Posts Tagged ‘Danny Granger’

‘Indiana Pacers 2.0′ Begins Now


VIDEO: Reggie Miller talks about the Pacers trading Danny Granger

MILWAUKEE – Once the shock subsided, the speculation began: If suddenly former Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger works out a buyout from the Philadelphia team to which he was dealt at the NBA trade deadline Thursday, he conceivably could sign with the Miami Heat. Or the San Antonio Spurs. Or the Dallas Mavericks or some other playoff team.

If that happened -– particularly if he landed in Miami –- the Pacers in their championship quest this spring could find themselves staring right at Granger, their longtime leading scorer and face of the franchise with a new, sizable chip on his shoulder. Imagine Granger hitting a game- or series-clinching shot that spoils Indiana’s marvelous season…

Gulp. The possibility is so ironic, so emotional, it’s almost unthinkable. It would be like Ray Allen in Game 6 – only against the Celtics.

Know, though, that the Pacers’ locker room is a gulp-free zone.

“We’re competing for a championship,” Pacers All-Star wing Paul George said. “Not a friendship.”

George considers Granger exactly that, a friend and former mentor. He ascended to Granger’s status and beyond while the veteran was waylaid by injuries for more than a year, and he hated to see him go in the deal for the 76ers’ Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. But friendships and relationships criss-cross this league in endless connections, via countless paths.

The chip that matters most to George, the one that could define his and the Pacers’ season, is the big one that comes only in June. The line to that is straight and true.

Said George: “It’s bigger than… Y’know, everything on the floor – I’ve got friends in the league and people I looked up to in the league – but when it comes to a ballgame, that’s where [our business] is.

“I think Larry [Bird, Pacers president] made the best move for this team. We all wish Danny could be here. But Larry knows basketball and if that’s the move Larry wanted to make, we’re all behind him. … We understand we’re ‘all in.’ “

People talk about chemistry and how tight the Pacers have been, circling their wagons first in an overlooked-and-underloved way that works so well for teams in flyover markets, then in the flatly stated goal of the postseason’s No. 1 seed for homecourt advantage. They’ve grown – up and together – the old-fashioned way, step-by-playoff-round-step the past three years.

They’d done it in spite of Granger’s setbacks, allowing him enough time to return and search for value he could bring off the bench. Only now he’s gone, Bird deciding that Turner’s livelier game offers more. Who’d know better than Bird that chasing championships isn’t for softies?

“Danny was one of the main reasons I came here,” power forward David West said. “So the idea that he’s not going to be around what we’re trying to do is a little tough to deal with. But it’s a part of the business. And if he happens to go to a team whether it’s in the West or the East, if he doesn’t stay in Philly and we’ve got to compete against Danny, then we just have to do it.”

Welcome to Pacers 2.0, a group that added pieces Thursday and, as it did, steeled its resolve. They might seem to have a lot of variables in play, too many given their impressive first half this season: a 9-6 record since Jan. 20, the Andrew Bynum experiment that’s just begun, the loss of Granger and the indoctrination of Turner and Allen.

But it gives them chores, a to-do list to take their minds off Miami in a tightened race for the East’s best record. With the promise of something special.

“Y’know, this is a starter-owned team, so there’s not variables in that regard. It’s just the parts that are around them,” coach Frank Vogel said. “I think there’s room to improve.”

Bynum practiced Friday briefly, after spending his All-Star break in Indianapolis working on his game and conditioning. There’s no penciled-in date for his game debut, but Vogel said the slack in his team’s schedule this week will mean more practice for the 7-foot center, adrift when he signed Feb. 1 after a spotty half season in Cleveland and a lost year with Philadelphia.

Evan and Allen didn’t join Indiana in time to face and beat the Bucks Saturday but are expected to play Tuesday against the Lakers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It will be on them, especially Turner, to shake off the cobwebs of Philadelphia’s 15-42 for a team with a mirror record and ambitions.

“He’s going to have to be able to adjust early and find his way,” said George, who went eight picks after No. 2 Turner in the 2010 Draft. “I think we’re going to do a great job of pulling him in and helping him along the process.

“He’s a good friend of mine, so I’ll be one of the first people to help him through this process. … In big games, he’s one of those guys who can impact it in so many ways. He guards on the other end, he has the ability to make shots and can get into the paint at will.”

Bird surely did his homework on Turner, a talent with spotty production in his first three-plus seasons who has been putting up numbers for a bad team. George knows him well. And West did a little reconnaissance, having played at Xavier for the same coach – Thad Matta – Turner had at Ohio State.

“We’ve got a little background on him,” West said. “I definitely talked to coach.”

Turner got a taste of the playoffs in his first two seasons. But he’s never had an opportunity like this one.

“That’s what I’m banking on,” West said. “Those guys have been in tough situations and they’re coming to a winning and strong basketball culture. Hopefully it helps them thrive and gives them some pride. I know Turner’s a competitor. He’s given us trouble when we’ve played against him in the past.

“Hopefully he knows the plan here is to play into June.”

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 23



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Granger to discuss buyout | Young feels left out | Nick Young not sure about opt out | Villanueva seeks buyout | Love records first triple-double

No. 1: Granger to discuss buyout – It’s no surprise that the Philadelphia 76ers and newly acquired Danny Granger are in talks to buy out his contract. The Sixers have the second-worst record in the NBA at 15-41 and have little use for Granger, who could aid many teams’ playoff push. Rumors have already emerged that the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls would have interest in the former All-Star. But the situation is not so simple because if Granger is bought out he would lose his Bird rights, which allows him to sign for more money this offseason, potentially as part of a sign-and-trade out of Philadelphia. Here’s more on the situation from John Gonzalez of CSN-Philly:

“We’re going to speak with him,” Hinkie said. “He’s coming in, like all the players are, they’ll come in, [take] physicals, we’ll meet with them, we’ll talk with them. Danny I hold in really high esteem. It’s going to be interesting. I think we’re going to just sit and talk like men and say ‘What is it that you want out of the rest of this year?’

“You want to talk about shell-shock, he’s been in one place his whole career, and he’s had a heck of a career already, and I think has a good bit to go. So we’re going to sit and talk to him about what it is he wants and the kind of role he sees on our team and vice versa. Where that goes, I don’t exactly know.”

Granger, who will turn 31 in April, is in the final year of a $14 million contract and will become a free agent this offseason. The former All-Star played just five games for the Pacers last year after suffering a left knee injury. He started just two of 29 games for Indiana this season, averaging 8.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 22.5 minutes.

Given how Hinkie put the situation — that he and Granger would sit down and “talk like men” — someone asked whether it was possible that the Sixers might “buy out” Granger. Here, again, Hinkie had a vague but interesting answer.

“I think there’s a chance for us to have a discussion,” Hinkie replied. “How that goes, I don’t exactly know. He hasn’t come, but we’re organizing a flight for him to be here soon.”

***

No. 2: Young feels left out – Staying in Philadelphia, forward Thaddeus Young is having a career year and he feels like he was left out of the trade-deadline action. His name was in rumor discussions, but many reported that the asking price given by the Sixers was too high for potential suitors to sustain interest. Now stuck in a situation without Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner, Young decided to speak out, as reported by Bob Cooney of Philly.com:

“Come on,” he said with a smile. “I know y’all want to talk.”

Young doesn’t hide on or off the court. Thursday’s trades that sent away fellow starters Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes left him as the elder statesman of the team, and the lone remaining vet left to endure what is sure to be gut-wrenching end of the season.

“This situation, I don’t know how much worse it can get, but there’s a lot of great guys in this locker room who can play,” he said dutifully. “Hopefully, we can just go out there and get better as a team and continue to play hard.”

“I am not going to lie, a little bit,” he said of feeling left out on trade day. “Certain things don’t always happen in your favor or it doesn’t happen the way everybody else thinks it should play out. It’s been a very tough year so far, but you try to make the best of the situation.”

***

No. 3: Nick Young not sure about opt out – Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak recently guessed that guard Nick Young would opt-out of his $1.2 million player option after the season in hopes of finding a more lucrative deal on the open market. Young’s agent Mark Bartelstein says not to be so sure, as reported by Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

This week, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak credited Young for having a “great year,” averaging 16.9 points per game and showing a better commitment toward defense. Kupchak then added, “my guess is he’s going to opt out” of his $1.2 million player option in hopes of securing a longer and lucrative deal.

