Posts Tagged ‘Clippers’

Morning Shootaround — March 21


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news | LeBron leads Cavaliers to playoff spot on rough night | Clippers making their move in the Western Conference playoff chase

No. 1: Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news – It’s truly Russell Westbrook‘s team now in Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant is out indefinitely with no reasonable expectation that he will return this season, whether the Thunder make the playoffs or not. Whatever the circumstance, Westbrook is bringing the energy and effort needed to lead the charge for Scott Brooks‘ team, just as he did Friday night in the Thunder’s takedown of the Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks. Love him or hate him, right now the underdog is on top after collecting his ninth triple double and pushing the Thunder up the ladder in the chase for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman explains:

The Thunder’s already wavering title hopes took a potentially fatal blow on Friday morning with the latest Kevin Durant injury setback.

But by late Friday night, Russell Westbrook and a patched together lineup had already reminded the basketball world that — while a championship run is now hard to fathom — high-level hoops entertainment will remain for the next month-plus in Oklahoma City.

The East-leading Atlanta Hawks came to town, packing a potent offense to feast on the Thunder’s slumping defense. Void of Serge Ibaka to clean up mistakes, OKC struggled on that end again.

But as has been common of late, even without double-double machine Enes Kanter on this night, the Thunder went all mid-2000s Phoenix Suns and succeeded in outscoring a scoring machine. The final: Thunder 123, Hawks 115.

“It was like an ABA game out there,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks joked.

With the win, OKC became only the fourth NBA team to ever go from nine games under .500 to nine games over in the same season.

And Westbrook, again, was at the center of it all, finishing with 36 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for his ninth triple-double of the season.

Instead of an emotional letdown after the latest Durant news, the Thunder came out energized and angry, jumping on the Hawks in the opening minutes. Westbrook had seven of his 14 assists in the first quarter. OKC, at one point, held an early nine-point lead.

But after the Hawks weathered that early storm, OKC’s faulty defense sprung leaks and Atlanta started splashing jumpers from all over the floor. On this night, reserve big man Pero Antic played the role of random dude to roast the Thunder’s perimeter defense, going off for 18 points in 12 first half minutes.

The Hawks led 68-61 at halftime. With two minutes left in the third quarter, that lead had ballooned to 12. Shorthanded, it looked like the Thunder would come up short, fittingly capping an emotionally tough day for the franchise.

But then Anthony Morrow got hot and the tone of the game changed.

With 7:54 left in the fourth quarter, Morrow splashed in his third three of the night, cutting the Hawks lead to four. It was the sixth consecutive game Morrow has hit at least three 3s, one of the hotter stretches of his storied shooting career.

But he was just getting started. Over the next four minutes of game action, Morrow drilled three more 3s, the crowd noise rising and the Thunder’s momentum building with each splash.

“I’ve never experienced (a playoff atmosphere),” Morrow said. “But (Westbrook) said that was close to it.”


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook lifted the Thunder on the night they found out Kevin Durant’s season could be over 

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Report: Griffin’s return could come Sunday

The Clippers have managed to keep their season afloat in the absence of Blake Griffin, compiling a 9-6 record and even rising in the battle for home court advantage in the Western Conference.

But on the night they took a 129-99 waxing in Dallas. However, the good news is that the All-Star power forward is expecting to return to the Clippers lineup at home Sunday afternoon against the Rockets or Tuesday night against the Hornets.

Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that Griffin will be in the lineup on Sunday unless Clippers officials want to see him go through a full practice first. In that case, he would come back two nights later.

Griffin has not played since Feb. 6, missing the past 15 games following surgery to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.

“He’s working out great,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Friday. “He’s doing great. He had a hard workout today and went through it. I know he went very hard today, and that’s a good sign.”

Rivers would say only that Griffin was “very close” to returning. So close, in fact, that there was an outside shot Griffin was going to fly to Dallas to play in Friday’s game despite not traveling with the team on its two-game road trip to Oklahoma City and Dallas.

“I think it’s possible,” Rivers said of Griffin playing Sunday. “I think every day, including today, was in play.”

Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game this season.

Rivers Says Carlisle And Rondo Will ‘Figure It Out’


VIDEO: Carlisle explains the run-in with Rondo

HOUSTON — Doc Rivers had his share of emotional run-ins with Rajon Rondo during their years together in Boston.

Which is why the Clippers coach doesn’t think there will be any lingering problems with the Mavericks point guard who was suspended one game following Tuesday night’s on-court shouting match and subsequent confrontation with coach Rick Carlisle.

“It happens,” Rivers said before Wednesday night’s game against the Rockets at Toyota Center. “It happens more, hopefully, in the locker room. But it happens.

