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Morning shootaround — Feb. 7



VIDEO: Highlights of Saturday’s 10 games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

George Karl hanging by a string? | Mark Cuban says leave hacking strategy aloneKobe reflects on Lakers-Spurs, Popovich | What’s in the future of the struggling Wolves?

No. 1: Karl hanging by a string? — If it’s Sunday, then George Karl‘s job must be in jeopardy. Every other week, it seems, the Kings coach is headed out the door, and the most recent reports of trouble were intensified when the Kings were clobbered in Brooklyn, of all places, and DeMarcus Cousins said some cryptic statements that hinted of a possible coaching change. Well, Karl will coach Sunday in Boston — at least we think — and did take time to answer questions about his future (or lack thereof). Would the Kings really fire Karl and bring yet another coach to the franchise? Yikes. Here’s Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston writing about the latest on Karl:

Karl seemed amused by a string of questions about his future after he led the Kings through a 90-minute off-day workout Saturday at Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion, but he kept steering the conversation back to Sunday’s game against the Boston Celtics.

“I don’t have any control over what other people are thinking or saying. That’s their storm,” Karl said. “My preference would be it wouldn’t be there. But there’s always energy today. Then once something gets out, it magnifies and grows and becomes a storm. That’s not my storm. My storm is the Boston Celtics.”

Added Karl: “I have no control of what other people think or whatever people are circulating. My job is to get prepared for Boston. We had a good practice [Saturday], and I’m happy with the practice. Boston’s playing at a great level. Probably the best they’ve played in two years. Their win [Friday] night [in Cleveland] was pretty impressive. They kept coming after a team that thought they had them beat about four times and stole the end from them. It was really a gutty win by the Celtics.”

Increasingly concerned about their floundering play under Karl, the Kings entered the weekend hoping to delay any decision about the coach’s future until the All-Star break, league sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

Sources said the nature of the team’s 128-119 loss Friday night to Brooklyn — Sacramento’s sixth defeat in seven games — and the fallout it generated have the Kings contemplating an immediate coaching change.

Does Karl believe he’s in danger if the team is mulling a change?

“I don’t think I’m in limbo,” he said. “I think I’ve got a heckuva challenge [against] a team that’s played damn well — probably it’s best basketball in the last six weeks. If you want to overreact to the last four or five games, that’s somebody else’s reaction, not my reaction. I think this team is still in a place that we can solve some problems and be good.”

Kings point guard Rajon Rondo said he hasn’t paid much attention to the chatter surrounding his coach.

“I haven’t heard it,” he said. “I talked to my agent this morning, but it was just about how the team is doing, how the team morale was. But I haven’t bought into it or read into too much of [the Karl reports]. It’s just part of the business. Coaches fired, players being traded — there’s no difference.”

Both Rondo and Karl noted that the Kings had been playing better before a recent funk. Rondo said it’s not time to panic … yet.

“When we don’t have an opportunity to get into the playoffs, that’s when we can panic,” Rondo said. “But the last 10 games, I think our record is 5-5. It’s not the worst; it’s not 3-7. We started off the season 1-7, so we’ve hit a tough stretch, some games we could have won. Brooklyn played amazing [Friday] night, shot the heck out of the ball. That’s part of it. There’s going to be games like that. Hopefully we can turn it around and get a win [Sunday] afternoon.”

Added Karl: “Ten days ago, we were on a five-game winning streak. … Every NBA season has scheduled parts that say, ‘Hey, this is a tough time.’ And since our beginning, our bad start, we’ve been a .500 team. We’re still a .500 team.”

Karl said it has been a process to get everyone on the same page, given the roster turnover this past summer.

“The whole season, when you change your roster with 10 players, you’re consistently trying to build better communication and a better connection and trying to get a commitment that’s a winning commitment,” Karl said. “Players question coaching. Coaching questions players. That’s the way it’s going to be. The truth of the matter is I think this team has hung together pretty well through a lot of ups and downs this year.

“Our perseverance level has been maybe not an A but a B-plus. And when we play good teams, we usually play well. Our weaknesses have been home court, intensity and maybe overlooking a team with a bad record. But you can watch that film last night. Brooklyn played damn well.”

***

 No. 2: Cuban says leave hacking strategy alone — The technique of intentionally fouling poor free throw shooters is the rage among coaches and another kind of rage among fans. There’s the belief that the game is worse off when DeAndre Jordan is shooting 15 free throws, although others believe that it’s part of the game and the league shouldn’t alter the rules just to relieve pressure from a half-dozen players with severe free-throw issues. Count Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in the latter group. Cuban doesn’t feel it’s necessary to make drastic, if any, changes to the intentional fouling rule, or fouling players off the ball. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said last Friday that he may favor a change. We’ll see. Here’s Tom Haberstroh of ESPN on Cuban:

On Friday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told USA Today Sports that he was “increasingly of the view” that the league will implement new rules this summer to prevent intentional fouling of poor free throw shooters.

“At the end of the day,” Silver said, “we are an entertainment property, and it’s clear when you’re in the arena that fans are looking at me shrugging their shoulders with that look saying, ‘Aren’t you going to do something about this?'”

Cuban disagrees with the notion that it is hurting the game’s entertainment value and told ESPN.com on Saturday morning that he believes fans actually feel more part of the game in hack-a-player situations, citing the example of fans getting on their feet to challenge an opposing player at the free throw line.

Cuban also said hacking adds an element of intrigue.

“Will they leave him in or leave him out?” Cuban said. “How do both teams feel about it? How will they foul? Is it a new creative way, or is it just chasing?”

The hack-a-player strategy has been on the rise around the league. As of Friday, according to tracking by ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton, there had been 266 hack-a-player instances this season, already far exceeding last season’s total of 164. There were 52 instances through the All-Star break last season, and the NBA has surpassed that total by more than 200 ahead of next week’s All-Star Weekend in Toronto.

