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Posts Tagged ‘Damian Lillard’

Iguodala out 2 weeks with ankle sprain

VIDEO: Andre Iguodala hurts ankle on Friday.

Andre Iguodala doesn’t even play a doctor on TV, but the NBA veteran forward knows his body and he knew Friday night his left ankle didn’t feel right. Sure enough, he and the Golden State Warriors got the result of an MRI exam Saturday and it wasn’t good: Iguodala will be out for two weeks, with his recovery evaluated at that time.

Coach Steve Kerr gave the word to reporters prior to the Warriors’ game against Phoenix:

Iguodala got hurt when Portland guard Damian Lillard fell on his ankle in a pile-up in Golden State’s victory Friday night in Oakland. “He got me good,” the 32-year-old said in the locker room afterward as he limped, using an umbrella as a cane to get around.

Iguodala had missed three games earlier this month with tightness in his left hamstring. He has averaged 7.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 26.8 minutes. More significantly, the Warriors’ boast three of the NBA’s five most potent 5-man lineups and Iguodala is part of all three for the 58-6 defending champs and Western Conference powerhouse still pursuing the league’s all-time best regular season record (Chicago, 1995-96, 72-10) .

Morning shootaround – March 12


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Damian Lillard says don’t compare me to StephDavis copes with tough season for New Orleans | Heat still in a holding pattern over Bosh | Raptors have a duo in the front court, too

No. 1: Damian Lillard says don’t compare me to Steph Let’s be fair to Warriors coach Steve Kerr. He said he voted for Damian Lillard to make the All-Star team (Lillard didn’t). But when Kerr said, off-hand, that Lillard reminded him of Steph Curry after Lillard torched the Warriors last month in a Blazers’ win, it didn’t sit well with Lillard. The teams played again Friday night but Lillard had his say prior to the game and spoke with Joe Freeman of the Oregonian:

It was intended to be a compliment.

But it was perceived as a slight.

After Damian Lillard torched the Golden State Warriors for a career-high 51 points and the Trail Blazers beat the unbeatable by 32 points, Steve Kerr was asked about Lillard’s remarkable individual performance.

“He looked like Steph Curry out there,” the Warriors’ coach said, following the Blazers’ 137-105 victory in the first game after the All-Star break.

Nine days later, after Lillard scored 33 points in a 111-102 victory over the Indiana Pacers, an Indiana-area reporter asked the Blazers’ All-Star point guard if he was trying to impersonate Curry when he punished the Pacers for 20 first-quarter points.

“I don’t impersonate anybody, man,” Lillard replied to the question, clearly annoyed. “I was being Damian Lillard.”

Lillard has been one of the NBA’s best players since the All-Star break, averaging 33.5 points, 5.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds over 11 games. He’s scored at least 50 points twice, at least 40 points three times and at least 30 points eight times. He’s shooting 48 percent from the field, including 42 percent from three-point range, and the Blazers (34-31) have amassed a 7-4 record, surprisingly remaining in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

But along the way, instead of celebrating the individuality of Lillard, some have branded him Curry Light. They see an athletic point guard with a propensity for hitting deep three-pointers, making clutch fourth quarter shots and showcasing slick handles. They see a player with a small-school background and ties to Oakland. And they can’t help but see the reigning MVP.

Well, that can’t help but make Lillard feel disrespected.

“I respect Steph Curry,” Lillard said Thursday. “Because what he’s doing is amazing. But I’m my own man. So don’t come to me and say I’m impersonating him. You telling me I’m impersonating somebody by doing well at my job is disrespectful.”

***

No. 2: Davis copes with tough season in New Orleans Raise your hand if you thought Anthony Davis would have this kind of season in New Orleans. He started slowly and didn’t get the fan vote to start the All-Star Game. Also, the Pelicans struggled despite being healthier than in the past. Finally, it doesn’t appear they’re headed to the playoffs. Davis is wrapping up a decent season personally, and recently had a sit-down with Justin Verrier of ESPN:

That’s the scary part: When you have the 11th-best season ever, how far does up go? The Pelicans clocked in at third in Zach Lowe’s preseason League Pass rankings with a simple explanation: “Anthony Davis is limitless.”

It hasn’t exactly been a ski lift to his summit since, with the Pelicans’ injury woes and adaptation to just his second NBA head coach pushing Davis one step back before any leap toward the league’s top pound-for-pound player. But with nights like Wednesday, or the 59 points and 20 rebounds he piled on the Pistons two weeks ago, that ascension doesn’t feel so far away anymore.

In the meantime, Davis has welcomed some of the spoils of his newfound stardom. He’s fast becoming the guy you’ll see over and over again during commercial breaks of national NBA games. He’s diving headfirst into first-person media. He will also make a guest spot in the latest “Barbershop” movie, set in his hometown of Chicago, poking fun at the eyebrow that seems to be his meal ticket in that realm.

“Yeah, just embracing it,” he said. “The opportunity doesn’t come around a lot for guys. When I get the opportunities I try to embrace them and have fun with it. It’s all gonna go by so fast. Everybody tells me, ‘Your career goes by fast. Just like that — snap of a finger.’ So any time I get a chance to do anything, whether it’s a movie, commercial, appearance, whatever, I try to have fun and enjoy as much as possible.”

Unlike his lofty basketball pursuits, about which he has rarely if ever demurred, Davis is a bit more conservative when it comes to these sorts of roles.

“Nah. I mean … of course, people know who I am. But I don’t feel like I’m a celebrity,” he said. “I don’t look at myself like that. Of course when you go out and people ask you for your autographs or pictures, it kind of puts in perspective how, I’ll say how big of a name you are. But I don’t go anywhere like, ‘I want front-row seats.’ That’s not me. … I don’t really look at myself like that.

“[The movie] came to me. Or, my agency. But that’s because it was in Chicago, it has ties with Chicago and all that, so I think that was a big factor. But, even still. Being in a movie is pretty fun. I guess I don’t really see myself in that light. I guess because I’m so laid back and chill. If I was more outgoing or … Hollywood, I guess. I don’t know. [Laughs.] That’s not me. I’m just real chill.”

After all, he is 23.

***

No. 3: Heat still in a holding pattern over Bosh There’s no need to rush anything, given the circumstances and history. So nobody’s putting any sort of urgency in Miami as it pertains to Chris Bosh. His health is still a concern and a mystery to those outside of the organization as he continues to weigh whether to return this season, and if so, when. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, other than saying Bosh is in the team’s thoughts, remains relatively mum. Here’s Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:

In his most extensive comments on Bosh since the Heat’s leading scorer has been out, Spoelstra said that the 13-year veteran will work out with the team when it returns from its current three-game road trip.

“We love Chris, and he’s in a great place right now,” Spoelstra said after the Heat’s morning workout at the United Center in Chicago before Friday’s game against the Bulls. “He’s working out right now in Miami. When we get back, we’ll be able to do some workouts with him. But more than anything else, he’s in a good place mentally. We don’t have a timetable or anything like that. We’re just happy he’s healthy.”

Spoelstra’s comments came a day after Bosh released a statement through his public relations firm that said he does not have deep vein thrombosis — or blood clots in his leg. In the statement, Bosh also said he is working with the Heat to explore precautionary treatment options and “taking every necessary step” to make sure he remains free of the condition moving forward. Bosh’s statement did not disclose his specific condition.

“I have been working out, training with the team, watching film of the games, walking through plays and have attended home games despite not being visible to the public,” Bosh said in the statement released Thursday. “I remain positive that I will be able to return this season.” Bosh, 31, was in the midst of his best season in six years with the Heat when he was held out of the All-Star Game last month for what the team initially indicated was a calf strain. Multiple league sources confirmed Bosh’s condition was more serious than the strain, but team officials have declined to provide specific details.