“They’re both winners. They’ll figure it out. I really believe that. Rick Carlisle has proven that he’s a championship coach. Rondo have proven he’s a championship point guard. You had two champions and so you just figured at some point they’ll figure that out. Usually it is in the locker room and the fact that it was out in the open gives us all something to talk about. They’ll figure it out.

Carlisle benched Rondo with 8:10 left in the third quarter of a home game against the Raptors after what was reportedly a dispute over play-calling that ended with an angry exchange.

Rondo traveled with the team to Atlanta Wednesday night but did not play. Rivers said player-coach squabbles in the heat of the moment are rarely a reason to worry.

“If it happens all the time, you do,” he said. “But I haven’t been in their situation. I don’t think that’s happened that often. I don’t know, honestly. We’ve had that. You’ve had it with a lot of players, really. Most of the time…I always thought your relationship was actually closer to the guy, not further away. Because he was free enough to say something and you were free enough to say it back and you get over it. Same thing with marriages.”

Coincidentally, Rivers had a run-in with Glen “Big Baby” Davis during a game last March.

Davis was pulled out of game and said something to Rivers, who yelled at Baby, “Sit your (expletive) down.”

Rivers then had Davis escorted to the locker room by security personnel with 10:21 left in the second quarter and the forward never returned to the bench in the second half.

“We didn’t have an exchange,” Rivers said, recalling the incident. “Really. I didn’t feel like having one that day. But after the game I didn’t say much. It happens.

“You also have different guys. There’s a lot of very emotional guys in our business. Those guys you know it already. That can happen with an emotional guy. Sometimes it’s my fault. Sometimes it’s their fault. I always feel like it doesn’t matter whose fault it is. Let’s get through it. Let’s figure out why we’re pissed at each other. Then let’s play tomorrow.”

Morning shootaround — Feb. 16


VIDEO: Highlights of Sunday’s 64th All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden

NEWS OF THE MORNING

What’s next for Amar’e Stoudemire? | Westbrook bounces back in a major way | Rally in the works for LeBron, Cavs | Brotherly love shines during All-Star Game

No. 1:  What’s next for Amar’e Stoudemire? — Now that the New York Knicks are finally parting ways with their one-time savior with a buy-out, what is next for Amar’e Stoudemire? All signs point to Stoudemire packing his bags and heading back to the Western Conference, with the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns all believed to be in the mix once he clears waivers. Tim MacMahon and Marc Stein of ESPN.com provide some context:

Stoudemire, who was in the final season of a five-year, $99.7 million contract with the Knicks, had said he would spend the All-Star break pondering his future, specifically whether to ask the last-place Knicks for a buyout to give himself an opportunity to join a team in the playoff hunt.

“It’s not an easy decision to make,” Stoudemire told Yahoo! Sports. “Over time, we will see how things pan out. You give yourself a break during the All-Star break. You think about it with your family. … That will give me a good solid week on how to weigh out the rest of the season.”

The Mavs can offer Stoudemire only the veteran’s minimum, but he would likely have a significant role off the bench as a candidate for minutes at power forward and center behindDirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler.

“He would fit in great because we play a lot of pick-and-roll,” Chandler, who played with Stoudemire in New York the past three seasons, said recently. “Coach [Rick Carlisle] does an excellent job understanding scorers and how to get them the ball and putting them in a position to succeed. Not only that, we’ve got the best training staff in the league. That also helps.”

The 6-foot-10 Stoudemire, a six-time All-Star, has averaged 12.0 points and 6.8 rebounds in 36 games for the Knicks this season despite dealing with a variety of injuries. He missed 14 of the previous 18 games — due to ankle, wrist and knee injuries — before returning in the Feb. 6 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

Stoudemire, 32, has said the decision to request a buyout would be difficult because of his loyalty to Knicks owner Jim Dolan. But he likewise acknowledged in the Yahoo! interview that the constant losing has made it hard for him to remain motivated while playing for the Knicks.

“All possibilities at this point are still open,” Stoudemire said last week. “The door is still open for that. But at the same time, I am with the Knicks now. I got to stay optimistic about things and what we are doing here. I can’t really focus on the future, because it’s not here.

“We still have a couple weeks left before it’s all said and done. It’s a decision I have to make with my family to figure out the best scenario for the near future.”

Carmelo Anthony heard about Stoudemire’s buyout shortly after the end of Sunday’s All-Star Game.