Young politely declined to address Kupchak’s foreshadowing. But Young’s agent, Mark Bartelstein told this newspaper it’s presumptuous to think Kupchak’s prediction will pan out.

“Nick wants to be a Laker,” Bartelstein. “But his focus right now is to get healthy, get back on the court soon and finish rest of the season. That’s a conversation Mitch and I will have, but it’s too early at this point to talk about what he’s going to do.”

If Young exercises his player option, he secures his standing with the Lakers for one season albeit with money perhaps below his market value. If Young opts out of his current contract, he could secure a longer and more lucractive deal with the Lakers. But that scenario could prompt the Lakers to allow Young to sign with another team considering the team’s hope to maintain financial flexibility.

Considering his scoring output ranks second only behind Pau Gasol, is Young at least leaning toward opting out of his contract?

“No. Look, Nick’s play speaks for itself,” Bartelstein said. “He’s proven that he’s worth more than what his contract entails when he signed with the Lakers. But again, we’re not focused on that right now. He’s focusing on getting healthy and continuing to play well.”

.***

No. 4: Villanueva seeks buyout – It seems everyone is in the market for a buyout. This time it’s Detroit Pistons power forward Charlie Villanueva. The nine-year veteran out of the University of Connecticut is currently in the middle of the worst shooting season of his career with percentages of 38.5 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from 3-point (but this doesn’t stop him from shooting nearly three 3-pointers per game). He spoke about his frustrations in Detroit with David Mayo of M Live:

Charlie Villanueva said he already has made the difficult transition from frustration to accepting his exclusion from the Detroit Pistons’ rotation, and if he happens to be playing elsewhere by the end of the month, he would accept that too.
“Nobody wants to accept that, you know?  But what can I do, other than work hard and keep working?  That’s all I can do is keep working.  If my name isn’t called, I can’t do nothing about that,” Villanueva said.
It’s still possible that he and the Pistons could agree on the buyout of the remainder of his salary, which could allow another team to pick him up by March 1 and still have him eligible for postseason.
If that opportunity arises, “we could look at it, for sure,” Villanueva said after today’s shootaround before a 7:30 p.m. home game against the Atlanta Hawks.
“I want to play.  If it’s not here, then I’m still young, I’ve still got a lot of years of playing left.  I just want to play,” he said.
He hasn’t gotten that chance regularly for three seasons, under three different head coaches, which has left him “past frustration.”
Villanueva has appeared in 14 games this season and played 125 minutes.
“It’s hard because I love this game, I’m very passionate about this game, so it’s hard not to let my frustration out,” he said.  “But you’ve just got to come to grips with it.  They made their decision.  It is what it is.  So there’s nothing I can do about it.  There’s nothing I can do about it.  It doesn’t matter what I do in practice.  It doesn’t matter what kind of work I put in.  It doesn’t matter.”
John Loyer‘s promotion to interim coach after Maurice Cheeks was fired last week brought with it a restoration of the Will Bynum-Andre Drummond pick-and-roll combination.
That pairing worked best last year when coupled with either Villanueva or Austin Daye, forwards who offered perimeter shooting options.
Bynum said several weeks ago that he clamored to see the trio restored, to no avail.
“I’m no coach,” Villanueva said.  “I’m not gonna say nothing about it.  But amongst players, we talk amongst ourselves and, I mean, has it been looked at?  No.  I feel like it’s something that can definitely work.  But again, I’m no coach.”
A buyout could prove too expensive for Villanueva to accept.  He makes about $105,000 per game, so even if the Pistons bought him out after this three-game homestand with 25 games remaining — they currently have 28 games left — Villanueva would have to balance their offer against his $2.6 million remaining salary at that stage.
For all the criticisms, Villanueva has been a good soldier during his three years of inactivity.
“My situation ain’t so bright right now,” he said, “but I’m still living my dream.”

***

No. 5: Love records first triple-double – Kevin Love put on a show Saturday in Utah to record 37 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists to notch, surprisingly, his first career triple-double. This performance could act as ignition for a run by the Timberwolves, who sit 6.0 games out of the Western Conference playoff picture. Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on Love’s career game:

With his top two centers and starting guard Kevin Martin all out injured Saturday, Wolves coach Rick Adelman asked Love for as much as he could conceivably give him, within the bounds of reason, of course.

That turned out to be a 37-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist triple-double reached before Love sat down for the final nine minutes after he had propelled his team to a 21-point lead and its third consecutive victory.

“Just do more,” Love said.

That was the challenge that faced the All-Star forward and all of his teammates with Nikola Pekovic, Ronny Turiaf and Martin out. Love responded by scoring 22 points in the third quarter alone, when the Wolves stretched a 10-point halftime lead to as many as 21. Love made five of his six three-pointers in the third quarter.

“He’s unbelievable and because he does it all the time, sometimes we don’t realize how big it is,” teammate Ricky Rubio said.

“He put up video-game numbers. It’s just fun to play with him.”

“He was incredible, that third quarter was incredible,” Adelman said. “To get a triple-double in three quarters, that’s pretty darn good. I think he really realizes now that he can go out there, not have that many points and in a four-minute span just explode.

“That’s what we need. That’s what we needed at the start of the third quarter. He certainly dominated the game, but that third quarter was incredible.”

Love tied [Kevin] Garnett’s franchise record for consecutive 30-point games by reaching his fourth in a row, and he extended a streak of 25-point, 10-rebound games to nine, the NBA’s longest single-season mark since former Utah star Karl Malone did so in 10 consecutive games in the 1991-92 season.

“That’s good company to be in, especially when you do it in a game where you win,” said Love, who reached a career high in assists while still playing fewer than 35 minutes. “I just go out and play. I’m not looking for assists or rebounds or stats. I’m just going out there and playing hard.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Celtics coach Brad Stevens received his first NBA technical and ejection. … The Hawks sign Dexter Pittman to a 10-day contract. … Four players scored over 30 points in the Pacers-Bucks game. … Nene dunked a game-winner with .3 seconds left for the Wizards.

ICYMI of the Night: The Sacramento Kings have been one of the most fun teams to watch in the NBA this season, despite their lack of wins. This off-the-backboard alley-oop from Isaiah Thomas to Derrick Williams proves the point:


VIDEO: Backboard Jam

Bird’s Famous Fire Drives Pacers’ Granger-Turner Trade


VIDEO: Get the latest on the Pacers-Sixers trade deadline deal.

All that Mt. Rushmore talk over All-Star Weekend, and the “No Vacancy” sign it flashed at so many of the NBA’s legendary players, might require some reconnoitering after all.

This Larry Bird, the one we got Thursday afternoon at the league’s trade deadline, is the one I’d want chiseled on my mountainside.

Anyone who has forgotten, and perhaps some tender fans who never knew, the razor’s edge that Bird brought to the court as a Hall of Fame player for Boston (and to the bench in his subsequent Coach of the Year work for Indiana) got a crash course in arguably the day’s most stunning move. Bird, the Pacers’ president, agreed to a deal sending veteran forward Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers for wing Evan Turner, big LaVoy Allen and, according to various reports, a future second-round pick.

One of the East’s two big dogs, one of the four A-list contenders (as of Thursday morning) to win the championship this spring – and it wasn’t enough for Larry Joe Bird, cutthroat competitor. Despite Granger’s elder statesman status in their locker room, despite what seemed over 2013-14′s first half to be a pat hand, Bird felt the Pacers needed more. And just as with the addition a few weeks back of Cavs center — and potential slacker and even cancer – Andrew Bynum, in the name of winning and matchups, Bird didn’t blink – he fixed something that others didn’t realize was broke.

Broke, at least in terms of chasing down a Larry O’Brien trophy, anyway.

The sentiment of welcoming Granger back into the fold this season, after his knee injury a year ago and a calf issue in the fall? The payoff that he surely felt, again being part of the year-by-year march toward a title (even if his new bench role didn’t fit perfectly after those years of solid service as Indiana’s leading scorer)?  Set aside. Weighed and rejected.

Less than two months from now, the Pacers will hit the postseason ready to accept nothing less than a trip to the Finals. Approximately three months from now, most everyone expects to see them locked in a death match with the Miami Heat, the two-time defending champs through whom the challengers must go.

“I didn’t think Granger would last that long, especially after Paul George became who he was,” said LeBron James before his mathcup with Kevin Durant and the Thunder. “It wasn’t surprising at all. I think they got a very good player. Obviously Granger is a really good player. He hasn’t found his niche after coming back after the injury, but I think Evan Turner is a really good player for them.”