The majority of intentional fouls have come against tall, poor free throw shooting big men such as Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond and Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard.

Cuban said hack-a-player strategies offer a teachable moment for fans and young athletes, especially parents who could spend time “watching the shots and telling your kids why practice matters and how amazing it is that they can do something that an NBA player can’t.

“Will a 7-foot man try to run and escape a foul so he doesn’t have to do what so many 12-year-olds do in games every day?” Cuban added.

Cuban argues that the chess match of hack-a-player makes the game more fascinating for fans.

“Does he make the free throws?” Cuban said. “If he makes one or two, will they do it again? Did the strategy work?”

Cuban contends that the league might be overreacting to a small minority of “basketball purists” outside the media.

“We have to realize that the number of basketball purists that aren’t in the media is probably under 1,000 people globally,” Cuban said. “There is no special basketball beauty in walking the ball up the court and dribbling around the perimeter. Will we change that too?”

***

No. 3: Kobe sounds off on Lakers-Spurs, Popovich — If nothing else, Kobe Bryant is in a reflective mood in this, his final NBA season, especially in places where his memories are deep and meaningful. San Antonio is such a place, and Kobe spoke glowingly about the Spurs, and what they’ve meant to his development as a future Hall of Famer, and also his thoughts on Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich. As Kobe spoke, his thoughts were recorded by Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

What do you recall of the Spurs-Lakers battles?

It was fun. The most fun was when they had home-court advantage, and we had to come up here and play, and we wound up getting both games up here. It was intense — we knew what they could do, we knew how they would play, we knew their momentum, we knew how they liked to execute — but their were just some nights where we never could get in front of them. Their ball movement, we were always kinda chasing the game. I do miss The Dome, though. I do miss that. I remember playing in there, there was something about the rims there that I really enjoyed. Then when they moved here, the first couple of games really threw me off. I hated playing here. I couldn’t shoot for crap. But, playing at The Dome was a lot of fun.

How has your relationship with Gregg Popovich evolved?

It’s been amazing. I mean, he’s been so open with me and I’ve been a sponge every chance I get to be around him. I talk to him a lot about the game, I ask him questions about the game, how he teaches the game. One of my favorite times that I spent with him was during the All-Star game when he was coaching. He came up to me right before practice and he said, ‘Hey, should I do a real practice or like a whatever walk-through All-Star practice?” I said, ‘Do a real practice, because I want to see what the hell goes on in San Antonio, so you’ve got to do all the real stuff.’ The guys were kind of looking around like ‘What the hell.’ Tim just looked at me like, ‘You’re killing me.’ I wanted to see what goes down.

Is that going to be the plan for this All-Star Game?

“I hope it is because it’s rare to play for one of the all-time greatest coaches. I’ve been very fortunate in my career. I’ve had Phil and played under Pop for several times. It’s been great.”

Was Tim’s success ever a driving force for you?

“It’s strange. No, because the competitiveness was always centered around us vs. them. You have to beat them. In the process of us getting to the next level you wind up beating Tim Duncan but against San Antonio you cannot afford to think individually for one second because they’ll burn you so I never had that personal rivalry with him.”

Is it weird to play them without Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan suiting up?

“Nah. I’ve played against them for so many year, it’s like, ‘enough already.’ We’ve had all those battles before.”

Can you compare facing Bruce Bowen to facing Kawhi Leonard?

“It’s very difficult to give you a very intelligent … I could give you a BS answer but it’s hard to make that comparison. I saw Bruce so many times. Kawhi I’ve only played against one-and-a-half times and nothing at a really high level of a matchup. So it’s very hard for me to compare the two. From what I see on TV Bruce uses length a lot more. He was kind of in and out, tapping the arms and trying to break your rhythm, things of that nature. Kawhi tends to use his body a lot more and plays position a lot more. But they both have phenomenal hands.”

Could you have imagined playing for Pop for 20 years?

“Of course.”

That wouldn’t have been a problem?

“Nah. I’d have won a lot of championships.”

Does this rivalry mean more to you than the Celtics?

“It’s more personal because it’s the rivalry that I played through. The Celtics rivalry is something I grew up watching. IK played against them a couple of times in The Finals. But San Antonio was year in and year out. The year we won the championship it was like, ‘Well, Tim was hurt so it really doesn’t count.’ So the second run it was, ‘OK, you guys had a shortened season and we had Tim when he was hurt so now let’s see what’s up.’

“That rivalry was what fueled the majority of my career.”

How do you think you would have dealt with Pop wanting to sit you if you were dinged up or tired?

“I’d have been fine because he never would have known I was dinged up or tired … ‘You on the training table? No. I’m good.’ “

You said last year there is some jealousy Tim’s had the same coach all these years … you had that a bit with Phil but he’s gone. Is there a jealousy factor for Spurs having that continuity, the group of players who have been with him so long?

“I think that starts at the top with Pop, starts at the top with the ownership. They’re very clear on what the identity is, very clear on what they stand for, what they represent. They’re very clear on the style of player that they want to have. They’ve been consistent with that year over year. That’s why it becomes easier for them to select certain players to draft, certain players to trade for. Because they’re looking for certain type of player. That leads to consistency.

We’ve had changes. We have Dr. Buss passing away, have Jeannie and Jim, you have Phil coming and going. You have all these things going on and so as a result system changing as well. So there’s a lot of inconsistency. What they’ve done here which is phenomenal, probably compared to the Patriots, is had so much consistency from top to bottom.”

Ever wonder what you could have done with that kind of consistency around you?

Of course, you wonder that. But just for fun. I can’t sit here and complain. I’ve eaten pretty well. So I can’t complain that there’s no dessert left.

