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Analytics Art: Lowry, Wiggins and Dirk among week’s worst shooters


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry is a nominee for Kia Player of the Month for March

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

As the calendar flips to April and practical jokers execute their best (read: worst) pranks, the NBA landscape heads to the home stretch before playoffs roll around. For the most part, seeding has already been set. But for the tighter races in the Eastern Conference and toward the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture, now is not the time for players to slump.

And yet, two players on this iteration of the week’s coldest shooters are suiting up for teams either guaranteed to reach the postseason or fighting for a spot to get there. The team at PointAfter, part of the Graphiq network, will break down three of the week’s worst shooters using interactive data visualizations.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games from March 25-31.

 

Guard: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors 

Kyle Lowry is posting the best season of his career.

Toronto’s bulldog point guard is shooting a career-best 38.6 percent from 3-point territory this season to go with a career-high 21.5 points per game. His numbers over the last week, however, have been far from the norm.

The 30-year-old veteran played four games over the past seven days, shooting a combined 23.1 percent from the field. Let’s just say that making less than one in four shots is not good. Add in the fact that Lowry went 7-of-30 from beyond the arc (including a ghastly 0-of-8 showing against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday), and this was, without question, the worst shooting week of Lowry’s season.

Raptors fans better hope the team’s best player snaps back to form soon, or there’s a good chance Toronto will get bounced in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year.

 

Wing: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

Though former No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins scores points in bulk, he still needs to improve some holes in his game before he can be considered an All-Star-caliber player. Despite his size (6-foot-8), the 21 year old averages only 3.6 rebounds (a full rebound below his rookie average) and has a rebounding percentage of just six percent.

He also dishes out two assists per contest, so his volume scoring is really the one true saving grace at this point of his career. Of course, he’s shooting just 29.2 percent from beyond the arc this season and sputtered through a lackluster week.

Aside from a 32-point outburst against the Phoenix Suns on Monday — in which Wiggins did most of his damage at the free-throw line, going 17-of-21 — Wiggins shot 31.4 percent from the field. His performances throughout the month of March were otherwise stellar, though, so consider the latest hiccup just the normal ups and downs of a young player.

 

Forward/Center: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

What future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki has been doing as a 37 year old this season is nothing short of remarkable. According to Basketball Reference, the 7-foot German would become the third player in NBA history to average at least 18 points and six rebounds with a true shooting percentage of 55 percent or better after turning 37. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it twice, and Karl Malone did so once.

Of course, when you consider that Dirk has shot 305 3-pointers this season, and the other guys shot eight 3s combined in their three such seasons, Nowitzki’s campaign has to be deemed the most impressive.

But even Nowitzki is human, and it showed over the past week. After sitting out the March 25 loss against the Golden State Warriors, Nowitzki shot 6-of-15 against the Kings, 4-of-17 against the Nuggets and 5-of-23 against the Knicks in three games.

Somehow, the Mavs managed to escape with a 2-1 record despite Nowitzki’s shooting slump to keep their playoff hopes alive.

This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

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

Analytics Art: The three hottest shooters in the NBA this week


VIDEO: Utah’s Rodney Hood scores 30 points in first half vs. Lakers

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

Teams are fighting for their playoff lives as the calendar turns to April. This week, two Western Conference sharpshooters helped their clubs keep pace in the frantic race happening on the postseason bubble. Meanwhile, a veteran experiencing a bit of a down season up north showed he could still make a difference with his shooting stroke.

PointAfter breaks down the three hottest shooters of the week with interactive visualizations.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between March 25-31.  

Guard: J.J. Barea, Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks were briefly out of the Western Conference playoff picture after losing 10 of their first 13 March contests. Their smallest player propped them back up into a tie for seventh place this week by helping them claim two victories to end the month.

J.J. Barea logged a double-double (18 points, 11 assists) in a nine-point road win over Denver on Monday, then poured in 26 points off the bench in a 91-89 triumph over the Knicks, the most scored by a Dallas reserve this season.

The 31 year old has made at least half his shots in Dallas’ last four games, and he finished March shooting 49 percent from downtown. Barea rediscovering his shooting touch after three mediocre seasons from beyond the arc has helped him post a career-best 15.1 PER this year. He could be an unlikely hero for the Mavericks in their quest for the postseason.

 

Wing: Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz

For this generation of NBA players, the ultimate compliment when you’re playing the Lakers is having Kobe Bryant ask to guard you. Rodney Hood experienced that on Monday night after he dropped 30 points in the first half of Utah’s clash against Los Angeles. Bryant hardly let Hood touch the ball in the second half, and the second-year wing didn’t score a point in the second half.

No matter — the damage was already done. The game ended up as Bryant’s worst loss of his career, a 48-point shellacking that Hood sparked by making 8-of-9 3-pointers in the first half. He was easily the most dangerous scorer on the court, whether you measure by efficiency or raw point total. No other player scored more than 17 points or came close to matching Hood’s astronomical 115.4 true shooting percentage.

Hood also acquitted himself well in Utah’s overtime loss to Golden State, notching 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting. But it was his utter domination of the Lakers that he’ll remember when he looks back on his “sophomore” season in the league.

 

Forward/Center: Patrick Patterson, Toronto Raptors

Patrick Patterson has taken a back seat in Toronto’s offense this year, and for good reason. He’s posted career lows in usage rate (12.3 percent), field goal percentage (42 percent) and scoring rate (11 points per 40 minutes). However, he can still provide the occasional boost off the bench for the Raptors.