This is the second time in as many years that Bosh’s season has been interrupted by a health scare. Last season, Bosh missed Miami’s final 30 games to treat a blood clot that had traveled from his calf to his lung and led to his dealing with severe pain and being hospitalized for several days.

Heat forward Luol Deng said he’s hopeful Bosh will be able to rejoin the team on the court this season. Bosh leads the team with an average of 19.1 points a game, and his 81 made 3-pointers this season are already the most he’s had in any season of his career.

“Chris has been working out; he’s been following guys and talking about what we can do better as a team,” Deng said Friday. “He’s all-in even though he’s not playing right now and not traveling with the team. For us, it just shows us who he is. Even though he would love to be playing and be part of what’s going on right now, he’s doing all he can to let us know he’s still invested.”

According to league sources, Bosh still has medical hurdles to clear before he’s allowed rejoin teammates on the court for any extensive basketball work. Team executives also declined comment Friday when asked about Bosh’s treatment status.

It also remains unclear whether Bosh’s personal medical advisers are in total agreement with the Heat’s and NBA’s medical team regarding all aspects of his health status and clearance required to play. For now, Spoelstra said both Bosh and his teammates are encouraged by his progress in recent weeks. The Heat (37-27) are fourth in the Eastern Conference standings with 18 regular-season games left and have won eight of 11 games since losing Bosh at the All-Star break.

“He’s been able to do individual workouts with the coaching staff, but it’s not about that or a timetable right now,” Spoelstra reiterated. “We’re just happy he’s around and he’s healthy. His spirits are good. We love him, and I love his spirit in being around the team.”

***

No. 4: Raptors have a front court duo, too The success of the Raptors is dictated mainly by a pair of backcourt guards who made the All-Star team and cause hell for the other team. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are having solid seasons, but the difference in the Raptors, and maybe the factor that could carry them over the top, is Bismack Biyombo and Jonas Valanciunas and how well the big men are working together and complementing each other. Here’s Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun:

Head coach Dwane Casey would also tell you that his team would not be in this position without the top centre combination in Raptors history, starter Jonas Valanciunas and defensive stopper Bismack Biyombo.

Valanciunas, the fifth pick of the 2011 draft, is playing the best basketball of his career. His scoring and efficiency are up and so is his rebounding and all-around defence. He has scored at least 10 points in a personal-best 16 consecutive contests.

Biyombo has been the ying to the Lithuanian’s yang, emerging as one of the best defensive players in the league after signing a bargain-basement deal with the Raptors last summer.

Biyombo was selected only two picks after Valanciunas in 2011, but strangely, the Charlotte Hornets elected to part ways with the 23-year-old, thinking his progress had plateaued.

To Toronto’s pleasant surprise, that line of thinking was way off. While Biyombo has gotten better offensively, most notably, in his ability to catch the ball, shoot free throws and go up faster, he has made the most strides at the other end.

“He’s much more than I expected,” Casey admitted after a Raptors practice on Friday.

“I didn’t know that he would have that much impact on our defence. He’s a huge addition for our team, gives us an air of toughness, physicality … I can’t think of how many games he’s won for us with his defence. His energy, his spirit,” Casey said.

By all accounts, the scrimmages between the team’s top two pivots have been great theatre and both believe they are benefiting from competing against each other in practice and by watching each other play during games.

“Yeah, you see someone doing something good, you want to learn and be better,” Valanciunas said. “He’s motivating me every day to work hard and go in the right direction.”

That goes both ways.

“It has been great because we’ve got to push each other,” Biyombo told the Toronto Sun.

“At the end of the day, JV and I both knows that if us as bigs, we can play different, at a high level, the team is going to be special and it’s going to be a team that challenges a lot of people.

“It’s an excitement, a challenge, but at the same time, it’s a learning process for both of us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: A tough season for Philly’s Jahlil Okafor is officially over after the first-round pick was shut down to rapid a torn meniscus. Okafor’s surgery was deemed “minor” by the Sixers … Marc Gasol might be recovered enough to play for Spain in the Rio Games, or maybe not. It’s still iffy … Would the NBA dare even think about expansion? NBA commissioner Adam Silver gave his thoughts … Former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen is OK with those Kawhi Leonard comparisons … Phil Jackson is still big on Carmelo Anthony and so can folks please stop with those trade rumors? … Remember when the injury-plagued Grizzlies were forced to play a journeyman guard named Eddie Gill for 48 minutes? Didn’t think so.

Blogtable: Are Hornets or Blazers a more dangerous playoff sleeper team?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


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



VIDEONicolas Batum and Kemba Walker are driving Charlotte’s playoff push

> The more dangerous sleeper team this postseason: Charlotte or Portland?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Portland. When you have two players who can each get 30 in a playoff game (Damian Lillard has done it three times already; C.J. McCollum did it last spring against Memphis), you have a chance against just about everyone. And the Blazers’ role players (Ed Davis, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee, etc.) all stay in their lanes and make themselves available. Lillard, especially, is just about unguardable when he gets space to operate, and McCollum is deadly at the midrange game.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Portland. Damian Lillard is the most lethal player on either the Hornets or the Trail Blazers, and what he’s been doing to multiple opponents since the All-Star break particularly would be migraine-inducing were he to do it two or three times early in the best-of-seven series. Charlotte might have a better chance of winning more games in the first round or even advancing to the conference semifinals because of the quality of competition in the East, but that actually argues against any “sleeper” status. To earn that, you’ve got to bump off or at least frighten top competition — the Blazers likely will get a chance to do that right away while the Hornets might not survive long enough to do so.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Hornets because of their location in the Eastern Conference and they play better defense. Any team in the lower portion (6-8) of the West bracket is going to be very overmatched in a first-round series against Golden State, San Antonio or Oklahoma City. Anybody in the top half of the East could be vulnerable to a Charlotte team that is low in turnovers (ranked No. 2) and high in Kemba Walker.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Under the theory, for the sake of conversation, that both get there: Portland. That’s not an easy thing to say right now, with the Hornets going good and the Blazers slightly limping, and I am often praising the work of Charlotte coach Steve Clifford, but it’s easy to see the Hornets having a lot of trouble making shots. That’s the case anyway, but four to seven games against an opponent that could have a top-10 defense (Cleveland, Boston) or a defense better than average (Toronto) could be too much. Plus, Portland would be in the postseason playing with house money as a team very few people expected to be there in the first place. That’s not to say they would play like a team just happy to make the postseason. The team that has played loose in the regular season, though, could carry the same personality into late-April. Double plus: One of the two teams you want us to choose between has Damian Lillard, one doesn’t.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Charlotte, even without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Hornets are deeper and less predictable than the Blazers and Kemba Walker is going nuts at the moment and is almost on par with Damian Lillard. Plus the Blazers will likely see the Warriors or Spurs in the first round, while the Hornets will have an easier opponent by comparison. And get this: Imagine how much better the Hornets would be with a healthy Kidd-Gilchrist and had they kept Bismack Biyombo, who is a shot-blocking terror in Toronto.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Charlotte. The Hornets have a 3-7 record against the top four teams in the East and the Blazers have a 3-6 record against the top four teams in the West. But the Hornets have a better point differential (with much better defense) in those games, the Blazers may struggle if one of their two stars gets taken out of the offense in a playoff series, and teams 2-4 in the East are much more beatable than teams 2-4 in the West.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As entertaining as they have been here recently, I have a hard time seeing the Trail Blazers upsetting the Spurs in the first round (based on the standings right now). Damian Lillard would have to go off for 50 a couple of times in that series to make the Spurs sweat a little bit. But the Hornets and Celtics would be a much more dangerous series for the higher-seeded Celtics. Kemba Walker is having one of the best and most underrated seasons of any point guard in the league. And his supporting cast continues to impress in different ways while also flying under the radar. The Hornets could be a real problem for whoever they match up against in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe top four teams in the West are not going to lose in the first round. Nobody is knocking off the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder or Clippers (so long as they’re healthy, of course). That’s why I’m giving the edge to the Hornets: If there’s going to be an opening-round upset, it’s happening in the East.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogPortland is dangerous, with a backcourt staffed by two capable scorers, and a collection of above-average players who know their role. As we’ve seen, they can beat any team in the NBA, although it may be hard to summon that kind of sharpshooting night after night in a seven-game series. Which is why I think Charlotte is the more dangerous postseason team, if only because they’re in the Eastern Conference and should have a more advantageous matchup than Portland. The Hornets have solid players in the backcourt, wings and in the post, and should be able to find/create mismatches all over the court.

