Posts Tagged ‘David West’

Hawks rest their case with Schroder

One of the benefits of clinching a playoff spot before April is sitting key people. In that sense, the Hawks earned the right by virtue of claiming best record in the East days ago.

And now, there’s perhaps a chance we won’t see Dennis Schroder for the rest of the season. Not that the German point guard is an injury case — his left toe damaged the other night against the Bucks was diagnosed as sprained — but it’s just another reason for the Hawks to play it safe here in the season’s final two weeks.

While the Hawks played their usual starting five tonight against the Pistons, none were scheduled to play 30-plus minutes. From now until mid-April, expect to see lots of Mike Muscala, Kent Bazemore and Shelvin Mack.

Other teams aren’t so lucky, especially those chasing playoff spots. For example: You think Miami would love to give Dwyane Wade a break? Well, not if they want to get the No. 7 or 8 seed in the East. With three teams chasing those spots, the Heat can’t afford to give Wade’s chronically-sore body a rest here down the stretch. Same goes for David West and the Pacers, Russell Westbrook and OKC (although that might change in a week) and a few other teams.

Still, the “rest” controversy is here to stay. Weeks after the lottery-bound Nuggets sat three players, the Kings gave DeMarcus Cousins a night off.

 

Morning shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: Highlights for games played Feb. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls hoping for quick Rose return | Paul George returns to practice | Earl Lloyd passes away | Buyouts not working out for Clippers | Rip Hamilton retires

No. 1: Bulls hoping for quick Rose return — When it was announced earlier this week that Bulls point guard Derrick Rose would need knee surgery, many jumped to the belief that he would miss the rest of the season and postseason. But in a press conference yesterday, Bulls management was bullish on the belief that Rose could be back by the end of the season, and be ready for the playoffs, following surgery scheduled for today, writes K.C. Johnson in the Chicago Tribune

The procedure, which team physician Brian Cole will perform, is a removal of part or all of the meniscus. This type of procedure typically is used to address subsequent tears of the meniscus that Rose originally tore in November 2013.

In that surgery, which Cole also performed, Rose’s meniscus was repaired or reattached, and he missed the remainder of the 2013-14 season. A meniscectomy typically involves a shorter rehabilitation period.

The Tribune, citing sources, has reported there is considerable optimism that Rose’s second meniscus tear is small. Until the surgery is performed and Cole determines how much of the meniscus needs to be trimmed, it’s unknown what the timetable for Rose’s return is.

The Bulls said general manager Gar Forman will address that issue after the surgery. At the team’s annual charity event Thursday night, a feeling of hopeful optimism emanated from team officials.

“Nothing’s an easy procedure, but our anticipation is that there’s an area that’s going to get taken care of and the hope is that he will (play this season),” executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said.

Added Forman: “I don’t want to speculate until (Cole) goes in (Rose’s knee), but we’re certainly hopeful.”

(more…)

Pacers’ George aims to practice March 1


VIDEO: George discusses his potential return this season

Larry Bird cracked open the door Tuesday on injured All-Star Paul George returning to action for the Indiana Pacers this season, but 48 hours later, George didn’t exactly barge through it.

George sounded more tentative than irrationally exuberant about the prospect of playing late in this 2014-15 season and (if the Pacers qualify) the playoffs when he spoke with media in Indianapolis Thursday. That might reflect a sense of mortality George could be feeling after the gruesome leg fractures he suffered Aug. 1 in a Team USA scrimmage or he could be parroting much of the medical and Pacers’ front-office advice he’s been hearing over the past six months.

Or maybe he’s been on the phone during his hiatus with Derrick Rose.

From what George said, he and the Pacers are hopeful he can start practicing full speed with his teammates by March 1, the target date for his open tibia-fibula fractures to be healed. Beyond that, how his body reacts and Indiana’s position in the standings likely will determine his return to games. The Indianapolis Star reported on George’s measured approach:

George said he’s uncertain if he will be able to play this season, but he wants to.

“Ideally, that’s a great time where I want to be back. Obviously I’m a long shot away from it,” George said. “I’ve got so many steps to get to that point but looking forward that’s (March) when I want to be back.”

George said he has participated in 3-on-3 half-court drills, but hasn’t played in a full scrimmage, and has not taken part in contact drills.

“I don’t want to come back too soon and be out there and have a chance to re-injure … I want it to be fully right,” he said.

At 18-32, Indiana is 12th in the Eastern Conference, 3.5 games behind No. 8 Miami for the East’s final playoff berth. Bird and others in the organization have had their eyes on the postseason throughout, even after George’s injury and Lance Stephenson‘s departure in free agency. The Pacers were considered a championship contender the past two season and have made four consecutive playoff appearances, after a four-year drought. Prior to 2006-07, the team had qualified in 16 of 17 seasons.