The stretch-four was 7-of-13 from deep this week, including a 16-point outburst in 20 minutes against New Orleans on Saturday that saw him sink all three of his treys.

Patterson impacts Toronto on offense more than most realize. He shoots 39 percent from deep in the Raptors’ franchise-record 50 victories compared to 33 percent in their losses, and the team’s offensive rating increases by 7.5 points when he’s on the court.

With the six-year veteran launching more 3s than ever before this year (3.8 per game) and providing savvy defensive play, he’s still positively affecting the Raptors despite his reduced role.

This story was published by PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — March 26


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dallas capable of 2007 payback? | Rest takes priority for Spurs | Pistons getting cozy at home | Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote

No. 1: Dallas capable of 2007 payback? — It’s not the ideal way to go about knocking off one of your conference’s elite teams. But if the Dallas Mavericks have to go the underdog route and angle for a first-round upset of the NBA defending champion Golden State Warriors, well, they know such a crazy thing can happen. Back in 2007, it was Golden State in eighth place in the West, ousting a Mavericks team that won 67 games and was hoping for a return trip to the Finals that spring. Dallas played well enough in its loss to the Warriors in Oakland Friday – with star Dirk Nowitzki sitting for rest – to entertain such thoughts, wrote Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com:

“They did it to us, so hey, you never know,” said Mavs guard J.J. Barea, a rookie towel-waver on that 2006-07 Dallas team who scored 21 points as a fill-in starter in Friday’s 128-120 loss to the Warriors. “We could do it to them.”

If the playoffs started now, the Mavs would have the opportunity to trump the “We Believe” bunch for the biggest postseason upset in NBA history.

Those Warriors in ’07 had good reason to believe they could beat the Mavs. Golden State swept the season series, including a blowout in the final week when coach Avery Johnson foolishly rested his stars instead of attempting to prevent the Warriors from making the playoffs. It also helped that Golden State had Don Nelson, who knew all the deep secrets about Dirk’s game, scheming to stop his former prodigy.

These Mavs, who have a coach in Rick Carlisle whose schematic sorcery pushed the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round a couple of seasons ago, can convince themselves that they can compete with the best team in basketball.

Dallas players point to their Dec. 30 rout of the Warriors without focusing too much on the minor detail that reigning MVP Stephen Curry sat out that game. And the Mavs’ two meetings with the Warriors this month were close well into the fourth quarter.

“We’ve definitely proven we can play with them,” guard Raymond Felton said after scoring 17 points. “We’ve proven we can beat them. … If that happens that we play them in the first round, it’s going to be a battle, that’s for sure.”

There’s no such thing as a moral victory for a team that’s fighting for its playoff life. However, the Mavs hopped on their bus for the drive to Sacramento with their heads held high after somehow making it a one-possession game with a few minutes remaining despite Nowitzki and Deron Williams wearing warmups and watching from the bench, and Chandler Parsons viewing from home hours after undergoing season-ending knee surgery.

“If we’re at full strength, I think we have the firepower to put up a fight,” said center/forward David Lee, sporting the championship ring he received in a pregame ceremony before putting up 12 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists in his Bay Area return.

“They would obviously be the heavy favorites, and they’ll be the heavy favorites against anybody they play not named the San Antonio Spurs.”

One minor problem for the Mavs: They’d have to figure out a way to stop the Splash Brothers, who have combined to average 71.5 points in the Warriors’ two wins over Dallas in the last week.

It’s unclear how much help Dallas owner Mark Cuban might be if the teams clash in the postseason. Cuban, who did not travel to Oakland for Friday’s game, got busy from afar with criticizing the game’s officiating. He put out some strong stuff for the 4.9 million followers of Twitter feed about which he might just hear from league HQ:

***

 No. 2: Rest takes priority for Spurs — For many NBA fans, this is Easter Weekend and will be celebrated as such right through Sunday. For the San Antonio Spurs, it’s more like Festivus – as in, “the rest of us.” Rest annually is a priority for the Spurs at this time of the season and rest is what several of the Western Conference powerhouse’s key players were scheduled from what otherwise would have seemed a crucial clash with the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday:

Granted, in the case of forward Kawhi Leonard, injury is the concern rather than fatigue. Leonard still is nursing a bruised right quadriceps suffered against Miami Wednesday. It kept him out of the Spurs’ game against Memphis Friday, a game from which coach Gregg Popovich withheld Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. Leonard’s sore thigh muscle remains too “tight” to play, but the plan to sit out Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker from Saturday’s ABC prime-time game at OKC and a Grizzlies rematch Monday in Memphis is entirely discretionary. We’ve all been down this road before with the Spurs, per ESPN.com.

That’s a luxury San Antonio can afford, considering the win Friday night locked up no worse than the No. 2 seed for the Western Conference playoffs with 10 games remaining in the regular season. The Spurs can now rest key veterans as the regular season comes to a close, which in turn increases the minutes for inexperienced role players such as Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons, as well as newcomers Andre Miller and Kevin Martin, who could all be called upon during the postseason.

The victory on Friday was San Antonio’s 37th straight at home, which ties the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the longest home winning streak to start a season in NBA history

“You just try to do your best,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “You don’t want to decondition them and you don’t want to lose rhythm. But you want to rest.”

LaMarcus Aldridge made that an easier proposition by knocking down 7 of 8 shots in the first quarter on the way to 17 points, the most he has scored in a single quarter all season. Aldridge poured in a total of 32 points, including 21 in the first half, while

Duncan started off the opening half hitting 4-of-5 for eight points. He also recorded five rebounds and five assists before finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Heading into the game, Miller averaged 8.3 minutes in his previous 10 contests, while Martin averaged 10.4 minutes over the same span. The duo contributed 16 and 34 minutes, respectively, versus Memphis and gained a level of comfort in their new surroundings and new teammates that could pay dividends for San Antonio in the postseason.