Blazers look to continue to follow lead of Lillard, McCollum


VIDEO: Taking a closer look at Damian Lillard’s recent hot streak

NEW YORK CITY — They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway, but Broadway had nothing on the Portland Trail Blazers’ visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden last week. The Blazers made certain everything was illuminated pregame by setting up a battery of bright lights in the center of the room facing the lockers, which shined into the faces of the players as they prepped to play the Knicks. The lights were supposed to make sure the Portland players were wide-awake and energized for tip-off.

Whatever Portland is doing right now, it is clearly working. The Trail Blazers are 14-4 in their last 18 games, a run that has vaulted them from a team mostly overlooked in the heavyweight Western Conference to a 33-30 squad with a firm grip on a seventh seed. Portland will look to continue its winning play tonight at Detroit (6 ET, NBA TV), the Blazers’ last stop on a six-game road trip.

While Portland’s players and coaches are quick to credit improved play and recognition on the defensive end as a catalyst for this run, it’s tough to overlook the Blazers’ backcourt, which features the dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The two guards have combined to average 46.7 points and 11.2 assists through Portland’s first 63 games, and have a lot in common: they’re both in their mid-twenties; both were four-year players at smaller colleges (Lillard at Weber State, McCollum at Lehigh); both were lottery picks by the Blazers.

“They’re both very mature guys,” says Portland coach Terry Stotts. “Not even talking in a basketball context, they’re both very mature. I think partly that’s who they are, but neither one of them had it easy — they had to work to get to this point. Not to say that other players don’t, but they had a different route. I think that helps with their maturity and their mental approach to their game and the team game.”

While Lillard made an impact right away, winning Rookie of the Year in 2013, McCollum’s arrival has occurred at a more measured pace. His first two seasons were hampered by injuries, and when he was healthy, it was hard to get playing time behind veterans such as Wesley Matthews. But with Matthews departed, as well as vets such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, McCollum has stepped into the leadership void and thrived, averaging 20.9 points in 61 starts this season.

“I always knew at some point I’d be an impact player at this level,” McCollum says, “I just didn’t know when. It was more about being healthy and having the right opportunity. Once it came I looked forward to it and I relished the opportunity to perform at a high level, and help my team each and every night. So I always knew there was going to be a time I was going to be able to do this, I just didn’t know when.”

McCollum credits some of his success this season to playing within the same system his entire career: “I know our offense, our schemes defensively, how we like to guard pick and rolls, our off ball screens, things like that. And just having a better understanding of our offense and having run the point, being able to direct guys and put guys in positions, and also to play the two and understand each and everybody’s role. I think as you play in this system under one coach for long periods of time, you begin to understand what they’re looking for.”

By now, it’s pretty clear what you’re going to get from Damian Lillard — over his first three seasons, the 6-foot-3 point guard averaged 20.2 points to go with 6.1 assists, and has been named an All-Star twice. Through his first 47 games this season, Lillard averaged 24.3 points, including back-to-back 30-point games before the All-Star break.

Lillard was not named a Western Conference All-Star this season, and while Lillard brushes off talk of a snub being a motivating factor, the numbers suggest otherwise: Since the All-Star break, Lillard has averaged 33.6 points in nine contests, including two games of at least 50 points (51 against Golden State, 50 against Toronto). Overall, Lillard has scored at least 30 in 10 of his last 12 games.

“From day one, he’s been a remarkably consistent player,” Stotts says of Lillard. “The only difference I would say is that he — and it’s not necessarily just during this stretch — is he’s accepted the mantle of leadership and being the best player and taking that responsibility. He’s continued to get better in that role. Obviously that stretch of 30-point games is pretty remarkable, but I can’t say he’s doing it differently that he’s done it before.”

“One thing I feel like other people are learning is that I’m always up for the challenge,” Lillard says. “Anything that’s put in front of me, I might not be great at it, I might not do the greatest job to begin with, but I’m going to come around. If I don’t do well at it, I’m going to say I didn’t do well at it, and I’ll be able to say I worked on it. So… just embracing challenges. I’ll stand up to whatever, and I think that’s what’s happened this season.”

For the Blazers to maintain their recent success, and perhaps even make some noise in the postseason, McCollum and Lillard will have to continue to lead the way. While they’re clearly in the conversation when it comes to the NBA’s best backcourts — the Splash Brothers in Golden State have a pretty good argument — McCollum notes they haven’t really had time to appreciate just how good they’ve been this season.

“I know we’re very competitive guys,” McCollum says, “and we’ve been playing well together, 50-60 games into the season, and now we’re establishing ourselves around the league. But we’re just doing what we always knew we were capable of doing. Now it’s just about getting better each day and you don’t take any steps back. Have we looked at it? Not really, because we’re still in season, we’re still trying to complete some of our goals. We’ll evaluate that more after the season.”

Though the Blazers have clearly unlocked a higher level of play over the last few weeks, Lillard believes now the task is to try and sustain this level of play the rest of the way. Houston and Utah are just a few losses behind Portland, meaning many of the young Blazers find themselves in their first playoff race. Lillard, the team’s veteran leader at all of 25 years old, says the Blazers “can’t even look that far ahead.” Instead, Lillard believes the Blazers simply need to continue to perform under the bright lights.

“The season is what, six, seven, eight months?” Lillard asks. “We’ve done it for a month and a half. I think the next step is to be able to sustain it for a longer period of time. At the start of the season we were 4-2 — we had four games we got after it, we did it for a short amount of time. Then we had a seven-game losing streak. Then we picked it up for one game. Then we had drop-offs. Now I think we figured out how to do it for a longer span of time. The next step is to learn how to permanently be this team. As of now, this is who we are.”

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: February 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavaliers don’t look title ready | Curry’s greatness at heart of skepticism about Warriors | Carmelo brushes off Stoudemire’s barbs about Knicks | Thunder had no answer for Warriors’ death lineup

No. 1: Cavaliers don’t look title ready — Losses to the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards over the weekend has taken the shine off of things in Cleveland, where the world knows it’s championship or bust for LeBron James and company. YEs, they remain the clubhouse favorites to win the Eastern Conference title and represent in The Finals, but they don’t look title ready right now, as Michael Lee of The Vertical points out after Sunday’s LeBron-less loss to the Wizards:

The Cavaliers have way too much talent, experience and shared success to use James’ absence as even a partial excuse for a 113-99 loss to the Wizards – a team that is currently on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff race looking in. Even if their best player – and apparently lone playmaker – decided his mind and body needed a break, the Cavaliers still had three times as many players on maximum contracts than their opponent, but none of them, Lue said, gave maximum effort.

The loss was more alarming and disturbing because it came two days after a loss to the steady-charging Toronto Raptors that led James to say, “We lack mental [strength] right now.” J.R. Smith took the critique to another level after Sunday’s loss with a very nonchalant slam of his team’s performance.

“If we lose a game like the other night to a team like Toronto and to come out here and play the way we did – you have a lack of energy – maybe we shouldn’t be in this position,” Smith said, voice barely rising above a purr. “We shouldn’t be who we are and be in these uniforms.”