This move was about money, sure, as almost all NBA transactions are these days. But it also was about facing the Heat, with a younger, livelier wing (Turner) and an extra big (Allen) for Indiana’s showdown with James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest.

Granger is a superior 3-point shooter, in particular, with greater range and a quicker more efficient game overall, but he wasn’t thriving off the bench (35.9 FG%). His numbers per-36 minutes were 13.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists, compared to Turner’s 17.9, 6.1 and 3.8. Defensively, Granger brings more bulk and willingness.

The 6-foot-7 Turner, a fourth-year draft mate of Indiana All-Star Paul George, has been logging heavy minutes for the Sixers, getting 15.4 shots per game and playing at a 13.3 PER level, compared to Granger’s 10.4. Turner can be a restricted free agent this summer – though not the Pacers’ top priority, with Lance Stephenson also hitting the market – and might not welcome a dip in playing time and scoring chances while trying to boost his price tag.

But the league knows what Turner can and can’t do for a team headed nowhere; he can open some eyes and maybe wallets by helping the Pacers, from both ends of the court, get where they want to go.

That’s what this season is all about for Indiana, that’s what Bird – the guy who often said he hates to lose more than he likes to win – is all about, too.

What The Contenders Could Use

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The trade deadline is Thursday afternoon, the race for the 2014 NBA championship is relatively wide open, and there are plenty of players available for the right price.

So, the league is seemingly ripe for a ton of action at the deadline. But the whole “the right price” thing could limit the number of deals that are made. Buyers may be hesitant to give up first-round picks for players that they’re only “renting” for a few months, and sellers may prefer to keep their guy if they’re not getting the assets they want in return.

But maybe a deal could be made that turns a contender into a favorite or a tier-two team into a contender.

Here’s a look at what those teams could use — from a numbers perspective – to put themselves over the top (in the case of the contenders) or in the mix (in the case of the next group).

OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions

Oklahoma City (43-12)

OffRtg: 107.6 (6), DefRtg: 99.3 (3), NetRtg: +8.3 (2)
The Thunder are the most complete team in the league, the only one that ranks in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And their bench has been terrific, even with Russell Westbrook‘s knee surgery forcing Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup over the last seven weeks.

The only lineup numbers that look bad are those of their original starting group, which has been outscored by 5.7 points per 100 possessions and which will be back together when Westbrook returns on Thursday. In 280 minutes, the lineup has scored just 97.5 points per 100 possessions, a rate which would rank 29th in the league.

In general, the Thunder have been much better playing small. In fact, they’re a plus-203 in 1,954 minutes with two bigs on the floor and a plus-204 in 694 minutes with less than two. Some added depth on the wings could make them even more potent.

Indiana (41-12)

OffRtg: 102.4 (18), DefRtg: 93.8 (1), NetRtg: +8.6 (1)
The Pacers are, statistically, the best defensive team since the league started counting turnovers in 1977. And that may be enough to win a championship.

But they’re a below-average offensive team and only seven of those have made The Finals in the last 30 years. The Pacers turn the ball over too much, don’t get to the rim enough, and aren’t a great 3-point shooting team.

George Hill is a key cog in that No. 1 defense and the starting lineup scores at a top-10 rate, but Indy could certainly use a more potent point guard, or at least a third guard that can create off the dribble. Their bench is better than it was last season, but it still struggles to score.

Danny Granger has a large expiring contract, but acquiring a player on a deal that goes beyond this season could compromise the Pacers’ ability to re-sign Lance Stephenson this summer.

Miami (38-14)

OffRtg: 109.8 (1), DefRtg: 103.4 (16), NetRtg: +6.4 (5)
Is the Heat’s defensive drop-off a serious problem of just a case of them being in cruise control most of the season? Their ability to flip the switch on that end of the floor will depend on Dwyane Wade‘s health and Shane Battier‘s ability to play more minutes than he has been of late. As much as rebounding is an issue, so is defending the perimeter. And if there was a way they could add another shooter/defender on the wing, it would help.

Rebounding is an issue. The Heat have rebounded better (on both ends) with Greg Oden on the floor, but he’s played just 78 minutes all season and compromises their offense to some degree. So he’s probably not going to neutralize Roy Hibbert in a matchup with the Pacers.

San Antonio (39-15)

OffRtg: 107.5 (7), DefRtg: 100.4 (5), NetRtg: +7.1 (3)
The numbers look good on the surface. Only the Thunder rank higher than the Spurs in both offensive and defensive efficiency. But their defense has failed them, allowing 111.5 points per 100 possessions, as they’ve gone 2-8 in games against the other teams over .600 (every team on this list, except Golden State). Last season, they allowed just 101.8 in 22 games against other teams over .600.

Injuries have played a role in their defensive decline and if the Spurs are healthy, they’re still a great team. But there’s no getting around that, going back to Game 3 of the 2012 conference finals, they’ve lost nine of their last 11 games against Oklahoma City and could certainly use more athleticism up front with that matchup in mind.

Houston (36-17)

OffRtg: 107.7 (5), DefRtg: 102.1 (9), NetRtg: +5.6 (6)
If there’s a fifth contender, it’s the Rockets or the Clippers, two more West teams that rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor. Houston is actually the only team that ranks in the top five in both effective field goal percentage and opponent effective field goal percentage.

Their defense hasn’t been very consistent though, and it’s allowed 106.1 points per 100 possessions in 22 games against the other eight West teams over .500. And that’s why they might want to hold onto Omer Asik. One of their biggest problems defensively is rebounding, especially when Dwight Howard steps off the floor. Only the Lakers (15.8) have allowed more second-chance points per game than Houston (15.1).

Portland (36-17)

OffRtg: 108.7 (2), DefRtg: 105.7 (23), NetRtg: +3.1 (10)
Diagnosing the Blazers’ issues is pretty easy. You’re simply not a contender if you rank in the bottom 10 defensively. The worst defensive team to make The Finals in the last 30 years was the 2000-01 Lakers, who ranked 19th and who, as defending champs, knew how to flip the switch. They ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency in the postseason.

Not only are the Blazers bad defensively, but the their bench is (still) relatively weak. Lineups other than their starting group have outscored their opponents by just 0.2 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark among the teams on this list (even Golden State). So they’re going to be tested with LaMarcus Aldridge out with a groin strain. They’ve been outscored by 8.3 points per 100 possessions with Aldridge off the floor.

L.A. Clippers (37-19)

OffRtg: 108.7 (3), DefRtg: 102.2 (10), NetRtg: +6.5 (10)
The Clippers are very similar to the Rockets. They rank in top 10 defensively, but have struggled on that end of the floor against good teams. Furthermore, though Howard and DeAndre Jordan rank in the top four in rebounds per game, their teams rank in the bottom 10 in defensive rebounding percentage.

Blake Griffin and Jordan rank 2nd and 3rd in total minutes played, and the Clippers basically have no other bigs that Doc Rivers can trust for extended stretches in the postseason. Though the Clippers’ injuries have been in the backcourt, they’re more in need of depth up front.

Golden State (31-22)

OffRtg: 104.2 (12), DefRtg: 99.5 (4), NetRtg: +4.7 (7)
The Warriors and not the Suns (31-21) are the last team on this list because they have a much better defense and a higher ceiling. They also have a much easier schedule, which could allow them to get into the 3-5 range in the West, going forward.

Golden State’s issues are pretty simple. Their starting lineup has been terrific on both ends of the floor, but their bench … not so much. Things have been a little better with Jordan Crawford in the mix; They’ve scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions with Stephen Curry off the floor since the Crawford trade, compared to the putrid 86.7 they were scoring without Curry before the deal. But one of their most important defensive players – Andrew Bogut – is banged up and their D falls apart when Andre Iguodala steps off the floor.

Pacers’ Game 7 Quest A Worthy Goal


VIDEO: Paul George scores 36 as the Pacers take down the Clippers

Be careful what you wish for.

As adages go, it’s not the most inspiring, right? Chase your dream, go for it, you only live once, flyin’ high now … except maybe you’ll regret it later. It’s the kind of conflicted message that, imparted at just the right time in a person’s life, keeps the shrinks’ and therapists’ kids in private schools.

The Indiana Pacers aren’t worried about all that. They want what they want. And they want home-court advantage in the NBA playoffs, specifically in the Eastern Conference finals (should they manage to get there).

