Posts Tagged ‘Danny Granger’

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Bucks buyout Butler | Reports: Clips in lead for Granger | Report: Grizz add Udrih | Celtics resolve Rondo dispute | Pelicans’ Davis injured vs. Mavs

No. 1: Report: Bucks buyout Butler; Thunder favorites to sign him — As of yesterday, there were rumblings that the Bucks would soon be buying out the contract of veteran small forward Caron Butler as Milwaukee continues its rebuilding process. Per Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Butler has received his buyout and will soon be able to potentially sign with a playoff-bound team in a few days:

The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat have emerged as frontrunners to sign forward Caron Butler, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

After securing a contract buyout from the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday morning, Butler is expected to clear waivers and become a free agent.

San Antonio and Chicago are in pursuit and plan to make pitches for Butler too, league sources said.

The fact that Oklahoma City stopped pursuing Danny Granger has led many in the NBA to believe the Thunder are confident in their recruitment of Butler.

The acquisition of Butler could be a tremendous boost to the Thunder and Heat’s pursuit of an NBA championship. Despite initial reports that Butler was destined to sign with Miami, Oklahoma City has a strong chance to land Butler, sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Heat are competing to lure Butler back to where his career started as the 10th overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft, but the ability to fill the gap as a complementary scorer to Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook has made the Thunder an attractive destination, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

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UPDATE, 1:19 p.m. ET: Granger is reportedly having phone conversations with several of the teams pursuing him, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports.

No. 2: Reports: Clippers favorites to add Granger — The portion of Danny Granger‘s career with the Philadelphia 76ers lasted all of roughly six days before he and the team came to an agreement on a buyout deal of his contract yesterday. As our David Aldridge reported first, several teams — including the Heat, Mavs, Clippers, Rockets and Bulls — are interested in adding the former All-Star, but it appears the Los Angeles Clippers may have pulled ahead of the pack. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski has more on L.A.’s interest:

The Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as the frontrunners to sign forward Danny Granger, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Once Granger clears waivers in the next 48 hours, the Clippers’ ability to offer him significant playing time and championship contention under coach Doc Rivers makes them the most attractive destination, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Still, the San Antonio Spurs remain a viable possibility for Granger, league sources said. The Spurs are selling Granger on a modern-day variation of the Robert Horry role in San Antonio, league sources said. Granger is expected to speak with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford in the near future, sources said.

Beyond the Clippers and Spurs, the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks have shown an inclination to pursue Granger and are expected to have conversations with him, league sources said.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelbourne report that Clippers officials met with Granger’s representatives during last night’s Clippers-Rockets game in L.A.:

The Clippers are widely regarded as the team best positioned to provide Granger the playing time and the championship contention he craves.

And they’ve stepped up their pursuit of the former All-Star, sources told ESPN.com, at least partly due to growing concern within the organization about the status of guard J.J. Redick, who has missed the past nine games and is out indefinitely with a back injury.

To potentially further increase L.A.’s need for another front-line player at the wing positions, Jamal Crawford left Wednesday’s win over the Rockets with a calf injury. Crawford has been starting in place of Redick and has played a huge part — alongside star forward Blake Griffin – in keeping the Clippers among the West’s top four teams while star guard Chris Paul was out with a separated shoulder.

The Clippers, at the behest of coach Doc Rivers, have already made multiple in-season signings, including Stephen Jackson, Hedo Turkoglu and Sasha Vujacic, to try to spruce up his perimeter rotation.

Rivers quickly confirmed his team’s interest in Granger before Wednesday’s victory, saying “Of course!” when asked if L.A. would like to sign him, but then added: “That’ll be up to Danny.”

Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that Granger, after playing in Indiana for the first nine seasons of career, is determined to hear out all of his suitors before making a commitment, with the other two teams in Texas – Houston and Dallas – also trying to wedge their way into contention alongside the Clippers and Spurs by registering bids of their own.

But sources also indicate that Granger is likely to verbally commit to a team before he formally clears waivers Friday at 5 p.m. ET and becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Sources say teams interested in Granger have been consistently told in recent days that the free agent-to-be — if he were to surrender his Bird rights by securing his release from the Sixers — would be looking for a new team that could offer not only a shot at a championship but also guaranteed playing time.