Whether a return even for just one round is feasible might swing on George’s return. But Bird and Pacers ownership might tip their hands before that, with the NBA trade deadline set for Feb. 19. For instance, if Indiana were to move veteran forward David West, who has attracted interest from contenders, or another rotation player, it might signal a shift in the franchise’s focus to 2015-16.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 28


VIDEO: Check out the highlights from Saturday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rubio due back, well, one of these weeks | KG goes ‘Lance’ on Pacers’ West | Clippers’ bench earns its pine time | Pierce sees end of Gang Green

No. 1: Rubio due back, well, one of these weeks — Despite the tendency of Web sites everywhere to gaze into their crystal balls and predict the future – about half of all sports reporting and four-fifths of all stock market coverage is all about guessing what will maybe, perhaps, happen – sometimes the future doesn’t cooperate. Which is why injured Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio is tired of talking about it, even in the short term. As Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported from Oakland Saturday, Rubio’s return from a severely sprained ankle has become too much of a guessing game for the team’s absent playmaker:

He is back running and now refuses to prognosticate the date of his return.

“I wish,” Rubio said Saturday when asked if he knows when he will play again. “I’ve been saying it’s two weeks for the last month. I don’t want to say anymore dates. I’ve been saying in two weeks I think I’ll be ready and two weeks go by and I still can’t play and I get mad. I don’t want to get in a bad mood again. I’m not going to ask for a date again. I go as my body will let me do.”

For now, he can run and he did so with teammates for the first time at Friday’s morning shootaround in Denver, where he participated full-court running the team’s offense.

He can run, but stopping is another matter.

“I can’t cut and if I’m running and I have to stop right away, I have to take two, three extra steps,” Rubio said before the Wolves’ 110-97 loss to Golden State. “It’s not going to work in the game. I need more of that [5-on-0 work]. It felt good. I want to feel great before I go to some contact.”

Rubio will have another magnetic resonance imaging exam taken of his ankle after the team returns home from this current three-game road trip. Wolves coach Flip Saunders said Saturday he is hopeful Rubio can advance to contact play — the next step toward a game return — if the image comes back clean.

That didn’t stop some from fuzzying up their estimates and claiming a “mid-January” return for Rubio. And if that doesn’t happen, there’s always the Magic 8 Ball.

***

No. 2: KG goes ‘Lance’ on Pacers’ West — Losing by 25 points ought to be embarrassing enough, but no, the Brooklyn Nets had to find a way to add to their foolishness Saturday. Early in the game, before things turned truly sour for the Nets in front of a sellout Barclays Center crowd, veteran forward Kevin Garnett lifted a move from the Lance Stephenson playbook – though it had nothing to do with offense, defense or the basketball itself. Garnett blew in Indiana forward David West‘s face, much like Stephenson did when the former Pacer blew in LeBron James‘ ear during the Eastern Conference finals last spring. West didn’t appreciate it and picked up a technical foul for shoving Garnett away, but the silly stunt ultimately achieved nothing. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post reported on West’s version, while Garnett left the arena without talking to reporters:

“Yeah, I didn’t like that,” West said. “I didn’t like that. I just know it was too close, and I didn’t like it. I don’t want to play those games. We are out there to play basketball, so let’s play basketball.

“Everyone’s kind of looking at me trying to figure out what made me push him. I told them he blew in my face … an aggressive blow at that.

“I think Lance’s was more sensual. That was an aggressive blow. I felt the, I don’t know what you call it … but it was just too much.”

While the Nets’ $12 million man was “blowing the game” in far too literal a fashion, their $19.8 million and $15.7 millon men – Deron Williams and Brook Lopez – were combining for just seven points off the bench and earning with underwhelming play the criticism that has come their way.

***

No. 3: Clippers’ bench earns its pine time — When a team’s bench can’t do its primary job – playing even or better when subbed in against the other team’s reserves – things can unravel fast. And that’s what happened to the Clippers when coach Doc Rivers went grasping for answers that weren’t there Saturday against the Toronto Raptors. As a result of poor play by L.A.’s second unit, Rivers’ starters wound up gasping for air. According to Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times, that had everything to do with Toronto’s game-grabbing 13-2 run in the fourth quarter:

Rivers acknowledged afterward that he should have taken his starters out earlier in the game to provide more flexibility in the fourth quarter.

Of course, it was easy to second-guess his decision not to mix and match starters and reserves late in the game the way things played out.

“The problem was, to keep them in the game we had to keep our starters in in the entire third quarter,” Rivers said. “Honestly, I don’t think it would have mattered. Blake [Griffin] had already played 12 straight minutes. Do we play him 15 when he’s already tired?”

The Clippers continue to receive little production from their bench besides the scoring of Jamal Crawford and energy plays provided by Glen Davis. Center-forward Spencer Hawes remains sidelined because of a bone bruise in his left knee and point guard Jordan Farmar, the team’s other key off-season acquisition, has made an impact in only a few games.

Rivers said he needed to simplify the offense to help the second unit become more productive. Crawford scored 20 points Saturday, but the seven other reserves who played combined for only 13 points.

Davis said optimizing the way the team integrates the starters with the reserves could help solve some of the issues.

“Doc’s got to figure out the rotation and see what we can do to help our team, especially giving the big guys rest because they’re playing a lot of minutes,” Davis said. “But being on the second team, you’ve got to be ready, you can’t make a mistake. That’s just what it is. You’re in there for short minutes and you can’t make a mistake and it’s hard to play like that but you’ve got to do it because those are your minutes.”