“One of the main reasons I’m a New York Knick today was because of him. To see him leave, to see the situation where it’s at today, I know what he wants and you have to respect that as an athlete as a competitor,” Anthony said. “… When he came [to New York] he brought back some excitement to the game of basketball here in New York. There was hope when he came back. People started believing in the New York Knicks again. He was the main reason for that belief and for that hope.”

***

No. 2: Westbrook bounces back in a major way — No one had more to prove during Sunday night’s 64th All-Star Game than Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, who was not around last year in New Orleans due to injury. He made his presence felt early and often this time around, stealing the show and MVP honors on the big stage at Madison Square Garden. It wasn’t by accident that Westbrook came within a point of tying Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game scoring record of 42 points. Westbrook was a man on a mission. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman explains:

Westbrook was named MVP after scoring a game-high 41 points off the bench to lead the West All-Stars to a 163-158 win over the East inside Madison Square Garden, the renowned arena on 33rd Street and 8th Avenue in which legends have been made.

His scoring outburst, which featured 23 points coming in his first seven minutes, left him one point shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 42, which he set in 1962.

“Definitely a blessing, man,” Westbrook said. “You never want to take no games off, especially an All-Star Game to get a chance to go out and show your talents. I’m blessed to be able to play the game that I love and definitely happy we got the win.”

Westbrook wowed the sold out Garden crowd of 17,198 with a jaw-dropping mix of pinpoint-accurate jump shooting and rim-rattling dunks. He made 16 of 28 shots, including five of his nine 3-point tries. His 27 first-half points marked the most of any player in a half in All-Star game history, topping Glen Rice and Kyrie Irving’s old record of 24.

“It was a spectacular show of athleticism,” said Warriors guard Stephen Curry.

Twelve months ago, many questioned whether Westbrook would ever flaunt this type of athleticism again. He underwent an initial surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee in April 2013. A loose stitch from that procedure necessitated a second operation just before the start of the 2013-14 season. And the day after Christmas 2013, after Westbrook torched the Knicks to the tune of a triple-double in this same arena, he learned that he needed a third surgery to alleviate chronic swelling.

The last procedure forced him to lose 27 consecutive games and his customary All-Star spot.

If last year’s postseason performance wasn’t confirmation enough, Sunday night showed that Westbrook has indeed returned to his rightful place at the pinnacle of his profession.

“That just shows what type of person he is,” said teammate Kevin Durant, who was limited to 10 minutes in this All-Star Game while nursing his own nagging injuries. “Forget the player, just the person. The perseverance he showed, the adversity he went through, just being resilient. It’s a lot of words you can group with Russell Westbrook, man. He’s just tough. I’m so happy that he came out here and did his thing.”

***

No. 3: Rally in the works for LeBron, Cavs — With the busy All-Star Weekend in the rear view and a few days of rest before the second half push of the season begins, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have a little time to get their bearings. They know the mountain left to climb is steep. But it can be done. They’ve already come back from the brink once this season. Now we’ll see if they can do it again. It won’t be easy, though. Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

It’s been a theme for him this season, it was the case for him in the NBA’s 64th All-Star Game Sunday night, and it must hold if the Cavaliers are to continue their momentum in the second half and deep into the postseason.

James logged another brilliant All-Star performance, posting 30 points, five rebounds, and seven assists in a 163-158 loss for James’ Eastern Conference. With 278 points in 11 All-Star games, James is just three points shy of passing Kobe Bryant for the most in league history.

Not only does James, a two-time Most Valuable Player in All-Star games (Sunday night’s MVP was Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook), always play well in them, but he also is a dominate force at Madison Square Garden – where this game was played.

So it should come as no surprise that James was rocketing up and down the court, rattling the rim with dunks and draining threes. He registered one of the plays of the game, catching a third-quarter lob from Toronto’s Kyle Lowry in the third quarter and flushing it with a reverse slam.

Only, on Thursday following a loss to Chicago, James declared in no uncertain terms he needed “rest,” both mentally and physically. He’d had an arduous couple of weeks, dealing with a sprained wrist and sore ankle, and didn’t know until sometime Sunday how he’d approach the All-Star Game.

And then he opened the game with two dunks and tallied 15 points in the first quarter alone. There would be no rest for the weary on this night.

“It’s just a feel,” James said Sunday night. “I understand that my fans, our fans of this great game, voted me in for a reason. They wanted to see me play, see me do what I’ve been doing this year, and that’s why they voted me in. So it’s my obligation, my responsibility to go out there if I’m feeling 80 percent, 85 percent, or 90 to go out there and give my fans something, give them what they wanted to see, and hopefully I did that.”