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about Danny Granger (fast-forward to the 7:40 mark)

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No. 3: Report: Grizz pick up ex-Knicks guard Udrih — The Memphis Grizzlies suffered an injury scare to starting point guard Mike Conley before the All-Star break. Thankfully, rookie Nick Calathes stepped in admirably and kept the team afloat in Conley’s absence. Conley is now back and starting again, but Memphis made a move to further shore up their point guard corps, writes Marc Stein of ESPN.com, but adding recently waived Knicks point guard Beno Udrih:

The Memphis Grizzlies have claimed veteran point guard Beno Udrih off waivers, ESPN.com has learned.

Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that the Grizzlies put in a successful waiver claim to acquire Udrih, who was released Monday by the New York Knicks.

The Grizzlies, sources said, turned their attention to acquiring Udrih for their backcourt after attempts to strike a deal with Jimmer Fredette – who is about to secure his release from the Sacramento Kings via buyout — proved unsuccessful.

Sources say veteran forward Metta World Peace, who was also waived Monday after he and Udrih negotiated buyouts with New York, cleared waivers Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET and is now an unrestricted free agent.

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No. 4: Celtics pass on talking with Rondo about absence — The last few days or so in Boston, the drama (if you even want to call it that) with the Celtics has been about point guard Rajon Rondo‘s unexcused absence from Boston’s game in Sacramento last week. The first response to the issue by Celtics president Danny Ainge was to say a discussion with Rondo would definitely take place. Then, yesterday, Ainge said a discussion with Rondo would take at some place in the future. Now, according to ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg, Boston has handled the matter internally and it is a dead issue:

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he’s talked with point guard Rajon Rondo about the player’s decision to not accompany the team to Sacramento last week, but said the team is handling the matter internally and Stevens stressed his goal is to simply move forward.

With the Celtics playing the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday, Rondo was not scheduled to play against the Kings as he eases his way back from ACL surgery. But rather than fly with the team, he remained in Los Angeles where the Boston Herald reported that he celebrated his 28th birthday with family and friends.

Rondo, who Stevens said informed of his decision to stay behind before the team departed, rejoined the Celtics in Utah and played in Monday’s game against the Jazz.

“We’ve sat down and talked. We did that Monday,” said Stevens. “In my mind, I’m moving forward. Then when [Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] gets back in town, they can meet and go from there.”

Stevens was asked if he thought Rondo should have accompanied the team to Sacramento.

“I think the biggest thing right now is for me to move forward and for us to move forward from that,” said Stevens. “Obviously, it’s something that is a great question to ask, something that I’ve certainly spent a lot of time thinking about. But at the end of the day, I’ve passed that point.”

For his part, Rondo downplayed the incident after Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, suggesting it was being overblown in the media.

“I haven’t really read much about it. I heard a lot of comments,” said Rondo. “Nobody knows the story, so [the media can] keep making up every story you guys possibly can.”

So what is the story?

“It’s my business,” said Rondo. “It’s my choice.”

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No. 5: Banged-up Pelicans see All-Star Davis get injured — New Orleans’ season has hardly gone how it thought it would after an offseason roster upgrade and a nickname change. Injuries have wreaked havoc on the Pelicans with Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans all missing significant chunks of the season with injuries. Things got worse for New Orleans last night in Dallas as All-Star big man Anthony Davis hurt his shoulder and left the game. Our Jeff Caplan has more on the Pels’ injury woes:

New Orleans’ dreadful injury situation worsened Wednesday night with All-Star forward Anthony Davis spraining his left shoulder in the second quarter at Dallas, the first leg of a five-game road trip.

Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he didn’t ”know much right now” regarding the severity of Davis’ injury, but it was bad enough to keep him out of the remainder of New Orleans’ fifth consecutive loss, 108-89, to the red-hot Mavericks. When Davis left with 4:13 to go, Dallas led by one, 37-36, and had just made a run to dig out of a 28-20 hole.

Davis played just 12 minutes, 37 seconds and exited with six points, nine rebounds, two blocks and one sweet bounce pass to a streaking Eric Gordon for a layup. Davis hurt himself when he jumped straight up and extended his arms attempting to rebound his own miss against Mavs center Sam Dalembert. Even on replay it’s difficult to discern exactly how the injury occurred, but Davis quickly grabbed the upper part of his left arm, squeezing it as if trying to pinch away the pain.

He attempted to stay in the game, but less than a minute later checked out and headed to the locker room. He returned to the bench during the third quarter with his left arm appearing to be immobilized underneath his warmup jersey. He did not speak to the media after the game.