***

No. 4: Pierce sees end of Gang GreenPaul Pierce and Kevin Garnett left more than a year ago, traded to Brooklyn prior to 2013-14. Ray Allen was gone before that, joining what at the time was the Boston Celtics’ arch rivals to chase a second ring in Miami. Coach Doc Rivers maneuvered his way to the West Coast. Now it’s Rajon Rondo who is gone from the Celtics’ parquet and Pierce couldn’t help but notice – and comment on what essentially was the end of a special era that began for them all in the summer of 2007. Here is some of what Boston Herald writer Steve Bulpett gathered Saturday in Washington, D.C., where Pierce makes his basketball home these days:

The timing of Rondo’s Dec. 18 trade to Dallas caught Pierce off-guard, but he knew this was a strong possibility once the Celts didn’t get in the running on Kevin Love and couldn’t find another impact player to pair with Rondo.

“I was a little bit surprised, especially because trade season starts close to All-Star or after All-Star break,” Pierce said. “Not a lot of trades happen in mid-December. You know, teams are trying to find their stride.

“But we had a chance to talk. We had our weekly mass text, and he understood the situation. The Celtics were either going to go in one direction, build around him, or continue with the youth movement. So I think Rondo understood it.

“I was shocked definitely, because I thought this was a year they were going to maybe this summer find some pieces to put around him. But he had a great run in Boston, and as long as he’s happy, that’s all that matters.”

Pierce spent 15 years with the Celtics, but even he had to move along when the club traded him to Brooklyn in 2013 to begin its rebuilding phase.

“That’s the way it is,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a long time before you see one player stay with one team for 15-plus years. You know, I think those days are pretty much gone, especially with the new collective bargaining agreement, players wanting to be in different places or play with their friends. It’s just a new era I think we’re living in.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ray Allen might be leaning toward retirement, rather than picking a contender to join in mid- or late season. … The list is long, but arguably the Detroit Pistons’ worst move in contributing to that team’s slide was the 2008 trade of veteran guard Chauncey Billups to Denver for an also-past-his-prime Allen Iverson. At least, former Piston Rodney Stuckey thinks so. … New Orleans’ Anthony Davis played his first NBA game in his hometown of Chicago and he dazzled with 29 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots. It was his fourth 25-10-5 game of the season. … Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague looked all the way back from his recent hamstring injury and the Hawks avenged Friday’s 30-point loss to the Bucks by traveling to Milwaukee for payback.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 29


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook’s historic return | Scott rips Lakers’ mental approach | West recalibrates view of Pacers | Stoudemire sick of Knicks’ excuses

No. 1: Westbrook’s historic return — Never before in NBA annals, according to the authorities at the unassailable Elias Sports Bureau, had a player scored so many points with so many assists in so little time. And then Russell Westbrook did it Friday night against New York in what was his comeback from a 14-game injury layoff (broken hand), the sort of contest through which many of his peers might have eased themselves.

Westbrook, Oklahoma City’s irrepressible point guard, scored 32 points with seven rebounds and eight assists in just 24 minutes as the Thunder clobbered the Knicks by 27 points (and led by as many a 37). Going off one night, that gym where OKC plays ought to be renamed the “Westbrook” Energy Arena rather than Chesapeake, because he brought a bundle of heavy voltage. Here is some of the recap from Darnell Mayberry of the Daily Oklahoman:

It started in the pre-game introduction line.

Russell Westbrook raced onto the court so fast you would have thought he was shot out of a cannon. All the energy that he had pent up for the past 14 games exploded from his pores before his name was even announced over the public address system.

That’s when you knew the type of night it would be.

Back in the lineup for the first time since breaking his right hand on a fluke play against the Clippers on Oct. 30, Westbrook wasted no time showing the NBA he was indeed back.

New York was in town on the wrong night.

The Elias folks attached an asterisk to Westbrook’s distinction – no one in the shot clock era had ever gone for 32 points and eight assists in 24 minutes or less, but c’mon, do we really think some old-timer did it without the imperative for his team to shoot in 24 seconds? Here’s more from Mayberry:

He made 12 of 17 shots, three of his four 3-point tries and five of his seven free throw attempts.

He netted a game-high plus-24 in the plus-minus category.

“An area that’s not shown on the stat sheet is his ability to raise the level of his teammates,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “That’s what the great ones do, and that’s what he did tonight. I thought everybody responded when he was on the court. He did a good job of getting guys involved.”

Westbrook was nearly flawless in his first shot at it in four weeks. And it was clear early on that he couldn’t wait to get back on the court.

“You get so used to sitting on the side…and now I got an opportunity to go out and hear my name called. You never want to take that for granted,” Westbrook said. “Never. At any time. So I was just hyped to be able to hear my name and run out on the floor.”

***

No. 2: Scott rips Lakers’ mental approach — Minnesota rookie Zach LaVine scored a season-high 28 points off the bench against his boyhood hero and LaVine’s team won the game, beating the Lakers by one point at Staples Center. That hero, Kobe Bryant, scored 26 points on 18 shots and was the only starter on his club in the black on plus/minus.