***

No. 4: What’s in the future for the struggling Wolves? — These are interesting times for the Wolves. On one hand, they appear headed in the right direction for the first time in over a decade, with a batch of intriguing young players on the roster and a possible lottery pick coming in June and plenty of room under the salary cap. However, there are questions about the leadership of this team, from Glen Taylor (who has resisted overtures of selling the majority of the team) and GM Milt Newton and the coaching staff led by Sam Mitchell, a situation that was thrown in question with the passing of Flip Saunders. Despite all of their promise, the Wolves have struggled this season and therefore it wouldn’t be surprised if they underwent an off-season shakeup. Here’s a report from Chip Scoggins of the Star-Tribune:

Kevin Garnett joined the chorus of people who have offered reviews of Sam Mitchell’s coaching acumen, stumping last week for his head coach and friend like a savvy politician.

“I feel real good about the progression of this team since Day 1, and I think it needs to be said and needs to be understood that I’m endorsing Sam Mitchell and our coaching staff and this organization,” Garnett told reporters.

KG’s comments served as a rebuttal to a groundswell of public sentiment that believes Mitchell’s stint as Timberwolves interim coach should last only until the end of this season.

Mitchell’s job performance rating has become a popular talker with respect to the nucleus of young talent in the organization and whether he’s the right coach to oversee their future.

The attention paid to Mitchell has deflected focus from an issue of equal importance, if not greater: What will owner Glen Taylor do with his top leadership position?

Will he keep interim basketball boss Milt Newton in place, or look outside for someone else to run the operation? Another theory floated is that Taylor perhaps could retain Newton as general manager and hire a president of basketball operations.

Kevin Garnett joined the chorus of people who have offered reviews of Sam Mitchell’s coaching acumen, stumping last week for his head coach and friend like a savvy politician.

“I feel real good about the progression of this team since Day 1, and I think it needs to be said and needs to be understood that I’m endorsing Sam Mitchell and our coaching staff and this organization,” Garnett told reporters.

KG’s comments served as a rebuttal to a groundswell of public sentiment that believes Mitchell’s stint as Timberwolves interim coach should last only until the end of this season.

Mitchell’s job performance rating has become a popular talker with respect to the nucleus of young talent in the organization and whether he’s the right coach to oversee their future.

The attention paid to Mitchell has deflected focus from an issue of equal importance, if not greater: What will owner Glen Taylor do with his top leadership position?

Will he keep interim basketball boss Milt Newton in place, or look outside for someone else to run the operation? Another theory floated is that Taylor perhaps could retain Newton as general manager and hire a president of basketball operations.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Are the Bucks simply experiencing growing pains, or is it something more troubling? … Jimmy Butler is feeling good about his chances of returning to the court soon, maybe within days … Can Russell Westbrook average a triple-double for a season and pull an Oscar Robertson? .. The Sixers should extend their talent search overseas, given their dire straits …

Report: Silver says changes coming to hack-a-Shaq rule

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Changes are in store for the dreaded Hack-A-Shaq (Dwight or DeAndre or Andre) rule this summer.

Or at leas that is the sentiment from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who addressed the topic on USA Today Sports‘ NBA A-to-Z Podcast.

Like many fans, coaches, players, executives and observers, the Commissioner has grown weary of the often-used strategy, which basically consists of fouling the poorest free throw shooter on an opposing team in an effort to limit said team’s scoring opportunities.

More from USA Today Sports:

“Even for those who had not wanted to make the change, we’re being forced to that position just based on these sophisticated coaches understandably using every tactic available to them,” Silver said. “It’s just not the way we want to see the game played.”

Hack-A-Player is up this year. The number of those intentional fouls through mid-December surpassed the number of times it happened last season (164), and the league is closing in on 300 Hack-A-Player instances before the All-Star break.

Through Tuesday’s games, fouls against Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond and Houston Rockets Dwight Howard have accounted for 69% of Hack-A-Player fouls. Jordan accounts for 34%.

Silver knows the data. But the interaction with fans as he watches a game has made an impact, too.

“Again, as I travel around the league, there’s that one school of thought ‘Guys have got to make their free throws,’ ” Silver said. “But then at the end of the day, we are an entertainment property, and it’s clear that when you’re in the arena, that fans are looking at me, shrugging their shoulders with that look saying, ‘Aren’t you going to do something about this?’ ”

 

Morning shootaround — Jan. 28


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Popovich unsure when Duncan will return | Report: NBA investigating Griffin altercationReport: Knicks interested in Teague | Stoudemire finds a role in Miami

No. 1: Popovich: No timetable for Duncan’s return — When the San Antonio Spurs announced on Sunday that Tim Duncan would miss the much-anticipated showdown with the Golden State Warriors on Monday, some thought it might be typical gamesmanship from the Spurs. When they held him out of last night’s game against the Houston Rockets because of the same right knee issue, it created a reason to wonder how Duncan is doing. After last night’s game, coach Gregg Popovich could provide very few details as to when Duncan might be back, but that the big man needs rest and rehab work, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com:

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich revealed Wednesday that injured forward Tim Duncan underwent an MRI on his sore right knee and said Duncan would undergo a regimen of rest and rehabilitation.

Popovich declined to place a timetable on Duncan’s return.

“I don’t do timetables,” Popovich said. “They never work, because [the situation becomes], ‘But you said it was gonna be [ready].’ When he’s ready, he’s ready.”

Duncan traveled with the Spurs to Oakland, California, to face the Warriors, but the team sent him back to San Antonio to nurse the injury.

Popovich declined to say whether doctors found anything concerning in the results of Duncan’s MRI.

“They’re rehabbing him and doing what they do,” Popovich said. “Unlike you, I’m not the doc. They just tell me when he’s ready to go.”

(more…)

Blogtable: Thoughts on Griffin’s punching incident?

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: Takeaway from Spurs-Warriors? | Thoughts on Griffin incident? |
Four players who should be All-Star reserves?



