Posts Tagged ‘DeAndre Jordan’

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 30


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

OKC’s adjustment pays off vs. Heat | Rivers lobbying for Jordan to be an All-Star | Myers dishes on Warriors’ rebuild

No. 1: OKC’s halftime adjustment proves crucial vs. Miami — In Wednesday night’s much-anticipated Thunder-Heat game from south Florida, OKC found itself down 30-21 after the first quarter. At one point, Miami’s first-half lead swelled to 18 points, but the Thunder rallied and by halftime had a 55-50 lead. How OKC maintained that lead in the second half en route to a 112-95 rout of Miami had a lot to do with coach Scott Brooks‘ decision to sit starting center Kendrick Perkins in the second half and insert Perry Jones, thus giving OKC a quicker (if smaller) lineup that caused Miami fits, writes our own Steve Aschburner:

So, set aside the MVP debate for a while, at least until these teams meet again Feb. 20 in Oklahoma City. Focus a little on the COY — Coach of the Year — because the Thunder’s Scott Brooks accounted for the biggest highlight move of the night.

Understand that Brooks hasn’t had his preferred starting lineup for a while, not with All-Star guard Russell Westbrook (right knee meniscus surgery) sidelined since Christmas. But the one he started Wednesday has been his next-best option, with a record now (15-5) that’s nearly as good as OKC’s ‘A’ team (17-2).

So, coming out of halftime, Brooks pulled a lineup from column C. He sat down center Kendrick Perkins and inserted backup forward Perry Jones. Jones is listed at 6-foot-11 but he’s a quarter-horse compared to Perkins’ Clydesdale and the switch effectively rendered the Thunder small. Serge Ibaka was the default center, Durant the ersatz power forward.

It worked wonders. OKC outscored the two-time defending champions 36-25 in the third quarter. A 91-75 lead ballooned to its max with 8:45 left when the Thunder opened the fourth on a 10-1 run. Miami fans might have learned their lesson in The Finals about leaving early when things look bleak but this time, there really was little reason to stay.

So Perkins/bad, small ball/good was plain to see on this night. But Brooks dared to tinker with a mostly pat hand (Perkins has started all but two games), in a properly ballyhooed game, in front of an ESPN audience. He went with Jones and left him in for all 24 minutes of the second half. He made sure the Thunder used their mobility especially to get back on defense, choking off any Miami notions of transition buckets (OKC won that battle, getting 20 fast-break points to the Heat’s eight).

And he sold it on in real time, with nary a pout – who can tell with Stoneface Perk anyway? – nor a ripple.

“I thought to win this game, we had to make a decision,” Brooks said. “It’s just this game. It’s not something we have to do all the time. Perk brings so much to us. We’re not going to make it a small lineup/big lineup [issue]. ‘We’ won the game. It’s always been about ‘us.’ We have a bunch of guys who are always about ‘team’ and tonight was a prime example of that.”


VIDEO:
OKC fans watch, celebrate the Thunder’s win in Miami

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No. 3: Rivers pushing hard for Jordan to make All-Star team — This time of year, many coaches will lobby other coaches within their  conference to vote for a player as an All-Star reserve. The general thought, though, is that this happens during pregame conversations or informal talks amongst NBA coaches. That’s one level of lobbying. Then there’s what Clippers coach Doc Rivers is apparently doing to get center DeAndre Jordan to the All-Star Game. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Arash Markazi has more on Rivers’ lobbying efforts:

Before the season began, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said his team had a “big three”: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.Rivers now would like to see his big three in New Orleans for the NBA All-Star Game and has gone as far as lobbying his fellow Western Conference coaches to include Jordan in their vote to make the team as a reserve.

“I got a great response,” Rivers said. “But that’s why you go under a curtain when you’re stumping and they vote real because [they say], ‘Yeah, I’m going to vote for him,’ and then they shift that other lever.”

Rivers said many of the coaches he called said they would vote for Jordan while others said they liked him without saying whether they would include him.

“Yeah,” Rivers said when asked whether he was hopeful Jordan would be named an All-Star. “But it’s a lot of guys at that position.”

Jordan currently is leading the NBA in field goal percentage at .645 and rebounding with a 13.9 per-game average, and is fourth in blocked shots with 2.38 per game. He also is averaging a career-high 9.5 points per game.

“I’m looking forward to [the announcement]; whatever the coaches vote, I’m going to respect it,” said Jordan, who had 14 points and 17 rebounds against the Washington Wizards in a 110-103 win Wednesday night. “If I make it, I make it and I’ll be really excited, but if not, it’s another chip I can add on my shoulder and just continue to keep playing like I’m playing this season.”


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about L.A.’s win on Wednesday over the Wizards

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No. 3: Warriors GM dishes on building a contenderJust two seasons ago, Golden State was a 23-win team in the midst of what would become its fifth straight season without the playoffs. Much has changed since then, what with last season’s run to the Western Conference semifinals and this season contender for the Pacific Division crown. BasketballInsiders.com’s Nate Duncan caught up with Warriors GM Bob Myers, who talked in detail about crafting a long-term plan to make Golden State relevant again:

You talked about the timeline. When you came on in roughly early 2011 and then going into that summer and after the lockout, what did you perceive this team’s timeline for contention to be at that point?

Myers: Well what’s left from when I started is our two players, David Lee and Steph Curry. So of the 13 or 14 guys three years ago, we’ve kept two. So it’s a total overhaul of the entire roster, whether it’s through draft, trade or free agency. We have I would say, right now 13 new players in two years, which is a big turnover. Ideally you’d like to have more continuity, but we weren’t having success with the roster that year, obviously. We did believe last year, we hoped we put together a team that could make the playoffs. So our goal this year, last year it was to make the playoffs, this year was to make a good showing in the playoffs, and maybe next year it’s more than that. But we try to be realistic about where we are, we want to go beyond the goal of last year, which was just making the playoffs, and this year maybe advance in the playoffs. Maybe advance further than we did last year. So you’re always trying to build. A lot of things factor into your success in the postseason. We do our best in the front office and as an organization to put together the most talented team, and trust in our coaching staff to develop the players we give them. And then we go from there, and see what happens.