Davis’ name now moves next to point guard Jrue Holiday, sixth man Ryan Anderson and center Jason Smith on the injured list. Those are four of the Pelicans’ top six scorers. The latter three could all be done for the year. New Orleans can only hope that’s not the case for their 20-year-old face of the franchise who is having a marvelous sophomore season averaging 20.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg and leading the league as the lone player topping 3.0 bpg (3.02). Still, at 23-34 and 10 games out of the final playoff spot, the Pelicans won’t rush their star back until he’s ready.

“That’s life,” Williams said shaking his head earlier in the day as he discussed his team’s crippling injury plight that has robbed it of a playoff chase. Four months ago, that was the goal.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis suffers shoulder injury vs. Mavericks

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: ICYMI, the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili had his foot rip completely through his shoe mid-game last night … Portland’s bench came through with a big effort in last night’s win over the Nets … Might the Cavs have some interest in signing Jimmer Fredette once he gets waived by the Kings? … Diante Garrett — not the Suns’ Goran Dragic or Jazz rookie Trey Burke — was the standout point guard in last night’s Suns-Jazz game … The Magic are reportedly looking for their own NBA D-League team to run

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Two words for you — Gerald Green. Now, do your part and hit the play buttons below …


VIDEO: Gerald Green puts down a nasty open-court flush


VIDEO: Gerald Green puts up a monster reverse dunk on the Jazz

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 26


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Sixers, Granger mulling options | Ainge, Rondo chat delayed | Turner impresses in Indy debut | Blazers’ Robinson hurts knee in Denver | Report: Butler, Bucks working on buyout

No. 1: Report: Granger, Sixers still talking over future — Another day, another day closer to a buyout for Danny Granger with the Philadelphia 76ers? Team officials and the small forward continue to talk over what the next move will be: a buyout in the coming days or, perhaps, Granger sticking with the Sixers for the rest of the season. ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelbourne and Marc Stein have more on what may come next for Granger:

Newly acquired Danny Granger and the Philadelphia 76ers continue to discuss a possible buyout, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday that a buyout consummated before Saturday’s midnight deadline for Granger to be waived and remain eligible to appear in this season’s playoffs with any team he subsequently signs for remains the most likely outcome.

But sources also said Granger continues to weigh other options, including staying with the 76ers for the rest of the season, as the deadline draws near.

Sources said Tuesday the San Antonio Spurs and Granger share a mutual interest if the former All-Star comes to a buyout agreement with the Sixers by the weekend.

It’s believed the Los Angeles Clippers will be another leading suitor for Granger’s services should he become an unrestricted free agent next week.

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No. 2: Ainge says Rondo chat likely won’t happen soon — As we reported in this space yesterday, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is expected to be called into team president Danny Ainge‘s office to explain why he didn’t travel with the team to a game in Sacramento. Apparently that conversation is still going to happen … it just won’t happen for a few more days. Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald has more on the issue:

Though Danny Ainge plans to talk to Rajon Rondo about the guard’s decision to celebrate his 28th birthday in Los Angeles last Saturday while the team flew to Sacramento for a game against the Kings, the meeting might not take place for a week.

Ainge departed on a college scouting trip before the team’s return to Boston. Though the president of basketball operations still plans to discuss the issue with Rondo, he won’t return until next week.

A team source stressed that “it’s not that big a deal around here,” though Ainge hasn’t ruled out fining Rondo for not receiving official permission. The guard, who still is not playing on the second night of back-to-back games as he returns from ACL surgery, was not scheduled to play Saturday night in Sacramento. He chose to remain in Los Angeles for a birthday celebration that was attended by his wife, children and mother.

Rondo, who rejoined the team Monday in Utah, told the Herald he had talked with management about staying behind in Los Angeles, and that there was nothing further to discuss. Ainge, however, said he planned to discuss the matter with Rondo once the team returned yesterday.

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No. 3: Turner fares nicely in Indy debut — Before last night’s Pacers-Los Angeles Lakers game from Indianapolis, coach Frank Vogel said newly acquired swingman Evan Turner would come off the bench and play roughly 20-25 minutes in his Indiana debut. For the record, Turner played 26 minutes and 11 seconds and finished with 13 points and six rebounds in the Pacers’ 118-98 romp over the Lakers. The feeling after the game, according to Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star, was that Turner’s debut went about as well as it could:

Turner had the green light to be himself in the Pacers’ 118-98 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. During an offensive torrent when the Pacers (43-13) created season highs in field goal makes and attempts as well as bench points, Turner finished with 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting.

“He’s just a good basketball player,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He has good savvy, good IQ. He understands his teammates. He picks things up quickly and like I said, he looked comfortable.”