The Cavaliers haven’t reached the point where they should panic but they can’t be extremely comfortable about where they stand. They were supposed to have a much easier run through the East than defending champion Golden State in the West, but they only have a two-game lead over the Raptors for the top spot in the conference while the Warriors’ lead over the 50-win San Antonio Spurs feels more vast than Steph Curry’s limitless range.

No other team in the East made the kind of offseason or midseason upgrades to pose much of a threat to James’ reign over the conference but the struggle has been real. The Cavaliers are easily the most talented team in the East, but they are among the least content. James once blamed complacency as the culprit for the team coasting at times, but the Cavaliers have been involved with a considerable amount of chaos for a team that was only two wins from an NBA championship last June despite missing two of its best players. There has been an intense pursuit of perfection that has robbed this season of the kind of fun that Cleveland’s record (41-17) should otherwise suggest.

“It’s the same thing we’ve been searching for, consistency and efficiency,” veteran forward James Jones told The Vertical. “We’re good enough, talented enough, to do things the majority of the time, to win games against the mid-tier teams. Against the good teams, we can piece together a game or two of really good basketball and look exceptional, but deep down inside we know that we aren’t hitting on all cylinders defensively, offensively. We still have some of the same issues of isolation and ball stopping and not moving bodies. For us, even though we’re having success, it’s not the fact we were winning but the way we were winning that gave us concern and you really can’t enjoy it as much when you know you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.”

 

***

 No. 2: Curry’s greatness at heart of skepticism about Warriors — There’s a reason that some of the men who came before Stephen Curry cannot find a way make sense of what the reigning KIA MVP is doing right now. They’ve simply never seen anything like it, nothing close actually. And that unfamiliarity with a player who can shoot as well as Curry does, and in turn dominates the floor in ways no player has before him, does not register with the likes of Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson. That inability to frame Curry’s exploits is what lies at the heart of all these doubters of both Curry and the Warriors, writes Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News:

The frustration is logical, though, in a historic sense:

When the old stalwarts don’t get what you’re doing … that’s when you know the revolution is well underway.

It works two ways: The criticisms from all-time greats such as Oscar Robertson highlight the vast gap between then and now and serve to motivate the Warriors to make it even greater.

“It’s starting to get a little annoying just because it’s kind of unwarranted from across the board,” Curry said late last week on the “Warriors Plus/Minus” podcast with Marcus Thompson II and me.

“When you hear kind of … obviously legends and people that respect their era and what they were able to accomplish and what they did for the game kind of come at you, it’s kind of, just, weird.”

Some of the skepticism is understandable, because Robertson and others are great figures in the game and, yes, the rules and standards are different now.

Times change, as they did from the era before Robertson to his era and so on …

Some of the carping is logical, because this Warriors team has just the one title (so far); some of it is envy for the current limelight; some is general cantankerousness.

But let’s underline the true heart of the public doubts about Curry and the Warriors coming from Robertson, Stephen Jackson — and even from Clippers coach Doc Rivers and others last offseason:

It’s about questioning Curry’s true status as a generational figure, because he’s a departure from the normal procession of bigger, faster, stronger (Elgin Baylor to Julius Erving to Michael Jordan to LeBron James).

Almost every other NBA quantum leap came in the form of a physical leap forward, and Curry’s ascension isn’t tied to strength, size or speed. He’s a skinny guy who went to Davidson and was supposed to be knocked around by Jackson and Monta Ellis in his first Warriors training camp.

But Curry wasn’t. He survived, they were sent away, and now here he is, with one MVP on his mantle and No. 2 coming at the end of this season.

Curry’s greatness is about an unprecedented talent level and work ethic — no matter what Robertson says about current defense, there is no consistent way to defend a man who can casually dribble into game-winning 38-footers, as Curry did in Oklahoma City on Saturday.

This is new. This is unfathomable, unless you know Curry, unless you’ve spent a few years studying how he is altering this sport.

Curry’s status is comparable to the way Wayne Gretzky changed hockey, the way the West Coast offense and Joe Montana reset football and the way Muhammad Ali made everything before him in boxing seem outdated.


WATCH: Steph Curry with the (12 from deep) shots

***

No. 3:  Carmelo brushes off Stoudemire’s barbs about Knicks — Amar’e Stoudemire has some interesting memories about his time in New York. There were good times and bad, plenty of ups and downs, and in hindsight, plenty of factors played into his time there alongside Carmelo Anthony. He spoke his mind when asked about his time there, with is Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden for a Sunday game. But Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony didn’t take any of it to heart and he certainly didn’t think Stoudemire was taking shots at him. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com has more:

Asked if he feels for his former teammate Anthony for going through another tough season with the Knicks, Stoudemire hinted that Anthony needs to be better to pull the Knicks out of their mess. The Knicks (25-36) have lost 14 of their past 17 games.

“It’s tough,” Stoudemire said before the Heat beat the Knicks 98-81 on Sunday. “When you get involved in this situation, you have to take ownership of it. You have to make sure you made the right decisions for your team and teammates.

“You have to become a complete player in order to bring your team out of a rut. Everyone can’t do it. It’s not always easy.”

When asked if he has any advice for Anthony moving forward, Stoudemire mentioned how he knew at this stage of his career that he needed to surround himself with “other class A players” to chase a title.

“It’s a situation where you have options,” Stoudemire said. “If you want to win, that’s the main priority. And if physically you can’t do it as a player and make your teammates better and get them to the point they can win, then you surround yourself with a team that’s built to win.

“And for me, I knew Father Time was ticking on my clock, so I wanted to put myself in a position around other class A players, put myself in a position to at least compete for a championship.”

Stoudemire played four and a half seasons with the Knicks, and his time overlapped with former fan favorite Lin. Although he did not mention any names, Stoudemire said not every Knick was thrilled with Lin’s exploding popularity back then.

“If he stayed, it would’ve been cool,” Stoudemire said of Lin, who played one season in New York from 2011-12. “But everyone wasn’t a fan of him being the new star, so he didn’t stay long. But Jeremy was a great, great guy. Great teammate. He worked hard. He put the work in, and we’re proud of him to have his moment.

“A lot of times, you gotta enjoy someone’s success,” he continued. “And that wasn’t the case for us during that stretch. … You got to enjoy that. You got to let that player enjoy himself and cherish those moments. He was becoming a star, and I don’t think everybody was pleased with that.”

Anthony did not think Stoudemire was talking about him when it came to being less than receptive to Lin’s brief success in New York.

“Still?” Anthony asked when told that Lin came up when reporters talked to Stoudemire. “That was [four] years ago? I don’t know. I don’t have no comment about that. If [Lin] was becoming a star, we should embrace that. I don’t know. We didn’t embrace it? Was that the word?”

“S—, if that was the case then I’d be upset right now with KP [rookie fan favorite Kristaps Porzingis], if he’s talking about me. I doubt if [Stoudemire is] talking about me. I doubt that. I highly doubt that.”

***

No. 4: Thunder had no answer for Warriors’ death lineup — The Oklahoma City were the one team most pundits thought to be built to deal with the Golden State Warriors’ vaunted death lineup, a small-ball group that has shredded all comers this season. But in the final minutes of Saturday night’s instant classic, that lineup flummoxed the Thunder as well. Thunder coach Billy Donovan and his staff have until Thursday night (when they meet agains, on TNT) to come up with a fix for what went wrong. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman provides the details:

But lost amidst this hardwood classic was a dilemma that should concern the Thunder in the present. Curry’s impossible accuracy won it. But the Warriors got back into the game with their small-ball death lineup, which completely dictated the final 10 minutes.

With 4:37 left in regulation, Andre Iguodala subbed in for Shaun Livingston, joining Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. The Warriors were down 11. In fewer than five minutes, they forced overtime. Then in five overtime minutes, they outscored the Thunder by three.