They want it for the same reason they’re supposed to want Andrew Bynum – so the Miami Heat can’t have it. The value of being at home for the ultimate game in a best-of-seven series was seered into the Pacers’ brains June 3 – Miami 99, Indiana 76 – and has been the clearest, most shining goal in their tear through the season’s first half with the league’s best record.

The obvious downside, potentially, is that chasing that regular-season goal might sabotage the Pacers in their pursuit of the bigger prize: the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Coach Frank Vogel, breakout star Paul George, center Roy Hibbert – the ViceRoy of Verticality – and the rest have been asked about the potential for stubbing their toes almost as much as they’ve been asked about the championship itself.

Yet here they sit, nearly halfway through the grind, with a 3.5-game lead over the Heat and 1.5 over San Antonio and Portland in the Western Conference. None of the Pacers has broken down, no one has come up lame. They open their longest trip of the season Monday night at Golden State, a five-gamer bouncing through the West, showing no signs of flagging or peaking too soon.

Indiana targeted its brass ring for the season and methodically has gone after it. It has given them an identity and a purpose, and imposed some order on what – for the best teams, the ones likeliest to be playing in June – can be an amorphous and ponderous six months.

This has not been a burden, George said Saturday after a 106-92 victory over the Clippers.

“Not really. I don’t see it within this whole locker room,” the Pacers’ All-Star guard said. “It feels great going out there. I really don’t see it draining us. We just want to build habits for our team right now.”

The Miami Heat can scoff, wag a finger and remind the Pacers and their fans that one false move in a Game 1 or Game 2 come springtime – a squandered lead, a fluke play late – can flip the home-court advantage back to them. The two-time defending champions also can talk ominously about burnout, overuse injuries or other ills that could befall Indiana as a result of pushing so hard through 82.

Now, the Heat didn’t much heed such talk when they were winning 27 in a row last winter. But they have earned the right to “manage” the schedule and, given Miami’s roster, discretion rather than over-exertion is the better part of valor. The same might hold for San Antonio with its wrinkled wonders, though pacing the Spurs through the regular season hasn’t brought a ring home lately. The last time San Antonio won (2007), its main guys still were relatively teething.

Biggest difference, DefRtg vs. league average
Team Season DefRtg Lg. avg. Diff.
Indiana 2013-14 92.6 102.9 -10.3
Boston 2007-08 96.2 104.7 -8.6
San Antonio 2003-04 91.6 100.0 -8.5
New York 1992-93 97.1 105.3 -8.2
New York 1993-94 95.8 103.6 -7.8
Detroit 2003-04 92.5 100.0 -7.5
San Antonio 2004-05 95.8 103.1 -7.3
San Antonio 1998-99 92.1 99.2 -7.1
Chicago 2010-11 97.4 104.5 -7.1
Chicago 2006-07 97.0 103.7 -6.7
Since turnovers started being counted in 1977-78
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Developing habits, throwing victories on the pile and working game-by-game through the schedule as if building something magnificent brick-by-brick suits these Pacers. They’re young enough: George and Lance Stephenson are 23, Hibbert just turned 27, point guard George Hill is 27, and they’re the only guys averaging 30 minutes or more. They’ve been healthy: with the exception of Danny Granger, Hill (three) is the only member of their top nine who has missed more than one game.

Besides, it’s not as if they’re going to suddenly decide: “Nah, never mind. Not worth it.” Indiana is 21-1 at home this season. The Pacers have had a home-court edge like few teams, dating back to before several on this season’s team were born: 25 consecutive winning seasons in Indianapolis.

Bankers Life Fieldhouse was packed and crazed Saturday, on a snowy January night despite whiteout conditions on the highways leading downtown. And before Game 7 last June, there was Game 6, a blowout Pacers victory in which LeBron James was a minus-22.

By the way, in that game, Indiana’s reserves chipped in just eight points on 3-of-5 shooting. But that was then – this season’s bench is one reason Vogel and the Pacers feel they can push hard and go deep. Where once there was Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin and Sam Young, there is Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and Granger, renewed after his knee and calf layoffs.

Scola is shooting 50.2 percent and matching his career best of 10.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. Watson has been shooting 51.3 percent in fourth quarters, including 43.9 percent from 3-point range, with 46 percent of his makes coming in that quarter. Granger patiently probed the Clippers defense Saturday, gave Doc Rivers‘ crew another threat to account for and wound up with 12 points, scoring in double figures for the ninth time in 14 games back.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons in this locker room and we’ve always had a next-man-up mentality,” said power forward David West, who seemingly put Indiana in harm’s way Saturday with his flagrant-2 foul on Blake Griffin at the end of the second quarter. “If a guy goes down – like tonight, I got ejected, or a guy gets injured – the next guy’s got to be ready to step up.”

Every team and coach in the NBA says that, and it’s easy for the ones that have stayed healthy. Then again, real depth is real depth.

“I think we wear teams down,” backup forward Chris Copeland said. “We go as-many-players-as-you-want deep. Every lineup, every unit that [Vogel] puts on the floor is dangerous.”

Pretty much: Of Vogel’s top 10 heavily used lineups, only one (Hibbert, George, Hill, Scola and Orlando Johnson) has been “underwater” with a 79.9 offensive rating vs. 107.6 defensive rating. And they’ve been on the floor together just 30 minutes out of 1,877 this season.

Otherwise, the Pacers have been taking names and kicking rears. They have lost two games in a row only once so far, and of their seven defeats, five have come on the second night of back-to-back games. And guess what? There are no back-to-backs in the playoffs.

Look, be careful what you wish for isn’t bad advice. At its core, it suggests a cautious approach while, y’know, still wishing for something big. Literature, film and TV are rife with examples of great quests that end without payoff: The Maltese Falcon that inspired so much skullduggery ends up being a fake in the end. The ark that propelled Indiana Jones across continents is crated and warehoused by the end of Raiders. Don’t even get me started on Moby Dick.

But the Pacers’ hearts want what they want, and there’s no putting them off that goal now. If they get it, and even if Miami or someone else snatches away the home-court advantage early in a series, Indiana still will have at home – where its players, coaches and fans believe it matters – any Game 7 it faces.

That is worth chasing.

Granger’s Absence (And Return) Make Pacers Even Stronger

Indiana Pacers v Toronto Raptors

The Pacers have benefited from Danny Granger’s return to the lineup. (Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)

“Addition by subtraction” is a term used a lot in sports, typically to explain the less-is-more results when a name player is traded or lost to free agency, yet his former team does just fine or maybe even thrives in his absence.

Few teams better exemplified that than the Denver Nuggets after Carmelo Anthony forced his way to New York in February 2011; without their scoring star, the Nuggets fired back to go 95-53 (.642) over the next two seasons, their ensemble style tapping into basketball as art.

The Toronto Raptors are a terrific example of that right now, winning nine of 12 games since they traded leading scorer and obligatory first option, forward Rudy Gay, to Sacramento in December. Since Gay played his last game for the Raptors on Dec. 6, they are 9-3, beating Oklahoma City on the road, sweeping pairs of games from the Bulls and the Knicks, toppling the Indiana Pacers Wednesday at Air Canada Centre and rising to the top of the Atlantic Division.

A less obvious case, though, is happening in Indiana. Technically, the Pacers’ version might have to be labeled “addition by subtraction, plus addition” or maybe “addition by intermission,” since that effectively is what losing – and then regaining – Danny Granger appears to have meant to them.

Since Granger began his 2013-14 regular season on the Friday before Christmas, 25 games into Indiana’s schedule, the team’s second unit has been transformed, particularly in the second quarter. Here is a chart showing the Pacers’ drop in production from the first quarter to the second, basically when the starting lineup yields to substitutions (h/t to Tim Donahue):

20140102_ind_wogranger

Now here are the same categories with Granger coming off the bench the past half dozen games. Get a load of the turnaround in Net Rating from a minus-10.3 (with rounding) to a plus-17.3:

20140102_ind_wgranger

Granger, thus far, has come off the bench in all six appearances and, while working with about 22 minutes nightly, has logged more minutes (49) in the second quarter than any other, nearly 40 percent of his total.

Coach Frank Vogel and teammates raved about the veteran forward’s impact after just one game, the 33-point blowout of Houston in which Granger made only one of his seven field-goal attempts. But Vogel liked Granger’s size and presence on defense, he drew opponents’ attention at the other end and generally allowed what already had been a well-oiled machine to purr even more smoothly.

