Posts Tagged ‘David Lee’

Numbers preview: The Finals


VIDEO: The Starters preview The Finals

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers each made history in reaching The Finals.

Since the NBA starting counting turnovers in 1977, no team had made The Finals after leading the league in pace — like the Warriors did — or after ranking as low as 20th in defensive efficiency — like the Cavs did — in the regular season. That’s 37 years of trends that have been bucked, in two different ways.

These are special teams. Statistically, the Warriors are the best team we’ve seen since the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls, outscoring their opponents by 11.4 points per 100 possessions in the regular season. The Cavs, meanwhile, have fought through a myriad of changes (via trades and injuries) to get here, improving defensively along the way.

And the Cavs have been statistically better, both offensively and defensively, than the Warriors in the playoffs, even when you account for weaker competition. Cleveland has better marks in adjusted efficiency (taking their opponents’ regular season marks) on both ends of the floor.

This is also a matchup of the MVP and the world’s best player, the two guys who lead the league in postseason usage rate. Stephen Curry and LeBron James won’t be guarding each other and have very unique games, but some of their playoff advanced stats are very similar.

20150529_curry_james

Curry has been the more efficient scorer, while James has provided more for his team on defense and on the glass. Curry has the deeper supporting cast, but James has been here before.

When this series is done, he’ll either be 3-3 or 2-4 in The Finals, and either the Cavs will have their first championship or the Warriors will have their first one in 40 years.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Finals, with links to let you dive in and explore more. (more…)

Morning shootaround — May 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for Friday’s two playoff games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry splashes on Memphis | Finally, Hawks reach round of 4 | Better days ahead for Wiz | Counting by 2’s in 3-point league

No. 1: Curry splashes on Memphis — On an almost nightly basis around the NBA, you’ll see this laughable sight: Some player who has no business hoisting shots from 3-point range, let alone some distance beyond that, will be heaving up ridiculous attempts from out-of-bounds on the sidelines. Or from halfcourt. The simple thought of “Planning to take that shot in the game, are ya?” never seems to cross their minds. But then there’s Steph Curry and a couple of his friends on the Golden State Warriors, who hoist the ball from such spots and have credibility enough to call them “field-goal attempts.” Curry was at it again while helping the Warriors oust Memphis for one of the berths in the Western Conference finals, per our own Shaun Powell:

There have been plenty of bubble-bursting shots in playoff history and while Jerry West‘s 60-foot runner in the 1970 NBA Finals is easily the Hindenberg of them all, was Curry’s three-quarters-length heave Friday one of the loudest pops heard since?

The noise is still banging in the eardrums of the Grizzlies, who were simply stunned by the sequence in the final seconds of the third quarter, just when they were mounting a comeback to prevent elimination. The FedEx Forum crowd was buzzing and begging the Grizzlies to seize control of Game 6 for the first time all night. Jeff Green rushed downcourt attempting to cut the Golden State lead to three when he was blocked. Curry scooped the loose ball and threw a chest-shot in the opposite direction … from near his own three-point stripe … and the ball didn’t even have the decency to bank off the glass or wiggle inside the rim first. It was true. Splash. Damn. For a city steeped in music, Curry just played a lullaby and put all of Memphis to sleep. The arena became that hushed.

“In mid-air,” said coach Steve Kerr, “I said, ‘I think it’s going in.'”

Yes, after the season he had, and the playoffs he’s having, we’re all conditioned to feel that way about Curry now, that when he misses a jumper, from wherever, it’s a head-scratcher. He’s the rare player who never loses confidence, who won’t skip a shot because he clanked one or two. That makes him dangerous and drives the defense crazy. And every time he touched the ball after that 62-footer, the crowd groaned before he even flicked his wrist. They knew. You knew.

Curry made 25 from deep in this series and the Grizzlies made 24. Curry made eight (out of 13) 3-pointers in Game 6, the Grizzlies four. He was a one-man 3-point demolition crew, none more crushing than from 62 feet. The Grizzlies collectively caved in the fourth quarter after Curry’s groin-kick and their season was done. Meanwhile, Curry’s legend and the Warriors move on, to a place where the franchise hasn’t been in 39 years, four wins from the NBA Finals, bringing the requisite superstar necessary to win a title.

***

No. 2: Finally, Hawks reach round of 4 — It took one 10th of a second, maybe two, in which one of Paul Pierce‘s fingers still was in contact with the basketball to make it happen. But after the official replay review revealed the truth about The Truth, wiping out the corner 3 that would have sent the Hawks-Wizards game into overtime, Atlanta finally … finally … finally emerged from that Eastern Conference semifinals series to secure a spot in the conference finals. Our man Lang Whitaker was there to chronicle a little history:

Since moving to the Eastern Conference before the 1970-71 season, the Atlanta Hawks have made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals 15 times. But somehow, despite all those chances, things have never gone their way, and the Hawks have never been able to advance into the Eastern Conference finals.

Until Friday night. ATLast.

After a campaign where they surprised pretty much everyone during the regular season en route to winning 60 games and the Eastern Conference, the Hawks continued writing a new history by beating the Washington Wizards 94-91 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. For the first time in 45 years, the Atlanta Hawks have advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.

“I think the city really deserved this,” said Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll, who led the Hawks with 25 points. “They needed this. I think we wouldn’t even be here without our fans.”

As with most things Hawks, it wasn’t easy and it nearly didn’t happen. Despite leading by 10, 81-71, with nine minutes remaining, the Wizards tied the game at 89 with 1:14 left to play. To take the lead for good, the Hawks turned to the very thing that defined them throughout the season: team basketball. Instead of going one-on-one, Jeff Teague found Carroll on backdoor cuts on back-to-back possessions, giving the Hawks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

To be certain, a trip to the Eastern Conference finals for the Hawks should be considered “getting through,” but it’s still baby steps — during Atlanta’s dry spell, the Boston Celtics have been at least as far as the Eastern Conference Finals 17 times. But after a summer of discontent for the Hawks, with general manager Danny Ferry taking an indefinite leave of absence following making racist statements on a phone call, and then the franchise being put up for sale following an owner self-reporting racially charged emails, any type of good news would probably be embraced by Hawks fans. A 60-win season and trip to the Conference finals exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations.