In 2011 you’re 36-46 and there’s this sort of truth, we can debate how truthful that actually is, that you kind of don’t want to be in the middle, that that’s the worst place to be. Was there any thought that you might have to bottom out a little bit to improve in that 2011 timeframe?

Myers: Well, the goal was to upgrade our talent from that team, that was the goal all along. We didn’t have a ton of assets to deal via trade. One of our assets, who happened to be our best player at the time, was Monta Ellis. One of the philosophies of the organization was to get bigger. We really wanted to try and be big. This organization has been small for so long and has had some success in that way, but from ownership on down, we feel like size is imperative to compete consistently in the NBA. So we had an opportunity to trade a guard for a center, and I think those opportunities are rare, and we took advantage of it. And Bogut happened to be hurt at the time. I’m not sure we could have got him if he was healthy. If he was healthy that would have been fine, maybe that would have allowed us to make a push towards the playoffs. But the fact that he was hurt allowed us to see what the team was with a lot of our young assets. Every day we come to work, we’re trying to find ways to improve our roster. Whether that’s through current assets or future assets or developing organically through the players we have here. Every day we want to leave work a little bit better than when we came in.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: For the second time this season, Evan Turner hit a game-winning buzzer-beater … Historically, the Jazz don’t do so hot on the nights they retire jerseys … Ex-Mavs coach  Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says, like it or not, the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy is part of the NBA now

ICYMI(s) of The Night: There were two standout breakaway dunks last night, so it was hard for us to pick just one. Which one was better: Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s or Blake Griffin‘s? …:


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo finishes strong vs. Phoenix


VIDEO: Blake Griffin takes flight on a breakaway jam

Anatomy, And Appreciation, Of Paul George’s ‘Dunk Of Year’

VIDEO: Paul George throws down a 360-degree windmill dunk against the Clippers.

INDIANAPOLIS – What Paul George pulled out of the trick bag midway through the fourth quarter Saturday night, for the record, isn’t even something he unleashes in practice. If anything, The Dunk That Briefly Blew Up The Internet at Bankers Life Fieldhouse is reserved for the layup line, a reward for those paying attention but mostly to get some adrenaline pumping for George and his Indiana Pacers teammates.

“I always say, ‘You can’t do that in a game,’ ” teammate Lance Stephenson said later. “But he did it tonight. He didn’t say nothing, but I know he was like, ‘Told ya I could do it.’ “

There were six minutes left. George already had 34 points, his 3-pointer moments earlier pushing Indiana’s lead over the Los Angeles Clippers back to 20. Challenged by the ejection of forward David West for a flagrant-2 foul (high elbow swipe) on the Clippers’ Blake Griffin at the end of the second quarter, the Pacers used a 13-2 run up to the quarter’s midpoint to secure their home record (21-1, making this the 25th consecutive season Indiana has been above .500 at home).

Nothing, at 94-74, was still in doubt. Then George stole the ball from Darren Collison, raced downcourt and went Slam Dunk, uppercase, for the viewing audience.

His 360-degree, windmill throwdown was half-man, half-homage, the sort of thing vintage Vince Carter would save for a late round on All Star Saturday. Play of the Night? More like Dunk of the Season.

“That’s dunk of the year,” said the excitable Stephenson. “I’ve never seen that dunk live in a game before. I wanted to celebrate, but they didn’t call timeout, so … that dunk was crazy.”

Said Pacers reserve Chris Copeland: “That was unbelievable. That would have gotten 10’s in a dunk contest. But in the game? That makes it 10 times more impressive.”

Look at the video embedded with this post. Then look at it again. And again. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, the highlight clip of George’s dunk saves all of us from struggling – and failing – to properly describe the spontaneity, the creativity and the joy in what he did.

Saves him, too, as he shrugged it off afterward.

“Just getting back to having fun,” George said. “Showin’ I’ve still got it in my legs. Y’know, putting on a show for everybody coming down to support us at Bankers Life.”

But not necessarily inspired by Carter? “Yeah, I mean, he’s definitely a dunker I idolized growing up,” George said. “Again, it was just being out there, playing free and having fun. … I never really practice dunks. I just go out there and whatever happens in a game, I just let it go.”

That raised a question in the locker room that already was burning up Twitter. What’s more impressive: a breathtaking, thoroughly artistic dunk in the open court like the one George had just authored, or something more fierce, challenged in traffic, the dunk that requires as much power as grace to get two points over – or better yet, through – somebody?

This one was huge, especially against the team that — with Griffin, with DeAndre Jordan — rains pebble-grained terror down on the entire league. Yet almost to a man, the Pacers – George included – seemed to prefer the contested throwdown.

“Hmmm, I’d probably say a dunk over somebody. Because there’s defense,” said West, not surprising given his power game. “When you’re out there by yourself, you’re trying to dunk [for the crowd]. When you dunk on somebody, you know they’re trying to stop you.”

Said George: “It’s always better to dunk on somebody. Those are momentum-swingers.  But I guess putting on a show ignites the crowd and it carries the same value as dunking on somebody.”

Copeland split the difference, and imagined George’s dunk graphically plotted as if on shot chart, ranking high in a thicket of all those traffic slams.

“That one right there would top a lot of fierce dunks,” Copeland said. “I personally like fierce dunks. I’d rather see you go over somebody. I think that’s as hard as it gets, to have a body in front of you. Fast-break dunks are not usually as tough as a ‘poster,’ a body, but that one? And I’m not even an open-court guy but that would be on top of my list.

“You saw our reaction on the bench. It speaks for itself.”

What do you think? Check out NBA.com’s Top 10 Dunks from 2013:

VIDEO: The Top 10 Dunks from 2013.

Dallas Must Have A Wide-Eyed Dalembert


VIDEO: Jose Calderon finds Samuel Dalember for an easy dunk vs. Orlando

DALLAS – All the latest statistical computations reveal the same thickening plot for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference: Dogfight!