So in a little under 10 total minutes, that nightmarish Golden State unit beat the Thunder 36-22. Curry played hero. Green was a defensive menace. The other three chipped in. But of greater consequence, the versatility of that Warriors five-man grouping forced Billy Donovan’s hand, shrinking OKC’s depth.

Breaking news: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the Thunder’s two best players. They’re always on the court in crunch time, barring a foul-out…which we’ll get to.

Beyond them, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams are the team’s third and fourth most balanced, important talents. You want both on the court in crucial moments.

Which is where the problem lies. When the Warriors slide Green to center and pepper two-way wings all over the court, they challenge you to take one off the floor or risk some uncomfortable mismatches.

After an 8-point, 3-rebound, 0-block disappearance in Oakland, Ibaka was great on Saturday night. The Thunder demolished Golden State 62-32 in rebounds and Ibaka was the key. He had a season-high 20 rebounds, along with 15 points, two blocks and countless other contested and altered shots. He played a team-high 41 minutes. His presence was required.

Which meant Adams was the odd man out. Of late, Adams has been great, providing a sturdy defensive back-line while finishing layups and dunks with more consistency. He had 10 points and nine rebounds in his 28 minutes on Saturday. But in his final 136 seconds, Adams was out of his element.

From the 4:37 mark of the fourth to the 2:21 mark, Donovan kept Adams and Ibaka in together against that small-ball unit. The Warriors quickly blasted off a 7-0 run to get back in the game. Adams was assigned Iguodala. The Warriors recognized it and attacked Adams with Curry and Iguodala in a pick-and-roll. Curry got the big man on a switch and hit the ninth of his 12 3s.

Right after, Donovan subbed in Dion Waiters for Adams, going small and ceding to the Warriors style.

Then as the game navigated through overtime, Adams sat all but nine seconds. Donovan put him in to win the tip at the start of overtime, which he did, and then pulled him at the first whistle, reinserting Waiters.

Durant fouled out 38 seconds later, a crippling blow, presenting Donovan with another choice. Go back big with Adams or stay small? He remained small, choosing Kyle Singler to replace Durant.

And this is the conundrum the Thunder faces against the Warriors. While many believe OKC’s talent could give Golden State its biggest postseason challenge, the Warriors versatile options exposes the Thunder’s roster imbalance. OKC is deep in the frontcourt but thin on the wing. The Warriors small-ball strategy can nullify frontcourt players and force you to dip deep into your bag of wings.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks missed on Joe Johnson, who chose Miami, but rebound by getting Kris Humphries off the waiver wire … Johnson, by the way, chose the Heat because of his connection with players already on the roster … A sprained right ankle will cost Danilo Gallinari all of the Nuggets’ upcoming homestand … Folks in Sacramento are celebrating Vivek Ranadive for the new arena but blaming him for the team that can’t get it rightDamian Lillard and the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers are keeping it rolling on their Eastern Conference road trip

Blogtable: Would you build around Anthony Davis or Damian Lillard?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Build around Lillard or Davis? | More likely to miss playoffs: Rockets or Bulls? | Thoughts on Russell as starter?



VIDEOWhen will Anthony Davis go for 50-plus again?

> If you were building a team in today’s NBA and could choose one of these players as your cornerstone, who would it be: Damian Lillard or Anthony Davis?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Anthony Davis. No disrespect, Dame. But one of y’all is 6-foot-3, and the other is 6-foot0-10. I know today’s NBA game is all about small ball, and that Lillard’s lethality will be more valuable than ever in future seasons. I cannot, though, give up “The Brow” if I have a chance. He can score, as Sunday’s 59-point masterpiece against showed. Maybe Dame is a better game-in, game-out scorer. But Davis can control games with rebounding and defense as well. There’s simply more small guys who can play than big guys, so if you have the game’s best young big on your side, you have someone who cannot be easily replicated, or defended.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comCan we give the “little man” thing a rest, please? From the Golden State-inspired pendulum swing to the 3-ball to the “frontcourt” slur of All-Star balloting, traditional NBA big men are becoming an endangered species. But this one is a no-brainer. Give me a remarkably skilled 6-foot-10 player (Davis) over a remarkably skilled 6-foot-3 guy (Lillard) every day and twice for proverbial Sunday matinees. You’ve got a lot better chance finding a point guard to complement Davis and defensively challenge Lillard than you do the other way around with some replacement big. Besides, Davis is three years younger and if I’m the GM, I want to hang onto my job those extra seasons.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: So here’s one more chip for Damian Lillard to carry around on his shoulder. But the decision here isn’t even close. You’ve got to take the still 22-year-old, 6-foot-10 forward with the skills to do just about anything on the floor offensively and also dominate a game just by playing defense. It’s Anthony Davis all the way and I’d be shocked if even one of the 30 NBA general managers — including his own — would choose different.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Anthony Davis. That’s no slight on Lillard, a star for many years to come and the driving force behind the Portland Trail Blazers emerging as one of the feel-good stories of the season. But Davis can be a bigger star on both sides of the ball. That ability to greatly impact on both sides of the ball gives him an edge. And while I’m not as much of a proponent of the old theory of leaning toward a big over a small, given the changing NBA, it doesn’t hurt when the big can play two positions.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Anthony Davis all day. And that’s no disrespect to Dame, who would’ve — should’ve — been on the West team in the All-Star Game if not for all the Kobe Bryant love. Davis is just 22 and hasn’t touched his prime yet and is big and can impact games on both ends. Come to think of it, is this a trick question?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Damian Lillard is the closest thing to Stephen Curry. As a primary ball-handler who can pull-up, drive or pass on pick-and-rolls, he forces defenses to change up their coverages. But there’s still a big difference between Curry and Lillard in regard to what percentage of those pull-up shots go in the basket. Anthony Davis still has a step or two to take in his development on both offense and defense, but he has the tools to be the best two-way player in the game. That should be easier to build around, though the Pelicans obviously don’t have the right complementary pieces at this point and Terry Stotts has done a fantastic job in Portland to have the Blazers in playoff position.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: His age, skill-set, ceiling and transcendent talent make Anthony Davis the pick here. But I’ll give credit to Damian Lillard for being a franchise cornerstone you can build a potential playoff team around right now. That’s a role Davis played last year for the Pelicans, securing their trip to the playoffs with yeoman’s work in the regular season finale against the San Antonio Spurs. This is a great question, though, with both of these guys coming off of monster, 50-plus-point outings this past weekend. Lillard is one of nearly a dozen elite point guards in the NBA right now. But Davis is one of barely a handful of players his size or taller capable of playing the role of game changer on a nightly basis. His unique profile is simply too special to overlook in this instance.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: You couldn’t go wrong with either one. As much as Lillard’s maturity and leadership skills are to be respected in addition to his talent, you’d have to choose Davis because his blend of size, skills and perspective is almost impossible to find these days. Based on his age and upside, especially at the defensive end, it’s understandable why Davis is regarded by many GMs as the most valuable talent in the league.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogMy answer may anger Damian Lillard and propel him to yet another level of greatness, but I’d go with Anthony Davis. Not only is Davis three years younger than Lillard, and a better defensive player, but the real reason I’d select AD is that finding a basketball player with AD’s combination of size and speed and skill and strength is almost a once-in-a-lifetime discovery. Not to say that finding another Lillard would be a simple task, but it’s easier to go out and get a competent point guard than it is a big man. Especially one like Davis.