***

No. 3: Better days ahead for Wiz — There was no denying the disappointment for the Washington Wizards. As far as some of their players are concerned, losing in the semifinals is a Groundhog Day hell that officially meant no progress from their elimination two rounds deep a year ago. There’s a difference between knocking at the door as a team on the rise and knock-knock-knocking as a legitimate championship contender. But setting aside the emotions of Friday night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann pointed out some of the progress on which the Wizards can build, once they get over this:

[The] Wizards did something in this postseason that they didn’t do last year and that they didn’t do in the regular season. They put the ball in the basket. They were the most improved offensive team in the playoffs.

A team that ranked 19th in offensive efficiency in the regular season changed its identity and looked rather potent. Inefficient mid-range shots became 3-pointers, and 40 percent of those 3-pointers went in. It was like the Wizards finally discovered what the rest of the league has known for the last few years.

With more space to operate, [John] Wall made it clear why he was the No. 1 pick in the Draft five years ago. No matter how the opponent defended him, he made the right decisions and the right plays.

With Wall out of the lineup for three games, Bradley Beal stepped up and showed why he was the No. 3 pick in 2012. He stuck to Kyle Korver all series and scored inside and out.

And with an opportunity like he’s never had before, Otto Porter looked like a top-three pick too. He was a 3-and-D small forward, slowing down DeMar DeRozan in the first round and staying active off the ball on offense.

And suddenly, you realized that this team has a lot of talent. Young talent. Wall turns 25 in September. Beal and Porter each turn 22 next month.

Paul Pierce provided leadership, swagger, and the ability to space the floor as a part-time four man. And if he chooses not to exercise his player option for next season, he will be missed.

But whether or not Pierce is back, the Wizards will continue to build around their three young perimeter players and a defense that has ranked in the top 10 each of the last three seasons. And they now have the blueprint – more versatility at the forward positions – that can push them toward a top 10 ranking on the other end of the floor.

When you have a top 10 defense and a top 10 offense, you’re a title contender.

***

No. 4: Counting by 2’s in 3-point league — The Memphis Grizzlies are like pizza, if you think about it. Pizza is great. Pizza is welcome almost any time and any place, same as the Grizzlies are a hoot to watch and root for across the long, corner-three-loving NBA regular season. You slog along on a diet of what has become the same-old same old in this league – pesky perimeter guys buzzing around and feeling great about making 40 percent of their shots, as long as their toes are behind the right line – and then you spot the Grizzlies on the schedule. Hey, pizza! The problem with pizza, or in this case, Memphis’ pounding, bigs-based attack, is that it only gets you so far. Pizza is fun but it’s not welcome at the biggest events — holiday dinners, weddings receptions, fancy client meetings, The Finals. That’s not unlike the limbo in which the Grizzlies find themselves, unique and yet unloved, as far as the ring sizers go. Royce Young of ESPN.com evaluated Memphis’ style shortfall vs. Golden State:

The series was billed as style against style, with the Grizzlies’ traditional, two-big ground-and-pound against the Warriors’ contemporary all-purpose attack. And as it played out, it was the same old postseason story for Memphis: Enough to remain exceptionally competitive, but not enough to advance.

“The series was a good series,” [coach Dave] Joerger said. “It was about which style won out.”

The Grizzlies are very direct. They want to play inside-out, focusing everything at their two beastly bigs and reluctantly relying on the perimeter. But as Steve Kerr and the Warriors played their ace in the hole, cross-matching Andrew Bogut on [Tony] Allen, the Grizzlies didn’t have a countermove. More than any other team in the league, they are who they are. Their identity is forged in grit and grind, which unfortunately doesn’t include versatility and flexibility, hallmarks of today’s pace-and-space NBA.

“We have who we have,” Mike Conley said. “We have our personnel. We play through our personnel. We have big guys, and that’s what we have to play through our strengths. We can’t change that. We have to work with what we have. We’ve done a phenomenal job with it, but I think us going into next season, we have to find ways to free up guys on the outside, get guys that can get easy looks, try to open up and knock them down and get more opportunities for our big guys.”

The annoying narrative that still hangs around is that jumpers don’t win in the playoffs, that 3-pointers are a siren song of temptation, not of tried-and-true success. Well, no team is more interior focused and less reliant on jumpshooting than the Grizzlies …

The answer seems to be obvious. The Grizzlies have to adapt, have to adjust, have to evolve. They’ve played their stubborn way for five years now, and it’s produced admirable success. This is a unique roster that plays a one-of-a-kind style. Even more, this was probably the Grizzlies’ best team. They just couldn’t match the Warrior buzz saw, and that’s where lines get blurred. The Grizzlies had a terrific season; they also weren’t good enough. There’s something to be proud of in giving the Warriors hell; there’s also nothing tangible to take from it.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Pierce has 6 million reasons to return to the Wizards next season, but the challenge gets greater when you’re matched up with Father Time. … Change is coming in Chicago, writes our Steve Aschburner, with coach Tom Thibodeau‘s status in the air and Derrick Rose needing to recommit. … Some wonder why the Bulls’ alleged top candidate to coach next season, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, would leave just two years into his 10-year, $20 million contract. But the Cyclones’ athletic director expects Hoiberg to tackle the NBA challenge one of these days. … Uh oh: Phil Jackson allegedly maybe doesn’t like the idea of Isiah Thomas hanging around Madison Square Garden as president of the WNBA Liberty, according to the New York Daily News. … Golden State’s David Lee didn’t initially believe teammate Steph Curry when he told the veteran power forward the postseason would last long enough for him to play a role for the Warriors. Well, guess what?

Blogtable: Best bench in playoffs?

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


BLOGTABLE: How many MVPs for Curry? | Best bench in playoffs? | Aldridge’s next move?