Dallas, Phoenix, Denver, Minnesota and Memphis are all separated by 4.5 games. Each team can point to one significant key that could put them over the top. For the hottest team in the group, the 23-16 Mavericks point to good-natured and well-intentioned, but not always, ahem, eye-opening center Samuel Dalembert. They don’t ask him for him to be a force, but rather, a consistent presence on defense and on the boards.

“You know, we don’t ask a tremendous amount from our 5-men,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “We ask them to bring what they can bring to our team at their best possible level. For [Dalembert], we need him active, we need him rebounding, we need him screening, rolling; he’s been making free throws. We ask those guys to play to exhaustion and then we’ll get them out.”

Exhaustion is an interesting choice of words.

The 6-foot-11 Dalembert has had something of an issue getting out of bed, already twice punished for oversleeping and showing up late. He’s paid for it by being benched and even losing his starting job for a spell. Dalembert is a starter again, in the lineup the last three games and eight of the last 11 because there are too many mismatches that hurt the hustling (but defensively liable) 6-foot-7 DeJuan Blair. The lanky, 6-foot-10 Brandan Wright is an offensive commodity off the bench, but he’s not a strong defender or rebounder.

“We start [Dalembert] because it’s the best thing for our team,” Carlisle said. “The last three or four games I like what he’s done. His focus has been good. It’s evident what he brings to the team. It’s good.”

Dalembert says he’s dealing with a sleep disorder, but it’s not as if this kind of thing hasn’t frustrated coaches and front office-types at his previous three stops over the last three seasons. Mavs owner Mark Cuban recently said he doesn’t know if Dalembert has a sleep disorder or not, but he’s seen enough know to he needs the big man playing with both eyes wide open.

“I told him he’s All-Star caliber when he’s laying it out there,” Cuban said.

After both oversleeping episodes, Dalembert, who signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract last summer, expressed guilt and remorse. On Nov. 25, his oversleeping made him late for a morning shootaround and led to a first-quarter benching in Dallas’ eventual 110-96 loss to Denver. Afterward, he somberly offered up this classic, no-pun-intended analysis: “It was a wake-up call for us.”

Dallas sorely needs an engaged Dalembert to compete against the West’s bigger frontcourts. The Mavs are a poor rebounding team (27th in rebound percentage) and are porous defensively (19th in defensive rating, 22nd in opponent field-goal percentage) and sport with a soft perimeter defense that must have back-up from an active rim protector.

The Mavs’ defensive rating is 101.3 with Dalembert on the floor. He owns the second-best individual rating among rotation players behind reserve forward Jae Crowder. With Dalembert on the bench, the Mavs’ defensive rating soars to 106.3, the second-largest jump on the team, again behind Crowder. Dalembert is never again going to be a 30-minute-a-night player. So the 20 he gets — or should get — have to be good.

Wednesday brings a massive road test when Dallas puts its three-game win streak up against the Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). L.A. has won three in a row since All-Star point guard Chris Paul suffered a right shoulder separation on Jan. 3 in Dallas. The Clippers rallied to win the game behind this combined stat line from power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan: 50 points (18-for-32 shooting, including nine dunks), 33 rebounds (11 offensive), six assists and four blocked shots. Dalembert started the game, played 21 minutes and had nine points, five rebounds and one block.

On Friday, Dallas plays at Phoenix (9 ET, League Pass). The Suns trounced the Mavs on Dec. 21. Dalembert didn’t start, played seven minutes and Dallas got outrebounded, 45-36.

During Dallas’ three-game win streak, Dalembert has logged a total of 60 minutes, his second-highest minutes total over a three-game span since late November. He’s averaged 5.0 ppg on 58.3 percent shooting, 7.7 rpg with four blocked shots.

It’s all nothing terribly eye-popping. But with Dalembert, it’s all about presence.

“I go by the recent trends and the recent trends are that he’s been ready and he’s been into it and that’s what we need from him,” Carlisle said. “It’s pretty clear. We’ve laid it out to him: We want it simple and do what you do.”

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 4


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Collison to step in and up for CP3 | Cavs have multiple options for Bynum | Smith’s latest blunder costs Knicks | Lakers Nash eyeing a February return

No. 1: Clippers need Collison, and others, to step in and up for Paul — Clippers point guard Chris Paul will be sidelined for anywhere from 3 to 5 weeks, and potentially even longer, with a separated shoulder, which puts his back up, Darren Collison, into the pressure cooker for the next month or so. That would be the same pressure cooker he was in Friday night when Paul went down and the Clippers needed a huge effort from him and others (DeAndre Jordan on this night) to save the day against his former team, the Dallas Mavericks. It’s a tall order, filling the shoes of the MVP candidate and team leader, but one that the Clippers need Collison to tackle every night. As Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times reports, Collison’s time is now:

Jordan scored a career-high 25 points on 11-for-14 shooting. He also had 18 rebounds and two blocked shots.

“DJ was great,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “DJ got deep post position, and that’s where he’s effective. If he can get them deep, he can score.”

Collison scored a season-high 20 points on six-for-10 shooting.

Collison played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter after Paul went down in the third.

“Darren was terrific tonight,” Rivers said. “We just kept him aggressive. He obviously doesn’t see the floor like [Chris Paul]. There’s only one guy like that and that’s CP. But [Collison] has great speed and pace and he has a big heart. That’s what we needed tonight.”

Jordan said his job is to be a defender, not to score.

“It’s not really my first priority or second priority,” Jordan said. “I want to be the best defensive player out there. If I can go out there and control the paint for us and only have two points but grab 20 rebounds and a couple of blocks for our team and I play well defensively … that’s my only concern.”

Collison will perhaps have the toughest job going forward.

He’ll have to fill in for Paul while the All-Star point guard is out three to five weeks recovering from injury.

“It’s going to be tough because he’s our engine,” Collison said. “He’s our leader. He does a lot for us. But at the same time, this team is very talented. We have the depth to overcome this. We’re all hoping that CP comes back as soon as possible.”