And still, the best performance of the night came later, when Lakers coach Byron Scott vented about his team’s lackadaisical approach. At 3-13 after the loss, L.A. cannot afford to look past the Sixers, never mind the Timberwolves. But that’s what happened and it bit them hard, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes. Just like the animals in the metaphorical zoo Scott spoke about afterward:

“Do you ever go see the gorillas, the elephants, the lions and the monkeys, and they’re looking right back at you?” Scott asked. “That’s what Minnesota was doing. They were looking right back at us.”

They looked at the Lakers, now 3-14, as an easy target — and rightfully so.

He raised his voice, all but shouting. He pounded the table before him in the postgame news conference. He beat his hands into it four times — hard.

“There’s nobody in this league that we should be looking at thinking, ‘This is an easy win,’ ” he boomed, beating the table as he spoke. “Period.”

Was this rock bottom? So far, yes. It’s still November. It can — and probably will — get worse.

***

No. 3: West recalibrates view of PacersDavid West had begun the season more plugged into the disappointment of Indiana Pacers fans than into the stay-upbeat-and-sell-tickets approach of his bosses within the organization. West knew the Pacers’ chances of chasing an NBA title had taken serious hits with the departure of Lance Stephenson and then the gruesome, season-crushing leg injury of All-Star wing Paul George. West said as much as 2014-15 began, advising all on Media Day that the team’s ambitions needed to be scaled downward.

Then West watched from the side, nursing an ankle sprain through the first 15 games, as Indiana went a surprisingly resilient 6-9 without four of last year’s starters (George Hill was hurt, too) and a couple key reserves. By the time he got in on the action Friday with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists in a victory over Orlando, the Pacers’ sixth victory in the past nine games, the veteran power forward was ready to re-adjust his expectations. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com chronicled the upturn in West’s mood:

“These guys compete and play hard, and they do that at a very high level,” he said. “They’ve won some tough road games by being competitive and engaged and having a fight about them, which is one of the reasons I was anxious to get back out there. You appreciate that. You appreciate how hard they’ve competed while being undermanned.

“I’m just feeding off these guys. I’ve watched them for the first month or whatever. We’ve got some good guys who can cut off the basketball, guys who can execute, so we’re just going to keep getting better.”

He said that with a lilt in his normally gruff voice. It’s clear he’s revised his realism.

As injured veterans return – C.J. Watson also came back on Friday and scored nine points on 4-for-4 shooting, Roy Hibbert could return for Saturday’s game in Cleveland and George Hill is still a couple of weeks away with an injury coach Frank Vogel revealed in the pre-game to be a torn quad muscle – the continued improvement seems likely.

So, what does the Media Day realist believe the team’s ceiling is now?

“I’ll evaluate that when we get there,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m going to enjoy this this year and try to do something special with this group. The thing that people had overlooked is that we’re in the East, so we’re not going to be out of it.

“Before the season (began) I didn’t realize how hard these guys were going to play. Donald (Sloan) hasn’t played major minutes in his career but all of a sudden he’s out there. But he’s a competitive dude. Solomon (Hill), he competes every single play. And that’s inspiring. You want to get in the trenches with guys like that.”

***

No. 4: Stoudemire sick of Knicks’ excuses — When the best news the New York Knicks can offer is an updated medical report suggesting that Carmelo Anthony’s sore back is 80 percent healthy – spasms vs. structural damage is what passes for good fortune these days – it’s clear there are serious issues within Phil Jackson’s, Derek Fisher’s and Anthony’s crew. Sure, Russell Westbrook was back Friday but 2014 MVP Kevin Durant still was out (right foot surgery). So Veteran forward Amar’e Stoudemire called out the Knicks on their courage and desire after that loss in OKC, the most lopsided of their dreary season. Marc Berman of the New York Post offered details:

“They played like they wanted it more,’’ Stoudemire said of the Thunder. “At this point, I don’t see how a team wants it more than we do. It’s unacceptable. We should be in desperation mode. We’re a team that’s fighting for a win. Right now we got to have a higher sense of urgency and more enthused and mentally involved.’’

The Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony (back spasms) for the second straight game, but it seemed as if they were lacking passion.

“[Oklahoma City] came out with a lot of energy and it seems as if we got taken back by that,’’ Stoudemire said. “We have to have a lion’s heart and can’t be afraid of teams coming out and playing with that type of aggressiveness. We have to retaliate.”

Stoudemire was one of the few Knicks to play aggressively. He scored 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting, 6-for-10 from the line, with nine rebounds off the bench.

“It’s intensity level at this point,’’ Stoudemire said. “The learning process is there. We can’t keep saying we’re learning. We’re learning. Teams want it more than we do. We can’t say we’re still learning. We can’t say we had an off night shooting. That happens, but you can still win the ballgame with defense. We have to become students of the game and become masters of our craft.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The mood in Milwaukee is changing, top down and inside out, according to our own Steve Aschburner. And it served the 10-7 Bucks well again in their victory in Detroit. … Folks in Portland like their big-small combo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, but Memphis’ version – Marc Gasol and Mike Conley – left town with a victory and the league’s best record. … Clever Heat fan suggests that Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose considering teaming up to job-share. … One more to go – Saturday night in Utah – on this seven-game, 12-day trip for the Clippers and it’s already been a success (5-1) thanks to the victory in Houston. … Doc Rivers sounds like he’s throwing his hands up over James Harden throwing his arms up, but it’s meant as a compliment to the Rockets guard.