VIDEOThe close-knit Warriors have perhaps the NBA’s best bench

> Of the eight playoff teams still standing, who has the best bench? And who’s the most important player off that bench?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Golden State has the best bench of the teams still playing and Andre Iguodala is the most important guy coming off it. Iguodala is battle-tested as a veteran and he’s the right combination of size and quickness to help out in multiple ways, making him more than a situational guy.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Warriors. The best team in the league has the best bench and plenty of depth that can hit you from so many different direction. But if I’m singling one player out it’s Andre Iguodala, who can do damage at both ends of the floor.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors. Andre Iguodala and David Lee would start at forward for a lot of teams. And if Leandro Barbosa is making a few baskets a game, that’s a lift for the backcourt. Iguodala is the most important of the reserves. If he’s not hitting shots, and he definitely is not these days, he is still the guy able to defend multiple positions and provide the versatility for Golden State to play big or small, a component of their success. If Iguodala does start connecting, the Warriors are even better.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: My choice is the Warriors, who can put five reserves on the floor for extended minutes and really not suffer much. Andre Iguodala would appear to be the logical “most important” reserve, because he gets the most minutes and started last season and is valued for his defense against high-scoring wing players. But I might hedge and suggest Marreese Speights, not because he’s the best player coming off the bench, but brings the level of toughness the Warriors lack overall in their starting lineup.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I dug into the numbers, because that’s what I do. I looked at who’s been coming off the bench for all eight teams in the playoffs, and calculated the team’s NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions), in the regular season and playoffs, when at least two of those guys have been on the floor. Here they are, from best to worst…

  1. Houston: +7.6
  2. Golden State: +5.0
  3. Chicago: +4.2
  4. Cleveland: +1.7
  5. Washington: -0.7
  6. Atlanta: -0.9
  7. Memphis: -1.1
  8. L.A. Clippers: -4.2

I was a little surprised to see Houston at the top, but they’ve been great with Corey Brewer, Pablo Prigioni and Josh Smith on the floor. Brewer’s relentless pursuit of easy baskets on the break is important, but Smith is the most important of that group, because of his size and versatility. All that being said, Andre Iguodala is the best and most important reserve left in the playoffs.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Warriors have the kind of bench that you see on championship teams. They haven’t needed them to save the day or anything yet, but you figure they will at some point throughout the process. I’m going with co-MIPs off that bench: Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa will have moments, and perhaps an entire half or even a game, where they are needed to help change the situation for the Warriors. I’m not sure when or where, but I feel it deep down. At some point, the backcups to the best backcourt in the game will be called upon to help save the day.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Bulls have the best bench in the East, but I’m giving the league-wide advantage to the Warriors because of Andre Iguodala – an Olympic and World champion, NBA All-Star and All-Defensive teamer with more big-game potential than anyone at both ends of the floor.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Golden State, by a mile. if I had to pick a runner-up I might go with Cleveland, where they’ve got a lot of experience and options accumulated, but I don’t think any team remaining can compete with the Warriors’ bench. Actually, I think Golden State’s second team could have won a first-round series in the Eastern Conference, that’s how strong they are. And for me their MIP is Andre Iguodala, a guy who can play multiple positions, can defend multiple positions, and is a leader even without being in the starting lineup.

NBA-Blogtable-Playoffs-Best-Bench-Team-BannerFor more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Back injury continues to sideline Lee


VIDEO: The Warriors likely will be without David Lee for Game 3

The declining role of David Lee in the Warriors rotation has turned into a complete non-presence in the playoffs as Lee battles a strained lower back that kept him out the first two games against the Pelicans and is also expected to keep him out when the series resumes Thursday in New Orleans.

There is no timetable for Lee’s return, only word from coach Steve Kerr on Monday that “his back is getting better and he’s making improvement.” Draymond Green, who succeeded Lee as the starting power forward this season, has played 42 minutes both times as Golden State built a 2-0 lead, although that is more a function of how invaluable Green has become, especially on defense, than a depth-chart problem.

“I ask Draymond if he’s tired, and if he says no, I leave him in,” Kerr said. “If he says yes, I leave him in. It’s a very scientific approach.”

The absence of a rotation big man is a development, though, anytime Anthony Davis plays for the other team, a sign the Warriors would want to keep reinforcements ready. And if Golden State turns the 2-0 lead into a series victory, the next opponent will be either the Grizzlies (with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol up front) or the Trail Blazers (with LaMarcus Aldridge). Lee could become important at some point, even if the All-Star as recently as 2013 had been getting occasional DNP-CDs the final five weeks of the regular season and hadn’t logged more than 20 minutes since April 2.

In all, Lee averaged 18.4 minutes, a drop from the 33.2 minutes of 2013-14 and a third consecutive season of decline. The 18.4 is the second-lowest of his career, after the 16.9 as a rookie in 2005-06.

Also on the Golden State-New Orleans front as the series shifts to Louisiana:

*Even with the Pelicans searching for offense after 42.2 and 37.8 percent from the field the first two games, resulting in 99 and 87 points, Ryan Anderson played just nine minutes Monday in Oakland while missing four of five attempts to drop to 18.2 for the series. It was another sign of Green’s defensive prowess and of how many among the Warriors’ versatile lineup — Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala — can render stretch fours done.

“Ryan hasn’t shot the ball well this series, but that doesn’t mean he won’t play the next game,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “He’s got to be ready to go out there and do what he does.”

*The Warriors have a 2-0 lead in a playoff series for the first time since the first round in 1989 against the Jazz.

*Tyreke Evans went from being a game-time decision Monday because of a bruised knee to playing 41 minutes, a big effort that helped the Pelicans again threaten the Warriors in the fourth quarter. Evans missed nine of 13 shots, but had 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists without a turnover.

“And I thought his defense was pretty good, too,” Williams said. “Harrison tried to drive on him early and Tyreke blocked his shot. We were much better with our switches (Monday) and a lot of it was due to him being on the floor, because he’s so doggone strong that you just can’t run through Tyreke. He’s about 230.”

 

Blogtable: Spurs or Warriors out West?

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


BLOGTABLE: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?