VIDEODan Woike explains the impact of Griffin’s incident

> Blake Griffin has missed the last 14 games and will be sidelined four to six weeks after injuring his hand in an altercation with an equipment manager. Is this a big thing, a little thing, or much ado about nothing?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Oh, very much a big, big thing. This is the face of your franchise, who is not a kid anymore, making a series of increasingly stupid decisions (drinking, drinking in public, arguing, hitting someone, continuing to hit someone until you break your hand) that leave his team in a lurch after it had stoically excelled for a month without him. Not to mention that the Clips gave Josh Smith back to Houston anticipating Griffin’s return in the next few days. Bad, bad form. Gonna take a good long while for Griffin to earn back trust from his teammates and from Doc Rivers.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Little thing. Oh, it’s a big thing right now, in the dog days of the NBA season. And it will bubble up a little bit over All-Star Weekend – because of his absence and all the chatter there – and again when Griffin returns to the court for the Clippers. But this is a manageable “crisis” in that Griffin and the equipment manager are otherwise friends (presumably still), sizable checks can get stroked and there aren’t formal charges. As I see it, it’s a symptom of that team’s overall immaturity and unsuitability to seriously contend for a title. But nothing causal unto itself.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Of course, it’s a big deal. Regardless of the Clippers’ recent record without him, Blake Griffin is one of the top two players on the team and talent usually wins out. However, it also furthers the narrative that the Clippers underachieve each season in the playoffs because they are a loose collection of knuckleheads that won’t ever win a championship because they lack focus and professionalism. Breaking your hand on an equipment manager? Why not run head-first into a wall? At least that might knock some sense into him.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Big thing. Blake Griffin put his team’s season at risk, just when the Clippers had reason for optimism after a bad start. They were winning, they were about to get Griffin back from injury. And now this. Who knows how the hand will heal — or not heal. Who knows how many games this will cost L.A. in the standings and injure chances for homecourt advantage in a series. But his actions open up a lot of bad possibilities for the Clips.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I say it’s a big thing, because this is a franchise hauling a history of being Clipper-like, a stigma that was supposed to disappear once Doc Rivers took control. However, the Clippers got ambushed by a Rockets’ comeback in the playoffs last year and so far have nothing special to show for having Rivers, Chris Paul and Blake together. This team has plenty to prove and Blake’s silly and unnecessary “incident” doesn’t help matters at all.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Big thing. With how good the three teams ahead of them are, the Clippers’ margin for error is small. And though they’ve played well without him, his injury obviously hurts them with their need to build something toward the playoffs. It also feels like this is another step toward a summer-of-2016 break-up of the Clippers’ core, which has been very good, but not good enough, over the last few years.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s a huge thing and a potentially season-altering blunder by Griffin that not only shatters any defense of him as anything other than a fake tough-guy. In the absence of any concrete details as to why the dustup with the equipment staffer started, it’s fair to crush Griffin for exhibiting the some of the poorest judgment possible. He’s already missed 14 games with the torn quad tendon and now he’s going to tack on another 4-6 weeks with the fractured hand. Just brutal.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This is a big thing. The Clippers want to contend ultimately for the NBA Finals. This latest self-inflicted torment won’t necessarily knock them out, because Griffin may still have close to two months before the playoffs to regroup with his teammates. Will this be one of those events that convinces him and his teammates to refocus with greater urgency? Or are they going to enable another year to slip away?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe injury should be a little thing — as it turns out, the Clippers have been able to endure without Blake this season. So, being without Griffin for another 4-6 weeks during the regular season should be something they can endure with some relative ease. This could turn into a big thing, however, when you consider the circumstances of the injury, or at least what has been reported as the circumstances thus far.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 27


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Making sense of Griffin scuffle | Kobe: Lakers fans didn’t ‘appreciate’ Gasol | Lowry not fretting wrist injury | Cousins calls fan voting for All-Star Game unfair

No. 1: Clippers, Rivers try to make sense of Griffin incident — If you missed it yesterday, perhaps the oddest story to date this season came to light when it was revealed that Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin broke his hand after he got into a fight with a team staff member at a Toronto restaurant. The staff member was identified by several media outlets as Griffin’s friend and team equipment manager, Matias Testi and Griffin, as a result of his injury, will be out at least four to six weeks. The team issued a statement about the incident and Griffin took to Twitter to address it, too, but in short, the Clippers’ players, coach Doc Rivers and the organization as a whole are trying to dig out from this situation.

We start first with Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times, who provides detail on the Griffin-Testi relationship:

 His name was invoked in the Clippers’ locker room after almost every game.

“‘Tias!” center DeAndre Jordan would declare loudly, as if he wanted to make a show of what was coming next. “Where’s ‘Tias at?”

Mathias Testi would appear and Jordan would invariably ask the assistant equipment manager to fetch a piece of clothing or maybe some lotion. Testi faithfully retrieved the item, even if he did occasionally dawdle or mutter something under his breath.

To the uninitiated it might have resembled a mild hazing ritual, but there was always a playful undercurrent between Testi, Jordan and teammate Blake Griffin. Their relationship felt like something out of the buddy comedy “Entourage,” with Testi playing the role of the relative nobody along for the ride with his celebrity friends during dinners and other outings.

That friendship unraveled Saturday when Griffin repeatedly punched Testi during an altercation at a Toronto restaurant, resulting in a broken bone in Griffin’s right hand that is expected to keep the All-Star forward out for an additional four to six weeks at a time when he had already missed a month because of a quadriceps injury.

Testi, 29, returned to Los Angeles, as did Griffin, after the incident and Griffin underwent a procedure on his hand Tuesday morning, the team said.

The altercation started inside a restaurant with a back-and-forth exchange that led the friends outside, with Griffin throwing multiple punches, according to a league executive with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Rivers said he was unsure whether the men were drinking at the time of the altercation but “I don’t think alcohol had anything to do with this.”

It was not immediately known whether Testi would pursue legal action against Griffin or the Clippers. He remained employed by the team.

The altercation put some of Griffin’s teammates in the awkward spot of being caught between allegiances.