Granger himself – 8.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 33.3 percent shooting (and 7 of 20 from the arc) – isn’t where he wants to be yet. As he told the Indianapolis Star last week: “Just [getting] some consistency, that’s the hardest thing about any NBA season. Even when you’re healthy, it’s maintaining a consistent level of play throughout the whole season. You always have ups and downs, guys go through slumps, guys get hot. I’d just like to see a level of consistency.”

No surprise that’s still missing. Granger was gone a long time, essentially from the end of the Pacers’ 2012 playoff run until two weeks ago. He tried rest and rehab for his bum left knee, played five frustrating games last season, then shut it down for surgery and a fresh start. This fall, a calf strain pushed his return back another two months.

Meanwhile, an odd thing was happening with the Pacers. While there were certain nights on which they missed their one-time All-Star forward, his shooting range and his familiarity in late-game situations, they didn’t sag overall. Indiana went 45-31 in the games Granger missed last season, then pushed all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Miami. Paul George‘s game took a giant step up to All-Star stature. Lance Stephenson emerged, developing from mercurial bench guy to irrepressible starter at shooting guard.

Even as recently as November, as folks projected Granger’s return, there was too much talk about restoring him to his “rightful” spot in the starting lineup and not nearly enough about the ain’t-broke, don’t-fix evolution of the Pacers in their current permutation.

There was, there is, no need to serve Granger’s ego by overhauling the rotation. Vogel can adjust game by game, dialing up more Granger and less someone else based on matchups and scoreboard.

“I think our starting unit is where it’s going to be,” George said after Granger’s debut two weeks ago, “and I think our bench unit – if the playoffs were to start [now], I think this is what our rotations would be. … I’m loving what I see.”

None of this happens, perhaps, without Granger getting – and largely, staying – hurt. If he had been in and out of the lineup last season, even in sub-par form, maybe George doesn’t embrace the responsibilities thrust on him by Vogel and the task at hand. Maybe Stephenson chafes in reserve or tries to do too much when he does get court time. Maybe bosses Larry Bird and Donnie Walsh don’t upgrade the bench quite as much, getting Luis Scola and C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland. And so on.

But by experiencing and more-than-surviving a large enough taste of life without Granger – 76 games last season, 25 more this season – the Pacers were able to redefine, realign and reinvent themselves. Granger, who will turn 31 in April, has nothing to prove individually at this point – other than how smartly he can blend his talents into what Indiana already has rolling. None of his teammates has to apologize for their minutes or enhanced roles.

The Pacers are different but better than they were before Granger’s injuries, a rarity of the sort teams such as the Lakers (Kobe Bryant) and the Bulls (Derrick Rose) can only dream. All thanks to addition by intermission.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 28


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron suffers strained groin | Beal injures left knee | Kidd losing support | Dolan talked to Knicks | Pacers can get better

No. 1: LeBron suffers strained groin — If Russell Westbrook‘s and Al Horford‘s injuries weren’t enough, there were a couple of more significant ones suffered during Friday’s nine-game slate. And the four-time MVP, one of the most durable players in recent memory, was not immune. In the process of passing Larry Bird and Gary Payton on the all-time scoring list, LeBron James suffered a strained groin, as reported by Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report:

It wasn’t especially apparent when LeBron James made the first three-pointer, or the second, or third, that late spree of nine points in 31.3 seconds of overtime nearly saving the night for the Miami Heat.

But after he spoke to the media and revealed that he’d strained his groin sometime way back in the second quarter, James’ discomfort became painfully clear.

The simple walk to the shower was a struggle.

“It ain’t feeling too good right now,” James said.

And so, now, after the Heat dropped a 108-103 decision to the Sacramento Kings—their sixth loss this season to a team currently under .500—there’s a cloud over another of the team’s highly anticipated showdowns.

After a day’s rest, James scored 24 points, with nine rebounds and seven assists in a Dec. 18 victory against Indiana. This time, though, only 20 hours separate James and the Heat from tipoff against the team with the NBA’s best record, the Portland Trail Blazers.

Will James play?

“See how it feels tomorrow,” James said.

***

No. 2: Beal injures left knee — Earlier in the night, the Wizards suffered a scare when Bradley Beal injured his left knee in the fourth quarter of a loss in Minnesota. Michael Lee off the Washington Post has the story:

Bradley Beal banged left knees with Minnesota Timberwolves forward Luc Mbah a Moute, spun around and dropped on his back side. He tried to stand but collapsed again. Gasping and grimacing as he looked down, with his hands and knees on the hardwood, Beal kept pushing, telling himself to get up from the floor and walk over to the Washington Wizards’ bench. Until he finally relented.

“I really couldn’t get up,” Beal said. “I just fell because it was no way I could possibly move after that.”

The Wizards were well on their way to a humiliating 120-98 loss to the Timberwolves when Beal caused a panic amongst his teammates and fans with 4 minutes 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Martell Webster had just hit a three-pointer to bring the Wizards within 21 points. He turned and walked away but quickly was running back to check on Beal, who didn’t leave the floor until teammates Trevor Ariza and Jan Vesely lifted him on their shoulders and carried him to the locker room.

After having a precautionary X-ray, Beal moved down the hallway with the assistance of crutches but left the arena on his volition, limping and holding back his emotion. Beal will have an MRI exam Saturday in Washington but was encouraged about his outlook.

“The X-ray was pretty positive,” Beal said before smiling to catch himself. “It was negative. My bad. It was negative. That’s a good thing. I was hoping it wasn’t anything too, too serious or too crazy. Hopefully, I’ll be good moving forward.”

So, as the Thunder and Hawks (and Bulls and Nets and Lakers and Celtics) already dealing with extended absences from their All-Stars, the Heat and Wizards await further word on James’ and Beal’s injuries.

***

No. 3: Kidd losing supportThe Nets ended their four-game losing streak with a comfortable win over the Bucks on Friday, but it will take a lot more than a win over the worst team in the league to get Brooklyn back on track. And Jason Kidd might not have the answers needed. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! reports that Kidd has begun to lose some support within the organization:

The Nets had tried to be supportive of Kidd, but patience is running low on the belief he can deliver the structure and organization desperately needed. As the Nets have devolved into chaos, Kidd has increasingly isolated himself within the locker room and organization, sources told Yahoo Sports. From management to players, Kidd has shown an inability to manage crisis and keep the respect of his players.

Rifts exist between old players and new, trust eroded with every humiliating loss in this 9-19 season.

And yet, somehow, Kidd believes he can keep publicly eviscerating his players’ character and desire and spare himself blame and responsibility. For those around the Nets with a sense of history and irony, they remember Kidd running ex-coach Byron Scott out of his job for offenses born of this failed playbook.

Here’s the question management is grappling with: Does Brooklyn start unloading its star players and stay the course with the coach, or unload the coach and let someone else manage these star players?

***

No. 4: Dolan talked to KnicksThe Knicks may be in worse shape than their neighbors in Brooklyn, but apparently they have owner James Dolan‘s word that they shouldn’t fear for their jobs. As Marc Stein of ESPN reports, Dolan spoke to his players and coaches on Thursday, telling them that he’s not looking to shake things up:

Knicks chairman James Dolan told New York players in a meeting Thursday that there are no trades or changes to the coaching staff forthcoming, ESPN.com has learned.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Dolan gathered the team before the first practice in the wake of New York’s embarrassing 29-point home loss to Oklahoma City on Christmas Day largely in an attempt to hush the growing speculation about coach Mike Woodson’s job security following the Knicks’ 9-19 start.

The discussion came amid increasing signs the Knicks’ effort and focus under Woodson is waning on top of the significant injury issues that have plagued them all season.

It’s believed Dolan took the step in an attempt to persuade Woodson’s players to band together and throw their full support behind the embattled coach to help dig New York out of the sizable hole it finds itself with essentially one-third of the regular season in the books, the sources said.

When an emboldened Woodson met reporters after Thursday’s practice, he promptly announced he still thinks New York can rally from its poor start to win the Atlantic Division.

“We won it last year, and I expect us to win it this year,” he said.