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about Chris Paul’s injury and what it does to the Clippers

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No. 2: Cavaliers have multiple options on Bynum trade front — One door closes for the Cavaliers on the Andrew Bynum trade front while another one seemingly always opens where the big man behemoth is concerned. With the chances of a Bynum-for-Pau Gasol swap fading in recent days, the Cavaliers have moved on and are exploring other options, according to Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com. Those options include a potential deal that would require Richard Jefferson to pack his bags and relocate from Utah:

Sources said Utah Jazz veteran swingman Richard Jefferson has emerged as a new trade target for the Cavaliers after ongoing talks with the Los Angeles Lakers on a deal centered around the swap of former teammates Pau Gasol and Bynum remained at an impasse Friday.

A deal with Utah that would send Jefferson to Cleveland and likewise allow the Jazz to acquire and waive Bynum before the other half of his $12.3 million salary this season becomes guaranteed is one of three primary options for the Cavaliers. The other two, sources said Friday, are continuing talks with the Lakers this weekend in hopes of hashing out trade terms both teams can stomach, or electing to keep Bynum beyond Tuesday’s deadline and then reshopping him as a trade asset before the Feb. 20 trade deadline, or, if necessary, again in late June and early July.

Any team that has Bynum on its roster Jan. 7 can immediately wipe $6 million of its books this season by waiving him that day by 5 p.m. But sources said that Cleveland is strongly weighing the idea of keeping Bynum if it can’t trade him by then, despite the fact it would fully guarantee the former All-Star center an extra $6 million.

In that scenario — even if he never played another second for the Cavs — Bynum theoretically could be an attractive trade piece in connection with the June draft or immediately after it because his $12.5 million salary in 2014-15 is fully nonguaranteed. Any team that has Bynum on its roster in July can erase the $12.5 million as long as he clears waivers by July 10.

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No. 3: Smith’s ill-advised 3-pointer costs Knicks in loss to Rockets — If it was anyone else other than J.R. Smith and the New York Knicks, you might be surprised. But it’s not. And there is little left to the dark side of the imagination when it comes to the blunders committed by the Knicks during this time of horrors. Smith forgot the score late in Friday night’s game in Houston and hoisted a bone-headed 3-pointer with the game tied and the outcome still hanging in the balance. He later acknowledged that he’d forgotten the score and took that shot thinking the Knicks were trailing. It’s just the latest in a season-long series of miscues for a Knicks team that, as Frank Isola of the New York Daily News points out, cannot afford many more of these sorts of gaffes before someone gets run out of town:

Last month, the Knicks lost a home game to Washington when they failed to use one of their three remaining timeouts after the Wizards had taken a lead in the closing seconds. Within days, [Andrea] Bargnani nearly blew a game in Milwaukee by attempting a 3-pointer with the Knicks leading by two and the shot clock turned off.

“It was déjà vu,” said Anthony, referring to Smith’s and Bargnani’s untimely shots.

As for Smith’s brain freeze, Mike Woodson said he was “surprised” by the shot but added that “we wouldn’t be having this conversation if he had made it.”

The Rockets, who improved to 22-13, certainly weren’t at their best. Dwight Howard was outplayed by Chandler, while Lin scored all of his 14 points in the first half. James Harden was electric and lethargic at times. He scored 37 points on 10-for-19 shooting and went 12-for-12 from the line. But he also committed five turnovers, one of which led to Chandler’s game-tying free throws with 1:02 left.

[Carmelo] Anthony finished with 25 points — on 23 shots — and eight rebounds and spent much of the game wincing. Before Thursday night’s win in San Antonio, he had missed three straight games

with a sprained left ankle, and having to play 37 plus minutes in two consecutive games took its toll.

If Smith remembers the score and

Anthony holds for a final shot, the Knicks could have been headed to Dallas with a two-game winning streak. Now, they’re looking to avoid falling a season-high 13 games under .500.

“We had a great opportunity,” Anthony said. “We have to learn from this.”


VIDEO: James Harden goes off for 37 in a win over the Knicks

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No. 4: Report: Nash eyeing a February return to Lakers — Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash back together again, at the same time, too. That would be an excellent New Year’s prize for the Los Angeles Lakers, who don’t have either one of their future Hall of Famers at their disposal right now. Bryant is on the mend from a fractured knee that cost him all but six games this season, while Nash remains sidelined with the chronic nerve issues in his back and hamstrings that have derailed his entire season to date. But sometime in February is the target date Nash has pegged for what, as ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin suggests, could be the two-time MVP’s final comeback attempt:

“At some point, I have to also realize, do the safest thing, the best possible opportunity to play basketball again rather than letting my angst get the better of me and jumping back in there,” Nash said after the Lakers’ shootaround Friday. “I know I can get healthy. It’s a matter of, ‘Can I sustain it?’ And I’m just trying to get that health under my belt for an amount of time where we feel confident that it can be sustainable is the tricky part, and that’s probably going to take a little while longer than I was hoping.”

Nash, the league’s oldest player — turning 40 next month — originally hoped to return to the lineup sometime during the Lakers’ upcoming seven-game Grammys road trip Jan. 15-26, but he has since decided to use that time to go back to Vancouver, British Columbia, for the fourth time this season to undergo rehab with personal trainer Rick Celebrini.

If all goes well, Nash will practice with the Lakers for a week when they return from their extended road trip and attempt a comeback during the first week of February with about 35 games left in the regular season.

“It’s all super speculative at this point because it’s such a weird, tricky dimension when you’re talking about this nerve issue,” Nash said.

Nash exited at halftime of the Lakers’ loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 10 and has not played since. He is averaging 6.7 points and 4.8 assists per game this season while shooting 26.1 percent from the field. He has two years remaining on his contract with the Lakers, set to pay him $9.4 million this season and $9.7 million in 2014-15.

Nash said that the time away from the team — missing the past 24 games — is starting to wear on him.