Duncan called the situation “a good experience game for a lot of different guys, a good execution game for us. A lot of these guys haven’t been in our offense and executed everything perfectly to this point.”

They didn’t execute perfectly against the Grizzlies, either. But that’s inconsequential as the Spurs accomplished their goal of keeping everyone as healthy as possible heading into the playoffs, while providing needed game experience for their role players.
“It’s obviously good for these other guys to get minutes and play in situations where they get used to the guys,” Popovich said. “Kevin just got here. Kyle has … rarely started. It’s all good experience. It can only be good for them.”

***

No. 3:  Pistons getting cozy at home — If a man’s home is his castle, as the old saying goes, the Detroit Pistons’ Palace (of Auburn Hills) has been their refuge and salvation in chasing a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Two-thirds of the way through their franchise-record nine-game homestand, the Pistons are 5-1 and now two games in front of the Chicago Bulls for eighth place in the East standings, thanks to their impressive victory Friday over conference rival Charlotte. Detroit scored 72 points in the first half and survived a considerable late scare from the Hornets. While veteran teams in Chicago and Washington deal with East angst, the young Pistons took another step in their quest to play with the league’s big boys. Here are some details from the Detroit News:

Throughout their up-and-down season, the Pistons have been plagued by stretches of playing to the level of their opponent. In several of their marquee games, the Pistons have come up with an empty effort.

Not this time.

In a critical matchup for their final playoff push, the Pistons played one of their best games of the season, against a team that had dominated them in both meetings this season.

Reggie Jackson said it was as satisfying a win as the Pistons have had this season, especially given the implications.

“Definitely with the way we’ve been punched in the mouth by them twice, especially with the position we’re in, fighting for a playoff spot,” said Jackson, who had 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists. “This is one of the better wins for us, where we felt like we controlled the game. The only thing better would be if we closed out those last few minutes.”

In those last few minutes a 26-point lead with 7:49 remaining shriveled to five with 37.6 seconds left. But the Pistons were able to close it out, with four free throws in the final stretch

That lapse normally might have driven coach Stan Van Gundy berserk, but given the need for wins to solidify a playoff spot, he wasn’t nearly so critical.

“We need to win and move on,” Van Gundy said. “We played 39 great minutes. We really outplayed a very good team for 39 minutes and then their last five guys played really well. Against their best players, we were dominant and it was a great 39 minutes.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 21 points and seven rebounds, Marcus Morris 20 points and seven rebounds and Andre Drummond notched his 60th double-double of the season with 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Pistons, who are 5-1 — ensuring a winning record — on their nine-game home stand.

***

No. 4: Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote — When you add up the pieces – 45 defeats against just 26 victories, an emergency room’s worth of injuries and the capriciousness with which NBA head coaches get fired these days – you might reasonably conclude that New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry would be dealing with some job insecurity. But Gentry doesn’t see or feel it, nor should he if we’re to take Pelicans GM Dell Demps at his word. Demps gave Gentry the proverbial vote of confidence Friday for reporters while expressing some for himself, according to ESPN.com:

With Alvin Gentry standing by his side, New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps dismissed a report indicating friction between the two and emphasized his support for the head coach.

“I just want to say, my confidence in Alvin has not wavered,” Demps said Friday. “The only regret that I have is that our team is not at full strength. And Alvin hasn’t had the opportunity to coach the team at full strength. I think he’s done a fantastic job.”

The Vertical reported earlier Friday in a video on its website that Demps has second-guessed Gentry often this season, including in front of Pelicans players and staff and opposing teams.

But Demps, in his first interview with local media since September, disputed the claim
“I told [Gentry] this last week: I think our guys are playing hard. Last night was a great example of how hard our guys played and competed,” Demps said. “All the credit goes to Alvin and the coaching staff. I think our guys are still getting better, I think guys are showing up and working every day, and they’re buying in.

“I’m thrilled with the system, I’m thrilled with everything that’s happened. And I think it’s irresponsible reporting for someone to come and say something like that. Because it’s totally untrue.”

Coming off a 45-win campaign that saw them earn their first postseason berth since trading Chris Paul, the Pelicans were widely expected to make a leap this season.

But injuries have ravaged the roster. New Orleans, now 12th in the Western Conference with a 26-45 record, has lost 243 games to injury and shut down five players — Anthony Davis (left knee), Tyreke Evans (right knee), Eric Gordon (right finger), Quincy Pondexter (left knee) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (right wrist) — for the rest of the season.

Asked if he has any concerns about his job security as a result of the struggles, Demps said, “I feel great about my job. I come to work every day, and I feel great about it.”

Gentry, in the first year of a four-year contract that he agreed to amid last season’s NBA championship run with the Golden State Warriors, said he expects to be back in New Orleans next season.

“Yeah, I do. I do,” Gentry said. “I don’t have any doubt about that. I’ll be back, and we’ll be much better because we’ll be much healthier.”