“I’m friends with and love both parties,” Jordan said. “It’s out of my control, but hopefully we can figure out something.”


VIDEO: The Starters: Should Clippers be worried about Griffin’s injury?

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(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
No panic in Warriors after another loss| Kevin Durant loves the media | Kyrie says Cavs are in a better space | The Clippers’ schedule is about to crank up

No. 1:  No panic in Warriors after another loss — It’s happened so rarely this season that the shock of it all could be a little much to take for the Golden State Warriors. They’ve walked off the court after a loss just four times all season, but lost their second straight road game Saturday night in Detroit. But there is no panic now that the Warriors have come back to earth, a bit, from their unbelievable start to the season. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle explains:

The Warriors’ post-practice session Sunday started with Draymond Green playfully mocking Luke Walton’s work ethic and ended with Stephen Curry proudly wearing a Carolina Panthers cap while singing the team’s theme song.

If the Warriors are panicking about their declining play during the past 11 games, including an 18-point spanking by Detroit on Saturday, they sure weren’t conveying it before flying to Cleveland for an NBA Finals rematch.

“There’s no need to panic, turn on each other or point a finger. We all sucked,” Green said. “… You want to keep the environment loose. You don’t want to tense up and feel like it’s the end of the world and play like that. Yeah, we have to play with a chip on our shoulder, and we have to play with that fire and intensity, but you don’t want to play like you’re in a panic.”

The Warriors (37-4) will have a good barometer for their keep-it-loose approach during the next five games. They play road games at Cleveland and Chicago before hosting Indiana, San Antonio and Dallas — teams that went into Sunday’s games a combined 131-68 (.775).

To have success during the challenging stretch, the Warriors know they’re going to have to play better than they have in the past 11 games.

“It matters to us, every game that we don’t play well. We’re trying to figure it out,” Curry said. “At 37-4, I’m happy that it bothers us. … It shows that it’s a long season, but we’re on a mission to do something big this year. The game (Saturday) night was not in line with our identity and who we are as a team.”

The Warriors went 28-2 in their first 30 games, beating opponents by an average of 13.4 points per game. They’ve gone 9-2 in their past 11 games, beating opponents by an average of 4.8 points per game.

***

No. 2: Kevin Durant loves the media —  He has a strange way of showing it, but Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant does not hate the media. In fact, Durant said he has nothing but love for the folks covering him and his team on a regular basis. Sure, he’s had some heated exchanges with reporters recently and has criticized the media for not holding his Thunder in the same regard as other elite teams around the league, for “nit-picking” the way he and Russell Westbrook operate, for disrespecting Kobe Bryant and various other perceived transgressions. But in the end it’s, all love. Erik Horne of the Oklahoman has more:

“I also have something else to say, if you guys don’t mind. I was talking to Matty earlier and I’ve seen over the last couple days – couple of years, actually – that I hate the media. I actually do love you guys. If I hated someone I wouldn’t talk to them. I wouldn’t interact with them. I wouldn’t laugh and joke with them. I wouldn’t talk with them about anything other than what you guys ask me. When I disagree, that doesn’t mean that I hate you guys, so … my whole deal is to spark a conversation and hopefully we can talk about the topic, or whatever it is at hand we can talk about, and we all can grow from it. That’s my whole deal.

“I know I’m not necessarily talking to all you guys – all you guys with all these mics here. My whole thing is when I disagree that doesn’t mean I hate you, that just means … what you guys really wanted is someone who’s open and honest with you and who’s opinionated and that’s who I am. I haven’t changed, I’m the same person. I just grew as a man. Hopefully you just appreciate it and know that I don’t hate you. That’s a harsh word and my mom never brought me up to be a hater of anyone. I always believe that if I’m open and honest and opinionated that I can grow as a person and hopefully you can learn that’s what I’m about, and hopefully you all can get better. The main goal is to help the fans know the game a little bit more than they know today, so that’s my goal and hopefully that’s your goal instead of getting headlines and clicks. That’s my take on it, that’s the last time I’ll talk about it, but I had something I had to get off my chest. I appreciate it.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant clarifies his recent comments about the media

***

No. 3: Kyrie says Cavs are in a better space — It stands to reason that weeks after Christmas, the Cleveland Cavaliers are something of a different monster than the one we saw that day against the Golden State Warriors. Kyrie Irving, who made his debut just a week before that game, is in a different place now. He says the Cavs are in a better space. And he’s ready for tonight’s rematch of the rematch between The Finals combatants (8 p.m. ET, TNT). Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com has the details:

In the first meeting between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, an NBA Finals rematch, point guard Kyrie Irving was playing in his third game, trying to get back in rhythm after a rehab-filled off-season.

Heading into Monday night, another crack at the league’s best team that celebrated inside Quicken Loans Arena about seven months ago, Irving feels different, inching closer to his old form.

“A lot better,” Irving said following Sunday’s practice, the first workout since returning home from a season-long six-game road trip. “Definitely trying to prove it out there every single time I go out there and play. Just trying to continue to be better every single game for my teammates.”

Since that Christmas Day showdown, an 89-83 loss, Irving has hypnotized defenses with his slick ball handling, made a pair of clutch three-pointers in the closing minutes and had a few scoring outbursts. He has given Cleveland an offensive boost, averaging 103.8 points in his 12 games.

“Coming back it was a tough adjustment at first, missing a few shots here and there, being on the minute restriction, just had some things to get used to,” Irving said. “And as I continue to progress and the more games I play, the better I am getting.

“I just didn’t want to come in and break anyone’s rhythm. We had a great thing going, and me just being an added piece, just wanted to come in and make it seem seamless and do whatever it takes to win. I mean, it was a tough transition coming back, I’m not going to lie, but I think it’s getting easier and easier every single game.”

Irving is averaging 17.0 points on 42 percent from the field, including 26 percent from three-point range. He’s also averaging 3.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds.