***

No. 4: Brotherly love shines during All-Star Game — It was a special night for so many, but no one will take away the memories from Sunday’s All-Star Game that the Gasol brothers will relish for the rest of their lives. Pau of the Bulls and Marc of the Grizzlies were in the middle of the floor for the opening tip at Madison Square Garden. It was a historical moment for the NBA and for the Spaniards. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune provides the details:

Numerical symmetry is nice. Brotherly love is something altogether more special.

For the record, Pau Gasol beat younger brother Marc on the historic opening tip for the West’s 163-158 victory over the East in Sunday’s 64th annual extravaganza. It marked the first time in NBA history that brothers started an All-Star Game.

The 321 combined points set an All-Star Game record.

“It’s a great privilege to be in this position because it’s hard to leave your country and get to a new country and compete and climb yourself to the top,” Pau said of his family’s journey from Spain to stardom. “The path is usually harder. So we take pride and understand the value of it and are just proud to represent a lot of people that look up to us.”

That was the sentiment. This was the sibling rivalry.

“It was cool to win the jump ball,” Pau said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New slam dunk king Zach LaVine is betting on himself in a contest with LeBron James … Are the Timbwerolves going to get busy in the trade market before Thursday’s deadline? … The Nets and Thunder could be ready to do business involving Brook Lopez and Reggie Jackson … Jason WThompson is ready to force a trade in Sacramento … The Spurs could be the dark horse team in the Stoudemire sweepstakes

ICYMI, they played the 64th NBA All-Star Game Sunday night at Madison Square Garden …


VIDEO: The All-Star Game Top 10



VIDEO: MVP Russell Westbrook goes off for the Western Conference All-Stars

Morning shootaround — Feb. 9


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Feb. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron calls out Love … and it works | Clippers in a tail-spin | Karl and Kings close on a deal | Dwight Howard the big cheerleader?

No. 1: LeBron calls out Love … and it works — Even when he’s being a bit of a heel, LeBron James gets it right. He called out Kevin Love, who has admittedly struggled with his transition from focal point in Minnesota to third option in Cleveland behind James and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. That he took to Twitter to do it will bother some, okay plenty of folks, with old school sensibilities about how to lead. But it’s hard to argue with the results. Love had one of his best games of the season Sunday in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

LeBron James has nearly 18.7 million followers on Twitter, but a tweet he sent at 11:37 Saturday night was likely, almost certainly, directed at a single person.

His teammate, Kevin Love.

James posted to his Twitter account: “Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN. Be apart of something special! Just my thoughts.”

Those words — “fit out” and “fit in” — were the same Love used to reporters in October when discussing his adjustment to playing for the Cavaliers.

“it’s not a coincidence, man,” James told a few reporters, following the Cavaliers’ 120-105 win over the Lakers Sunday. Love scored a season-high 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

“I lost the Finals in 2007, 2011 and 2014 and that was the same day I came back to Cleveland. Put it together, seven, 11, 14. Coincidence” James said, proving his point.

For reference, it is indeed true that James announced his decision to return to Cleveland via free agency on July 11, 2014.

James was asked about his tweet following Sunday’s game and Love’s big night. James nearly recorded a triple-double with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists — three of those assists went to Love on three-pointers.

“It wasn’t even about this team, it was more about people in general,” James said initially, to a larger group of reporters. “It was just a general thought that I had, and obviously whatever thought I had people try to encrypt it and Da Vinci Code it and all that stuff. It’s just a general thought, that’s all that is.

“And people are always trying to fit out instead of fitting in, instead of being a part of something special. And that’s all that was about.”

In October, Love told reporters that “I’m just trying not to fit in so much” and that nameless Cavs teammates had told him to “fit out and just be myself.”

“Fit in” and “fit out” of course, were written in all caps in James’ tweet.


VIDEO: Kevin Love talks after the Cavs’ win over the Lakers

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Clippers’ Griffin to have elbow surgery, out indefinitely

Not great news for the Clippers. In addition to the team struggling here on their Grammy road trip, now comes the announcement from the team that it will be without Blake Griffin indefinitely once the All-Star forward undergoes scheduled surgery Monday for a staph infection in his elbow.

Griffin will definitely miss the next three games against Oklahoma City today, the Mavericks and Rockets, and coincidentally all three teams are either chasing playoff spots or trying to establish playoff positioning, like the Clippers.

The Clippers are currently the sixth seed in the West, and it’s hard to imagine them falling out of the picture even without Griffin. Still, for a team that has lost four of its last five games and was blown out in Toronto, an injury of this magnitude never comes at a right time.