VIDEOThe Warriors can’t wait for the 2015 playoffs to begin

> The defending champs are red-hot and can lock up the No. 2 seed in the West with a victory tonight at New Orleans. So who’s a better bet to win the West: the Spurs or the Warriors?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI vowed not to count out San Antonio a couple of years ago (or was it back in 2007?). The Spurs know what they’re facing at this time of year, they’ve been there/done this and coach Gregg Popovich has his team rested, prepared and peaking. Two months is a long time to maintain a peak but — aside from the level of competition now — the schedule becomes more geezer-friendly. Golden State has been great fun and I’d welcome watching them for four rounds, but if I have to “bet,” give me the Spurs.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIt’s certainly hard to pick against the team that’s been the best in the league since opening night. But the one thing the Spurs have never done during that long run is win back-to-back. Now that they are healthy, in rhythm and playing at the top of their game, I’m sticking with the defending champs in what should be a very tasty Western Conference finals. 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors. Spurs fans shouldn’t whine the choice into “We’re being overlooked again.” San Antonio was my pick at the start of the season to win the West (and lose to Chicago in The Finals.) No one should be surprised that San Antonio is peaking for the playoffs. I just think Golden State has proven it is the best team in the conference. The Dubs win win offense, win with defense, have chemistry and a great home court.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Right now, I like everything about the defending-champion Spurs. They’re surging at the right time, they’re healthy, their role players are dripping confidence and Kawhi Leonard is reborn. Did I leave anything out? Oh, yeah: Tim Duncan and Pop, both championship-tested and approved, are anxious to go back-to-back. The Warriors must navigate through places they’ve never been in the post-season, and I need to see them make it through San Antonio without sprouting a nervous tic.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Golden State. What the Spurs did in last year’s Finals was an incredible display, and they’re heading back toward that level with how they’ve played over the last month. But it’s impossible to ignore that the Warriors have been, by far, the best team in the league all season. They rank No. 1 on defense, No. 2 on offense, and have a point differential (plus-11.4 per 100 possessions) that’s only been topped by three teams — the ’96 Bulls, the ’97 Bulls and the ’08 Celtics – over the last 38 years. No team played the Warriors better than the Spurs in the regular season, but I like the way that Golden State matches up, especially with the ability to shorten their rotation and get Andrew Bogut on the floor more than they did in the regular season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Spurs have the championship components and experience, so they are the safest best in this scenario, even with all that the Warriors have done this season. Golden State has everything you would ever want from a championship team expect the experience that usually comes with repeated forays deep into the postseason before a breakthrough. They are not a Big 3-era team in that they were created basically overnight. Teams that are grown the way the Warriors have been usually require at least a stumble in the conference finals or The Finals before they learn how to get over the mental and emotional hurdle that leads to a title. There are no other teams, as of this moment, that inspire championship visions for me.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Everyone in the West should view the Spurs as favorites. Golden State has been superior overall this regular season, but the Spurs have been hotter down the stretch and are one missed free throw away from pursuing a third straight championship. The best hope for the Warriors is to view themselves as underdogs in a potential conference final against San Antonio – instead of protecting the No. 1 seed, they should attack as if they have nothing to lose. Because the champs have everything that the Warriors want.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI would love to pick the Warriors, because I feel like everyone has sort of overlooked the Warriors and Hawks because of the way they’ve been able to cost for the last month or so. For instance, now Cleveland seems to be the consensus choice to win the Eastern Conference, even though the Hawks have handled the Cavs pretty well this season. In the West, the zombie Spurs have emerged from the grave and appear to be marching forth, unabated. Normally, I’d side with the Warriors here, with the logic being that they’ve earned the respect over the last 80-odd games. But then, these are the Spurs, the team that reached basketball nirvana in The Finals last year. And just like in the movies, until the zombie is completely snuffed out, I’m not turning my back on them.

 

Morning shootaround — March 5


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played March 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant waiting for pain to subside | Howard on schedule | James takes another hit | Noah working to stop violence in Chicago

No. 1: Durant waiting for pain to subsideRussell Westbrook is tearing through defenses and getting a triple-double every time he takes the floor. But the Oklahoma City Thunder are still in a fight for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, just a game ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans, who have won six of their last seven games and just got Anthony Davis back. That doesn’t mean that Kevin Durant is in a rush to return from surgery to replace a screw in his right foot. He spoke about his eventual return with Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman

You had a reevaluation yesterday. Were you happy with what you heard?

Um, I’m more so just focused on trying to get this pain out of it and coming back when I’m ready, when I’m 100 percent ready and not trying to force it or play with pain. Just trying to conquer this little stage I’m in right now, which is getting this thing right, working as hard as I can in the weight room and on the court. Yeah, it’s tough, but I just gotta be ready to go.

Was there any relief that the pain you were feeling, there was a reason for it?

Yeah, now I know what happened in that Memphis game, in that Dallas game. I know why I was having so much pain and to have that corrected feels so much better. It’s just a matter of when somebody digs in your foot, you’re going to have some pain. That’s what happened when they reinserted a different screw. The pain that I had before is gone, but there’s still some pain there obviously from them going in there and stitching me up. But I should be fine soon.

You feel very confident you will return this season?

No doubt. No doubt. I’m looking forward to returning this season. No doubt. I’m not packing it in at all.

***

No. 2: Howard on schedule — It’s been a month since Dwight Howard had a “bone marrow aspirate injection” on his right knee. Howard was reevaluated this week and his recovery is “on schedule,” but that doesn’t mean that he’ll be taking the floor for the Rockets any time soon, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes

Rockets center Dwight Howard’s “checkup” with the team physician, including an MRI, confirmed the team’s confidence that Howard is progressing “on schedule,” a person with knowledge of the process said, though reports from his workouts remain the most important measures of his progress.

Wednesday marked four weeks since Howard’s bone marrow aspirate injection, but Dr. Walter Lowe said last month that he expected the time out to be the key to healing the edema that had built up on Howard’s right knee, rather than the procedure.

“He’s coming along,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I saw him on the treadmill which is a good sign, but I haven’t seen him on the floor. Until you see him on the floor, who knows.”

***

No. 3: James takes another hit — Three days after getting kicked in the groin by James Harden, LeBron James got tackled by Jonas Valanciunas in the Cavs’ win in Toronto on Wednesday. James isn’t the type for retaliation, but he’s certainly getting a little frustrated with the physicality, as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes

After being the recipient of a second flagrant foul in his past three games, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James said he might have to take matters into his own hands in the future.

“Maybe I got to protect myself a little bit more, too,” James said after the Cavs’ 120-112 win over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday.

Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas wrapped James up around the neck and shoulders as he drove the lane with 18.8 seconds left in the third quarter. The infraction was initially whistled as a common foul before being upgraded to a flagrant foul 1 after an official’s review of the video replay.

“I don’t want to get too much involved in it because I don’t want to cry about it because it’s not like I’m not able to get back up, but it’s a lot of plays that are just not basketball plays,” said James, who was kicked in the groin Sunday by Houston’s James Harden, resulting in a one-game suspension for the Rockets swingman.