His numbers are down and his play has been dotted with inconsistency. But Cavs head coach David Blatt is focusing on the positives.

“Kyrie has been doing well,” Blatt said Sunday. “I said on a few occasions after some of his bigger games that still we had to understand and show patience. And he has gone more or less up and down a little bit and it’s totally understandable. He missed a long time, came off a serious injury. But he’s worked hard and he’s played well since he’s come back. Some games better than others. And it’s just part of the process and we understand it. And that will continue for a little while.”

***

No. 4: The Clippers’ schedule is about to crank up — Winning feels great, and the Los Angeles Clippers have been doing it as well as anyone lately — even after their 10-game win streak was snapped Saturday — as they head into tonight’s matchup against Houston (10:30 p.m. on TNT). But the schedule is about get a lot tougher and Clippers coach Doc Rivers knows what’s coming. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times explains:

Starting with Monday night’s game against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center, five of their next six opponents have records above .500. And the only team below .500, the 20-22 New York Knicks, has been playing better recently.

Not only that, but five of the six games are on the road, including a back-to-back set at Cleveland and New York on Thursday and Friday and, after a game at Toronto on Sunday, another back-to-back Jan. 26-27 at Indiana and Atlanta.

“I don’t look ahead but to the next game, obviously,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Saturday night after the loss to the Kings at Staples Center. “[But] defensively we’re a better team. And that’s all you need to be is a better team defensively. Offensively, I’m never that concerned about us. I think most nights we’re going to be a good offensive team. . . . I just think our team has grown and that’s where we’re a better team.”

Only two of the opponents during the 10-game win streak were above .500 when the Clippers played them, and only one is now. They won nine of the games without Blake Griffin (partially torn left quadriceps) and went 1-1 in the games DeAndre Jordan missed because of pneumonia.

The Clippers are hopeful Jordan can return against Houston, and they expect Griffin to return during the trip — hoping it will be at Cleveland but figuring it’s more likely to happen at Toronto or Indiana.

The fact that the Clippers haven’t faltered without Griffin prompted a question to Rivers: Had they sent a message to the NBA about how strong they can be despite missing their All-Star?

“No, we’re not trying to send any messages,” said Rivers, whose team didn’t practice Sunday. “We’re just trying to win games. The messages have to be sent at the end of the year by winning.

“We just have to keep getting better. I think through this stretch we have improved as a basketball team. And I think when DJ comes back first and then Blake, we’re going to be a much better team because of all of this. But we’ve still got a long way to go. Neither one of them are back yet. So, we’ve just got to keep plugging away.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: If you had plans Saturday night and missed out on the raucous celebration at The Palace of Auburn Hills, relive the moment the Detroit Pistons retired Ben Wallace‘s No. 3 … Washington Wizards swingman Jarrell Eddie has found his dream job … You won’t have to think long and hard about who has been voted the NBA’s dirtiest player (here’s a hint, it rhymes with sell him a nova) … Even after all of these years, Kobe Bryant is still reaching milestones in the Lakers’ record books

Morning shootaround — Jan. 9




VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Spurs survive close shave | Davis injures back | Brand goal is to teach | Raptors take down Wiz again | Mbah a Moute shines

No. 1: Spurs survive close call against Knicks — Admittedly, the blowout wins the Spurs have been enjoying at home this season are much easier on the nerves. But when Jose Calderon’s last-ditch shot missed and San Antonio survived a nail-biter against the Knicks Friday night, it might have been the kind of game the streaking Spurs needed as they head into the meat of their schedule. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News has the scoop:

That their latest victory took the full 48 minutes to secure was not lost on Spurs players, who in recent games had grown accustomed to playing fourth quarters with their starters’ feet propped up.

“I think we needed it,” David West said. “I think we figured out some execution stuff, some timing stuff you can only do in a tight game.”

Throughout a stellar start to the season that left them at 32-6 on Friday, keeping pace with the best start in club history, the Spurs have been on the lookout for cracks to fill.

Not everything New York threw the Spurs’ way will prepare them for what is to come.

It will be a while, for instance, before they face another 7-foot-3 Latvian who can shoot the 3-pointer.

Rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis, all of 20 years old, scorched the NBA’s top-rated defense for 28 points and 11 rebounds. Porzingis was a thorn in the Spurs’ side on the offensive end, and an easy mark on defense. Aldridge got a batch of his points posting up the slender Porzingis.

The Spurs scored 60 points in the paint Friday, and Popovich thought they could have gotten more.

“It’s a strength that we have,” Popovich said. “And we’re getting better and better at recognizing it.” The Spurs did a better job against Anthony.

Tag-teamed by Leonard and Danny Green, Anthony started 2 for 12. The eight-time All-Star eventually found his way to 20 points and 12 boards, thanks to 10 trips to the foul line, but nothing came easy.

“I think they did a good job,” Popovich said of Green and Leonard. “As good as can be expected against a Hall of Fame player.”

***

No. 2: Pelicans lose A.D. to back injury — Another day, another injury for the Pelicans in what has rapidly become a painful and star-crossed season. Star forward Anthony Davis crashed into the seats while chasing a loose ball early in Friday’s loss to the Pacers and suffered a lower back contusion. He was unable to return to the game and according to John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Pelicans are still waiting on an update on Davis’s availability:

Davis initially returned to the game, but shortly afterwards Alvin Gentry was forced to call a 20-second timeout to get Davis out of the game. Davis headed to the locker room for treatment and did not return. He was not made available after the game and his status for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers has not been determined but an update may be issued by the team after Saturday’s practice.
But X-rays were negative, and he is listed as day-to-day.

”I don’t know anything yet,” Gentry said after Friday’s game. ”He was telling me that he had back pains when he left the court. So I’m sure we’ll find out later on.”

Davis has missed three games this season due to injury, which included a right hip contusion injury and sore right left shoulder.

