips the Sixers game, we’d be shocked if he doesn’t make his debut Sunday at Detroit.

The Thunder will have two more days between the Pelicans game and the Sixers game, and that’s just additional practice time and rest to ensure Durant is acclimated and ready if he doesn’t play Tuesday night.

Both the signs and the Thunder’s schedule are lining up.


VIDEO: OKC players and coaches talk after Monday’s practice

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 30


VIDEO: Highlights of the six games played Saturday, Nov. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors Go Forward Without DeRozan | Cavs Heavy On Defense | Warriors Go Green | Rondo’s Free-Throw Woes

No. 1: Raptors Go Forward Without DeRozan — The Toronto Raptors are off to an Eastern Conference-best 13-3 record to begin the season, and a large part of that has been the play of DeMar DeRozan. The 6-7 guard has averaged just over 19 points per game so far and, along with Kyle Lowry, led the team in minutes played through the first 16 games. But on Friday against Dallas, the usually-durable DeRozan suffered a torn tendon that will may keep him out of action for a while. In his absence, reports the Toronto Star, the Raptors must look to the “next man up”…

It’s impossible to know when he might return; the only North American professional athlete to be diagnosed with the same injury was New England Patriots receiver Danny Amendola, who was out of action for about a month. But every athlete is different, with different pain thresholds and recovery times, so comparing one to another is a stretch. And there is no history to look at where DeRozan is concerned.

The 25-year-old has been remarkably healthy in his five-plus seasons in the NBA, missing just 11 of 410 games before Friday night.

Two seasons ago, he played in each of the team’s 82 games, then 79 of 82 while becoming an Eastern Conference all-star in 2013-14.

Injured on a seemingly harmless slip early in the second half of Friday’s game, DeRozan is the team’s leading scorer, averaging more than 19 points a game, and has been a perfect complement to backcourt mate Kyle Lowry.

He was instrumental in helping Toronto get out to a franchise-best 13-3 start to the season, a record that puts the Raptors atop the Eastern Conference. It should provide a big enough cushion in a weak conference that an extended DeRozan absence won’t harm their place in the standings.

DeRozan travelled here with the team Saturday, as the Raptors begin a west coast trip of three games in four nights with an outing against the Lakers on Sunday night.

The Raptors have been relatively injury-free this season and last, although forward Tyler Hansbrough has missed five games with a shoulder injury and James Johnson sat out three with what the team called a “severe” ankle sprain.

On each occasion, coach Dwane Casey and his players have relied on the “next man up” cliché to suggest that no one is irreplaceable, that the team’s depth can carry it through any injury.

Casey does have options to replace DeRozan in the starting lineup on a team that generally uses 10 men each night.

He could insert Lou Williams, often the first backcourt player off the bench, into DeRozan’s starting role if Casey wants to enhance the first unit’s scoring potential, or he could move the more defensive-minded James Johnson into that spot and shift Terrence Ross to a shooting guard role.

***

No. 2: Cavs Heavy On Defense — Don’t look now, but after a middling start, the Cleveland Cavaliers have won three straight, including Saturday’s 109-97 win over Indiana. And to explain their strong play of late, the Cavs point at least in part to improved effort on the defensive end, particularly from two-thirds of the Big Three. Coming into the season, neither Kyrie Irving nor Kevin Love were known for their defense. But as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, that could be about to change

Irving credited his turnaround to his summer spent with USA Basketball, an experience that Cavs coach David Blatt also cited as a reason for Irving’s improved 3-point shooting (he’s shooting a career-high 43.6 percent from deep).

“I just try to stay in front of the ball as much as possible so it’s not as much pressure for other guys to help me,” Irving said, emphasizing the importance of stopping dribble-penetration at the point of entry so the Cavs’ big men aren’t always being pulled away from their man or from the rim. “I’d rather help other guys and be in position to help and stop my guy instead of the other way around and always being ‘that guy’ on film. I was on film a lot the last three years [laughing]. You get tired of it after a while, so you want to be that guy that your teammates trust on a day-in, day-out basis.”

For Love, it’s all about the All-Star forward trusting the defensive schemes that the Cavs have in place, according to Blatt.