The other issue lies with the All-Star Game and who might replace Griffin, and that will be determined by commissioner Adam Silver. Griffin is averaging 22.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and a career-best 5.1 assists.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 7



VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Davis delivers | Hawks are No. 1 | LeBron hurt in loss | Spurs beat Heat again | CP3 moving on
No. 1: Davis’ brow beater saves the day — We’ve all seen Anthony Davis do plenty of amazing things this season, but on Friday night he topped himself with another first. He capped off an incredible 41-point night with a stunning, 28-foot, double-clutching 3-point, buzzer-beater that delivered a win at Oklahoma City and allowed the Pelicans to gain a critical split of their back-to-back set of games against the Thunder. It was next step up in carving the growing reputation of the 21-year-old star and Davis’ first 3-pointer of the season. Maybe best of all, it wasn’t the play that coach Monty Williams drew up. John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune has the details:

”The play was supposed to be a lob just throw it at the rim and try to go get it,” Davis said.”’But they went under and I kind popped and I saw KD (Kevin Durant) and I think that was West (Russell Westbrook) on the other side flying in to me, so I double pumped and just threw it up there.

”I double pumped, but I tried to look to see if it came off the right finger. I was falling so I couldn’t really see the shot. But I could see that it was on line and I knew the ball was in the air before the red light came on.”

Appearing to be on a mission in his third season to get the Pelicans in playoff contention in the tough Western Conference, the ninth-seeded Pelicans (27-23) moved a game behind the eighth-seeded Phoenix Suns and they have a two-game lead over Oklahoma City.  The Pelicans, who play host to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night at the Smoothie King Center ( 7 p.m. ET on NBA TV), won three of the four games against the Thunder. In December, Davis scored 38 points to lead the Pelicans to a 101-99 victory at Oklahoma City.

Davis said never made a 3-point under such conditions before. From his ability to take over games with his shot-blocking, mid-range shooting, inside play, there is little question about Davis’ emergence as a rising elite player.

”That’s just a superstar shot,”Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson said.”You rarely see a shot like that go in and leave it to Anthony to make it. It’s just crazy, but he has the ability to make shots like that. Beyond his game-clinching 3-pointer, Davis helped carry the Pelicans beyond their own miscues late in the game.

***

No. 2: Hawks take over top spot in NBA — It’s not often that the game lives up to all of the hype and those rare occasions are usually memorable. Take the Super Bowl for instance. Take Friday night’s showdown between the top two teams in the NBA. With the Warriors in the house and Atlanta in a frenzy, the Hawks delivered in a big way with a victory that elevated them to the best record in the league. Our man Sekou Smith tells the tale of a wonderful tale that’s been a decade in the making:

Ten years ago today the Hawks were in the midst of what would be a 13-69 season, a low point for a franchise that had seen plenty of dark days, far too many to regurgitate for long-suffering Hawks fans who lived through every painful misstep.

Friday night, they delivered in ways that not only stirred the emotions of a fan base and city, they  also checked every basketball box on the way to an unbelievable sense of what might be this morning. At 42-9 and the clear class of the Eastern Conference, the Hawks have become the model for downtrodden teams around the league. They are 14-3 against the mighty Western Conference, have won 35 of their last 38 games, own a 25-3 on their home floor, and remain on pace for a 68-win season. They are also making a mockery of any doubts about their ability to sustain this beautiful, pace and space game being cultivated under the meticulous and watchful eye of Mike Budenholzer.

It’s hoops karma that took years of hits and misses to get right, a gestation period not everyone could stomach, that has birthed a full-blow movement in a city where this wasn’t supposed to be possible.

Make no mistake, from the heart of the city to the suburbs that sprawl in every direction, it’s real.

I’ve been here for every step, sometimes closer to it than in recent years but always watching, and it is as real as the traffic congestion and late arriving crowds and finicky fans everything else that comes along with professional sports in this complicated and diverse metropolitan area of 6 million people.

Through the haze of a yet another pair of say-it-ain’t-so moments, courtesy of owner Bruce Levenson and exiled general manager Danny Ferry, these Hawks have provided a storyline that overshadows all of the foolishness.

From their All-Stars, the deserving trio Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, to their equally deserving other stars, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll, to super subs like Dennis Schroder and Mike Scott (all brilliant in their own right at times in the win over the Warriors) the Hawks have stumbled upon the winning formula for capturing the imagination of basketball fans around the globe and most importantly here at home.

“It was amazing,” Teague said of the playoff-like atmosphere. “The crowd was into it. Everybody was into it. Kyle was yelling out. That was a first. It was a good game.”