***

No. 4: Noah working to stop violence in Chicago — Joakim Noah is from New York, but Chicago has been his home for eight years now. He’s been trying his best to help curb violence in his adopted city, and has a new initiative that he talked about after practice on Wednesday. K.J. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune was there

On the direct heels of Noah’s well-received, anti-violence video “You’re Not Alone,” produced by Noah’s foundation and award-winning journalist and author Alex Kotlowitz, Noah has launched another initiative.

“I think the video was very important for people from all shapes of life to look at it as it’s not just a problem that’s just going on the South Side or the West Side. It’s everybody’s problem,” Noah said. “So me and my mother started this movement, it’s called Rock Your Drop: The Drop of Consciousness. It’s a necklace that represents a tear drop. It’s something we’ve been working really hard on. It’s to bring awareness to all the violence that’s going on and also that we’re all in this together, and you’re not alone.

“It’s our movement and we’re very proud of it, and we just hope that it can spread. The more money we raise with these drops, the programs we can put in for these kids.”

The necklaces are available for purchase on www.rockyourdrop.com.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Steve Kerr explains why David Lee didn’t play in the second half of the last two games of the Warriors’ road trip … Kevin Garnett says the Nuggets quit on Brian Shaw … Raptors coach Dwane Casey is using the last part of the season to do some experimentingKelly Olynyk returned from an 18-game absence in the Celtics’ win over the Jazz on Wednesday … and bidders for the Hawks continue to emerge.

ICYMI: Russell Westbrook, Western Conference Player of the Month for February, took an early lead for the same award in March with 49 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in the Thunder’s overtime win over the Sixers:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Russell Westbrook

Morning shootaround — Feb. 21


VIDEO: Highlights of Friday’s 26-team extravaganza around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors whip the champs | Atlanta’s kryptonite … the Raptors | Statement game for Cavs | Kupchak: Kobe not the Lakers’ problem

No. 1:  Warriors whip the champs — Watching the craziness of the trade deadline and refraining from diving in might have been the right call for the Golden State Warriors. The best team in the league didn’t feel the pressure to get involved on the busiest deadline day in NBA history. If Friday night’s whipping of the San Antonio Spurs is any indication, we know why. They are rock solid up and down the roster and continue to play like a team destined for big things in the postseason. Beating the champs was just business as usual for a team that has soared this season. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains:

After the 110-99 victory Friday, the Warriors collectively shrugged at the significance of defeating their nemesis in a season during which they’ve sustained excellence and focused on fine-tuning for the playoffs.

“For us, we’ve been playing so well this season that we can’t really get distracted by the opponent as much as what we’re trying to do,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said.

“It wasn’t just, ‘We’re beating the Spurs.’ It was, ‘We’re back to how we’re playing.’ ”

Curry, in an MVP-caliber performance, dazzled with 25 points and 11 assists. Klay Thompson added 20 points, and Andre Iguodala scored 14 off the bench as the Warriors improved to 43-9.

The league-leading Warriors showed deference in pregame comments about the Spurs. Coach Steve Kerr, who has borrowed elements of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich‘s offense, called them “the gold standard.” Iguodala said San Antonio was Golden State’s “big brother.”

The Spurs cruised to a win at Oracle Arena in November, but the Warriors exacted a measure of revenge in dominating them this time.

The Warriors shot 17 for 33 from 3-point range. Curry and Thompson combined to hit seven 3-pointers, but the barrage didn’t end there as Iguodala was 4 for 6 from long distance and Draymond Green 3 for 6.

“We’re not going to make it like that (win) is a big deal,” Green said. “It’s not like we really made a statement to anyone that no one else didn’t know.”

On defense, the Warriors clamped down as the Spurs committed 16 turnovers playing in their second game of a back-to-back. San Antonio needed more than four minutes to score its first field goal in the second half as the Warriors added to their halftime advantage to take a 14-point lead.

By the end of the quarter, it became clear that a rout was in store for the Spurs as the Warriors bench came alive. David Lee then had a stretch where he threw down a dunk, came up with a steal and dished off an assist to Iguodala for a 3-pointer that gave the Warriors an 83-68 lead. Curry and Iguodala followed with back-to-back 3-pointers that sent the Warriors sideline and crowd into a frenzy.

“It’s pretty simple for us,” Kerr said. “Defend like crazy, take care of the ball, move the ball. When we do that, we have enough weapons where we’re going to score enough points.”

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No. 2: Atlanta’s kryptonite … the Raptors — No one has toppled the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks more than once this season, until Friday night. The Toronto Raptors popped them for the third time, this one an ugly home loss coming out of the All-Star break, a 1-2 matchup that made the challenger look like the kryptonite that could potentially derail the hawks’ postseason dreams. Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains just how ugly it was Friday night at Philips Arena as the Hawks laid a royal egg in their stretch run opener:

Say this for the Atlanta Hawks: They don’t stink often, but when they do, they reek to high heaven. They lost Friday to Toronto by 25 points — the final was 105-80 — after trailing by 35, and full credit to the Raptors. They were primed. They became the first team to beat the Hawks three times. (Toronto was also the first to do it twice.)

And now you ask: Should Hawks fans be concerned? And the answer is: Nah.

This was almost a set-up game. The Hawks had spent the All-Star break living the All-Star life, to which few of them were accustomed. They had eight days to lose the rhythm that had carried them to 19 consecutive victories and 35 of 37, and they didn’t just lose it: They buried it at the bottom of the deepest ocean.

Speaking of oceans: As the saying goes, the Hawks couldn’t throw the ball in one. They missed 59 of 88 shots, 30 of 38 3-pointers. (It was their worst shooting night of the season.) Kyle Korver, on pace to have one of the greatest shooting seasons ever, had one of the worst games — and not only at shooting; he also had two egregious turnovers — in the history of the sport. When last did you see an All-Star actually throw up his hands in self-disgust?

They also missed seven of 21 free throws, including a Paul Millsap air ball. Holy moley.

The third quarter was comic. The Hawks missed 16 of 19 shots, including all eight of their treys, and made nine turnovers, off which the Raptors scored half of their 28 points. Five Hawks shots were blocked. Five Toronto shots were, too. In one screwball stretch, the visitors had three layups blocked — and still they stretched a four-point halftime lead to 19.