 

Morning shootaround — Nov. 27


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Nov. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Stephenson not a star yet | Suns point guards slow to adjust | Butler has risen against the odds | Lopez a perfect fit in Portland

No. 1: Stephenson not a star yet — With a 4-12 record and the second longest losing streak in the league, the Charlotte Hornets have been the most disappointing team outside of Cleveland. The arrival of Lance Stephenson was supposed to give their offense a boost, but they rank 25th on that end of the floor and have regressed defensively. Stephenson is still starting, but has seen his playing time drop quite a bit in the last week. After he logged just 23 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Blazers, Hornets coach Steve Clifford provided a dose of reality regarding his team’s new “star,” as Michael Wallace of ESPN writes:

Hornets coach Steve Clifford believes Lance Stephenson’s problems adjusting during his first season in Charlotte are partly due to the guard’s struggles to live up to external expectations.

“To be fair, one of the things that’s made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar,” Clifford said Wednesday. “He’s not a star. He’s a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years.”

Clifford’s comments came after Stephenson was left on the bench for the entire fourth quarter for a second consecutive game, this time during Wednesday’s 105-97 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that extended the Hornets’ losing streak to seven straight games.

A combination of preseason injuries and struggles since then to find his rhythm and a consistent role in Clifford’s offense has made Stephenson’s transition much more difficult than some anticipated.

***

No. 2: Suns point guards slow to adjust — At 10-6 after a win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Phoenix Suns are in a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference. But they’re still trying to find their way, especially offensively, where they’ve taken a small step backward. One adjustment is the addition of point guard Isaiah Thomas, who joins Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in an unconventional backcourt. Though the team is winning, it’s impossible for all three to get their deserved playing time every night. As Thomas tells CBS Sports‘ James Herbert, that can be tough to deal with:

With the Kings, he was shuffled in and out of the starting lineup, especially in his first two seasons. He watched Tyreke Evans, Aaron Brooks, Greivis Vasquez and Jimmer Fredette play the point in front of him. Thomas has learned that he can’t worry about the things he can’t control. Still, this is challenging. Thomas has proven he’s capable of producing like an All-Star, and so have Dragic and Bledsoe.

“It’s a tough situation,” Thomas said. “But you’ve just got to be ready for whatever circumstances coach puts you in. You gotta be ready when your name is called, but I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s tough.

“It’s not what I expected,” Thomas continued. “But coach has a tough job. Putting all of us on the floor and trying to mix up the minutes, it’s tough for him. So it’s not just tough for us as players, we just gotta be ready when our name’s called and just know, I mean, coach is trying to do what he thinks is best for the team to put us in a position to win. But the key word is it’s a tough situation. For all of us.”

***

No. 3: Butler has risen against the odds — The Chicago Bulls have one of the most improved offenses in the league, despite the fact that Derrick Rose has played just 6 1/2 of their 15 games. One reason is the continued development of Jimmy Butler, who has the best field goal percentage of the five players in the league averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. Butler was the 30th pick in the 2011 Draft out of Marquette, where most teams didn’t see much talent in the 6-7 guard. ESPN’s Nick Friedell profiles Butler and his path to becoming a big piece of a title contender:

Jimmy Butler isn’t supposed to be here.

He’s not supposed to be in the NBA. He’s not supposed to be a key member of a Chicago Bulls team that has championship aspirations. He’s not supposed to be in the midst of an All-Star type season — the best of his career — in which he has carried the Bulls on both ends of the floor at various times. And he’s certainly not supposed to be on the verge of cashing in on a contract offer at season’s end that will likely pay him well over $50 million over the next four seasons.

The odds have always been against Butler. His path to the NBA is as unlikely as anyone who plays in the league given that his backstory (of being homeless at 13 before moving in with a friend’s family) reads like the basketball version of “The Blind Side.” No matter how many ups and downs Butler endured in his journey to the precipice of NBA stardom, the 25-year-old never stopped believing in himself. The same drive that helped get him out of Tomball, Texas, and into Marquette University is the same fuel that’s pushed him to average over 20 points a game early this season.

***

No. 4: Lopez a perfect fit in Portland — The Portland Trail Blazers made a 21-win leap from Lottery team to the second round of the playoffs last season, and have continued rolling with a 12-3 start this year. They’ve gotten improvement from all of their high-profile players, but the key to the transformation was the addition of a low-profile center. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian details the importance of Robin Lopez to the Blazers’ success:

After 96 regular season games and one memorable playoff series victory, it’s become clear that Lopez was the missing link for this franchise. A city that has watched the downfall of the beloved yet brittle Bill Walton, and the depressing breakdowns of Sam Bowie and Greg Oden, finally has a stabilizing force at the NBA’s most important position.