***

No. 3: Cavs loss leaves LeBron in pain — It was one thing to see their 12-game winning streak come to an end Friday night at Indianapolis. But more painful for the Cavs were wrist and ankle injuries to LeBron James and an offensive foul call against The King that proved pivotal in enabling the Pacers to claim the win. Joe Vardon of the Cleveland Plain Dealer delivers the news:

James re-injured the sprained right wrist he originally hurt on Jan. 27 in Detroit that caused him to miss a game last week, when he was fouled on his way to the basket with 48.6 seconds left in the third quarter by Indiana’s Roy Hibbert.

He stayed in the game and scored nine of his 25 points after that, but asked out of the game with 12.4 seconds remaining and Cleveland trailing by five because of what he described later as a recurring ankle injury.

The loss snapped Cleveland’s 12-game winning streak and left the Cavs one game short of tying the franchise record for consecutive wins, set (and tied) the last time James played for Cleveland in 2009-10.

James has already missed a career-high 10 games due to injury this season, and the Cavs are 2-8 in those games. But the last one went well – a 99-94 win over Portland Jan. 28 when Kyrie Irving scored 55 points.

“It’s going to hurt a lot worse tomorrow,” James said, speaking primarily of the wrist. James had a chase-down block, a dunk, and scored six consecutive points early in the fourth quarter.

“It’s the same thing,” James continued. “I already know and I’m not looking forward to it. I’m going to start my treatment tonight and just try to stay on it so hopefully I can go on Sunday.”

James fell hard to the floor and stayed down for several seconds when he was fouled by Hibbert, reminiscent of the original injury suffered against the Pistons.

That night in Detroit, James was trying to block a shot when he fell hard on both hands. It wasn’t immediately clear which wrist he’d hurt, and he scored 10 points against the Pistons after the injury.

This time, James switched between clutching the right wrist and showing signs of frustration. Hibbert was called for a flagrant foul on the play.

“It’s been better,” James said. “It’s scary for me sometimes, you know, I’ve broke my wrist before on those type of plays. I’m thankful that I could just get up, again, and hopefully I’ll continue to do that.”

James told Cavaliers coach David Blatt to remove him from the game late in the fourth, then was seen grabbing his lower legs while the team huddled for last-ditch comeback. James later told the Northeast Ohio Media Group he’s been hobbled a bit by a sore right ankle since Jan. 21, when he tweaked the ankle against Utah.

***

No. 4:  Spurs on the rise — It didn’t have nearly the same atmosphere as the previous time the Spurs and Heat met in San Antonio last June. But with their win over Miami and the upcoming Rodeo Trip looming, it looks like the defending champs are finally healthy and ready to stake their claim as a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. Our own Fran Blinebury was on hand for the Spurs’ latest step forward:

However, the Spurs still can think ahead because of all that they’ve endured and still managed to keep themselves afloat.
“Baby steps,” said Parker.

But the challenge is all in the deep, choppy waters of the Western Conference. For while the Spurs closed out a 10-4 month in January — second-best in the West behind Golden State — have won nine of their last 11 games and just wrapped up a 5-1 homestand, they remain stuck at the No. 7 spot in the playoff race, though tied in the loss column with the Mavericks and Clippers, the two teams just ahead.

Now they head out on their annual Rodeo Road Trip. The Spurs will play nine straight — broken up by All-Star Weekend — away from home that will cover 8,084 miles and won’t play their next home game until March 4. But the yearly forced evacuation by the San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo has been both therapeutic and a proving ground since it began in 2003 with the move to the AT&T Center. The Spurs have never had a sub-.500 record on the rodeo trip.

This time it’s coming just as all of the sore hamstrings, wrists, shoulders and assorted achy parts are on the mend and could give the defending champions an opportunity to get back in touch with who they are and forge an identity for the stretch run and looming postseason.

“We definitely want to find a rotation where everybody knows their role and get ready for the playoffs, because it’s going to come fast after the All-Star break,” Tony Parker said. “Everybody knows, with nine games, it’s gonna go super fast. So hopefully everybody can stay healthy and Pop can make his decisions and get a rotation and we can start playing good basketball.”

***

No. 5: Paul says ref criticism not about gender — If there’s one thing Chris Paul would like to put in the past as much as the Clippers’ current three-game losing streak, it’s the self-created furor over his criticism of referee Lauren Holtkamp on Thursday night in Cleveland. Speaking prior to Friday, Paul said his blast had nothing to do with Holtkamp’s gender, according to Melissa Rohlin and Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

“You know, last night was about a bad call,” he said, “that’s all.”

Paul is under heat for his comments about Holtkamp following a technical he received during Thursday’s 105-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was given the technical in the third quarter after the Clippers tried to quickly inbound the ball after a Cavaliers free throw.