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. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Karl unsure how to fix Kings’ issues | Portland’s Henderson gets bounce back at right time | Magic needed win over Hawks in worst way | Curry’s wild week finishes front and center at Super Bowl 50

No. 1: Kings’ Karl trying to right team’s ship — Sacramento Kings coach George Karl made it through the weekend, surviving the swirl of rumors that he could be fired before the sun came up this morning. But the day is just getting started, the Kings visit the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight at Quicken Loans Arena (7 ET, NBA League Pass). And Karl still doesn’t have any answers for his team’s current slide after Sunday’s 128-119 loss in Boston, the Kings’ third straight and seventh in their last eight games. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee has more:

Boston scored the most points by a Sacramento opponent in a quarter and a half this season. The Celtics’ total also matched the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors for the most points allowed in regulation by the Kings this season. The Nets beat the Kings 128-119 Friday.

Lately, nothing seems to spark the Kings at the game’s outset – neither the possibility of falling further behind in the race for the final Western Conference playoff berth nor speculation coach George Karl’s job is in jeopardy.

Karl isn’t sure how to fix the defense or prevent the team’s slow starts.

“I think we’re all pulling our hair out trying to figure that out,” Karl said of the defensive issues. “But this is not a time of year you get a lot of practice time. Do you want to zone up? Do you want to come up with a gimmick pick-and-roll defense? I think we’ve tried just about every one that I know of. I just think we’ve got to actually simplify and try to find something we can do more efficient.”

In the offseason, the Kings added more veterans to handle predicaments, but no one seems to know how to contain the opposition early in games.

Said Rajon Rondo, known for his dry humor: “Just try to hold the ball? Don’t take a shot? I don’t know what we can do to try to stop teams from scoring 30 (in the first quarter).”

Added DeMarcus Cousins: “I guess we’ve got to find a better energy and effort as a team. Be more engaged.”

The Celtics might have scored more if not for 24 turnovers, the most by a Kings opponent this season. Boston shot 56.0 percent and benefited from Sacramento’s perpetual inability to stop three-point shooters, making 13 of 24 from beyond the arc.

In the first quarter, Boston sank seven three-pointers and scored 12 of its 23 second-chance points.

Until the Kings figure out something, they’ll continue being the team opponents circle on the schedule in anticipation of a big offensive game or an opportunity to get on track.

“If that’s what teams are thinking, we’ve got to find a way to change that,” Cousins said. “That’s a bad a way for a team to be feeling, that a team is coming in and, oh, they can have an easy night. We’ve got to find a solution because right now whatever we’re doing isn’t working.”

Said Karl: “Our focus has got to be better. It’s got to be stronger; it’s got to be more defensive-minded. We just can’t give up the numbers we’re giving up.”

***

No. 2: Portland’s Henderson gets bounce back at right time Gerald Henderson was something of a forgotten man since moving across the country from Charlotte to Portland. But the Trail Blazers’ veteran swingman is hitting his stride at just the right time (ahead of the NBA trade deadline) to assist in his team’s chase for a playoff spot in the Western Conference standings. Joe Freeman of the Oregonian provides the details on Henderson’s rise ahead of the Trail Blazers’ trip to Memphis tonight (8 ET, League Pass):

Has Gerald Henderson been playing better? Yes. Does he finally seem comfortable in a Blazers uniform? Definitely. But the dunks and the blocks and the athletic plays — the bounce — that’s the tell-tell sign Henderson is back to his old self.

“He’s got some bounce,” Damian Lillard said. “He can get up there and hang up there, too. He can jump with the best of them.”

The Blazers (25-27) are playing their best basketball of the season, which coincides, perhaps not coincidentally, with the improved production of Henderson, a seven-year NBA veteran who said he feels as fit and healthy as he has all season. The Blazers won for the sixth time in the last seven games Saturday night at the Toyota Center, trouncing the Houston Rockets 96-79. Henderson scored 16 points — four more than the entire Rockets bench — which just so happened to be the sixth time he’s reached double figures in the last seven games, including a season-high four in a row.

In three February games, Henderson is averaging 13.3 points and 6.0 rebounds, while shooting 60 percent from the field (15 of 25). He’s been more lively and dependable on defense, more assertive in huddles and postgame locker room pow-wows and more of a factor in wins. All of a sudden, after a disappointing three months, Henderson is evolving into the player the Blazers thought they were getting when they acquired him in the Nicolas Batum trade last summer.

“He’s been on a roll,” coach Terry Stotts said.

When asked about that trademark “bounce” — which he revealed multiple times against the Rockets — Henderson grinned.

“I feel good,” he said. “That’s how I’m used to playing.”

But will Henderson endure a different kind of bounce later in the month? Will he be bounced from Portland in a trade?

Henderson’s improved production has come at the same time his playing time has significantly increased. He’s played 20 or more minutes in eight of the last nine games after doing so just nine times the rest of the season. It’s become a sports talk hot take to postulate that the young and rebuilding Blazers are showcasing the veteran to potential trade suitors in the buildup to the Feb. 18 deadline.

While that’s a nice theory, there’s another possibility.

“I think he’s just healthy,” Lillard said. “He was coming off hip surgery, so it took some time for him to get in shape. He missed training camp. He had to get in shape, he had to get his rhythm back, he had to get his feel back, get comfortable with our sets, comfortable being out there with the guys. I think the last couple of weeks, you’re starting to see him get comfortable. He’s finally back.”

***

No. 3: Magic needed win over Hawks in worst way — The Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks will line up and do it again tonight (8 ET, NBA TV), but for that one shining moment Sunday, when Nikola Vucevic‘s buzzer beater lifted the Magic over their Southeast Division rivals, it was all good. And as Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel points out, it was a much-needed confidence boost for a Magic team searching for some light and the end of a dark stretch:

That great move, and even greater shot, arrived at a crucial time for the reeling Magic, who had lost 15 of 17 games heading into Sunday.

The tailspin would’ve worsened if the Magic had lost to the Hawks.

Orlando took a 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter and responded to a subsequent Atlanta surge by going ahead by eight points with 3:41 to go.

“I think the way we won, too, was big — to finally get something kind of going our way,” Payton said. “A lot of times, we’d be on the other end of this.”

For a time, it looked like the Magic (22-28) might rout the Hawks (30-23).

A left-ankle injury prevented Tobias Harris from playing Sunday, prompting Skiles to start Fournier at small forward in Harris’ place. The starting quintet of Payton, Oladipo, Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Vucevic had played a total of just 25 minutes together this season before Sunday.

They brought a level of defensive energy and cohesion their team hasn’t shown in weeks. The Hawks looked flat at the outset, and the Magic capitalized. Orlando held Atlanta to 39 percent shooting for the entire game and also forced 12 first-half turnovers.

Teague scored a game-high 24 points, causing Payton problems on defense.

But on offense, Payton broke out of his slump.

In the fourth quarter, Payton scored seven of his 12 points and delivered five of his game-high 12 assists.

The final last assist came on Vucevic’s game-winner.

“I’m just glad we got the win,” Vucevic said. “After a rough month with a lot of losses it’s good to come out and win against a good team like the Hawks are.”

Vucevic not only managed to escape Al Horford‘s clutches, but he also got the shot off cleanly despite having to shoot over Horford’s outstretched right arm.

“You can’t guard him any better than that,” Millsap said.

The shot was Vucevic’s second game-winner of the season. On Nov. 11, he made a turnaround, fadeaway jumper from 20 feet over Roy Hibbert to lift the Magic to a 101-99 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

That night, Vucevic celebrated by running down the court with his right index finger held high over his head and an ear-to-ear grin on his face.

On Sunday afternoon, Vucevic stood still and allowed his teammates to mob him.

“I thought it was a real man’s celebration,” Fournier said. “I thought he looked like a baby on the other one.”