And while Lopez’s made-for-Portland personality and rugged, hustle-infused game have made him a Rip City fan favorite, it’s the things you don’t notice — the unselfishness, the unassuming disposition, the way he connects the Blazers’ chemistry — that have made the towering 7-foot, 265-pound center so important.

LaMarcus Aldridge is the Blazers’ best player. Lillard brings the big shots and big plays. Matthews provides defense, leadership and heart. And Batum is the glue, offering a touch of everything.

But Lopez is perhaps the most important piece, the linchpin to one of the most cohesive and talented starting lineups in the NBA. When general manager Neil Olshey shrewdly snatched Lopez in a trade for next to nothing, he didn’t just nab a starting center entering his prime, but also the 21st Century version of Buck Williams, a player plugged into an established core at just the right time that helped catapult the Blazers to the next level.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony doesn’t know how long back spasms will keep him out of the Knicks’ lineupThe Thunder waived Sebastian TelfairThe Lakers are close to signing Earl ClarkDavid West hopes to make his season debut on FridayMarcus Smart started, but couldn’t finish practice on WednesdayThe Celtics are going to EuropeMark Cuban wants to join the Eastern ConferenceSome trash talk from Philly fans motivated Kevin GarnettKyrie Irving wants to guard the league’s best point guards … and The New York Times profiled TNT’s “Inside the NBA.”

ICYMI of The Night: Tyson Chandler helped the Mavs to an overtime victory over his old team with 25 rebounds, an NBA high for the season:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Tyson Chandler grabs 25 boards

The Pacers’ plunge continues

VIDEO: Roy Hibbert leaves game early with bone bruise in Pacers’ loss to Wizards

The Pacers play the Jazz on Monday night (7 p.m. ET, League Pass) and it’s interesting that it’s Utah, because the last time these teams met, all was well with Indy.

It was last March 2 when the Pacers won 94-91. David West had a monster game with 25 points. Paul George added 21. Lance Stephenson sank a pair of free throws in the closing seconds to hold off the pesky Jazz. And the Pacers won for the fifth straight time and raised their record to 46-13, best in the East and top three in the NBA.

But life hasn’t quite been the same since for the Pacers.

What we’re witnessing is one of the most dreadful crashes of a contender in the last decade. So many things have happened, and all of them bad. Injuries, poor play, more injuries, defections and, well, the avalanche that buried the Pacers since last March is still building and adding layers.

What if you were told that, eight months later, the retooling Jazz would be the favorite and might even have the better long-term nucleus? Yep, I didn’t think so, either. But the Pacers are 1-6, their worst start since 1993-94 and could be without Roy Hibbert (bone bruise) for a spell, adding more misery to their misery.

The Pacers are probably shaking their heads and still wondering what happened, like the rest of us. They collapsed in the spring, losing four straight after that win over Utah, and closed out the regular season losing 13 of their last 23. It was an astonishing about-face for a team that had a realistic chance to make LeBron James and the Heat sweat. They had to fight off two elimination games to beat the Hawks in the first round, had to go six games against the Wizards and then went out meekly in the East finals against the Heat. All along, their play was shoddy and some of their key players slumped badly, none more than Hibbert, who found himself benched in the playoffs.

And that was the good stretch. What followed over the summer was worse: Losing Stephenson to free agency and George to a gruesome leg injury for perhaps most if not all of this season.

It’s a good thing coach Frank Vogel received a contract extension because he’ll earn it. You hardly recognize the team that Indiana is trotting out on the floor these days. The Pacers have no choice but give extended minutes to players who ordinarily would serve lesser roles. That’s why Chris Copeland, Solomon Hill and Donald Sloan are seeing 31 or more minutes a game. They weren’t even in the rotation last March.

Eventually the Pacers will get West back from a bad ankle, and George might suit up earlier than anyone anticipated, and Hibbert’s injury isn’t serious. And yet they still could struggle to recover from a lousy start and make the playoffs, even in the East. That’s why the Pacers could be sellers at the trade deadline and dangle West and maybe even Hibbert.

Until then, we get Pacers vs. Jazz, Monday night, and my how the world has changed.

Dog days just starting for George’s Indiana teammates


VIDEO: Larry Bird expresses his goals for the 2014-15 Indiana Pacers

Unbridled enthusiasm at the start of any NBA season is natural. Irrational exuberance, that’s something quite different, particularly for the Indiana Pacers this fall.

Maybe that’s why Larry Bird put back in perspective Tuesday any overly optimistic prognoses for star wing player Paul George‘s rehab and return. Yes, the world has seen footage of the Pacers’ hobbled All-Star on the court hoisting perimeter shots. It even has seen him playing a little 1-on-1 with his dog (we’ll leave any snarky comments about rival defenders to you guys).

But that’s a long, long way from the rigors and demands of NBA basketball, as Bird reminded a group of reporters. Paul, who suffered multiple fractures of his lower right leg in a gruesome injury at the Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas in early August, still is likely to miss the entire 2014-15 season.

“He’s got a rod in his leg. Holding that bone together. And it’s gotta heal,” the Pacers’ president of basketball operations said. “Looks good against his dog, and while he’s standing out there in front of you guys it looks pretty good. Other than that, he don’t do nothin’.”