***

No. 3: Teaching is the thing for Elton Brand — If 36-year-old Elton Brand drops in a basket or two and chases down a rebound for the 76ers, that’s all just gravy. The veteran forward came out of retirement to join the team this week with one task in mind, says Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer. That’s to show the ropes to Jahlil Okafor and the other young members of the Sixers’ roster:

“He’s here to guide the young guys and anything else is a bonus,” coach Brett Brown said. “I see him at practice pulling Nerlens [Noel] and Jahlil aside and showing them some of [Atlanta forward Paul] Millsap’s tricks, how he scored on him in practice, how can that not just be priceless?”

Brand has put a price on it, and it isn’t monetary. It’s about giving back to the game, about acquiescing to pleas from his college coach and his agent and, maybe a little bit, to the idea that he can get back on the court again for a few minutes at a stretch and show a little something one more time.

“Before practice yesterday, I dropped my son off at school at 8 a.m. I got to practice early, did some cardio, shot with the coaches, lifted, then had a whole long practice,” Brand said. “I ate lunch with the team, shot free throws afterward, and still picked up my son. I was home by 5 o’clock.”

It sounds so reasonable, and perhaps Brand can pull off this balancing act. If it doesn’t work, the season will be over in three months and he can look everyone in the eye and say he tried.

***

No. 4: Raptors keep getting back at Wizards — If you think players have short memories and easily forget things that happened last season, think again. That four-game playoff sweep at the hands of the Wizards last spring was a shocking eye opener to the Raptors. Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star says that miserable experience still motivated DeMar DeRozan and his teammates in Friday night’s win:

DeMar DeRozan didn’t blink before the words were out of his mouth.
“We got swept last year,” the Toronto Raptors shooting guard said, after he’d hung a season-high 35 points on the Washington Wizards, the offensive backbone in a defensively-sound 97-88 win. DeRozan’s previous season high was 34 and one of those games came against the Wizards too.

Last year’s playoff sweep at the hands of the Wizards is old news by now, hammered home by 2016’s arrival. But being on the Verizon Center court, hearing a crowd of 17,064 cheering the Wizards on and seeing those painfully familiar red, white and blue jerseys, brings the burn of failure back to DeRozan, at least for one night.

“I was here for the playoffs, and that was a bad feeling to get swept,” he said. “Coming back here just playing against them (gives) the same reminder of what happened.”

The Raptors (now 23-15) know that avenging that loss can’t happen until the playoffs, whoever their opponent would be. Friday’s win was a testament to how different these Raptors look now, getting back to their defensive roots after two embarrassing losses earlier this week to the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers.

***

No. 5: Mbah a Moute helps Clippers thriveChris Paul has stepped up his All-Star level game. DeAndre Jordan has shouldered more of the burden. J.J. Reddick, Paul Pierce and others have made big shots. But a big part of the secret to the Clippers’ success in the absence of the injured Blake Griffin has been the below the radar efforts of Luc Mbah a Moute, says Dan Woike of the Orange Country Register:

“Luc is the most under-appreciated person on our team, in all honesty,” Paul said Friday. “We used to talk about DJ all the time, but everyone sees what DJ does on a nightly basis.

“But Luc is the guy. He does everything. He defends. He cuts. He does everything a coach would appreciate but a fan has no idea that he’s doing.”

And, technically, until Thursday his contract wasn’t fully guaranteed for the season.

Ultimately, the decision to keep him wasn’t much of a decision at all.

The Clippers lucked into Mbah a Moute last summer after the Sacramento Kings voided his free-agent deal due to a failed physical – the results of which have been disputed.

Looking for a landing spot, the former UCLA star ended up with the Clippers right before training camp, competing with veteran big man Chuck Hayes for the final roster spot.

Last season, Clippers coach Doc Rivers chose Jared Cunningham over Joe Ingles for the Clippers’ final roster spot. Cunningham was traded to Philadelphia in early January and was waived. Ingles, who was claimed by the Utah Jazz, ended up starting 32 games at small forward, a position where the Clippers could’ve used him.

This season, clearly, Rivers chose right.

Hayes hasn’t played this season, and Mbah a Moute is the Clippers’ starting small forward.

Since inserting him into the starting lineup, the Clippers are 15-5 – the third-best record in the NBA. They have the fifth-best offense in the NBA during that stretch and the sixth-best defense.

“What I love about Luc also is Luc can play a lot of minutes in a game or he can play very little minutes in a game, there’s still no body language change or anything like that,” Rivers said. “He understands there are nights we need offensive guys on the floor, we need floor-spacers. There are nights where we need a stop, and Luc does it.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephen Curry is now wearing soccer style shin guards to keep playing through his injury…One front row fan in Minneapolis got a little too up close and personal with Timofey Mozgov…Lamar Odom has been moved out of hospital as rehabilitation continues…Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t ruling out a return to Phoenix to conclude his NBA career…LeBron James wants to see J.R. Smith the All-Star Weekend 3-point Shootout.

Warriors End 2015 As Real Winners


VIDEO: GameTime: Top 10 Plays of 2015

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — It was a good year for the Golden State Warriors. They won their first championship in 40 years, showing the league that you can win at a fast pace along the way. Then they began their title defense by setting an NBA record with 24 wins to start a season.

In total, the Warriors went 88-17 in 2015, including the postseason, falling just short of the record for most wins in a calendar year.

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It was a good year for Warriors individual accomplishments, too. Stephen Curry earned the regular season MVP award, Andre Iguodala was Finals MVP, Draymond Green was the runner up for Defensive Player of the Year, and Klay Thompson earned his first All-Star selection.

Curry ranked in the top 10 in points, assists, steals and 3-pointers for 2015. Green ranked in the top 10 in total rebounds and steals, and came three assists short of the top 10 in that category. Thompson ranked fifth in total points and second in 3s, while Andrew Bogut ranked ninth in blocks.