Turner, whom the Pacers received in a last-minute trade deadline deal last week for Danny Granger, took as many shots as starter Lance Stephenson. He played 26 minutes of mostly offensive-oriented basketball while still working through the details of the Pacers’ league-best defense. However, as seven Indiana players finished in double digits – led by Paul George’s 20 points – Turner fit right in with a bench unit that produced 50 points.

Turner was admittedly nervous before the game, and even when he heard the applause from many of the 18,165 fans – in spite of their team’s woeful record, many Lakers (19-38) fans still showed up. And he started out looking like a new kid in class. In his first action, Turner set a solid screen that aided in the Pacers’ score off the inbounds play. Then on his first run through a half-court set, Turner stretched the floor and raced back on defense even before a shot went up from the inside. A West moving screen foiled his first touch, then Turner grew confident.

Of all people, Turner understands Indiana’s offensive principle – the man with ball creates the score and when help comes, he shares it – because with the 76ers, his role was to be that man with the ball.

“In Philly,” Turner said. “I could (pass) the ball at the rim.”

So, yes, Turner knows how to shoot. He took those opportunities whenever he caught smaller defenders like Jodie Meeks or MarShon Brooks and backed them down for turnaround midrange shots on the baseline.

“He’s still got to adjust,” David West said. “He’s got to figure out how to play with us. He’s going to have to figure out on the fly here. He’s smart, heady, composed.

“He’s got to get used to the level of talent we have. Guys he can defer to as opposed to feeling he has to do too much.”


VIDEO: Evan Turner discusses his first game as a member of the Pacers

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No. 4: Blazers’ Robinson suffers minor knee injury — Portland’s frontcourt depth has already been thinned by a recent minor injury to All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and ones to Joel Freeland (MCL, out several more weeks) and Meyers Leonard (ankle, out 2 more weeks). It wasn’t a great sign last night, then, when one of the last few healthy big men, Thomas Robinson, suffered a knee injury in Denver. Luckily for the Blazers, reports Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com, Robinson merely has a left patella strain:

Thomas Robinson suffered a knee injury in the first half of Tuesday’s game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets.The team is listing it as a left patella strain and says he is day-to-day.

Robinson, 22, sustained the injury when he went up for a dunk attempt. Something occurred on his way down. He was only able to play three second half minutes due to severity of the pain.

“I tried to go back in there but I couldn’t,” he told CSNNW.com. “It was something I’ve never experienced before on this knee.”

His diagnosis is good news, considering how defeated Robinson looked in his locker room stall after the Trail Blazers won 100-95.

Robinson scored 2 points and pulled down 5 rebounds in 14 minutes of action against the Nuggets.

“I’m worried, he said before finding out the results. “I’m just going to rest and put some ice on it and get some rest and hopefully I’ll be able to go tomorrow.”


VIDEO: The Blazers hold off the Nuggets in Denver

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No. 5: Report: Bucks on verge of buying out Butler — Wisconsin native Caron Butler was plenty excited in the offseason to return to his home state and play for Milwaukee’s squad (as this great video documents), but things haven’t worked out how Butler or the Bucks have hoped. With the team in the midst of a clear rebuilding season, Butler is expected to be bought out of his deal so that he can sign with a contender before the March 1 deadline. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has more: 

Milwaukee Bucks swingman Caron Butler is scheduled to complete a contract buyout Wednesday that sets him up to become an unrestricted free agent by the end of the week, according to sources close to the talks.

Sources told ESPN.com that Wisconsin native Butler, who is earning $8 million this season on an expiring contract with his home-state Bucks, is on course to be released by Milwaukee on Wednesday and thus clear waivers Friday, well in advance of the Saturday midnight deadline by which time he must be set free to be eligible to play in the playoffs with another team.

The two-time defending champion Miami Heat, sources said, will be at the front of the line to sign Butler, who spent his first two seasons in the league with the Heat and is expected to verbally commit to a team before clearing waivers.

Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal-Times also confirms that the Bucks and Butler are working on a buyout:

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jason Collins’ No. 98 jersey was reportedly a top seller at both the NBA Store and its website … The Knicks are set to sign ex-Cavs forward Earl Clark and ex-Lakers and Suns guard Shannon Brown to 10-day deals … According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, ex-Bucks star Junior Bridgeman has shown interest in investing in a part of the team … Speaking of Mr. Bridgeman, Pistons guard Chauncey Billups explains how Bridgeman’s off-the-court business savy has influenced him

ICYMI(s) of The Night: The Raptors’ Tyler Hansbrough looked like one of the poor guys trying to stick with “Uncle Drew” (aka Cavs All-Star guard Kyrie Irving) during one of his forays to the court for a game of pickup hoops …


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving crosses up Tyler Hansbrough en route to a layup

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 25


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sixers expect decision on Granger soon  | Celts to ask Rondo about Sacramento absence | Big Baby to debut Wednesday? | Knee injuries may force Billups to retire

No. 1: Sixers’ decision on Granger buyout coming soon — Newly acquired Sixers forward Danny Granger has yet to suit up in a game for Philadelphia, and questions remain as to whether or not that will actually ever happen. According to Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com and Christopher A. Vito of the Delaware County Daily Times, the Sixers and Granger are working to resolve his future with the team, which may soon lead to a buyout of Granger’s contract so that the veteran can sign with a contender before the March 1 deadline.

Here’s Lynam’s report on Granger, who sat out last night’s game against the Bucks:

Danny Granger, who was acquired in a trade with Indiana last Thursday, is in Philadelphia but is not at the Wells Fargo Center for the Sixers’ game against the Bucks tonight.

“The discussions and meetings are continuing on with Sam [Hinkie],” Brett Brown said prior to tipoff. “I spoke with him yesterday and that really is the latest update.”

Brown called his discussion with Granger a “private meeting” giving no indication if Granger had any thoughts of playing for the Sixers for the remainder 25 games after tonight.

A buyout of his contract is thought to be the topic of discussion but that is speculation based on Granger not yet being with the team despite having passed his physical.

“In the next short period of time, maybe even in the next 24 hours and announcement will be made on the direction our situation with Danny Granger will go,” Brown said.

And here’s Vito providing another angle (and a great Brett Brown quote) on Granger, too:

Danny Granger’s status with the 76ers remains unresolved, though it appears both sides could be working toward a buyout arrangement.

Granger is not with the Sixers. He was not at Wells Fargo Center for Monday’s game against Milwaukee, Sixers coach Brett Brown said, and there was no locker room stall arranged for the ninth-year forward.

“He’s in the city of Philadelphia. Go find him,” Brown said. “He’s got a fake wig and sunglasses on.”

Granger finished his physical examination Sunday, meeting with Brown after doing so. He also sat down with Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie sometime over the weekend.

Brown wouldn’t divulge what was discussed when he spoke with Granger.

Acquired from Indiana at the Feb. 20 trade deadline, Granger does not seem to have any interest in playing for the foundering, rebuilding Sixers. If he seeks a buyout of the remainder of his expiring contract, it’d be for roughly $4 million. Brown insists that “there’s still more going on with the discussions,” however.

“He most definitely wants to play basketball this year,” Brown said of Granger, the one-time All-Star. “The obvious stuff is assessing his goals at this stage of his career. He’s a player and he wants to play. Just trying to sort out what’s going to be best for both parties has yet to be determined.”

But Granger and the Sixers are at a critical juncture: the 30-year-old Granger has to be signed by a team by March 1 to be included on that club’s playoff roster. That gives him and the Sixers a small window within which to complete the buyout process.

There have been multiple reports that Granger, upon his release, will opt to sign for a championship contender like Miami or San Antonio.

If Granger’s brief tenure with the Sixers plays out the way it looks like it will, the Sixers will have come up almost completely empty-handed on their deadline day deal with Indiana. They acquired Granger and a 2015 second-round draft pick from the Pacers, in exchange for forwards Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. And since the Pacers are expected to contend for at least another few years, that second-rounder from Indiana will likely fall between the 50th and 60th overall choices.


VIDEO: Sixers coach Brett Brown talks about Danny Granger’s future and more

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No. 2: Celtics plan to ask Rondo about Sacramento absence — Last Friday, the Celtics took on the Lakers in Los Angeles with Rajon Rondo in the starting lineup at point guard. Rondo finished with six points, six rebounds and 11 assists in 34 minutes of work in a 101-92 loss. After the game, the Celtics were due to take on the Kings in Sacramento the next night, but Rondo did not play in the game. The official word was the Rondo didn’t play so he could rest his still-recovering knee, but he did not accompany the team to Sacramento and it may have created an issue the team has to address, writes Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

The Celtics are not taking it as a major issue, but the team is still hoping to straighten things out with Rajon Rondo after his decision to stay in Los Angeles and not accompany the team to Sacramento for Saturday’s game.While some were displeased by the move, for which Rondo did not receive official permission, others pointed out he was not scheduled to play in the game anyway (on the second night of a back-to-back), and that he may have simply been making some assumptions based on precedent. Multiple sources say he remained in LA for a birthday celebration. He turned 28 on Saturday.