“They gave it to us good tonight,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said, and here we note that his team had done something similar in Toronto last month, winning 110-89 on Jan. 16. That loss sat poorly with the Raptors.

“They were really ready to play,” Al Horford said. And his team? “Some of it has to be rust,” he said. “We threw the ball all over the place.”

Budenholzer: “I don’t think we played with the energy and activity we’ve gotten accustomed to night after night.”

When last the Hawks looked this awful, it was on the night after Christmas. They lost 107-77 here to Milwaukee after a two-day break. Then they won the next 19, going undefeated in January. That streak began, as fate would have it, in Milwaukee. And where do the Hawks play Sunday?

In Milwaukee. Just sayin’.

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VIDEO: Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel provides a Chris Bosh/Heat update

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No. 3: Statement game for Cavs — Don’t let the record or their place in the Eastern Conference standings fool you, the (LeBron James-led) Cleveland Cavaliers are a legitimate championship contender. Everyone knows that by now. Don’t believe it? Just watch a few minutes from their demolition of the Washington Wizards from Friday night. It was all Jason Reid of The Washington Post needed to see to be convinced that the Cavs truly are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference:

History tells us it takes star power to win championships, and no one possesses more than the game’s best player. With the long all-star break over, James is back at work and focused on playing in the NBA Finals for the fifth consecutive season. It appears the Cleveland Cavaliers can help him get there.

Their slow start a distant memory, the surging Cavaliers rolled again Friday night, dismantling the listless Wizards, 127-89.

While dominating Washington and moving ahead of it in the conference standings, Cleveland won for the 15th time in 17 games. It was a familiar story, James shining as the catalyst and producing 28 points, five rebounds and six assists. The Cavaliers led by as many as 40 points, overwhelming the Wizards in another sharp performance.

Although Washington still was without injured guard Bradley Beal, you got the sense that Cleveland, which only would be seeded fourth if the playoffs began today, is the team to beat in the East. There’s much to like about the Cavaliers.

Everything revolves around James, who, in his 12th season, is as great as ever. But the four-time NBA most valuable player also was outstanding while the team struggled early in his return to Cleveland after a four-year run with the Miami Heat. What’s different now? A lot.

Increasingly, guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love — the other members of the Cavaliers’ Big Three — have become more comfortable playing alongside James. It was silly to think that the all-stars would immediately click after James and Love arrived in the offseason. This isn’t fantasy basketball. The awkwardness apparently behind them, though, the high-profile co-workers are getting it figured out.

On Friday, Irving supported James with a 25-point, seven-assist effort. Love contributed eight points, six rebounds and toughness. The Wizards could have used some of that.

“We’ve lost that edge of nastiness that we played with,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “We came out and felt, again, we’re going to warm our way into this game. They had other ideas. They hit us in the mouth right from the jump ball, and we couldn’t recover from it.”

Yep. That pretty much sums it up.

For Cleveland, James, Irving and Love, as expected, have provided the foundation to potentially build something great this season. Cleveland’s in-season remodeling has paid off, too.

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No. 4: Kupchak: Lakers will begin anew, with Kobe — Even if it is for just one more season, perhaps Kobe Bryant‘s final season, the Los Angeles Lakers will start over again next season with their biggest star in the middle of the mix. So says Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, who made it clear that the plan is to build for the long-term future after this dismal season ends. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times explains:

As bad as the Lakers are this season, Kupchak said they aren’t going to tank the last 28 regular-season games just to be ensured of getting that top-five pick.

“I just don’t know how you send that message to a coaching staff or players,” Kupchak said. “That’s not just something that we want people to think that we would do.”

The Lakers will get Bryant, who had season-ending rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder, and rookie Randle, who is recovering from a broken right leg, back next season.

But Kupchak is not sure how much longer Bryant, 36, will play. Bryant is due to make $25 million next season.

Kupchak acknowledged the All-Star, who will be embarking on his 20th season in the NBA, is nearing the end of his career.

That means at some point the Lakers will have to start preparing for the future without Bryant.

“So at some point we have to start a new run,” Kupchak said. “That’s definitely going to include Kobe next year. Beyond that…. So to jeopardize the next five or seven years and bring in old veterans that make a lot of money just to win one more year because that’s Kobe’s last year or could be his last year, I’m not sure that fits into doing things the right way.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mavericks swingman Chandler Parsons injured his ankle Friday night … Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose apologized for the “travel issues” that dogged him after the All-Star break … Miami Heat star Chris Bosh is in “great spirits” but his season could be over due to blood clots in his lungs

ICYMI: Who says DeMarcus Cousins can’t thrive under George Karl? He looked just fine Friday night


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins goes to work in George Karl’s debut as head coach in Sacramento

Warriors’ Bogut out indefinitely

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — It’s been a rough week (relatively speaking) for the Golden State Warriors. On Tuesday, their 16-game winning streak came to an end. And on Thursday, they announced that center Andrew Bogut would be out indefinitely after undergoing platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy on his right knee.

Bogut’s value to the Warriors is huge. He’s the anchor of their No. 1 defense, ranking as one of the league’s best rim protectors. The Dubs have allowed just 91.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, vs. 98.6 with him on the bench.

Golden State still ranks as one of the deepest teams in the league. They have Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights to man the center spot in Bogut’s absence, and they could get David Lee back on Monday. They’re fortunate to have three days off after hosting the Oklahoma City on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

But Bogut is a big part of what they do on both ends of the floor. Not only have the Warriors improved defensively, but they’ve become more efficient on offense with increased ball movement. And Bogut ranks second among centers in assist ratio.

Golden State has the best record in the league, but they’re just two games ahead of fourth-place Portland in the Western Conference before Thursday’s games. And they don’t know when they’re getting back one of their most important players.

Blogtable: A looming trade?

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


BLOGTABLE: Build with offense or defense? | Who will get traded? | Your All-Star starters



VIDEOShould the Warriors think about dealing David Lee?