***

No. 5: Pacers can get betterDanny Granger has shot just 5-for-22 in his first three games back from a strained calf, but his healthy return means that the Pacers have room for improvement. Indiana now has a two-game lead in the loss column at the top of the Eastern Conference, but they don’t feel like they’re a complete team until Granger has been fully integrated into the rotation, as Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star writes:

Though Indiana (23-5) has outscored its past three opponents by an average of 25.8 points – and a repeat rival, the Brooklyn Nets, fills the dance card Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse – coach Frank Vogel sees room for improvement, specifically with the full integration of Danny Granger in the rotation.

“I think (the rotation) will feel like it’s complete when Danny’s complete,” Vogel said. “Danny’s going to have ups and downs over the next six weeks where he’s just getting his legs under him, getting his rhythm and timing back. That’s going to be a process. Once he gets up to speed then it will feel complete.”

Since Granger made his season debut on Dec. 20, the Pacers have looked like a mighty force. That’s not to credit Granger as the cause for the three-game winning streak – shooting just 23 percent from the floor, he has consistently preached patience about getting his conditioning and rhythm back. Still, the Pacers have moved Granger from the end of the bench to 20 minutes per game quite effortlessly.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Avery Bradley can put the ball in the basketChris Paul takes the blame for the Clippers’ two-game losing streakComing off the bench has worked well for Danny GreenMichael Kidd-Gilchrist had his cast removed … and Metta World Peace revealed that he’s an alien.

ICYMI: Derrick Favors beat the Lakers with this throwdown on Friday…


VIDEO: Favors’ game-winning putback

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 23


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sometimes Love isn’t enough | Stephenson spoils Indy return for Stevens | Pistons ride roller coaster | Wade’s Holiday surprise

No. 1: Timberwolves get monster effort from Love and still lose – Kevin Love has been toiling like this now for a while. He puts up monster numbers, epic numbers often, only to see his Minnesota Timberwolves come up short in seemingly winnable games. Sunday night was no different, with Love posting just the fourth 45-points on 65-percent shooting, 15-rebounds and 5-assist game since the NBA/ABA merger and the Timberwolves found a way to fumble away a late lead in regulation and lose to the Los Angeles Clippers in overtime.

It makes you wonder if the Timberwolves are ever going to figure things out with this particular group … Rick Adelman in charge, Love and Ricky Rubio leading the way and Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and others as role players.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com ponders the thought:

It’s getting harder and harder to believe in Minnesota, even for those among us who were ready to anoint them as this season’s Warriors. It all looked so promising six weeks ago. The Wolves were quickly mastering Adelman’s read-and-react offense from the high post and perimeter, but could also bully opponents down on the block.

The defense wasn’t half-bad either. Through the end of November, the Wolves ranked 9th in defensive efficiency. They didn’t have a legitimate rim protector on the roster, but they had good size, Ricky Rubio’s pressure up top, Corey Brewer’s skills as a stopper on the wing, and a very large man in Pekovic who nobody wants to encounter in the paint.

The December schedule hasn’t been terribly friendly, but the Wolves have been terrible, their big home win over Portland last Wednesday the one strand of hope. The offense looks nothing like anything Adelman has ever presided over. Half-court possessions are labored affairs, slow grinds into post isolations for either Love or Pekovic.

Martin has battled a knee injury for much of the month and hasn’t looked like himself. As a linchpin of the corner offense, Martin is often a bellwether for Adelman offenses, and if he’s not producing, chances are the offense is dragging.

The Wolves’ 3-and-D guy, Brewer, is shooting 17.1 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, defenses willingly slough off Rubio, practically begging him to shoot. With his confidence waning, Rubio is still racking up assists, but is less a playmaker than a reversal machine, swinging the ball to the second side without truly challenging the defense.

Speaking of defense, the Wolves have given up 106.6 points per 100 possession, a mark that would rank 28th in the NBA. Asked to identify the specific problem prior to the game, Adelman said, “We’re not guarding anybody.” Those big bodies now just look slow. Whether it’s Martin or J.J. Barea alongside Rubio, the Wolves don’t get much defensively at the 2. Brewer has conceded that his wayward shot is affecting his defense.

***

No. 2: Stephenson’s triple double trumps homecoming for Stevens – So much for that storybook homecoming for former Butler and now Celtics coach Brad Stevens. The Indiana Pacers, particularly Lance Stephenson, were having no part of the Holiday cheer. Stephenson collected his league-leading third triple-double of the season as the Pacers trounced the Celtics. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t help but dance a little bit (something Pacers coach Frank Vogel could have done without) on his way to yet another stellar performance.

Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star explains:

Stephenson finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists and looked very much like a player deserving of his first All-Star berth. No other player in the NBA has more than one triple-double this season.

“I’m happy I did it,” he said. “It was in the flow of the game. My teammates helped me out. We played smart. It was easy because I know my teammates are going to knock down shots.”

Stephenson did get plenty of help, most notably from Paul George, who scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. Danny Granger, playing in his just his second game after returning from a calf strain, was 4-for-5 from 3-point range and had 12 points. Roy Hibbert had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

But his teammates acknowledged afterward that Stephenson provides them an emotional lift like no one else.

“He’s just starting the game off more aggressively,” George said. “In practice, he’s been great. We’ve seen it develop over time. Now, when he gets into the game, it’s second nature to him.”

Added veteran forward David West: “One of the biggest things for young guys in the NBA is that once you work your way into the rotation and you become a guy we rely on, that just fills you up. We give him a lot of room to go out and play his game. … He definitely keeps us on our toes and keeps things light. He’s able to just do something we’ll talk about on the plane. It’s just who he is.”

Vogel wasn’t thrilled with a couple of celebration dances Stephenson did after baskets, but didn’t have much else to complain about.

“He’s such a gifted passer and playmaker for us and a huge part of our team success,” Vogel said.

STEVENS‘The emotions are in coming back and seeing friends’

Stevens, the former Butler coach who left the school in July to join the Celtics, got a warm ovation during pregame warmups and his team kept it close for one quarter.

But after that, the Pacers (22-5) showed why they have the Eastern Conference’s best record. They outscored Boston 50-22 in the paint, got 40 points from their bench and held the Celtics to just 38.1 percent shooting (32-for-84) en route to an easy victory.

As the game ended, Stevens shook hands with Vogel, a rarity at the end of a NBA game. He also shook the hand of several Pacers players.

“It was just because we’re friends and we know each other well,” said Vogel, noting they also shook hands after the Pacers’ 97-82 victory in Boston last month. “I came down and told him he was doing a great job with that team.”

***

No. 3: Pistons’ roller coaster season confounds – If Maurice Cheeks had the answers he’d have pushed those buttons already. But he doesn’t and he hasn’t. And therefore, the curious ride of the Detroit Pistons continues as the coach and his staff try to figure out how to stop the roller coaster ride that is their season and stabilize things. That’s a lot easier said than done, however, as Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News points out:

The last two home games, losses to the Houston Rockets and Charlotte Bobcats on consecutive nights over the weekend, is a clear example of nobody knowing which team will step on the floor on a given night.

“You know we’re still trying to get better,” Cheeks said. “As I said to our players, there’s going to be some good nights and bad nights. Last night (Friday) and (Saturday) was not our best.”

Cheeks believes the Bobcats loss led to the poor showing against the Rockets. The Pistons blew a 20-point lead to Charlotte on Friday and looking almost apathetic on Saturday.

“I believe there could’ve been some carryover,” Cheeks said. “I can’t discount that because it was a tough loss.”

Losing five of six at home is an unexpected circumstance, although there isn’t much shame in losing to the Miami Heat in a game where the champions were intent on sending a message.

But blowout losses to the Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves are combined with come-from-ahead losses to the Bobcats and Portland Trail Blazers, mixed in with a win against the Brooklyn Nets that was tougher than it needed to be.

“I don’t know, I don’t know. I guess that’s determined when we go up and down the floor a few times,” said forward Josh Smith, when asked about getting a pulse on the team’s energy before games.

.***

No. 4: Wade surprises Union with Holiday ring – Heat guard Dwyane Wade has no problem mixing business with pleasure. He used Heat boss Pat Riley‘s annual Holiday party as his impromptu engagement party after officially popping the question to longtime girlfriend Gabrielle Union before they arrived at Riley’s affair. The surprise engagement was announced via social media. But Union showing up with a huge diamond ring on her finger added an extra dash of flair to the festivities, upstaging Riley at his own gig in the process, not that anyone was complaining about that. In fact, Wade popping the question was a bit of a team effort, so says Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

Wade proposed to Union before the party at his home and then announced the engagement on Twitter and Instagram.