The captain didn’t want to get into the matter before last night’s 110-98 loss to the Jazz.

“We already talked about it,” Rondo said. “There’s nothing to talk about.”

That doesn’t appear to be the case. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge said yesterday he is still looking into the situation.

“I plan on talking to Rondo when he gets back into town,” he told the Herald. “I’ll find out more about what went into it, and then we’ll handle it internally. We handle all of those kind of issues internally.”

Among that which could have factored into Rondo’s thinking was he had been left home from the trip to Milwaukee for the Feb. 10 game on the end of a back-to-back as he returns from a torn right ACL. Then there was the birthday plan.

“His wife and kids were with him in LA, and there were some other people who came in,” a source said. “I think he felt obligated to them, too, and what they had planned for his birthday.”

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No. 3: Davis expected to make Clips debut Wednesday — The L.A. Clippers signed veteran forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis yesterday in what they hope is a move to provide more frontcourt depth for a run to the Western Conference finals and beyond. Davis is happy to be reunited with coach Doc Rivers, who coached him when both men were in Boston, but he sat out last night’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that Davis is expected to get into the Clips’ mix sometime this week:

Glen Davis arrived at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans after signing with the Los Angeles Clippers but will not play Monday night against the Pelicans.The Clippers said Davis will take a required physical exam Tuesday and should play Wednesday at home against the Houston Rockets.

“We were on the phone with him and just told him what we offered and I’m sure the other guys did that,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I do think that it helped a little bit that we have a relationship. He knows me and I know him. I think that’s the situation he wanted to be in and that’s good.”

Davis, 28, reached a buyout with the Orlando Magic on Friday and was waived. The Brooklyn Nets had also shown interest in Davis, but decided to sign Jason Collins, feeling that they were out of the running on Davis.

“I just really felt the Clippers were heading in the right direction,” Davis said. “They’re young, they got a great coach, a great point guard, a great rising star like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and guys that you can build around and I feel like I’m one of those types of guys, a glue guy.”


VIDEO: Glen Davis explains why he signed with the L.A. Clippers

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No. 4: Knee woes may force Billups to retire — If he never plays another minute in a Detroit Pistons uniform, Chauncey Billups‘ legend and legacy with the team is complete. That’s a good thing to realize as it seems his career may be nearing its end sooner than expected. Billups has been out since having minor knee surgery a few days ago and his timetable to return is 2-3 weeks. But according to the Detroit Free PressVince Ellis, Billups’ knee injury problems may lead him to retire early:

After Chauncey Billups finished speaking to the media late Monday night, he was asked if Father Time had him up against the ropes.

Billups just smiled and said: “The gas light is on. I don’t know if there’s 15 miles or 30 miles left.”

His response caused an eruption of laughter — the only laughing going on in the Detroit Pistons locker room after the latest loss — a 104-96 loss to the Warriors.

Billups, 37, spoke to the media for the first time since he had minor left knee surgery several days ago.

The diagnosis is 2-to-3 weeks of rehab before a possible return, but Billups said he isn’t going to rush back.

So with only one year left (a team option) on his deal, is retirement a possibility?

“It all kind of just depends how this feels, how things are with the knee,” Billups said of a return next season. “If the knee is fine, sure I would like to come back. But if it’s not, I don’t want to come back to this.

“It’s tough to do this and we’re not a winning team at this stage. It’s tough to do that, but hopefully in a perfect world and my knee is fine … I feel like if my knee was fine we probably wouldn’t be in the position that we’re in.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chinese league star Lester Hudson is drawing some interest from a couple of contenders as the playoffs’ stretch run nears … Wizards seem likely to sign veteran big man Drew Gooden to a 10-day deal as they try to offset losing Nene for 4-6 weeks to injury … Clippers may have some interest in bringing the recently bought out Metta World Peace in for a deal, but don’t expect to see MWP in Brooklyn … The Jazz are simply better when Derrick Favors plays

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Dirk Nowitzki played hero last night against the Knicks with a game-winning buzzer-beater at MSG. That was great, but we also don’t want to overlook a pair of behind-the-back passes leading to power jams, the first one from O.J. Mayo to Brandon Knight and another from Brandon Jennings to Greg Monroe


VIDEO: Brandon Knight finishes strong off the O.J. Mayo feed


VIDEO: Greg Monroe puts down a power flush off the dish from Brandon Jennings

‘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