> Give me a name or two, guys who you think almost certainly will be traded between now and the Feb. 19 trade deadline.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comLance Stephenson back to Indiana as a do-over of sorts would be interesting, because it’s not something we’ve seen often (ever?). David Lee done got “Wally Pipped” in Golden State – the team didn’t miss him and might be better without him – so he’d be a likely suspect to move, if someone were willing to swallow his contract. I would have said Ersan Ilyasova for sure until Jabari Parker went down, thinning the Bucks’ frontcourt.  If LeBron James wants Corey Brewer, then I’d imagine Brewer will be headed to Cleveland for something or other. Then there’s Greg Monroe, though any trade would hinge on his determination to leave Detroit (no more Bird rights) and the Pistons’ asking price for a half-season of his services.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comLance Stephenson and Dion Waiters. It seems there wasn’t a bigger mistake made during the offseason than the Hornets trying to add Stephenson as a pinch of spice. He’s been a bad fit since Day One and team owner Michael Jordan would most likely enjoy a shot at a do-over. The bad blood between Waiters and point guard Kyrie Irving might be in the past, but Waiters is still most often like a fifth wheel on the Cavs’ machine and is likely never going to stop being frustrating.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comIt’s tough not to think Lance Stephenson right away. The contract is very moveable — $27 million over three seasons, but the final campaign as a team option — and Stephenson can be a productive player, certainly more productive than he has shown so far in Charlotte. It’s early in the relationship, but the Hornets can’t wait much longer before deciding it’s a bad fit. Separately, the Pistons are a candidate to trade. Offloading Josh Smith would be an ideal scenario, but he won’t bring much in return. Greg Monroe is a possibility, before he becomes a free agent, but not at a fire-sale discount. He’ll still cost.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: There are dozens of players that teams want to dump, but for various reasons might be unable to do so. Case in point: Josh Smith, Pistons. Anyway, my candidates: Gerald Green, because the Suns may not want to pay him; Arron Afflalo, because his return to Denver has been largely a bust; Corey Brewer, because the Wolves will be crummy with or without him; and finally Lance Stephenson, just because.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There are a lot of guys who teams don’t want anymore, and there are a lot of guys that other teams desire. But Draft pick compensation and the heftiness of certain contracts (hello, Joe Johnson) often get in the way of potential deal. Dion Waiters, in my opinion, should fall into the first category and is still on an easily-tradeable rookie contract. So I see him as the most likely to move. The Cavs need defense and have plenty of guards — Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Harris, James Jones and Mike Miller — who can absorb Waiters’ minutes.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comJosh Smith and Lance Stephenson serve as the easy picks and for good reason. I think one or both of them will certainly be on the move. There is no doubt they’re both being shopped by their respective teams. They are both talents with skills that will be coveted by teams convinced that they’ll be able to clean up whatever messes they’ve made in the past. Neither one of them is a great (or even good) fit in their current situations. The Pistons aren’t going anywhere this season, so they might as well start the rebuilding process at the deadline. The Hornets had high hopes and had them dashed early. They need to free themselves of Stephenson and allow him to start fresh elsewhere as well. My wild card at the deadline is the Phoenix Suns. They had a glut of point guards and should take a hard look at which one of them is expendable.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI’m going to say Josh Smith and any other number of Pistons. The coach has the authority to make trades in Detroit, and after complaining steadily about the effort of his players, Stan Van Gundy isn’t going to allow the trade deadline to pass him by.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI wouldn’t be surprised to see the Knicks move Amar’e Stoudemire. He’s playing better basketball than he’s played in years, and could lend a hand on a contending team in need of frontcourt depth. Plus, with a $19 million expiring contract, maybe the Knicks can get something of value for him that will help with their rebuild going forward.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 12


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Carmelo got cake, wants to eat it too | Wall ranks top PGs | Cavs exhale after Irving injury scare | Durant doesn’t ‘give a damn’

No. 1: Carmelo got cake, wants to eat it too — Maybe a better version of the old “cake” proverb in this case would be: Carmelo Anthony can’t have his Big Apple and beat it, too. Or can he? The Knicks’ scoring star had a chance to sign – unencumbered – as a free agent with one of several legitimate NBA contenders over the summer. Instead, after wining and dining, he went about re-signing for the biggest paycheck – a five-year, $124 million deal – returning to New York despite an obvious rebuilding plan under new boss Phil Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher. So now Anthony is whining, or at least is glum enough to consider “dropping his no-trade clause.” We’ll offer the standard “reader beware” warning on this one because it’s one of those nebulous, unprovable, “so-and-so might be thinking about” types of stories. And it has been labeled “a fiction” by one of the New York Post‘s competitors. But here are the details, regardless of how untradeable Anthony’s contract might be or how unappealing his lack of leadership through these tough times makes him:

For now, Anthony has no desire to be traded, but his willingness to consider giving up the no-trade clause shows how frustrated he has become with the Knicks’ historically bad start to the season.

The Knicks have lost 10 straight games — two shy of a team-record — and at 4-20 have the most losses in the NBA, one more than the laughingstock Sixers.

On Wednesday, it was revealed Anthony got into an on-court scuffle with teammate Tim Hardaway recently, which resulted in a players’ only meeting on Saturday.

Anthony can be traded beginning Monday — the unofficial start of trade season when all free agents and draft picks signed over the summer can be moved.

A trade to a contender would be a financial boon to Anthony as he has a trade kicker attached to his contract that is worth 15 percent of the remaining value at the time of the deal. That kicker was put in place by Anthony’s handlers to deter teams from approaching the Knicks about Anthony. He would receive a lump-sum payment of roughly $17.5 million if he is traded Monday.

“He thought things would be better than this, but he still wants to stick it out for now, ’’ a source said. “He trusts Phil, but I think he’s afraid of Phil.’’

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No. 2: Wizards’ Wall ranks top PGs — We’ve been through this before, as far as NBA players ranking themselves atop some particular pile. OKC’s Kevin Durant did it again this week when he said he believes he’s the best player in the league. Houston’s James Harden did it in the offseason when he proclaimed he was the best player in, what, the world? The universe? Anyway, Washington’s John Wall was asked about the league’s current crop of point guards and acknowledged that, yes, in his mind, he’s No. 1. Remember now, CSNWashington.com asked Wall, he didn’t volunteer it. His next four, in order: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. And it all had to do with the start of 2015 All-Star Balloting and Wall’s desire to start for the East squad (notice where his other top PG picks play):

[Wall] has made it clear that he will deserve to start for the East when the All-Star Game is played in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Feb. 15.