***

No. 4: Curry’s wild week finishes front and center at Super Bowl 50 — A great week for Stephen Curry that included a trip to the White House to visit with President Barack Obama after a 51-point outing against the Washington Wizards was just the beginning. Saturday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on the night before Super Bowl 50 was the perfect appetizer to Sunday’s game, where Curry’s hometown Panthers took on the Denver Broncos. And Curry was front and center, pounding the drum as Cam Newton and the Panthers took the field. The Bay Area News Group chronicled Curry’s big day (which ended on a sour note as the Panthers fell 24-10 to the Broncos):

https://twitter.com/StephenCurry30/status/696542942656266243

Curry has been on top of the sports world for the last year-plus. But Sunday was a dream come true for the Warriors’ star.

Curry, a Charlotte, N.C. native, has been a die-hard Panthers fan since the franchise was created in 1995. So his team playing in the Bay Area in the Super Bowl is as perfect as it gets.

His day began with his wife, Ayesha, at an exclusive tailgate party at chef Michael Mina‘s restaurant. Donning a Curry No. 30 Panthers jersey, she made porchetta biscuit sandwiches inspired by Carolina: red pepper jam, Crystal’s hot sauce mayo and a fried egg. Curry helped.

Curry then got a special treat before the game. The Panthers tabbed him to pound the drum in advance of the Panthers taking the field. It’s a team tradition — banging a big drum that reads “Keep Pounding” — that Curry got to do at a game in Charlotte back in September. The shirt Curry was planning to wear on Sunday was a custom made Under Armour tee with an illustration of him pounding the drum.

He stood on the sidelines with his wife before the game, both wearing black No. 30 Panthers jerseys with Curry on the back. When the Panthers ran off the field, both running back Mike Tolbert and head coach Ron Rivera stopped by to give Curry a hug.

Curry bought six tickets from Carolina Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson. But his family will sit in those seats and he will be in the Under Armous suite at Levi’s Stadium with brand CEO Kevin Plank.


VIDEO: Go behind the scenes from Saturday’s battle between the Warriors and Thunder

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks will hold Tiago Splitter out until after the All-Star break … The Indiana Pacers are preparing a tribute of some kind for Kobe Bryant as he makes his final visit to Indianapolis tonight … The Chicago Bulls are pointing fingers at themselves (and not coach Fred Hoiberg) for their late-game failuresKevin Durant took in the festivities at Super Bowl 50 as well, but with a media credential … Derek Fisher agrees with Rajon Rondo, the triangle would not be a good fit for the veteran point guard … Heat backup point guard Tyler Johnson might miss the playoffs …

Morning shootaround — Jan. 29


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Kings willing to deal Gay | Wizards hold players-only meeting | Lillard using All-Star snub to fuel playoff push | Riley: LeBron never asked for Spoelstra to be fired

No. 1: Report: Kings willing to deal Gay — A mere 20 days and a handful of hours separate us from the NBA Trade Deadline and as we get closer, the chatter is starting to pick up. One name to keep an eye on, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, is Sacramento Kings swingman Rudy Gay. According to Stein, the Kings are willing to move the talented scorer … with some caveats, of course. He’s got that information and more in his roundup of trade chatter:

The Sacramento Kings are indeed willing to trade Rudy Gay, sources say, after fairly frequent speculation on that topic in recent weeks.

However …

It’s conditional willingness.

Sacramento is said to be seeking a quality young player in return if it parts with Gay. Or a player they like with at least one year left on his contract after this season, which would give the Kings some insulation against trading for someone in February who turns around and leaves town in July. (Gay, 29, is scheduled to earn $13.3 million from the Kings next season before he’s forced to decide on a $14.3 million player option in 2017-18).

In short: Sacramento isn’t outright trying to move Gay but would be willing to do so in the proverbial “right deal.”

Sacramento, for example, rejected New Orleans’ recent offer of Eric Gordon and Alonzo Gee for Gay before Gordon suffered a fractured finger that will keep him out until after the deadline. They don’t want to move him just for the sake of it.

Much like the Atlanta Hawks are doing with point guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder, Memphis is doing the same with free agents-to-be Jeff Green and Courtney Lee.

Which is to say: not flat-out shopping them, but taking the temperature of the market for both players, since that’s what you’re supposed to do with players like Green and Lee who can leave Memphis without compensation in a matter of months.

What the Grizzlies aren’t looking to do, sources say, is break up what they like to call Mount Grizzmore. All of the latest signals suggest they have no interest in parting with either Zach Randolph or Tony Allen before the deadline …

First Joakim Noah was lost to a potentially season-ending shoulder separation. Now Nikola Mirotic is out until after the All-Star break thanks to emergency surgery this week to remove his appendix.

Those injuries, sources say, have greatly increased the likelihood that Taj Gibson will be staying put now, since Chicago suddenly doesn’t need to make a trade to create more playing time for promising rookie Bobby Portis.

The reality is that rival executives have maintained for some time that the Bulls preferred to deal Noah, in the name of making sure they got something for their longtime emotional spark in the final year of his contract, rather than parting with Gibson.

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 17


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Should the Blazers break up their backcourt?| Isaiah Thomas has flourished since his trade from Phoenix, but Suns haven’t | Are the Wolves in the right hands? | Kobe cancels out Rio, speaks on other topics

No. 1:  Should Blazers trade CJ McCollum? — Just when it appears the Blazers have a solid young backcourt for the future, along comes a thought: Are they better off trading CJ McCollum? The thinking is both McCollum and Damian Lillard are smallish guards who collectively run into defensive matchup problems, and since both are scorers, the Blazers could trade one to shore up the front court. Here’s what John Canzano of the Oregonian wrote recently:

The Blazers remain $13 million below the salary floor, and are sitting just four games in the loss column out of the No. 8 spot in the playoffs. The Feb. 18 NBA Trade deadline is looming and for those holding out hope that Portland may try to alter its future by obtaining a front-line player at the deadline, there’s a move that could be made.

CJ McCollum (20.9 points per game) is putting together a nice bounce-back season. At $2.5 million annually he’s currently a terrific value. But anyone who has watched McCollum play when paired with Damian Lillard knows that you can’t play them successfully together on a team that will compete at the top of the Western Conference.

That’s the goal, right?

They can score together, but they’re a defensive disaster when paired. They’re both chuckers, too. And there’s no way that Olshey is trading Lillard, his prized draft pick. Further, the Blazers don’t want to get into a position beyond the 2016-17 season where they have to pay both Lillard and McCollum.

They’re not the “Splash Brothers.” We know that. But we don’t want them to become the “Cash Brothers.”

Even as Olshey has a man-crush on McCollum, and has privately said he wouldn’t dream of trading him, the general manager should be looking and listening when it comes to offers for the guard between now and Feb. 18.

Portland also has a potential first-round lottery pick as trade bait (but theoretically would have to wait until the draft to make that deal). And even as Olshey feels stuck on a refusal to part with any of his future draft picks, the Blazers general manager should be quietly shopping McCollum, gauging his trade value. If the return resulted in a front-line player who would start for multiple seasons and better complement Lillard, you’d have to consider making it.

To be clear, I’m not saying “McCollum must go,” here. I like his game. Just not as much as Olshey does. I’m saying, McCollum’s value isn’t going to be greater than it is in the next two seasons. It’s just not sustainable. Also, I’m saying that this season shouldn’t just be viewed as a throw away in which the Blazers roll out a the lowest-paid roster in the league and pretend that’s all there is to see.

***

No. 2: Isaiah Thomas has flourished since his trade from Phoenix; Suns haven’t —  It was a strange marriage and a strange breakup. The Suns signed Isaiah Thomas to a very team-friendly free agent contract over a year ago, which angered Goran Dragic, who felt threatened by another point guard on a team that already had Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Both Bledsoe and Thomas got paid while Dragic at the time was awaiting free agency. Well, Thomas was traded to the Celtics and Dragic to Miami and of the two, Thomas is clearly having the better transition. Here’s Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic on Thomas and the team he left:

Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas is keeping the book open on the trade history now that he has become the starting point guard that he wanted to be. Thomas is being called an All-Star candidate, averaging career highs in points per game (21.6) and assists per game (6.7) although his 3-point percentage (33.5) is at a career low.