“That just eats away at me every day — how far away I am from the game,” Nash said. “It’s been almost two months now. It takes a while to get your rhythm and everything down. So the anxiety and stress over the last eight months have been very unwelcomed.”

After his last trip to Vancouver in early December, Nash was able to participate in three straight days of Lakers practices without a setback. However, two days after the string of consecutive work, discomfort set in.

“My left leg just like shut off,” Nash said. “I remember just shooting and couldn’t feel the muscles working, and it was like fatiguing in like 10 minutes of light shooting. That’s classic neuropathy. Apparently I’ve become a bit of an expert.”


VIDEO: Steve Nash admits that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to his NBA future

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Might the solution to the Knicks’ problems be a discussed Melo-for-Blake Griffin swap — could be?  … This was a scary moment for the New Orleans Pelicans and Ryan Anderson … The Raptors’ revival is real, seriously, it’s legitimate. Just ask the Washington Wizards … They might have to keep it going without Kyle Lowry, though. The veteran point guard is apparently in demand … Thunder swingman Perry Jones is trying to solidify his spot in the rotation by mastering the “corner 3.”

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: Andre Iguodala’s work this season on the Horry Scale has been stellar. And he added to it Friday night at Philips Arena, delivering the Golden State Warriors a victory at the buzzer over the Atlanta Hawks.


VIDEO: Iggy does it again, this time against the Hawks at the buzzer

CP3 Injury Another Wrench Atop West


VIDEO: The crew discusses impact of Chris Paul’s right shoulder injury

DALLAS – Los Angeles Clippers All-Star point guard Chris Paul suffered a separated shoulder Friday night and now two of the Western Conference’s top four teams must make due without their stellar quarterbacks potentially all the way to the mid-February All-Star break.

Paul joins Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook on the sideline. The two injuries could shake up what has been a consistent top-four power structure along with Portland and San Antonio for these first two months of the season. After winning two straight without Westbrook, who last week needed a third surgery in eight months on his right knee, the Thunder dropped their last two and were wobbly down the stretch of both games, twice losing double-digit leads to Portland and struggling Brooklyn.

The Clippers led by two points at Dallas when Paul went down attempting to drive around Mavs guard Monta Ellis with 6:43 left in the third quarter. Ellis fouled Paul, who had 19 points (5-for-6 on 3s) and six assists, and he immediately dropped to the floor in obvious pain. He stayed down for a few minutes as he was checked out by the medical staff. Upon getting up he angrily headed to the locker room for X-rays, which revealed the separation. He left the American Airlines Center with his right arm in a sling.

“He’s down. He’s out at least three to five weeks and maybe more,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before backtracking a bit. “We don’t know that, [yet]. We know it’s a separated shoulder. We don’t know what grade it is, yet. We’ll probably send him home, and he’ll get evaluated in L.A., and just hope that’s he’s going to be O.K.”

The Clippers (23-12) were OK for at least this night. Behind Blake Griffin‘s 25 points (11-13 on free throws), 15 rebounds and five assists, DeAndre Jordan‘s 25 points (11-for-14 from the floor) and 18 rebounds and reserve guard Darren Collison, who in his revenge game against Dallas scored 20 points with four assists, L.A. managed to flip a 110-103 deficit with four minutes to go into a 119-112 victory.

It was a big one. L.A., in fourth place in the West and just one game ahead of both Houston and Golden State — and just three in front of eighth-place Dallas — plays at San Antonio on Saturday night. The Spurs are coming off an embarrassing home loss to the Knicks on Thursday night and will be ready to pounce.

By tip-off, Paul will have been back in Los Angeles and re-evaluated. That’s when an actual timetable will come into clearer focus.

Moving forward, the backcourt will belong to Collison and Jamal Crawford. Collison played the entire 18:43 after Paul left with six points and just two turnovers. Crawford, the Clippers’ trusty sixth man who recently assumed the starting role at shooting guard in place of the injured J.J. Redick, played all but 33 seconds of the third quarter and scored six points with no turnovers in the fourth.

“We leaned on each other,” Crawford said. “Obviously, Chris is one of the best players in the world. It’s always disheartening to see him in pain because he cares about the game so much. That’s even  more of a reason to rally around each other, use each other, lean on each other and we poured it out tonight.”

Collison will take over the starting duties at point guard with the crafty Crawford having to fill in as well, but there’s little depth from there and that was a clear concern for Rivers immediately after the game with little time to begin preparations for life without CP3.

“I haven’t given it enough time to think so I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Rivers said. “We may go small more, we may go bigger more. I just don’t know what we’re going to do yet.”

Or where the Clippers will be whenever Paul returns.

“Injuries are inevitable,” Griffin said. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself, it’s happening to everybody. You look around the league, there’s key guys hurt everywhere. So we’ve just got to find a way to get through it.”

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: The Daily Zap, a quick rundown of the 12 games played Dec. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bosh rises to sink Blazers | Smith lashes out at Cheeks | Clippers interested in Bynum? | Wolves back to .500

No. 1: Bosh rises to sink Blazers — On a night the Miami Heat were looking to avoid consecutive losses for the third time this season, LeBron James sat out with a groin injury and Dwyane Wade didn’t have it going. But there was the often overlooked member of the Big Three, Chris Bosh, an All-Star in his own right, standing by to save the day. The Heat’s power forward outplayed LaMarcus Aldridge, posting 37 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds to beat the Portland Trail Blazers, the West’s No. 1 team. In the final huddle Heat coach Erik Spoelstra drew up a play, but Bosh overruled it, wanting to take the 3, and Spoelstra smartly rolled with it. After Bosh drilled the shot, the Heat bench, including James, erupted and showered Bosh with a wild celebration that revealed how big that win was and how much Bosh’s teammates enjoy seeing him succeed.
Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report provides the details:

“My call at the end of the game was much more conservative,” Spoelstra said, after the Heat’s 108-107 victory. “I drew something up to get him on the move, and he said no, I want it for three.”

Bosh wanted the extra space, especially since he knew his momentum would take him away from the hoop anyway.