***

Hard to blame a Splash Brother for some sibling overconfidence these days:

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: D’Angelo Russell’s “ankle touched the ground when I rolled it” but the Lakers are hoping the “crazy pain” he felt is nothing serious for the rookie. … The Houston Rockets are getting effort and production from James Harden that, let’s face it, without which they they can’t survive as a playoff aspirant in the West. … Kevin Durant, who won’t have Kawhi Leonard to worry about on the court Saturday night in OKC, stands by his long-ago opinion and still likes Paul George’s game better than Leonard’s. … David Lee had to wait longer than the rest of them, but he got both his 2015 NBA championship ring and some overdue love from the fans in Oakland Friday. … As the days dwindle down to a precious few…

Nowitzki expects to opt in, retire as a Maverick unless…

When Dirk Nowitzki climbed higher one night earlier this season on the NBA’s all-time scoring list – the one that doesn’t count points from the old American Basketball Association, and thus pushes Julius Erving and Moses Malone farther down in the pecking order – a reporter remarked that the Dallas Mavericks’ veteran star was closing in on Wilt Chamberlain, No. 5 at 31,419 to Nowitzki’s 29,341 as this weekend began.

Kareem,” Nowitzki corrected, an indication that he planned to keep playing and scoring for some time to come, moving closer to if not surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s record of 38,387 points.

Nowitzki confirmed Friday that his plan at least will carry him through next season, after he picks up the player option this summer on his current Mavs’ contract:

Nowitzki wasn’t scheduled to play Friday, with Dallas coach Rick Carlisle opting to rest the 37-year-old sharpshooter on the second game of their team’s four-game West Coast swing.

Keeping Nowitzki around and involved has been one reason Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donn Nelson haven’t taken their roster down to the studs, preferring to utilize the 7-footer’s talents as the cornerstone of playoff aspirants these past few years.

While stopping well short of rattling a saber about playing elsewhere should that commitment change, Nowitzki did at least acknowledge he would assess 2016-17 anew if the Mavericks shift directions.

Report: Mavs’ Parsons facing season-ending surgery

From NBA.com staff reports

The Dallas Mavericks are in the thick of a wild chase to lock up a playoff berth. They are the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference this morning, yet the Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers are all in the midst of that chase with the Mavericks, too.

If the Mavs are to make the playoffs, though, it looks like they might be doing so without one of their key players contributing to that run. According to Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com, forward Chandler Parsons is likely to have season-ending surgery on his right knee:

Dallas Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons is likely to undergo season-ending surgery this week to address a torn meniscus in his right knee, sources told ESPN.com.

Parsons, who sources say will receive a second opinion before scheduling an operation, is expected to be fully recovered in time to resume his regular offseason basketball workout routine.

This would be the second consecutive season that Parsons’ season ends prematurely due to surgery on his right knee. However, sources said this injury is not nearly as severe as the cartilage damage he suffered last season that was repaired with a hybrid microfracture procedure on May 1.

The Mavs announced a sore right hamstring as the reason for Parsons leaving Friday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors in the third quarter. An MRI on Monday revealed that the pain in Parsons’ lower right hamstring was being caused by the torn meniscus, sources said.

Dr. Daniel Worrell, who recently replaced Dr. T.O. Souryal as the Mavs’ team physician, gave Parsons the initial diagnosis of a torn meniscus that requires arthroscopic surgery. Parsons plans to get a second opinion from Dr. Neal ElAttrache, a renowned sports medicine surgeon based in Los Angeles who has performed meniscus operations on several prominent NBA players.

Sources described Parsons as distraught Monday because he was so determined to help the Mavs return to the playoffs after being limited to only one game in last season’s first-round loss to the Houston Rockets, his former team.

Sources said Parsons is still likely to exercise his right this summer to opt out of the final season of his three-year, $46 million deal. He is expected to receive maximum-contract offers in free agency, with sources considering the Mavs the frontrunners to keep him.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Mavericks said in a statement that Parsons would miss the team’s upcoming road trip.

The Dallas Mavericks announced today that forward Chandler Parsons will not travel with the team on the upcoming road trip due to a right knee injury.  Treatment options are currently being explored.

 

 

Numbers notes: Close games have kept Grizzlies afloat


VIDEO: Antetokounmpo’s 15 points and 11 assists lead the Bucks over Memphis on Thursday.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Memphis Grizzlies are having a weird season. Right now, they’re just trying to survive with Marc Gasol out for the season and a plethora of other injuries. Seven other Grizzlies missed Thursday’s loss in Milwaukee and only three guys — JaMychal Green, Ryan Hollins and Jarell Martin — have played all 10 games in March. Hollins was signed in January and Martin had played in four games prior to this month.

On Monday, with eight guys out, the Grizzlies lost by 49 points in Houston. It was the second time this season that they’ve lost by at least that many points, having lost 119-69 at Golden State in their fourth game of the season.

The Grizzlies are 2-9 in games decided by 18 points or more and have been outscored by 112 points this season, the ninth best mark in the Western Conference. Yet, they’re 39-30 and in fifth place, despite a four-game losing streak.

Only the Warriors (24-1) and Spurs (15-6) have been better in games that were within five points in the last five minutes than the Grizzlies, who are 25-12 in those games. Memphis has both a top-five offense and a top-five defense in clutch situations.

The Western Conference point differential standings would have the Spurs as the top seed in the West and the Jazz as the five seed, with the Grizzlies in the Lottery. In the East, the Pistons would be in and the Bulls would be out.

With all their injuries, the Grizzlies are seemingly sinking in the real standings, and they have the toughest remaining schedule among teams currently seeded 5-9 in the West. But they still have a four-game lead for fifth place, because the teams behind them haven’t posed much of a threat to move up. The sixth-place Blazers have lost six of their last eight games, struggling against a tough schedule. The seventh-place Rockets are 9-12 since late January and the eighth-place Mavs have lost six of their last seven.