Isaiah runs the show for a 21-19, eighth-place team in Boston. When he was traded from Phoenix, the Suns were a three-point-guard show for a 29-25, eighth-place team.

“When we recruited him, we pitched the sixth-man role to him and to be one of the top scorers in the league,” Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough said. “That was with (Eric) Bledsoe and (Goran) Dragic on the roster. We signed Isaiah before we ended up getting Bledsoe’s contract resolved. It’s one of those things that seemed better to him in July than it did maybe during the season.”

The Suns pursued LeBron James first in 2014 free agency. Once that door closed after a meeting with James’ agent, the Suns targeted Thomas as the best available free agent after Sacramento did not pursue re-signing him. Thomas’ four-year, $27 million contract (via a sign-and-trade for Oriakhi) was – and is – considered a strong value, especially with how rapidly the NBA salary cap will rise over the next two years.

Thomas averaged 15.2 points and 3.7 assists for the Suns in 25.7 minutes per game, nine fewer minutes than he played in Sacramento. Thomas said he was competing for a starting job from the start of 2014 Suns training camp and commented during the season that the Suns situation was not what he expected. After the trade, he said playing time was his only issue in Phoenix, where he made 39 percent of his 3-pointers.

***

No. 3: Are the Wolves in the right hands? — The Minnesota Timberwolves are a team built for the future; everyone knows this. But the present-day Wolves aren’t doing very well; we can all see that, too. The question then becomes: is the team being brought along properly? And is Sam Mitchell the right coach in their development? Mitchell is the interim coach this season and the Wolves haven’t made any guarantees about his future, which means the organization is taking a wait and see approach. Meanwhile, Mitchell spoke with Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune, who offered up this report:

And so, despite a nine-game losing streak, Mitchell loves the team he has. And, after practice Saturday, Mitchell defended his work developing that Wolves young roster.

“Our three leading scorers are our young guys,” Mitchell said of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine. That will be a blessing a year or two from now. It’s tough when they’re developing. But everything they’re going through is going to make them better.”

It’s clear Mitchell would like to still be the coach when the benefits of that development are reaped. He also knows that, as the Wolves losing streak has gotten longer — it reached nine Friday — the criticism has grown louder. But Mitchell — who went through a similar situation in Toronto — is confident he is the right man for the job of developing this young team.

“Explain to me how we’re blocking the young guys?” Mitchell said. “When Andrew Wiggins is a 20-point scorer, and there are only 20 of those in the league? Karl-Anthony Towns is doing something that no rookie has done in 20 years. Zach LaVine is in the process of learning a new position and is our third-leading scorer. And Shabazz Muhammad has made tremendous strides. Gorgui Dieng has made strides …

“Now tell me, how are we hurting them?”

Mitchell is a self-described old school coach. Again Friday he left many of his young players in the game in the fourth-quarter of a one-sided loss, hoping they’d learn from the experience. He has admitted being hard on LaVine, even allowing as his style hasn’t always been fair.

“Yes, I tell him that all the time,” Mitchell said. “I tell him, ‘It’s hard, Zach, and sometimes it’s unfair.’ But that’s the way young players learn.”

As an example Mitchell offered Muhammad. The coaches were trying to get him to look for his teammates more, make the extra pass, play better defense. When he didn’t do that, his minutes took a tumble late in December. But, once Mitchell saw Muhammad making the effort, the minutes increased.

“I didn’t give him those minutes,” Mitchell said. “He earned them.”

But, as the losses mount, so does the pressure. Mitchell admitted Saturday that his team very much needed to experience a win, and soon, just to see some return on his players’ investment.

But he’s not going to change his approach. He said his experience in Toronto — where he won 33 and 27 games in his first two seasons before jumping to 47 wins and a division title in his third — gives him the confidence he’s doing the right thing.

“Two years from now, if we don’t do what we’re doing now, we’re never going to win, or compete, for playoff spots, or for the Western Conference or an NBA championship,” he said. “So my job is this. Even though it’s painful to do the right thing. And the right thing is to teach the young players — with the help of the veterans — how to play. And if I had not been through it before, maybe I’d panic. Maybe I’d be worried.”

***

No. 4: Kobe cancels himself out for Rio — Yes, Kobe Bryant does have a realistic grip on his basketball abilities at this point. Previously, Kobe openly wished he could be considered for a spot on the 2016 Olympic team, but with his struggles this season, he finally conceded that maybe taking a spot from a more deserving player wouldn’t be the best idea, even if he could pull it off. Remember, Olympics chief Jerry Colangelo didn’t promise Kobe a spot – only Paul George is virtually guaranteed one — but would consider it out of respect for what Kobe has done for international basketball. Anyway, Kobe some about this and other topics before playing in Utah. Here’s some of the Q and A:

 

Q: Lot of memories with the Jazz team. Do you have any memories with this Jazz crowd here in this arena?

Kobe: [Laughing] Yeah, a little bit. Yeah. Yeah. They were really, really tough on me, man. More so than the other crowds. They were tough. Signs when I’m shooting a free throw to literally just yelling it in my ear. Taking the ball out. They pissed me off so much. It was like ’08 in the playoffs where I just kind of erupted after a play, talking back to the crowd because they just kept driving me. With that said, it’s fond memories truly because it was like that’s what sports should be. That kind of bantering and that kind of competition or whatever. I’ve always loved playing here because of that.

Q: A man that is so driven like yourself, if you can, as you think about life after basketball, have you thought about ownership, coaching, broadcasting? Have you had a chance to just let it soak in and say what about life – because you’re still a young man – but after basketball that will keep you motivated and focused?

Kobe: Yeah, those are tough questions for athletes, I think. I’ve been kind of searching for what that was going to be for years now – 15 or 16 years – kind have been searching for that next passion and I’ve been very fortunate enough to find it to the point where it keeps me up at night. Constantly working, studying, and trying to get better at it, and I’m really looking forward to moving into that next phase. Ownership is in terms of being there day-to-day or coaching and things of that sort don’t interest me. I just don’t have a passion for it. Or broadcasting for that matter, I just don’t have a passion for it.

Q: Speaking of the future, the other day you said it was Draymond’s and Steph’s time to pursue championships and gold medals. That you’ve had your turn. Have you closed the door on pursuing the Olympics this summer or is that something you’re still considering?

Kobe: I think it’s their time. I think it’s their time. It’s funny; during a game in Golden State, it was a break in a play or whatever. Leandro Barbosa, who I’ve known for a very long time, comes up to me and goes, ‘Hey, I’ll see you in Rio.’ I just turned around and go, ‘Nah.’ [Laughs] He said, ‘Come on, man, it’s Rio.’ I said, ‘Nah, I think it’s the young guy’s turn to go play and perform.’

I’ve been fortunate enough to win two gold medals. I’ve had my moment. I think it’s important for them to go ahead and play. I’ll watch from afar, support from afar. If they want me to come down and speak to the guys, I will. That’s about it. I think as beautiful as it would be to play for our country, when I say my last game is going to be my last game I’m going to retire, then that’s it. It’s not like I’m going to walk off the stage and then but… I’m going to come right back for a minute. [Laughs] ‘Hold on one second.’

I think it’s pretty sweet to have the final game in a Laker uniform and to support the players from afar.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Suppose the moves made by Sam Hinkie eventually help rebuild the Sixers? How will he be viewed? … After a show start, Amir Johnson is starting to finally fit in with the CelticsLeBron James, whose company dropped Johnny Manziel, says the QB needs to turn things aroundCody Zeller at center? It might work. He has played better with the Hornets missing Al JeffersonJared Dudley says the Bucks were smart to trade him.


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