He wanted the extra point too.

“I told him I wanted to go for the jugular,” Bosh said.

“So he overruled it and became a prophet,” Spoelstra said. “Why did I even diagram something else for him? I mean, he already hit two threes. He was feeling it, he wanted it, and as soon as he said it, I said, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’ It was much better than what I had planned.”

It was. So much better.

Norris Cole inbounded to Dwyane Wade from the left side, with Mario Chalmers running Damian Lillard down the baseline from right to left, while Ray Allen occupied Mo Williams‘ attention on the left wing. It was similar to the previous play, in which Allen’s screen freed Wade for a slam.

Bosh set a brush screen—and this time, Aldridge left him to help Nicolas Batum chase down Wade.

“My job was to drive his man to me,” Wade said.

It went just as they planned.

“It didn’t really go exactly like that,” Wade said.

OK, it didn’t. Wade lost the handle briefly, before chucking the ball behind him on one bounce, fortunate that Williams didn’t budge.

“He threw a crazy pass a little bit, I’m not going to lie,” Bosh said. “But I was able to see it, nobody was in the vicinity, so I didn’t have to rush, and I was able to lock into the goal the whole time.”

Bosh collected it with his left side touching the three-point line, backing up, stepping in and launching from 26 feet with 2.6 seconds left.

With 0.5 seconds left, it fell through.

***

No. 2: Smith lashes out at Cheeks — The Detroit Pistons were on the verge of hitting .500, but have now lost four of five and two in a row, blasted on back-to-back nights by Orlando and then at Washington on Saturday. And now the Pistons have the first signs of internal conflict brewing with big free-agent acquisition Josh Smith unhappy about being benched for the entire second half and suggesting that coach Maurice Cheeks called him out for not playing hard. As David Mayo of MLive reports:

Josh Smith didn’t play the second half of a 106-82 blowout against the Washington Wizards, the second time head coach Maurice Cheeks has made that decision this season.

This time, Smith suggested Cheeks called him out for not playing hard, and that he took “real offense” to the accusation.

Smith also was benched the second half of a Nov. 12 game at Golden State.

“Like I told y’all before when we had this conversation, when you hit adverse times, characters are gonna be tested,” Smith said. “It’s either that we’re gonna come closer together and make it all one team, or are you gonna use a scapegoat to get away from what’s really at hand?”

What’s really at hand is the Pistons (14-18) have lost four of five, bombed in a two-game road trip against sub-.500 teams this weekend, and now have their first hint of internal upheaval.

How long it lasts remains to be seen.

Asked if Smith will start Monday’s home rematch with the Wizards, Cheeks replied, “I assume he will. I don’t know why he wouldn’t. We’ll wait until that next game gets there.”

Smith said he isn’t inclined to have a personal discussion with Cheeks about their disagreement before the next game.

“To me, it’s over with,” Smith said. “But you know, some people hold grudges longer than others. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m not saying that he (Cheeks) does. I don’t know.

“But I’m not the type of person that really likes to go all the time in the coach’s office and have one-on-one sitdowns. I’m more of a team morale guy, worrying about what we can do, as far as teammates are concerned, to make ourselves more successful.”

***

No. 3: Clippers interested in Bynum?The former Lakers big man, troubled by knee injuries and possibly a lack of desire to play at the highest level, was suspended indefinitely by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday for conduct detrimental to the team. Reports have the Cavs eager to deal Andrew Bynum. The Clippers, in need of frontline support behind center DeAndre Jordan and power forward Blake Griffin, could be one team interested in trying to make it work with the troubled 7-footer who had not long ago put himself in the discussion alongside Dwight Howard as the league’s top center. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times breaks it down:

The Clippers would have interest in Bynum if he was released by the Cavaliers, according to several NBA executives who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

But according to one Eastern Conference executive, the Clippers would have competition for Bynum because the Miami Heat also would have interest in the seven-footer.

The Clippers have the NBA-maximum 15-player roster and would have to waive a player if they were to sign Bynum, who is still only 26.

The Cavaliers signed Bynum to a two-year, $24-million deal over the summer. But only $6 million of Bynum’s $12.2-million contract for this season is guaranteed if he is waived before Jan. 7.

The Eastern Conference executive said it’s possible Bynum will be released by the Cavaliers in early January if they can’t trade him so the team is not on the hook for the last $6 million Bynum would be owed.

Bynum has averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 20.0 minutes in the 24 games he has played with the Cavaliers. He had 18 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes when he started for the Cavaliers against the Clippers on Dec. 7

.***

No. 4: Wolves back to .500It had been since Dec. 10-11 that the Minnesota Timberwolves had won consecutive games. A team expected to make the playoffs this season following last year’s disastrous injury problems, the Wolves have yet to find any consistency and have lost late leads in multiple games. On Saturday night, they avoided a letdown on the second night of a back-to-back, blowing out woeful Milwaukee to get back to .500. They haven’t won three in a row since starting the season with three consecutive victories. They’ll get the chance to match their season-high win streak at home on Monday against the Dallas Mavericks, a team they handled twice in November. Kent Youngblood of the Minnesota Star Tribune has the story:

The message, at halftime, was something like this: Don’t let it happen again.

The Timberwolves were winning against the lowly Bucks on the road Saturday night, but Milwaukee was getting too many easy baskets and points in the paint. This was feeling a bit too much like last week’s game against the Lakers. Or the week before in Boston, when the Wolves had followed an impressive win with a listless loss.

Not to worry.

With Kevin Love leading the way, the Wolves scored the first 14 points of the third quarter and built their lead to as much as 31 late in the quarter at Bradley Center. That was enough to withstand some shoddy play by the bench to start the fourth quarter. The result was a 117-95 victory that ended a three-game road losing streak and put the Wolves (15-15) back at .500 with five of their next six games at home.

“We haven’t played great in the second night of back-to-backs,” said Love, who scored 33 points with 15 rebounds. He made four of six three-pointers and had six assists. It was his 10th consecutive game with 25 or more points, most in the league this season, and his fifth game with at least 30 points and 15 rebounds.