“Yeah, I think so,” Wall told CSNwashington.com on Thursday, when balloting opened for fans to select two guards and three frontcourt players as the starters. “You definitely want to be the starter in the All-Star game because you want to be able to play them last six minutes of the game. Last year, I was itching to get out there. I was playing good and they had to sub me out. I was like, ‘What?” I’m used to being in in those situations. You definitely want to be a starter.”

Wall had to wait to be voted in as a reserve to make his first All-Star appearance, playing behind Kyrie Irving who was the more popular choice but wasn’t the most deserving in terms of accomplishment. Wall had a better team, leading the Wizards to 44 wins and a second-round playoff berth. Irving, who was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011 which was the year after Wall went in the same spot, never led his team to the postseason.

“As an individual that’s one of my biggest goals. It’s a big honor for me to go back if I get the opportunity,” Wall said. “It all comes from me helping my team to play the right way and win games. Everybody has got individual goals.”

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No. 3: Cavs exhale after Irving injury scare — When the TNT broadcast of Cavaliers-Thunder went to the “Inside The NBA” crew at halftime, the tone was somber enough to have all those holiday poinsettia plants on set swapped out for black crepe and lilies. Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving had just gone down – and out – with what looked, in repeated and unpleasant video replays, to be a serious knee injury. But a surprise put the fun back in funereal moments later when Irving was shown running before the third quarter started. He played nearly 23 minutes after halftime and scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the loss in Oklahoma City. Clearly, the Cavs (already without LeBron James for the night due to knee soreness) had dodged a major mishap, and our own Fran Blinebury wrote about it:

“Fear. Worry. Concern,” [coach David] Blatt said when asked to describe his emotions at the moment when Irving hit the floor with 1:31 left in the second quarter Thursday night. “And hope. Which ultimately won the day.
“There’s a great saying in Russian, which means: ‘Hope dies last.’ And thank goodness he got up and he was able to play.”
It is no exaggeration to say those who did watch the replays with eyes uncovered inside Chesapeake Energy Arena were shocked to Irving standing back on the baseline bouncing all around and loosening up before the end of halftime.

In those first few seconds, after all the worst thoughts raced through his mind, Irving was able to calm himself down.

Steve Spiro, our head trainer just coming out there and letting me know the necessary steps to take and when to bend my knee and how to control my body to make sure I’m alright,” Irving said. “He takes a look at it and asks me if this is OK and that’s OK and just make sure I can get up and walk to the locker room.

“When we came back in the tunnel the Thunder’s doctor looked at me. I told our training staff as I was walking back and LeBron and D. (Damon) Jones were helping me, I kinda started walking on my own and we did some tests and decided to go back out there.”

Irving nodded at the memory of James literally being there to pick him up and support him.

“It meant a lot, just that he sprinted out in just his tights and his t-shirt,” Irving said. “It’s just great. He’s awesome and sincerely cares and that’s just the relationship that we have going around this whole entire locker room. We’re more than teammates. We’re friends and to know that your teammates care about you like that, it goes far.”

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No. 4: Durant doesn’t ‘give a damn’ — About the perceived woes facing his team in Oklahoma City, that is. Or about your sympathy for the Thunder’s plight, created by both Kevin Durant‘s and teammate Russell Westbrook‘s injury absences. Or about the criticism that might come his way anyway if OKC doesn’t reach and make serious noise in the postseason. Michael Lee of the Washington Post spoke this week with the 2014 MVP, just revving up in an NBA season that began 17 games late for him:

Kevin Durant is in a hole that is mostly not of his own doing but he has been around long enough to know that he won’t be forgiven if another season ends without the Oklahoma City Thunder capturing an NBA championship.

Durant, the reigning NBA MVP, doesn’t want or expect to get a pass with his eighth season starting at a decided disadvantage after he suffered a broken right foot in the preseason, Russell Westbrook broke his right wrist on opening night, and the Thunder piled up more devastating injuries than wins in the season’s first six weeks.

“I really don’t give a damn what people got to say,” Durant said. “I really don’t care if they cut me slack or they don’t. I’m not looking for no sympathy from nobody. I’m not looking for no praise from nobody. It’s all good, either way with me. I just look for respect from teammates as a player and as a man. That’s what I want. All that other stuff, I learned how to tune that stuff out and not worry about. I used to think about it. ‘Are they going to cut me slack? Do they love me if I play this way.’ I really don’t give a damn.”

Durant, 26, has developed more of an edge as he’s matured in the league, hardened by the disappointment that has come from losing in the NBA Finals in 2012 and having injuries to Westbrook and Serge Ibaka derail Oklahoma City’s chances of getting back the past two seasons. He also understands that four scoring titles and an MVP trophy won’t shield him from criticism after depositing seven seasons into his career without winning a championship ring.

“You can’t please everybody,” Durant continued. “I can go out there and average 50 points a game, it’s always going to be something people say. If you don’t like me for it, so what?”

And:

Oklahoma City entered training camp as a team seemingly poised for a title breakthrough. James broke up with Miami and got back with his first love and San Antonio got a year older after making it through a six-game series with the Thunder last postseason. With Durant under contract with Oklahoma City through 2016, the pressure for the organization to win a title has been magnified, with each wasted opportunity sure to increase speculation about his future.

“Everybody wants to tell you when your window is closing. Everybody want to tell when they think you can win a championship or ‘you will never win.’ It’s not about the outside noise,” Durant said. “We feel as though, in this organization, we can compete every year. Injuries have hit us, but it’s a part of the game, and we’re going to push through that. But when you start listening to people who aren’t experts of the game of basketball, who have never been inside a huddle … you can’t listen to that stuff. Even if they tell you you’re a great player or it’s your turn to win. We’re not going to worry about windows here.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant did a whole lot of cursing at teammates, but it was just old Kobe being young Kobe. … Golden State’s David Lee did some 3-on-3 work in the Warriors’ practice but has a ways to go before he’s playing again, post-hamstring injury. … The Spurs got some good news in the negative about forward Kawhi Leonard‘s sore hand. … Sam Cassell lured Paul Pierce to Washington, then abandoned him there. It sounds like D.C. political intrigue. … Former Phoenix player Richard Dumas has run afoul of the law again. … Is there anyone who would protest against a shortened NBA preseason? Anyone? Bueller?