George being around the team, when he’s not immersed in rehab, is good for his and his teammates’ psyches. But as determined as he has to be in his comeback from the nasty mishap, that’s how the other Pacers have to approach a difficult season that grew more grim as lesser injuries stacked up in the preseason. Power forward David West (ankle sprain) and guards George Hill (knee), C.J. Watson (foot) and Rodney Stuckey (foot) all missed time and will be unavailable or, in Stuckey’s case, limited in the team’s opener Wednesday.

Not that a Bird team would have room for sissies anyway, but the short-term figures to be rather trying. The team’s bench will be thinned by all the reserves — Luis Scola, Donald Sloan, C.J. Miles, Solomon Hill — pressed into starters’ minutes.

“We’re gonna play,” Bird said. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen. These [backup] guys are not used to playing a lot of minutes, they’re going to. It’s not really just taking your lumps. It’s just playin’ — and tryin’ to get better as we go.”

For the franchise that began last season with championship ambitions and began the postseason as the East’s No. 1 seed, the expectations have been dampened. With a roster full at 15, there’s no Bird, McHale or Parish walking through that door — or George either.

“Even when I was playin’, I was out one whole year and we had some of the guys dinged up, but somehow we found a way to battle and win some games,” Bird said. “Our expectation is to get in the playoffs. That’s what we want to do. We’re down a little bit right now, but we think we can make up for it.”

Bird heaped some praised on George Hill for the improvement he had shown before getting hurt. Also, besides cautioning the media against fast-tracking hopes about George’s return, he warned against expecting too much from center Roy Hibbert, a former All-Star whose play dropped off badly last spring. He’s not going to become Hakeem Olajuwon or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar offensively, just by process of elimination or the fact that he has been tutored by both.

“Nah. Roy’s not that type of player,” Bird said. “Roy’s a defensive player. He’s got to protect the rim and, obviously, I’d like to see him score a few more points but not a lot. I think it’s important for him to rebound better than he has in the past, but we’re not putting a lot of weight on Roy’s shoulders because that’s not the type of player he is.”

The weight is on all of the Pacers and, frankly, until a lot of time and healing passes, it probably will be a little more than they can bear.

A dozen age old keys to the season

Back when the Rolling Stones sang Time Is On My Side, they surely weren’t thinking about NBA players deep into the second decades of their playing careers. All that running, jumping and end-to-end athleticism clearly make the NBA a young man’s game. Still, by the time things shake out next spring and the playoffs begin, a virtual roster full of veterans will have played a big part in the success or failure of some seasons. Here are the dozen graybeards (listed oldest to youngest) who’ll make a difference … one way or the other:

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash, 40, Lakers — The former two-time MVP is having a hard time limping to the finish line of his career. After playing in just 15 games last season, there was hopeful optimism that he and teammate Kobe Bryant could turn back the clock together. But recurring back problems have coach Byron Scott thinking more about starting Jeremy Lin at the point and bringing Nash off the bench.

Ray Allen, 39, unsigned — Is there a playoff team on any corner of the NBA map that wouldn’t want to have one of the great pure shooters in league history on the bench next spring? From Cleveland to San Antonio and every point in between, they’ve been trying to get him onboard. He’s still weighing whether he wants to play at all. The winner in this sweepstakes gets a bonanza.

Andre Miller, 38, Wizards — It’s not like the advancing age is going to make him any slower or look less athletic. Now with Bradley Beal sidelined, there will be more opportunities for the veteran to show that he can do all of the good stuff, like the drive and pass to Kevin Seraphin that produced the game-winning dunk over the Pistons earlier this week. He’s that old neighbor down the street who knows how to fix everything and is handy to have around.

Tim Duncan, 38, Spurs — Coach Gregg Popovich treats him as delicately as Grandma’s heirloom china during the regular season and hasn’t played him for more than 30.1 minutes per game since 2009-10. We keep saying that he’s got to fall over the edge eventually, but then he went out and was the driving force behind the Spurs’ championship run last spring. Would you really bet against him doing it again?

Kevin Garnett, 38, Nets — For the first time in 19 seasons, K.G. looked old and tired and not engaged last season as he averaged a career-low 6.5 points per game as a role player. Everybody’s saying Year 20 is probably the last, but Garnett is saying he feels physically better and intends to return to his aggressive ways and have an impact again. Expectations are lower across the board for him and the team — and that could be a good thing.

Vince Carter, 37, Grizzlies — Back when he was chinning himself over the rim to win the Slam Dunk Contest back in 2000, who thought the uber-athletic Carter could still be a factor 1 1/2 decades later? But here he is, changing teams from Dallas to Memphis as he’s aged into a racehorse that can still give you 25 solid minutes per game and knock down clutch 3-pointers to boot.

Manu Ginobili, 37, Spurs — So close to retiring due to injuries following the Finals loss in 2013, he came back to shine through a remarkably healthy championship campaign. But for a guy who continues to play recklessly, the next back or knee injury is always just a cut or a jump away. If for any reason he’s not fully fit next spring, the chance to finally repeat will diminish greatly.