The Wolves, who won Friday against Washington, have won two in a row, sweeping both ends of a back-to-back for only the second time in eight tries this season. Love and center Nikola Pekovic (19 points, 11 rebounds) took advantage of a Bucks lineup missing 6-11 John Henson. Kevin Martin added 20 points and Corey Brewer had 12.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Deron Williams‘ season keeps getting uglier as Nets get crushed by superior Pacers … Knicks hope to get Carmelo Anthony back for tough Texas road swing. … Bradley Beal makes welcome return 24 hours after limping off the floor and helps Wizards rout of Pistons … Nets center Brook Lopez will undergo foot surgery next Saturday

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 23


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com ponders the thought:

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.***

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

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

Wade said his children helped him pop the question.

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

Wade and Union have dated since 2007.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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


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

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 19


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wade to the Heat’s rescue | Asik Boston bound? | Report: Lakers holding on to Gasol | Warriors catching Spurs at the perfect time

No. 1: Wade rides to the rescue in Heat comeback — LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen all made big plays during the Heat’s wild comeback against the Indiana Pacers, but it was the performance of Dwyane Wade that truly stood out in a contest that felt much more like a playoff game than it did a regular season game in December. His game-high 32 points provided the Heat the opportunity needed to storm back and snatch the game. It was work that we’ve seen sparingly from Wade this season as he nurses the soreness in his knees. It’s finishing work the Heat will need more of, particularly in their matchups against the Pacers, writes Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

The Heat trailed 88-80 after Pacers firebrand Lance Stephenson converted a driving layup, but the Heat’s defense steadied itself from there and, thanks to some clutch three-pointers, the home team outscored the Pacers 12-4 over the final 4 1/2 minutes.

“We just kept grinding,” said Dwyane Wade, who finished with a game-high 32 points. “We knew we were getting some good opportunities, but we just couldn’t pull it as close as we wanted, but we knew we weren’t far out of it.

“We got some great defensive stops that allowed us to get out in transition and get some easy baskets and get us back in this thing. You don’t want this team in half-court every possession, so we had to get stops, and we went with the bigger lineup with [Chris Bosh] and [Chris Andersen], and we were able to get more rebounds and get out and go a little bit.”

Wade was 8 of 11 in the second half and matched Paul George point for point in the final 24 minutes of the game. Both players had 18 points in the second half; George finished with 25 points to lead Indiana.

Pacers forward David West was an unstoppable force for long stretches in the second half until Heat coach Erik Spoelstra plugged Andersen in the paint alongside Bosh. The combination, along with James at his hybrid point-forward position, came through with needed stops.

A running dunk by Wade with 2:47 remaining cut the Pacers’ lead to three points, and, after a pair of missed jumpers by the Pacers, Bosh knocked down a three-pointer with 90 seconds left to tie it at 92-92. Bosh finished with 15 points.

“Our guys are fearless, no question about it,” Spoelstra said. “They would want to play every single game like this, with this type of intensity and drama and having to make big plays down the stretch.”


VIDEO: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s highlights against the Pacers

***

No. 2: Asik could be headed for Boston at any moment: — All that’s left for the Houston Rockets to do is finalize whatever the best deal is for their disgruntled big man Omer Asik. The Boston Celtics have emerged as the clear frontrunner, according to multiple reports, including one from our very own Fran Blinebury (who reports that Rockets GM Daryl Morey is weighing all of his final options before executing a deal by his self-imposed deadline that ends today). Rockets coach Kevin McHale and Celtics boss Danny Ainge have a longstanding relationship as former teammates, friends and trade partners (Kevin Garnett …), so Asik going to Boston will shock no one. Still, there are other possibilities in play until something gets done officially:

The rumor mill had the Celtics as the frontrunners to land the 7-footer with an offer of Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a first-round draft pick, a deal first reported by Yahoo! Sports. The teams were said to be haggling over the draft pick, which would be protected to some degree in the 2014 lottery.

Such a trade would fulfill Morey’s desire to get a backup center, a shooter and a draft pick. However, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald wrote that Celtics president Danny Ainge made that offer a week ago, but was turned down at the time by Morey.

The Rockets general manager sent word out around the league on Dec. 6 that he would entertain offers for Asik and choose the package he liked best by Dec. 19, the last date that any players obtained are eligible to be dealt again by the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Since that time, Morey had talked with many clubs, including the Sixers, Cavaliers and Hawks. The Knicks and Trail Blazers were also said to have expressed interest.

Asik has been sidelined for more than two weeks with a thigh injury that eventually caused swelling around his knee.

With Paul Millsap the ideal acquisition for the Rockets to put on their front line next to Dwight Howard, it was interesting to note that Morey began following the Atlanta forward’s official Twitter page —@paulmillsap4 — a short time before the Rockets tipped off against the Bulls on Wednesday night. It is certainly not out of the question that the social media conscious Morey was just having fun dropping a red herring.

If the deal with the Celtics should prove to have legs, it would reunite Howard and Bass, who played together for two seasons in Orlando. At just 6-foot-8, Bass would certainly be an under-sized backup for Howard. He does not have range out to the 3-point line that the Rockets crave, but can knock down mid-range shots to open things for Howard around the basket.

The Celtics could perhaps sweeten their offer by substituting forward Jeff Green for Bass. But Green’s contract, which has two more seasons at $18.4 million due, is not the kind that would normally appeal to Morey, who values keeping salary cap flexibility for his next deal, which is always just around the corner.

VIDEO: The Game Time crew examines the merits of a Rockets-Celtics deal for Asik

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No. 3: Gasol no longer on the trading block? — You can go ahead and remove Pau Gasol‘s name from the list of big men who could be moved … right now. According to a report from ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, the Lakers are no longer shopping their four-time All-Star. Gasol and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni got sideways last week but repaired the damage quickly and moved on. Now, instead of his name being swirled around in trade rumors alongside Houston’s Asik, Gasol appears to be safe … for now:

The Lakers entered the 2013-14 campaign fully intending to keep Gasol for the whole season and then to explore the feasibility of re-signing him in the summer. But ESPN.com reported last week the Spaniard’s recent public complaints about how he’s been used in D’Antoni’s system, as well as some subpar play, prompted L.A. to begin assessing its trade options.