Defensive discrepancy in and out of Utah

The ninth-place Jazz have won four straight after a 3-10 stretch and are just a game behind the Rockets and Mavs. But the Jazz play their next five games on the road, where they haven’t defended nearly as well they have at home. In fact, no team has a bigger home-road differential in defensive efficiency than Utah.

20160318_defrtg_home-road

Even since they got Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert back from injuries, the Jazz have struggled to get stops away from home. They’ve allowed 108.6 points per 100 possessions over the 11 road games since Favors returned in late January.

After trading Enes Kanter and promoting Gobert to starting center, the Jazz were the league’s best defensive team, by a wide margin, after the All-Star break last season. They’ve been a good defensive team this year, but haven’t been able to replicate last year’s late-season success.

Utah’s five-game trip begins Saturday in Chicago and includes two games against top-10 offenses, including a critical game in Houston next Wednesday.

The Jazz, though, do have a much easier remaining schedule than the Mavs, who look like the pick to miss the playoffs.

20160318_west_sos

Backing their way in

The Grizzlies’ season-long mark of minus-112 wouldn’t be close to being the worst plus-minus for a playoff team. Last year’s Nets (minus-236) claimed eighth place in the East by winning a head-to-head tiebreaker with Indiana, who had a positive plus-minus (plus-23) for the season.

The Nets’ mark was the worst raw point differential for a playoff team since the 1991-92 Miami Heat (minus-345). That Heat team (38-44) is one of two since the 1970-71 season that won 10 more games than their point differential said they should. They made the playoffs with a point differential of a 28-54 team.

The 1985-86 Clippers also had a 10-game differential between their actual wins (32) and “expected” wins (22), a mark that could be eclipsed by this year’s Grizzlies with another loss by 40-plus. And with four more games against the Spurs and Warriors, that’s a real possibility.

Morning shootaround — March 10


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Karl to have procedure on cancer in throat | LeBron was willing to move to PF for Johnson | Colangelo to announce Team USA roster in June | Carlisle: D-Will baited into tech by ref

No. 1: Karl to have cancer-related prodedure — Twice already in his life, Sacramento Kings coach George Karl has stared down cancer and come out victorious over it. The coach has a third round of the disease to deal with, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee, after Karl revealed after last night’s home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers that he is due to have a procedure on his throat today:

Karl, a two-time cancer survivor, addressed his health in an interview with The Bee after Wednesday’s 120-111 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Sleep Train Arena. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2005 and with treatable neck and throat cancer in 2010.

“I’m having a procedure for a cancer in my throat,” Karl said.

When asked if the procedure was serious, Karl said “no” twice.

When Kings general manager Vlade Divac was asked if he was concerned about Karl, he said “of course, of course.”

“Coach told me the other day,” Divac said. “I told him to take as much time as he needs. … We probably won’t know the results for a couple days.”

Divac had told Karl before the season if he ever needed to take time to rest that would be OK; that discussion was not related to cancer.

Divac reiterated the team would not rush Karl back.

“He doesn’t know how long (the procedure is) going to take, whether it’s one hour, two hours, three hours,” Divac said. “We have practice, and I told him, ‘I’ll be there. You have to just do your thing, and if you need more time, don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it.’ 

Karl has missed just one game this season. He did not coach the Kings’ loss at New Orleans on Jan. 28 due to food poisoning.

The Kings host the Orlando Magic on Friday night and the Utah Jazz on Sunday.

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 20


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from busy Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard out-MVPs the MVP | Spurs bid Kobe adieu | Playoffs (PLAYOFFS?!) fading for Knicks | Mavs need more from Matthews

No. 1: Lillard out-MVPs the MVP — It was offered as high praise, but when Golden State coach Steve Kerr invoked Steph Curry‘s name as a way of lauding Damian Lillard‘s electric night against his Warriors — “He looked like Steph Curry out there” – it felt a little wrong. For one night, the Portland Trail Blazers guard deserved to stand alone in the spotlight, not sharing it with the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player or Portland’s stunning 32-point throttling Friday of the league’s defending champs. Even the Blazers’ surprising 28-27 record, far better than a lot of so-called experts imagined, could wait in the kudos line behind the point guard for whom there wasn’t room on the Western Conference All-Star team. Here is some of Oregonian beat writer Joe Freeman‘s report:

An undeniable reality surfaced during the 48 hours leading up to the most prolific individual performance of Damian Lillard’s career.

He felt like crud.

His legs were rubbery. His feet ached. His body wasn’t quite right. In two Trail Blazers practices following a weeklong All-Star break, Lillard committed turnovers in bunches and hoisted more bricks than he could count.

So on Thursday, after a particularly forgettable display, the two-time All-Star turned to assistant coach Nate Tibbetts with a surprising statement.

“Every time I feel like this,” Lillard told Tibbetts, “The next day, I just always have it.”

And he certainly had it Friday night. In one of the best individual performances in franchise history, Lillard recorded a career-high 51 points, a career-high six steals and seven assists to lead the surging Blazers to a stunning 137-105 victory over the Golden State Warriors at the Moda Center.

Lillard was so good, he did the unimaginable — he upstaged the Blazers’ startling 32-point victory over a seemingly invincible team poised to finish with the best record in NBA history. With a barrage of deep three-pointers, slick slashing layups and pull-up jumpers, Lillard was virtually unstoppable, making 18 of 28 field goals, including 9 of 12 three-pointers.