Wade said his children helped him pop the question.

“We asked her to marry all of us, not just me,” Wade said. “It was a package deal.”

Wade and Union have dated since 2007.

“She was ready,” Wade said. “She had the ‘yes’ in her back pocket.”

At the holiday party, Wade then surprised his teammates with green custom-made sports coats commemorating their 2013 championship. The blazers featured the players’ jersey numbers on the sleeves and white Heat logos on the front pockets.

Wade said his inspirations for the unique mementos were the Masters golf tournament and Rasheed Wallace. Wallace famously had pro wrestling-style replica championship belts made for his Pistons teammates for winning the 2004 NBA Finals. Wade liked Wallace’s idea but wanted something a little classier.

Said Wade: “You know me, I’m always trying to do something different and out of the norm, and I started thinking about what have previous champions done … and then it came to be me, because of fashion and because of the Masters and how amazing it is when they win the green jacket and all the previous winners come back and take pictures with the green jackets and how prestigious it is … so I got with my stylist and created this Masters kind of feel.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Thunder fell victim to the red-hot Raptors and the schedule in their first home loss of the season Sunday … Much like their NFL counterparts, the Dallas Mavericks are having no problems scoring. It’s the defense that they are struggling with these days … The Hawks have brought big man Lucas Nogueira to Atlanta for treatment of his ailing knees.

ICYMI Of The Night: Kevin Love put up the stat line of the night and delivered the elbow of the week, but Blake Griffin got the win, the knot on his forehead and the shine on Nightly Notable …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin gets the shiner (on his forehead) and the shine in the end

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 21


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Granger returns | Kobe-less Lakers beat Wolves | Deng off trade block? | Oden still a ways away? | Hotel New York

No. 1: Pacers crowd welcomes back GrangerDanny Granger played just five games last season due to a knee injury and a calf strain has kept him out all of this season — until Friday night. The small forward made a triumphant return in front of a home crowd that serenaded him with chants of “Danny! Danny!” as he headed to the scorer’s table to check in with about 4 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter. Granger played 22 minutes, scoring five points on a rusty 1-for-7 shooting with two assists and five turnovers. But for an already loaded Pacers team, the return of Granger provides just one more weapon.

From Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star:

He got a standing ovation when he officially checked in with 4:05 remaining. He made his presence felt on the defensive end, coming from the weak side to block a shot by Houston’s Dwight Howard.

“It felt good,” said Granger, who played in just five games last season because of a knee injury. “When you haven’t played in a long time, you want to do something defensively to get into the flow of the game. The crowd went crazy. It was exciting. And we got the win by 33 points (Granger’s uniform number). Kind of ironic.”

The love continued throughout the night for Granger, who played 22 minutes — two more than coach Frank Vogel estimated he would — and scored five points on just 1-for-7 shooting. The numbers weren’t great. He had two assists while committing five turnovers.

But with his teammates playing so well around him, that hardly mattered. It was a rousing success.

“It’s exactly what I thought we would see,” Vogel said. “I think he’s going to have an adjustment period, and it’s going to be a process with his shot-making and his ability to finish plays.

“But what I liked about it is the way he impacted the game on the defensive end. For all the questions about if he was going to fit in, he shared the basketball every time he had an opportunity to. He shot the open shots in the rhythm of the offense, which we asked him to do. And he went out and he guarded. He played a strong defensive game.”

Granger led the Pacers in scoring for five consecutive years before the knee injury virtually wiped out his entire 2012-13 campaign. Hibbert and Paul George have emerged as team leaders in his absence. He was heartened by the response he got from the crowd, which also chanted “Danny, Danny” when Vogel removed him from the game for the final time with 2:28 left in regulation.

“It was awesome,” he said. “Couple of standing ovations when I was out there. Just to play in front of the home crowd again was kind of a breath of fresh air. … Just got to keep building up my legs and my wind.”

***

No. 2: Lakers can smile againXavier Henry, Nick Young and Pau Gasol didn’t let the bummer news of Kobe Bryant‘s fractured knee get in the way of the team stringing together consecutive wins for just the third time this season. Back at home after a 2-2 road trip, L.A. tripped up the disappointing Minnesota Timberwolves, 104-91. With Bryant out for six weeks and the point guard crew of Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all still out with injury, Henry, a shooting guard, assumed those duties and merely poured in 21 points with four assists. Gasol continued his resurgence with a near triple-double: 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Young jumped off the bench for 25 points, including a long 3-pointer with 1:59 to go that put the Lakers up by nine. The Lakers were 10-9 without Kobe as he recovered from the Achilles injury, went 2-4 with him back and now will look for their first three-game win streak of the season Saturday night at struggling Golden State.

From Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

Something funny happened on the way to the memorial service for the Lakers’ 2013-14 season.

They won a game.

The Lakers, finished for the season? Not yet.

“We’re not done,” Gasol said. “This team is ready to continue to compete and continue to have fun and is not going to fold just because we’re facing some injuries and adversity.”

This being the Western Conference, where 10 teams are .500 or better — exactly seven more than the East — it will be very difficult for the Lakers (13-13) to make the playoffs.

If the Lakers wanted any inspiration, they knew they went 10-9 without Bryant until his return from a torn Achilles’ tendon. It’s not quite rallying-cry material, but they again face a long chunk of time without him because of his fractured knee.

“I think they’re excited about disproving people like they did the first time and we’ll do it again,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said earlier Friday.

***

No. 3: Bulls pull Deng off market? — The Chicago Bulls, despite their season falling apart since Derrick Rose suffered a second knee injury, want to hold on to small forward Luol Deng, who is averaging 19.6 ppg and 7.0 rpg. That’s what sources have told ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst. Deng will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The two-time All-Star is currently out until at least next week nursing an Achilles injury:

Teams are inquiring about Deng’s status with the Bulls, who continue to sink in the standings in the wake of the knee injury that wrecked another season for Derrick Rose.

Deng told the Chicago Sun-Times this week that he’s been preparing for the possibility of being traded, but sources said that’s not in the team’s plans.

Despite failing to come to terms on a contract extension before the season, the Bulls remain optimistic they will re-sign Deng next summer.

Having spent his entire 10-year career with Chicago, Deng has consistently said he wants to stay with the Bulls, though the sides were far apart on contract talks before they were tabled.

Deng is in the final year of a contact that will pay him $14 million this season, and the Bulls are facing a luxury-tax bill that could exceed $13 million. Some league executives believe that the Bulls, who’d never incurred a luxury tax until last year, may have an interest in offloading payroll ahead of the trade deadline. For now, though, that will not include Deng.

The Bulls (9-16) lost their fourth consecutive game Thursday night and have dropped eight of their last 10 in falling to 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

***

No. 4: Oden getting antsy to play? — Miami center Greg Oden hasn’t played an NBA game in more than four years and the big man from Ohio State who continues to work himself back from multiple knee injuries appears to have the playing itch. He was inactive for the 26th consecutive game during the Heat’s breezy home victory over the Sacramento Kings Friday night. Miami Herald beat reporter Joseph Goodman reports that Oden could be getting frustrated with all of the pine time:

Dwyane Wade said before the Heat’s game against the Kings that Greg Oden has “gotten down” and “a little frustrated” while waiting to join the team on the court. Oden was in his business attire and inactive for the 26th consecutive game this season Friday.

At the same time, Wade said Oden “has been great” and the Heat’s co-captain said he was proud of Oden’s patience. The Heat’s reserve center, who hasn’t played in a regular-season game in more than four years, went through his normal pregame routine Friday. He worked out on the court before shedding his knee brace and practice attire for a sport coat and a spot on the bench.

Still, Wade’s tone seemed to acknowledge the widely held belief that Oden is still a long way from being cleared to play.

“His attitude has been great,” Wade said. “I’m sure at times he has gotten down and got a little frustrated, but he’s giving himself a chance. He is listening to the guys who know the bodies very well — way more than us athletes.

“He is doing everything they ask him to do, so it’s giving him an opportunity to get back on the court whenever that time comes. He’s not rushing it, so as someone who has been through injuries before, I’m proud of him being patient, and I know he’s frustrated because he wants to get out there and play with us. I know if he keeps doing what he’s doing, his time will come.”