However, the way Gasol quickly made amends with conciliatory comments about D’Antoni during the team’s recently completed 2-2 road trip has eased concerns. Gasol had 21 points and nine rebounds in the Lakers’ 96-92 win in Memphis on Tuesday night, after totaling 16 points and 10 rebounds Monday night in a loss to Atlanta. In the two games, Gasol made 16 of 21 shots to raise his overall shooting percentage to .439.

“I just think people go through periods of slumps where you question things,” D’Antoni said of Gasol after Tuesday’s win. “Like I said, we were out of whack. Different things go on. But Pau’s an All-Star, he’s one of the best players in the league, he worked through it and he’s back to normal.”

Sources told ESPN.com this week that the Lakers, before Gasol’s resurgent play, engaged in exploratory talks with several teams but never got too far with any of the calls.

Among the teams they spoke with were the Rockets, sources say, but those conversations never got serious, even with Houston determined to trade disgruntled center Omer Asik before a self-imposed Thursday deadline.

Sources say the Lakers do have certified interest in Knicks center Tyson Chandler, but New York appears to have no interest in fielding offers for Chandler at this time, having just welcomed the former NBA Defensive Player of the Year back to the lineup after a fractured fibula sidelined Chandler for the past 20 games.

ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard reported Saturday that the Lakers, facing a slew of injuries in the backcourt, made an inquiry about the Knicks’ Iman Shumpert, but sources say those talks were likewise merely exploratory.

The Lakers are still assessing their long-term plans and whether there’s a way to keep Gasol beyond this season, with the 33-year-old headed for unrestricted free agency in July. Sources say that team officials have communicated to Gasol in various ways that they remain interested in keeping him in L.A. beyond this season.

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No. 4: Warriors surging, catching Spurs at perfect time — It certainly sounds good in theory, the Golden State Warriors finally catching their breath after a road-heavy start to this season and now catching the defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs when they are on their heels a bit, and at Oracle Arena. The Spurs will be without Tony Parker (shin contusion). The Spurs, of course, have a way of destroying the best plans, as Matt Schwab of the Oakland Tribune points out:

The reigning Western Conference champions will return to Oracle Arena on Thursday night, playing on back-to-back nights on the road, without injured point guard Tony Parker (shin contusion).

But don’t try selling any softened Spurs scenario to Warriors coach Mark Jackson.

“With no Parker, it makes a difference, but they still find ways to execute and hurt you,” Jackson said. “Kory Joseph had success against us in the playoffs. Patty Mills can disrupt the game. He has a scoring mentality. They added (Marco) Belinelli, so they’ve got guys that know how to win ballgames.

“It’s still going to be a challenge for our defense and us overall.”

The Warriors got their mojo back in a 104-93 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday, as David Lee became David Lee again with 21 points and 17 rebounds, and Andre Iguodala returned triumphantly from a 12-game absence after suffering a strained left hamstring. Klay Thompson helped limit Eric Gordon to five points on 1-for-9 shooting in 24 minutes, employing what Jackson called “elite defense.”

Moreover, Stephen Curry continued his electrifying run with 28 points and 12 assists. The pieces all fit together, just as they did during an 8-3 start to the season before Iguodala went down.

“Really good team effort,” Iguodala said. “We moved the ball really well, but at the same time Steph was in a really good rhythm within the flow of the game. It was really helpful when we defend the ball like we do, and when we move the ball and he’s able to attack without having to force everything.

“Everything was just comfortable, in a rhythm. You could tell he was in his comfort zone, and the same with David Lee.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Clippers pop the Pelicans, thanks to DeAndre Jordan‘s stellar work … It wasn’t pretty, but the Knicks get it done in the clutch against the Bucks … Kyle Korver is working on more than just a 3-point streak, the Hawks’ shooter is doing it from all over … Pistons’ big man Andre Drummond has only scratched the surface of his immense potential.

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: A little friction in Miami (between LeBron James and Mario Chalmers) never hurts, especially when you finish the way the Heat did against the Pacers …


VIDEO: Passion is the name of the game in Miami, at least for LeBron and Chalmers

MVP Ladder: Room For KD And Russ?



VIDEO: Russel Westbrook and Kevin Durant show off why they make such a dynamic duo in Oklahoma City

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS —  Trying to figure out ways to slow down Kevin Durant is enough to give a coaching staff the night sweats. Devising a scheme to corral his partner in hoops crime, Russell Westbrook, only makes things worse for the opposition and such a treat for the rest of us.

It’s not often you find two true MVP-caliber players coming of their own at the same time on the same team, and all right before our very eyes. But we get to see it every time the Oklahoma City Thunder’s dynamic duo hit the floor. That’s one of the many reasons they both have spots on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder this week.

Durant’s MVP credentials have never been an issue. Westbrook, on the other hand, had some convincing to do … until that knee injury during the 2013 playoffs sidelined him and the Thunder’s championship hopes went up in smoke. That made it clear to anyone open-minded enough to reconsider their previous analysis of Westbrook’s game.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks didn’t need a refresher. He knows exactly what he has in his two young superstars and he says they both make the MVP grade.

“I think Russell impacts the game on both ends of the floor and in order to be a MVP candidate you have to do that,” Brooks said. “You have to be a two-way player to be a part of that conversation. I don’t think you can just be a scorer and expect to be considered the top player in the league. Russell does it with his activity on the basketball and his steals, Kevin does it with his ability to block shots and his rebounding. But they both defend and they are terrific players offensively.”

Durant maintains his No. 1 spot on the Ladder for a second straight week, followed by Paul George, LeBron JamesTony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge to round out the top five. Westbrook joins the list by grabbing the 1oth and final spot.

Dive in here for more of this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!