Lillard started hot, scoring or assisting on seven of the Blazers’ first nine field goals. And he finished even hotter, recording 21 points in a dazzling fourth quarter that had the Moda Center rocking like no other time this season. During Lillard’s most breathtaking stretch of the game, midway through the fourth quarter, he scored 13 consecutive Blazers points, breezing past the 40-point mark so fast he said he couldn’t remember doing so…

“He got into a zone twice,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “At the end, it was just ridiculous.”

And any outsider who watched Lillard during the 48 hours leading up the game, when he was bricking shots and tossing turnovers, would have been stunned.

Lillard said he was restless Friday, eager to fix his body and settle his mind, and he unintentionally altered his game-day routine. Following the Blazers’ morning shootaround, he hopped in the cold tub at the practice facility for a frigid 15-minute soak, then moved to the steam room, where he joined Al-Farouq Aminu for a 15-minute steam.

Afterward, he drove to his Lake Oswego home, slipped a splint on his left foot and took a nap, which he rarely does.

“I usually don’t even take naps,” he said. “I got up and I just felt good.”

Before he knew it, Lillard was driving to the Moda Center ahead of schedule. He strolled into the locker room about 3:50, roughly 30 or 40 minutes earlier than normal, and ran into Ed Davis, the only other person in the room. They shot the breeze for a while and Lillard killed time before going about his normal routine. By the time he started hispregame workout, his felt his mojo creeping back.

“When I did my routine before the game, I just felt good,” he said. “Going side to side, when I was pulling up off the dribble, I just felt in a good rhythm. The ball felt good in my hands.”

Lillard shot chart

***

 No. 2: Spurs bid Kobe adieu — Competitive to the end. How it had gone for most of Kobe Bryant‘s clashes with the San Antonio Spurs over the years is pretty much how it went in his final meeting with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, coach Gregg Popovich and the rest Friday in Los Angeles. Across two decades of regular-season and postseason showdowns, Bryant and Duncan faced each other 82 times – the equivalent of a full NBA season – with the Spurs’ big man owning a 43-39 advantage. Then again, Bryant was quick to point out their head-to-head in playoff series: “Four to three.” The principals had met shortly before the All-Star break but this time was for the last time, so it’s worth reviewing, per the San Antonio Express-News’ Jeff McDonald:

The Lakers star was as competitive as ever, at one point popping a dislocated finger into place so he could finish this game. As has been the case for much of the 37-year-old’s farewell tour, the Spurs got the best of the Lakers, winning 119-113.

“It’s been fun competing against those guys for all these years,” Bryant said after scoring 25 points in his Spurs swan song. “I’ve truly enjoyed it. They’ve pushed me to fine-tune and sharpen my game.”

In many ways, Friday marked the end of a rivalry two decades in the making, between two players emblematic of their generation.

“We’ve played against each other for so many years,” said Duncan, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds for his first double-double since Jan. 3. “It was always a great game against him. You knew you had to bring your A game, because he’s going to bring the best out of you.”

Even toiling for a Lakers team that could not avoid its 46th loss Friday, Bryant refused to go down without a fight.

Benefitting from the absence of All-Star Kawhi Leonard, out for the second straight game with a calf injury, Bryant finished with 25 points.

Late in the fourth quarter, with the Spurs clinging to a five-point lead, Bryant dislocated a middle finger tracking a loose ball. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti popped the digit back into place, taped it to his index finger, and Bryant returned for the final 1:56.

“He’s played through stuff that nobody will ever know about,” Popovich said. “He’s a warrior.”

Bryant made one field goal with his finger injured, a runner that pulled L.A. within 111-107 with 1:23 left.

Later, in what will go down as the final shot of his career against the Spurs, he fired up an airball 3-pointer.

Bryant’s career against the Spurs was over, and Popovich had trouble pinpointing how he felt about it.

“In some ways, it will be great,” Popovich said. “In other ways, we will miss him a lot. The whole league will miss him. But I won’t have to worry about guarding him, that’s for sure.”

***

No. 3:  Playoffs (PLAYOFFS?!) fading for Knicks — At 22-22, the New York Knicks were looking like this year’s version of the 2014-15 Milwaukee Bucks, who took an Andre the Giant-sized stride from horrible (15-67) to respectable (41-41) in a single season, boosting themselves all the way into the playoffs with a few nips and tucks (and, in the Bucks’ case, a new coach in Jason Kidd). But now Knicks fans have begun to puzzle at the gaps between victories, their team sinking fast at 23-32 with no optimism in sight. Losing to crosstown rival Brooklyn Friday night brought on the best in New York critics, focusing on the worst of Knickerbocker basketball. Consider snippets here of New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro:

That was the Nets — not the Thunder, not the Clippers — who rattled off a 20-2 run in the third quarter to turn a five-point Knicks lead into a 13-point Nets lead. That was the Nets who, after letting the Knicks draw within three points early in the fourth quarter, put them away with an immediate 10-0 surge.

That was the Nets who made the Knicks look so enfeebled, so non-competitive, so slow, so …

“We didn’t execute. On either end,” interim coach Kurt Rambis said. “That’s disappointing.”

Yes. That is one word. Here are a few others: Putrid. Lousy. Rotten. Unwatchable.

Playoffs?

Playoffs? Are you kidding me?

This is no longer a regression. The Knicks had lost 10 out of 11 heading into the break, the season already had gone sideways, the postseason already was looking like a longer long shot than Chuck Wepner.

You could talk yourself into anything you wanted to: the floor had started to tilt on the Knicks when Carmelo Anthony tripped over that referee’s foot. Kristaps Porzingis was dealing with the rookie wall. All of that. And to add red meat for the masses, Fisher was sacrificed. Is there more of a time-honored solution for turning things around — at least for a week or two — than axing the coach?