Jason Terry, 37, Rockets — The former Sixth Man of the Year when the Mavericks won their 2011 championship, the Jet has lost more than a little of his lift and cruising speed. But he’s bound and determined to show there’s something left in the tank and on a Houston bench that is thin, he’ll get called on by coach Kevin McHale. Don’t underestimate his veteran leadership in a locker room where Dwight Howard and James Harden are not fully comfortable in the role.

Paul Pierce, 37, Wizards — What they lost in defense from free agent Trevor Ariza, the Wizards could make up for in Pierce’s willingness and ability to make the big shots late in games. No question that John Wall and Beal are the engines of the offense. But Pierce could go a long way in showing them how and when to step on the gas.

Kobe Bryant, 36, Lakers — Probably not since Ronald Reagan moved into the White House will an old guy with so many miles on him attract so much attention. It would be one thing if Kobe just wanted to come back and play. But he’s Kobe and that means the alpha dog will settle for nothing less than his snarling old self. Virtually nobody thinks he can do what he used to do and, of course, that’s exactly what will drive him.

Pau Gasol, 34, Bulls — Never the sturdiest guy on the court during his prime, he’s missed 55 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. But he still has skills and now he has Joakim Noah alongside on the front line in Chicago to do the big banging. Assuming Derrick Rose can come back anywhere close to his previous form, this could be a perfect situation for Gasol to slide in as a secondary weapon. If that happens, the Bulls are in the fight to win the East.

David West, 34, Pacers — Is this the thanks a fella gets for spending his career as a dutiful professional who comes in every game to get the job done? First Lance Stephenson bolts in free agency to Charlotte. Then Paul George suffers the horrific injury while playing for Team USA. The Pacers enter the season in big, big trouble, which means West, the veteran forward, will be asked to shoulder the burden on a nightly basis. It doesn’t seem fair or doable.

Pacers need Hill to attack leading role

DALLAS – It remains a mutually beneficial trade for both sides, yet it could have been just a bit awkward for Indiana Pacers guard George Hill to watch his old team pulverize the one team his never could, and then see the player he was traded for, Kawhi Leonard, celebrated as the Finals MVP.

Hill, however, said nothing could be further from the truth.

“Kawhi is a good friend of mine,” Hill said Sunday as the Pacers’ preseason trek brought them to Dallas. “I’m happy for his success. I’m happy for the Spurs’ success. If we’re not winning, you know, I root for them. I’m still good friends with everyone in that organization and with everyone on that team. All of them are like my brothers.”

Which is as good a segue as any when talking about these Pacers, because they’re using training camp to try to bond like brothers following a summer — and really starting from the second half of last season — of tumult. Shooting guard and the NBA’s surprising triple-double leader, Lance Stephenson, departed for Charlotte as a free agent. All-Star forward Paul George, the emerging star who allowed the Pacers to deal Leonard for point guard help in 2011, emotionally shook the franchise, and the league, when he broke his leg during the Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas.

And just like that, the Pacers are a much different team, and one that will be asking Hill to bring a much different game than he really ever has, either with the Spurs where he was mostly a reserve surrounded by the Big Three, or in Indiana, where its two no-longer-available wings were so often the point of attack.

“He’s just going to have the ball in his hands more, have his number called a lot more,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve always wanted him to be aggressive, but I think he understands that that’s needed more than ever. Years past he would be aggressive at times, but the ball would be in Lance and Paul’s hands a lot.  So a lot of times he was the secondary option; most times he was the secondary option. He’s going to be more of a primary option this year.”

Vogel compared it back to when Hill first arrived.

“Before Danny Granger got hurt and Paul George and Lance Stephenson exploded, our go-to guys were David West and George Hill, and it’s just going to return to that,” Vogel said. “And they did that on a team that in the lockout season won at a 50-win pace as the two late-game go-to guys.”

That team turned a 37-45 record in 2010-11 to 42-24 with Hill backing up Darren Collison before taking over as the starter late in the season. The Pacers advanced to the East semifinals. And maybe they can again this season in an unpredictable Eastern Conference.

The reorganizing Heat and Pacers have been replaced by LeBron James‘ new team, the Cavaliers, and the Bulls as conference favorites. Washington, Toronto, Brooklyn and Stephenson’s Charlotte Hornets could all make some noise.

“Defense wins games, so as long as we continue to play defense the right way, I think we’re going to win a lot of games,” Hill said. “We’re going to have to use our defense as our offense.”

Even so, there’s little doubt that Hill will need to boost his scoring and playmaking for the Pacers not to drop to the lower rungs of the playoff chase. Hill averaged 10.3 points and 3.5 assists while logging 32 minutes a game last season. He shot 44.2 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from beyond the arc. He ranked 96th in the league, according to NBA.com’s player tracking data, in number of drives to the basket. To put that low number in some perspective, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook registered 99 more drives to the basket even though he played in 30 fewer games.

“Obviously he’s going to have to play a bigger role for us. He’s got to be aggressive,” West said. “It’s going to be a different role and adjustment for him, but he’s going to work himself into it, get comfortable with it. The last couple of years we’ve attacked from the wings. He’s going to have to be the point of attack for us, to really look to take his game to another level.”