“We’re trying to get the ball out fast every time down the court and when we did that she said, ‘Uh-uh,’ and I said, ‘Why uh-uh?’ and she gave me a tech and that’s ridiculous,” the Clippers point guard said. “If that’s the case, then this might not be for her.”

Holtkamp, 34, is in her first full season as an NBA referee and is one of two active female officials. Some questioned whether Paul’s comments were sexist.

“Like I said, last night was about a bad call, that’s it,” Paul reiterated.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t approve of Paul’s remarks, but he said there were no sexist undertones behind them.

“I just think he was upset at the technical,” Rivers said. “I don’t think the technical was warranted either, to be honest, but that’s not a gender issue. That’s an issue that you disagree with the tech.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Mavericks might be first in line if Amar’e Stoudemire is cut free by the Knicks… The Players Association is firmly in Chris Paul’s corner in Ref-Gate….Anthony Davis shows up in the Horry Scale…The Hawks have had talks with Ray Allen…Long time veteran referee Norm Drucker, the only man to toss Wilt Chamberlain out of a game, dies at 94.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Morning shootaround — Jan. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

January fuels belief in Hawks | Love ready for rough return to Minnesota | Pistons players, fans bracing for Josh Smith’s return | Be careful what you say about DeMarcus Cousins

No. 1: January fuels belief in Hawks — The franchise-record 18 straight wins did it. Finally, the belief in the Atlanta Hawks has officially taken over the city. It’s inspired memories of a great times in Atlanta sports history — yes, there have been great times — a generation ago in another sport (baseball), when the imagination of an entire city became fans of a team that captured its fan base. It feels like 1991 all over again in Atlanta, according to longtime Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley:

Ten years from now, we may recall this January the way we do the summer of 1991, when a team none of us had paid much heed grabbed us by our collars and made us watch. Ten years from now, we may remember these Hawks growing into a colossus – what other word fits an aggregation that’s 32-2 since Thanksgiving? – the way we beheld the Braves’s ascent from worst to first.

Ten years from now, we may look back on games like Friday’s in the manner we pressed that September series against the hated Dodgers into our memory books. Ten years from now, we could point to Friday as one of the moments when we knew – knew, as opposed to hoped – that all things were really and truly possible.

For the first time in 33 days and 17 games, the Hawks faced a fourth-quarter deficit. (That’s among the astonishing stats of this or any millennium.) Nothing was coming easy against an excellent Portland team, and matters were getting more difficult by the minute.

The splendid forward LaMarcus Aldridge was en route to scoring 37 points. The Hawks were missing free throws. DeMarre Carroll, their best perimeter defender, was too sore to play. Thabo Sefolosha, his replacement in the starting five, lasted 141 seconds before tweaking a hamstring. A team that has become a beautiful machine had developed a cough, and you couldn’t see all of the above and not think, “This could be the night the streak ends.”

But no. Five points down after three quarters, the Hawks won 105-99. Over those final 12 minutes, they outscored the Trail Blazers 15 baskets to seven, outshot them 71.4 percent to 30.4 percent. In their stiffest test since MLK Day, the Hawks played their best offense and their best defense in the fourth quarter, which is the time to do it.

We’ve spent the past month trying to identify the reasons the Hawks have done nothing but win, and here’s another: They trust themselves and their system. They know Mike Budenholzer’s offense will avail them of good shots if only they go where they’re supposed to go. They know they’re good enough shooters to make those shots. They also know – here’s the part that’s different from last season – that they can guard the opposition better than they’re being guarded.

There’s power in such faith. There’s the power that flows from believing you’re going to get better looks over 48 minutes than the other team, that you pass and shoot and defend too well to be cornered for long. At halftime the Blazers had made 55.1 percent of their shots to the Hawks’ 44.4 percent – and Portland’s lead was a skinny point. By game’s end the Hawks had shot the better percentage and driven the ball often enough to earn twice as many free throws. (Not a small consideration on a night when you miss eight of 22.)

Down to cases. On the first possession of the fourth quarter, Dennis Schroder drove for a layup. The 21-year-old had some moments when he looked his age, but he changed the game when it needed changing. He found Mike Scott on the left wing for the tying 3-pointer and found Kyle Korver at the top for the trey that made it 81-76. The Blazers would never lead again.


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore stepped up in a major way for the Hawks as they snagged their franchise-record 18th straight win

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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 182) Featuring Steve Holman

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Hawks fans want to believe. They really do. They want this to be real, this current mercurial stretch that has seen the Hawks elbow their way into the conversation of true contenders.