The Knicks had been off since Feb. 9. They were rested. They were as healthy as they had been in weeks. The first time these teams played, in December, the Knicks took a 30-point lead by the midway point of the second quarter.

Those were the heady days — hard to conjure now — when every small victory the Knicks posted was celebrated, because anything — just about everything — compared to last season’s 17-win dumpster fire could be celebrated as progress. That was before anyone figured this could end up in the playoffs, when just not watching stink rise up from the Garden floor was worth rejoicing.

Yeah. That feels like an awfully long time ago.

***

No. 4: Mavs need more from Matthews — When Dallas owner Mark Cuban reacted to the DeAndre Jordan switcheroo last summer by throwing even more guaranteed money, in a longer free-agent contract, at damaged-goods Portland shooting guard Wesley Matthews, it didn’t just seem impulsive; it seemed like retail therapy, the sort of things shopaholics do to self-medicate in times of unrelated stress. It even seemed a little out of character, given the red flags that were unmissable thanks to Matthews’ season-ending Achilles surgery last spring. So what the Mavericks are getting – or missing – from Matthews deep into his comeback season isn’t any big secret, but it is a legitimate concern, given how much time and money remains on his four-year, $70 million deal. Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com looked at the gap between Matthews’ production and compensation:

The Mavs certainly aren’t getting their money’s worth right now. They must get much better bang for the buck from their highest-paid player to have any hope of being more than first-round fodder — and perhaps even to make the playoffs.

The fact that the 29-year-old Matthews is struggling through the worst season of his career can’t be considered surprising. The history of players coming back from torn Achilles tendons, if they come back at all, is frighteningly poor.

It was an expensive vote of confidence from Cuban in Matthews’ remarkable will and work ethic. It was also a vote of confidence in the Mavs’ support staff — specifically head athletic trainer Casey Smith and athletic performance director Jeremy Holsopple — and the new medical technology that wasn’t available to players whose careers were ruined by a ruptured Achilles in the past.

And it was a decision made with the long term in mind.

“We didn’t sign him for this year,” Cuban said recently when asked if Matthews’ extended slump concerned him.

Not that Matthews, who surprised many by making good on his vow to play in the season opener less than eight months after suffering his injury, is looking for excuses for his struggles. Nor does he expect Mavs fans to have much patience in him if he doesn’t perform well.

“I’ve got to play better,” Matthews said after scoring only five points on 2-of-10 shooting in Friday’s overtime loss to the Orlando Magic. “I take that onus up. I take that ownership. I will.”

Matthews’ value to the Mavs can’t be measured simply by his stats. He’s a tremendous teammate who leads the Mavs in minutes played, a respected voice in the locker room and a proud defender who readily accepts the challenge of guarding the opponent’s best perimeter scorer on a nightly basis.

But Dallas desperately needs Matthews, who established himself as one of the NBA’s premier perimeter shooters the previous five seasons in Portland, to snap out of his offensive funk.

Matthews gave the Mavs one really good offensive month. He averaged 15 points and hit 42.5 percent of his 3-point attempts in December, numbers that were pretty close to the norm during his five-year tenure with the Trail Blazers. Matthews was plus-89 in those 14 games. Not coincidentally, the Mavs had their best month of the season, going 9-5.

The Mavs are 9-13 in games in which Matthews has played since the calendar flipped to 2016. He has averaged only 10.7 points during that time, shooting 37.4 percent from the floor and 30.5 percent from 3-point range. He is minus-69 in those 22 games.

It’s not trending in the right direction, either. Matthews is minus-55 in six February games, averaging only 8.8 points per game. Not coincidentally, the Mavs are 1-5 this month, sliding to 29-27 overall, putting them four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for fifth in the Western Conference and giving them only a 1 1/2-game cushion before falling out of the playoff pack.

“This is not a Wes thing. This is a team thing,” coach Rick Carlisle said, downplaying concerns about Matthews’ slump.

Matthews sat down the stretch of regulation Friday night. He played the entire overtime, missing both of his shot attempts — a driving layup and an open corner 3 that both would have tied the score.

“I’ve been making those shots since I’ve been in the league. As soon as I get frustrated, it takes away from everything else that I can do on the court. When I start doing that, then I’m selfish. I’ve just got to continue being me [and] stay confident, which I am. I’m not worried about it. The team trusts me. Coaches trust me, and I’m going to work my ass off.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dallas’ loss in OT in Orlando included a few sweet-nothings between big man Zaza Pachulia and wing Chandler Parsons. … Don’t think the Golden State Warriors didn’t learn anything from their loss to Portland Friday, or what it had in common with their four previous defeats. … If Thursday’s trade deadline didn’t scratch your itch for player movement, enjoy what transpires in the coming days of “buyout season,” as noted by our own Shaun Powell. … Then there’s the guy in Cleveland about whom trade rumors never seem to end, deadline or no deadline, writes our man Steve Aschburner. … Ricky Rubio enjoyed all the trade gossip – with a certain exception. … The guy most likely to be moved by the deadline was not. So what’s next for Dwight Howard?

Morning shootaround — Feb. 19


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Rockets had steep asking price for Howard | Forman: Gasol a ‘core’ part of Bulls | Celtics may soon buyout Lee | Grizzlies gamble at deadline

No. 1: Report: Rockets were asking for a lot for Howard — Trade deadline day has come and gone without any of the bigger names — Dwight HowardKevin LoveBlake Griffin, et al — going anywhere. Howard’s name was thrown around a bunch as the deadline grew closer and closer, but him actually leaving Houston was held up by the Rockets’ steep asking price for him, writes Marc Stein of ESPN.com:

League sources told ESPN.com that the Rockets engaged in trade talks with numerous teams once they began aggressively shopping Howard right before the start of the All-Star break.