Here are the statistical leaders for the 2015 calendar year. All stats include the postseason…

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20151231_15_steals

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Curry may have led the league in total points in 2015 had he played the last two games. Instead, James Harden topped the list, scoring the most points in a calendar year since Kevin Durant scored more than 3,000 in 2012.

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Stats preview: Clippers at Lakers


VIDEO: GameTime previews the matchup between the Clippers and the Lakers

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the league’s five-game Christmas Day slate with a key stat for each team, along with an explanation of what it means. Here’s a look at the final game of the night, when the Clippers and Lakers meet for the first time this season (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Los Angeles Clippers (16-13)

The stat: The Clippers have attempted just 39 percent of their shots in the paint, the lowest rate in the league.

20151224_lac_paint

20151224_lac_basicsThe Golden State Warriors are often called “a jump-shooting team,” but their Pacific Division rivals are much more of a jump-shooting team than the champs are. This is the second straight season that the Clippers have led the league in percentage of shots that come from outside the paint.

DeAndre Jordan has taken all but one of his 162 shots from the paint. But the rest of the Clippers’ roster makes up for that with a lot of jump shots. Blake Griffin ranks sixth in the league in points in the paint, but has taken more than half his shots from outside it for the first time in his career. In fact, the percentage of his shots that Griffin has taken from outside the paint has increased every season since he entered the league.

The thing is that the Clippers have been the best shooting team inside the paint. Among 140 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from the paint, Jordan (70.4 percent) and Griffin (65.7 percent) rank first and third in field goal percentage there.

The Clippers still have a top-five offense. And around the league, the teams that take the most shots from inside the paint tend to rank lower in the lower half of the league in offensive efficiency.

But league-wide, paint shots yield more points per attempt (1.06) than shots from outside the paint (0.93). Only three teams have attempted a greater percentage of their shots from mid-range than the Clippers.

And only one team has regressed more offensively than the Clippers, who have scored 5.9 points per 100 possessions fewer than they did last season, when only the Warriors and Hawks had a higher effective field goal percentage from outside the paint. This year, L.A. ranks 20th in effective field goal percentage from outside the paint.

They’re not a great defensive team, so when those jump shots don’t go in, they don’t look like much of a title contender.

More Clippers notes from NBA.com/stats

Los Angeles Lakers (5-24)

The stat: The Lakers’ defense has allowed 7.2 points per 100 possessions more than the league average, the biggest differential of the last 10 seasons.

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20151224_lal_basicsThe Lakers are the only team to rank in the bottom five in defensive efficiency each of the last three seasons. This is also the fifth straight season that Byron Scott has coached a bottom-five defense. And this, so far, is the worst defensive team he’s coached.

Roy Hibbert was a big reason the Indiana Pacers were the best defensive team of the last three years. Indiana allowed 98.1 points per 100 possessions over those three seasons and just 97.3 with Hibbert on the floor. But Hibbert hasn’t been able to make a defensive impact with the Lakers, who have allowed 111.6 points per 100 possessions with him playing center.

The Lakers rank 20th or worse in all four of the defensive “four factors,” opponent shooting, defensive rebounding, opponent turnover rate and opponent free throw rate. The Sixers are the only other team that has been below average in all four.

L.A. and Philadelphia are also the only two teams that rank in the bottom three in both offensive and defensive efficiency. While there may be a lot of parity in the middle of both conferences, there’s very a clear No. 15 team in each.

More Lakers notes from NBA.com/stats

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Data curated by PointAfter

Morning shootaround — Nov. 12


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Mavs get some last shots in on Jordan | Strife still lingers in Sacramento | Bryant hoping to play Friday

No. 1: Mavs get some last digs in on Jordan — The Los Angeles Clippers’ much-anticipated visit to Dallas last night ended in a 118-108 Mavericks win fueled by Dirk Nowitzki. The ‘return’ of DeAndre Jordan to the team he famously spurned in free agency was the main talking point and Mavs fans let Jordan have it all game long. After the game, some of Dallas’ players (and of course, owner Mark Cuban) couldn’t resist getting a few last parting shots in on Jordan, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com:

The sellout crowd booed Jordan from pregame warm-ups to the final buzzer — “I thought it was going to be a lot worse, honestly,” he said — during Dallas’ 118-108 win over the Clippers. Jordan finished the game with nine points on 3-of-5 shooting and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes, during which the Clippers were outscored by 23 points.

“He’s not a priority to us,” Mavs small forward Chandler Parsons told ESPN.com when asked whether the Jordan drama was done. “And by the looks of their team, he’s not to them, either.”

That was a thinly veiled shot at Jordan’s role with the Clippers, who promised during the recruiting process that he would be more of a focal point in the offense. With Parsons serving as their lead recruiter, the Mavs had sold Jordan on coming to Dallas to be a franchise player instead of a complementary piece with the Clippers.

Cuban, with whom Jordan has not communicated since the night before he re-signed with the Clippers, attempted to downplay the drama before the game while still taking some verbal shots.

“It’s not like DeAndre and I pinkie swore,” said Cuban, who was giddy when Jordan originally accepted his offer of a max contract worth more than $80 million over four years. “It’s not like we’ve been friends forever. It’s not like he broke some trust we had. You know, he turned out to be who we thought he was.”

Cuban continued to reference text messages that he kept from his July conversations with Jordan, saying he would release them publicly “if there’s ever a good reason.” To that, Jordan joked that he doesn’t care “as long as it’s not naked pictures of me.”

Cuban said, however, that his recent jabs at Jordan and the Clippers were mostly in good fun.

“I have fun playing with this,” Cuban said. “You guys know me. I have fun messing with it, without any question. But it’s not that I’m mad or pissed off or bitter. Excuse my French, but if you f— with me, I like to f— with you back. It’s just my nature.”


VIDEO: Dallas prevails in showdown with DeAndre Jordan, Clippers

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