If winning 14 of 15 games, five straight over the likes of the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and most recently the Los Angeles Clippers, doesn’t do the trick, maybe the Hawks’ 13-2 home record (tops in the Eastern Conference and second only to the Golden State Warriors) will do the trick?

The best stretch of Hawks basketball in years should be more than enough to convince not only Hawks fans but any skeptics that this team is for real. And no one knows that better than Steve Holman, the longtime radio voice of the Hawks, who joins us on Episode 182 of the Hang Time Podcast to talk all things Hawks. And our conversation includes former Hawks star Josh Smith, who was waived in Detroit just days before Christmas while his former team emerges as a legitimate contender.

We get into all of that and more on Episode 182 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Steve Holman … Merry Christmas!

LISTEN HERE:

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

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

VIDEO: The Hawks just keep on trucking over the competition

Rockets likely lead contenders for recently waived Josh Smith


VIDEO: Where might Josh Smith wind up next?

The only way Josh Smith could be more of a target is if he had a glow-in-the-dark bullseye painted on his back.

After all, when the Pistons waived him Monday, he was on pace to become the first NBA player to shoot less than 40 percent from the field and 50 percent from the free-throw line while taking at least 12 shots per game.

However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a line of prospective employers from coast-to-coast as soon as the 11-year veteran hits the free-agent market when he clears waivers on Wednesday.

Here’s a look at the leading candidates:

Rockets — Probably tops on the list. Houston general manager Daryl Morey went after Smith in the summer of 2013, but could not close a sign-and-trade with Atlanta to get a deal done. With Terrence Jones sidelined, the Rockets still have the need for him at the four as a rebounder and long defender and Smith’s penchant for those wild 3-pointers might get lost in Houston’s long distance barrage. Smith could easily envision himself playing for a true title contender this season if he joins a lineup with his good buddy Dwight Howard and NBA leading scorer James Harden. Howard and Smith became close when they played on the same AAU team. Howard was also best man in Smith’s wedding. According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets would offer their $2.077 million bi-annual exception. Likely preferred destination.

Mavericks – That in-state Texas rivalry between Dallas and Houston that has already seen Chandler Parsons head north over the summer and then the Mavs win out last week in the Rajon Rondo Derby is only likely to get hotter. With Brandan Wright sent to Boston in the Rondo swap, the Mavs definitely have a need for a big body up front to come off the bench. There’s another personal connection here. Smith and Rondo played on the same Oak Hill Academy high school team. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News caught up with Mavs coach Rick Carlisle: “My opinion on Josh Smith? He’s a player whose ability I respect a lot,” Carlisle said. “And he’s had enough big games against us. He’s the kind of guy who can put a team on his back and beat you. He’s done it to us a lot of times. So I don’t know details of what happened there. But he’ll be picked up soon, I know that.” The all-in-for-this-season-Mavs should never be counted out.

Grizzlies – While two straight losses still have Memphis sitting as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, the grit and grind Grizzlies are always looking for ways to juice up their offense and get easy baskets. Smith’s size could fit in on an already bruising front line with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and when motivated to run the floor, he can finish and take some of the pressure off to toil through the shot clock for buckets.

Heat — The season-ending injury to Josh McRoberts has Miami crying out for help on the front line and in terms of raw talent, packages like Smith don’t often drop down your chimney at this time of the year. The Heat don’t have that “you’re joining a title contender cachet” as the top three pursuers in the West. But the thought is that Smith could join a lineup that really needs him and he’d be asked to play in a system suited to his skill set and not necessarily one where a squeeze would be needed to make him fit. Miami hopes to get a $2.65 million disabled-player cap exception with McRoberts headed for knee surgery. The Heat would figure they could keep the wild side of Smith’s game under wraps with the influence of team president Pat Riley, coach Erik Spoelstra and the on-court presence of veterans Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade among others.

Clippers — When asked about his interest in Smith at the team’s shoot around in San Antonio Monday, coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers simply said: “I don’t know.” The Clippers have been searching for help at the three all season, but would have only have the minimum to offer Smith. Since they are at the 15-man roster limit, they would have to waive a player before they could sign Smith. The personal connection in L.A. is assistant coach Mike Woodson, who was the head man in Atlanta when Smith had his most productive NBA seasons with the Hawks.

Kings – ESPN.com reported last summer that Sacramento tried to trade for Smith, offering various packages that included names such as Jason Thompson, Derrick Williams and Carl Landry. At the time it was said to be Kings owner Vivek Ranadive that wanted Smith to team up with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay in would certainly have been an oddly-matched Kings’ frontcourt. Sacramento could only afford to offer the veterans minimum of $1.4 million. But the biggest handicap the Kings have compared to the other Western is not being a contender.