Sources said that the Rockets talked about potential Howard deals in recent days with a list of teams including Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and, most recently, Milwaukee. Sources say Houston, however, told several teams that it wasn’t prepared to trade Howard without receiving at least one frontline player and a future first-round draft pick in return.

The Rockets took a similar approach with young power forward Donatas Motiejunas and managed to extricate a first-round pick from the Detroit Pistons for Motiejunas in the one trade they did complete on deadline day.

But interested teams were unwilling to pay such a premium for Howard, at least in part because Howard, who turned 30 in December, can become a free agent July 1.

“Many teams called expressing great interest in trading for Dwight,” Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan, told ESPN.com on Thursday night. “The obvious stumbling block to a trade was how could a team justify giving up important assets for a player who was about to become a free agent in a few short months?

“Not surprisingly, as the deadline approached, several teams called stating they had worked out the trade parameters with Houston for a Dwight deal but were not prepared to give up their assets unless Dwight agreed to opt into the last year of his contract and forego free agency. Dwight declined.”

Fegan refused to discuss specific teams that made pitches for Howard, but sources told ESPN.com that the Bucks were one of those teams.

The Bucks and Rockets did exchange some trade proposals, sources said, but Milwaukee made it clear that it wouldn’t go through with any deal for Howard unless he opted into the final season of his contract, which is scheduled to pay him $23.3 million in 2016-17.

Howard earns $22.3 million this season in the third year of his four-year, $88 million contract with the Rockets and has made it clear he intends to bypass Year 4 to return to the open market.


VIDEO: Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff talks after Thursday’s practice

***

(more…)

2016 Trade Deadline blog

From NBA.com staff reports

One of the busiest days in terms of NBA roster chatter and speculation is here: trade deadline day. With the deadline behind us, here’s everything that happened on a mostly quiet day. While you’re reviewing all the action, don’t forget to check out our Trade Tracker and other 2016 Trade Deadline coverage.

Highlights

Live blog — Part I | Live blog — Part II
Howard, Horford, Teague, Anderson staying putStephenson dealt to Grizzlies | Markieff Morris to Washington | Hinrich to Atlanta | Pistons trade pick for Motiejunas | Frye headed to Cleveland | Jazz trade for Mack | Thunder trade for Foye | Heat get under the tax line

UPDATE, 3:52 p.m. ET — Bucks, others had Howard talks

Dwight Howard is staying in Houston for the rest of 2015-16, but there was a chance he could have been in Milwaukee, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.com …

UPDATE, 3:28 p.m. ET — Sixers get Anthony from Rockets

Hours have he was acquired by the Rockets from the Pistons in the Donatas Motiejunas deal, Joel Anthony is on the move again

UPDATE, 3:18 p.m. ET — The names that didn’t move

There was plenty of chatter surrounding Dwight Howard, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Ryan Anderson, as well as minor rumblings about Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and Pau Gasol. But none of those guys are going anywhere at the deadline.

UPDATE, 3:15 p.m. ET — Stephenson to Memphis

UPDATE, 3:06 p.m. ET — Hinrich to Atlanta

Another small deal has trickled in after the deadline…

UPDATE, 2:43 p.m. ET — Markieff Morris to Washington

Markieff Morris, who’s been unhappy in Phoenix since his brother was traded last summer, was always the most likely player to be traded on Wednesday. And the destination for Morris is Washington…

Both Blair and Humphries had non-guaranteed deals for next season, so Morris’ contract (three more years, $7.4 million next season) eats into the Wizards’ cap space, which has been earmarked for Kevin Durant.

UPDATE, 2:16 p.m. ET — Heat get under the tax line

No team has made more deals than the Miami Heat this week, and it’s all been about getting under the luxury tax line. Pat Riley did just that with the third of the three deals…

Because the Heat were subject to repeater tax levels this season, they were set to pay more than $25 million in tax before the trades that sent out Chris Andersen, Jarnell Stokes and Roberts (who was acquired in the Andersen, three-team trade). Now, they’re not paying any tax, and will get a portion of the money that the remaining tax-paying teams are paying out.

UPDATE, 2:04 p.m. ET — No quit in the Kings

It’s not clear why the Kings covet Pau Gasol, but it is clear that they do…

UPDATE, 2:01 p.m. ET — No deal for Howard?

With the trade deadline just an hour away, the biggest name that had a decent chance of being traded is still in the same place…

UPDATE, 1:41 p.m. ET — Talk, but no action in Minnesota

When the Minnesota Timberwolves host the New York Knicks on Saturday, it will be Ricky Rubio bobblehead night. The real Rubio will probably be there, but the Wolves have talked with at least one team about trading their point guard…

A Kevin Martin trade would seemingly be more likely, but…

UPDATE, 1:26 p.m. ET — Thunder trade Augustin for Foye

Looking for a boost to their bench, the Oklahoma City Thunder have acquired Randy Foye from Denver…

UPDATE, 1:24 p.m. ET — Teague staying in Atlanta

Jeff Teague will be the Atlanta Hawks’ point guard for at least another two months.

The Hawks could field more offers for Teague in the summer, when multiple teams will be looking for a starting point guard and when the market is pretty shallow beyond the Grizzlies’ Mike Conley. Teague has one more season (at just $8 million) left on his contract.

UPDATE, 1:09 p.m. ET — No action in Dallas

The Dallas Mavericks are standing pat.


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