“In general, I would like to say, I think Kevin Love is playing the best defense of his career so far,” Blatt said. “He can get better like all of us can, but he’s doing a good job. He’s buying into the system, into the principles, and he needs to continue to do that and we need to continue to involve him in the way that we are.”

While Irving wasn’t shy about his desire to become a “great defender,” Love seems to know his limitations.

“I’ve never really been known for that in my career,” Love said. “Being a lockdown defender is something that I know I’ll never be, but as far as being a team defender, being in the right spots, being physical, doing those things, I can get a lot better at that and just continue to break down film and see where I can get better out there. So yeah, I think it’s something that I can continue to buy into and get better at.”

***

No. 3: Warriors Going Green — The Golden State Warriors are off to a franchise-best 13-2 start, a record they’ve reached without starting forward David Lee, who is recovering from a hamstring injury. In Lee’s place, the Warriors have gotten stellar play from Draymond Green, who has become a leader of this Warriors team, writes the Oakland Tribune

“He’s in a lot of ways our heart and soul and just plays with such passion at both ends,” Kerr said before the Warriors faced Detroit on Sunday in Green’s home state. “I think it’s contagious.”

Green has been in the starting lineup for the entire season as the Warriors are off to a franchise-best 13-2 start, but it took a little time for him to get comfortable with Kerr and the flow of the new coach’s ball movement-oriented offense.

It didn’t get done through fun and games.

“The first two weeks he was very frustrated,” Kerr said. “I was all over him. He didn’t quite understand why we were trying to install a new offense.

“He’d take some wild shots, and I’d yell at him, and he’d wonder why I was yelling at him. But it all came from the right place. We were all just trying to get better.”

Green, who was accustomed to being challenged in practice by fiery Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, saw that he needed to learn when to pass and set screens along with how to pick the right times to shoot the 3-point shot that he had worked on all offseason. There were times when a confused Green thought he was doing what he was told when it wasn’t the case in Kerr’s mind.

“He was at it every day, like on me, pulled me to the side,” Green said of Kerr, who encouraged the player to watch film of San Antonio’s Boris Diaw as a model of how to function.

“He’s got a little hot side to him, and a lot of people don’t know that. He’ll just snap real quick. Like it’ll come out of nowhere, snap!”

Green made the necessary adjustments and averages 12 points, 7.3 rebounds and three assists, shooting 34 percent from 3-point range while serving as the vocal leader, versatile defender and replacement in the lineup for David Lee, who is recovering from a hamstring strain.

“Everybody always says I reached my ceiling,” Green said. “I don’t care what people think.

“I don’t believe in a ceiling. I believe in a work ethic.”

***

No. 4: Rondo’s Free-Throw Woes — Coming into this season, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was shooting 62-percent on free throws for his career. But this season, for reasons that remain unclear, Rondo is just 9-of-28 from the line for a 32-percent total. And on Friday night against Chicago, Rondo missed two free throws with the game tied late. According to the Boston Herald, Rondo says he’s going to address the problem the the only way he knows how: By putting in work…

“Most of them hit the right/back side of the rim. I don’t have an answer right now,” he said. “It’s about practice. I’m looking at my follow through. All of my misses have been the same, so I’ll be in the gym again tonight and continue to work.”

Rondo isn’t ready to do something more exotic — none of that underhand style that Rick Barry made famous, and a frustrated Wilt Chamberlain used as a last resort. No talking to the ball, like Karl Malone.

“I haven’t thought about talking to myself,” Rondo said, smirking at the idea. “I just think about continuing to work, spending more hours in the gym if I have to. Not just the free throws. I’ve missed a lot of fourth-quarter shots I usually make. I have to work on those shots as well.

“I still want to get fouled. I try to get fouled,” he said. “I can get into a better rhythm, but it’s not mental. I’ve been in the paint trying to get rebounds, trying to stay aggressive. My game is driving. That’s what I do best.”

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SOME RANDOM LINKS: Sounds like Gregg Popovich could be returning soon for the Spurs … The Lakers are looking to add bodies to their injury-depleted roster … Raymond Felton says Tyson Chandler was not a distraction with the Knicks … The Timberwolves have signed Jeff Adrien