***

No. 5: Knicks’ hometown hotel — The New York Knicks play their third home noon game Saturday against Memphis, and after the first two ended as the team’s most lopsided defeats of the season, coach Mike Woodson decided he wasn’t taking any chances with his team not being prepared yet again for the early tip. So the coach decided to put the team up in a hotel Friday night. Here’s the story from Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“Yeah, we’ve had those troubles and you know, we’re going to all get together tonight and huddle together,” Woodson said after practice Friday in Greenburgh. “I’m not going to let them hang out.

“We’re going to all get together, ourselves, as a team.”

Asked if he felt the need to “baby-sit” his players — after the Knicks were blown out on their home floor by 31 points by San Antonio on Nov. 10 and by 41 by Boston on Dec. 8 — Woodson replied, “Well, we’re going to be together. Put it that way.”

Carmelo Anthony said he was “hearing” that curfew would be 10 p.m. The All-Star forward indicated the Knicks (8-17) also stayed together at a hotel before the Celtics debacle earlier this month, but it certainly appears they will be more closely monitored before facing the Grizzlies.

“We’ve done that plenty of times where we stayed at a hotel together, the night before a game. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it works. We’ll see about that tomorrow,” Anthony said. “We didn’t do it the San Antonio game. Sometimes it works — early games. Sometimes it don’t.

“It’s just a matter of us coming out the gate and establish that early. I don’t think it has anything to do with us staying in a hotel or not. That’s what Coach wants to do and we’re going to do it.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Duke star and potential top three Draft pick Jabari Parker likes comparisons to Knicks star Carmelo Anthony … Injured Trail Blazers rookie C.J. McCollum has been cleared to practice, but his career debut could still be a ways away … LeBron James says the Heat’s shooters are concerned about how the Christmas Day sleeved jerseys will affect their stroke.

ICYMI Of The Night: The Sixers’ surprising early season success is a thing of the past, but guard Evan Turner helped bring some joy to the City of Brotherly Love with a last-second overtime basket to cap a wild 121-120 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.


VIDEO: Turner saves the day for Philly

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Granger ready to play | Lakers sign Marshall | L.A. bright spot? | Warriors stumble … again

No. 1: Granger back Friday night — The Indiana Pacers are neck-and-neck with the Miami Heat in the running for Best Team in The Eastern Conference, and they’ll get what they hope to be a huge leg up Friday when Danny Granger returns to the lineup against Houston (8 p.m., ESPN) .

Granger, an All-Star in 2009 when he averaged almost 26 points a game, has played in only five games this season nursing an injured calf. He played in only 62 games last year — and was used sparingly in most of those — as he dealt with knee injuries that eventually led to a surgery.

Now, the Pacers hope to slowly work him back into the lineup, with many around the team hoping he can eventually be a scoring threat off the bench that the sometimes offensively-challenged Pacers so desperately need.

From Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star:

Before getting too excited about some super second unit consisting of Granger, Lance Stephenson and Luis Scola, exercise caution. Granger will not immediately impact the lineup. Coach Frank Vogel said there’s no medical restrictions on Granger’s minutes but he will be limited 15-20 per game to start.

The Pacers have waited this long for him and can afford to wait for Granger to get his game rhythm and timing back. Although Granger knows the playbook, he admitted last week that he still needs to run the plays more. So, it will be some time before Granger can boost up the second unit.

“I’m still probably going to have a few mishaps,” Granger said. “That’s uncharacteristic of me but I’m going to be a lot better than I (would have been if I tried to come back last week).”

Indiana ranks near the bottom of the league in second-quarter scoring (21.6 points), which has traditionally been the time when Stephenson leads the second unit. As Granger is finding his way into the flow of the offense, you can expect him to mirror the things that Rasual Butler has done over the last three games — stretching out to either corner and letting Stephenson facilitate.

Granger’s goal? To be 100 percent by the playoffs.

“That’s how much time I have,” he said. “It’s not a thing where I have to rush or do this or do that. As long as I’m ready by the playoffs, I’ll be fine.”

***

No. 2: Marshall to the rescue – Eric Pinkus of the Los Angeles Times has the news of Kendall Marshall‘s signing. The young point guard, the 13th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, was drafted by the Suns, traded to the Wizards, waived by the Wizards in the Marcin Gortat trade and has been in the Philadelphia 76ers’ organization since:

Marshall recently joined the Delaware 87ers in the NBA Development League, averaging 19.4 points and 9.6 assists in seven appearances.

The Lakers are suddenly devoid of point guards with injuries to Steve Nash (back), Steve Blake (elbow), Jordan Farmar (hamstring) and temporary fill-in Kobe Bryant (knee).

Marshall is 6 feet 4. The North Carolina product is 22 years old.

His deal with the Lakers is non-guaranteed.

***

No. 3: Kobe’s loss, Lakers’ gain — The biggest sports news of Thursday was Kobe Bryant‘s injury, which forced the signing of Marshall. While many see it as a type of basketball Armageddon in Southern California — the Clippers rising, the Lakers slipping further into the Pacific — venerable L.A. columnist Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times points out some of the good things that can happen with Bryant sitting out for the next six weeks. He also urges some action on the Lakers’ part:

There is sadness felt by an aging superstar who could be losing a slow fight with his body. There is sadness felt by a Lakers organization whose recent, foolish $48.5-million investment in Bryant is looking worse by the ache. There is sadness from the fans who will have to endure at least another 21 games without the electric promise of Bryant’s presence.

But step back, look past the sight of Bryant crumpled on the floor in Memphis, breathe past the shock that he played an entire half on a broken knee, and understand that the big picture looks far different.

This awful occurrence is actually the best thing for everyone.

Now the Lakers can tank without tanking.

Now the Lakers can finally begin their inevitable rebuilding process and maintain their dignity while doing it.

Without Bryant, the makeshift remaining team can play hard enough to entertain while losing enough to drop into next summer’s rich draft lottery.

Without Bryant, the Lakers finally have the excuse they need to speed up this renovation by trading Pau Gasol.

.***

No. 4: Warriors tripped up again Golden State, a team that was supposed to be challenging for the top spot in a stacked Western Conference, was knocked off by San Antonio late Thursday night on a tip-in by Tiago Splitter. Losing to San Antonio brings no shame. But losing to the Spurs without their Big Three of Tim Duncan (taking a breather), Manu Ginobili (also taking it easy) and Tony Parker (who is injured) — and in Oakland, no less — has some folks in the Bay Area starting to get nervous. From Carl Steward of the Oakland Tribune:

It was a horrible loss for Warriors, who dropped to 14-13, arguably their worst of the season. If losing to a spurious aggregation of Spurs on the home floor wasn’t bad enough, Golden State’s most prominent tormentor was a former Warrior, Marco Belinelli, who poured in 28 points to spearhead the San Antonio shocker.

Oh, and then there was Saint Mary’s College alum Patty Mills, who filled in nicely for Parker with 20 points.

But in the final accounting, it was really the Warriors who did themselves in. They committed 24 turnovers — 12 in each half — resulting in 31 San Antonio points. They blew an early 14-point lead by halftime. They hoisted up 31 3-point tries and made just eight.

“It was kind of a trap game, but coming in, I knew it’d be tough,” Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala said. “They played a solid four quarters of basketball, and we only played a good nine minutes in the first quarter.”

Andrew Bogut said it most bluntly of all, noting, “We can’t lose this game at home, period.”

Beyond Stephen Curry (30 points, 15 assists), Lee and Bogut (18 rebounds), the Warriors had two notably horrific box-score lines. Klay Thompson was 6 for 18 from the floor, 1 for 7 from beyond the arc and committed five turnovers. Harrison Barnes played 19 minutes and didn’t score.

“They are not playing well right now,” coach Mark Jackson said. “I’m not going to sit here and make excuses for them. I believe in my guys, they have had some great moments for us and they will have great moments for us, but right now they are not playing their best basketball.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bucks are going to shelve Ersan Ilyasova for awhile due to a sore ankle … Dennis Rodman is looking for a few good players for a pickup game in Korea. Because it’s Rodman, it would figure that it’s North Korea … Ref Eric Lewis has to be hurting a little this morning … Nice piece, if you missed it, by Sports Illustrated‘s Lee Jenkins on 28 seconds or so that flipped the 2013 NBA Finals on its head.

ICYMI Of The Night: Serge Ibaka blocks shots. That’s what he does. Even if your’re a 7-footer like Chicago’s Joakim Noah, you have to respect that. On every shot. Every shot …


VIDEO: No, Jo. And No Jo again.