Posts Tagged ‘Denver Nuggets’

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for All-Star Saturday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Mavs not looking to change | Noah aims for championship | Mile-high reunion? | Cavs looking to deal

No. 1: Mavs not looking to change — At 32-22, the Dallas Mavericks are in a decent position at the All-Star break. They would be the sixth seed in the Western Conference if the season ended today, but they’re only two games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies for the ninth seed and no playoffs. Despite this vulnerability, General Manager Donnie Nelson isn’t looking for reason to shake-up the roster, according to an interview he recently did with KRLD-FM 105.3 in Dallas:

“We’re always looking for ways to improve. Now with that being said, all of the parts are pretty intricately intertwined. To get, you got to give and right now the team is looking good and we’re not looking for reasons to change, but if something presented itself, obviously we’ll look at it.”

“This year’s draft we’ve got Boston’s pick, which is going to be at the very top of the second (round), and with the depth of the draft, sometimes it’s as good as a first-round pick. We got the ability to take that and take our other second-round pick and certainly maneuver and move up. So if that comes to pass, it’s not the absolute worst thing in the world, and we’ve always been aggressive during draft time and (owner Mark Cuban is) not opposed to do whatever it takes to do to make the team better — and we’re creative, as you know, so it’s not like an Earth-shattering situation that we can’t overcome.”

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No. 2: Noah aims for championship — This story is no surprise. An uber-competitive athlete wants to win a championship. No, the surprise here is Joakim Noah stills expects a championship to be possible with the Chicago Bulls, even after two-straight years of disappointment due to injuries to Derrick Rose. As reported by Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times:

‘‘My ultimate goal is to win a championship,’’ he said. ‘‘I believe we’re going to win a championship in Chicago — and I want to win it with Derrick Rose. That’s the ultimate goal, and I’m going to do everything I can to put us in a position to play in those big games. And when our time will come, whenever that is, it’ll be the best party in the world.’’

‘‘I know I wouldn’t be here without my teammates,’’ Noah said. ‘‘I’m a guy who scores off opportunities. You look at the play of Taj Gibson, D.J. Augustin, Kirk Hinrich, Carlos Boozer coming back from his injury to give us huge minutes. Just everybody — the whole team. Even Derrick — just seeing how he’s approaching his rehab. Really killing it. That’s what I’m most proud of.”

‘‘I think we’re the hardest-working team in the NBA, on the court or off the court. The way we practice. The way we carry ourselves. I’m proud that we have that identity — when you play the Chicago Bulls, we’re crackin’. We’re going to the offensive glass every time. We’re playing defense. We’re the first to the floor. I’m proud to be a part of that.’’

‘‘Derrick’s voice means so much to our team,’’ Noah said. ‘‘When I see him talking to Jimmy Butler during a game . . . or Tony Snell . . . he talks to me all the time . . . it just gives me confidence. He has that much impact on our team.”

‘‘He’s our star player. And he’s a good dude. That’s why it was hard to see him go down again. But he’s a warrior. He never lets up, and I think the way he’s working right now, it makes me hungrier that I know our time will come.’’

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No. 3: Mile-high reunion? — The beef between Andre Miller and head coach Brian Shaw may soon be quashed in Denver, as the Nuggets reportedly struggled to find a trade destination for the disgruntled point guard. However, it seems Miller is still not too keen on a reunion. Reported by Ken Berger of CBS Sports:

Miller hasn’t played since Dec. 30 following a public confrontation with coach Brian Shaw. Despite concerns about the 37-year-old’s tendency to put on weight, Miller has lost 12 pounds since being banished from the team, one league source said.

The difficult prospect of smoothing things over between Miller and Shaw has become a possibility given the Nuggets’ lack of point guard depth and trade deadline conditions that one executive described on Saturday as “a very difficult market.” Even though Miller’s $4.6 million salary for next season is fully non-guaranteed, it has still been difficult for Denver to find a team willing to give up assets to take on what’s left of his $5 million salary for this year.

However, Yahoo Sports quoted a person connected to Miller as saying the point guard does not want to stay with the Nuggets under any circumstances. “It’s a burned bridge,” the person said. “… The relationship is irreparable.”

The ideal scenario for Denver would’ve been to move Miller to a contending team that needs point guard help, thus being able to receive an asset in return. Dumping his contract on a team that can absorb it, such as Philadelphia, wouldn’t give the Nuggets the return they are seeking in a trade.

Though the Kings had extensive talks with Denver about acquiring Miller in December, those talks have cooled given that the Kings have fallen far out of the Western Conference playoff picture.

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No. 4: Cavs looking to deal — The Cleveland Cavaliers have suffered through a disastrous first half to the season. Now with a new General Manager, and sitting just three games out of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Cavaliers have their eyes on deals to make the team better right now. As reported by Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer:

Expect David Griffin to make some type of trade by Thursday’s deadline. The interim general manager believes the Cavs are close to a playoff team — three games out of the final spot thanks to the current four-game winning streak. Griffin also would love to have the interim title taken away from his name, and he works for an owner (Dan Gilbert) who wants his general manager to be aggressive.

The Cavs are looking for outside shooting. A big problem is spacing. Teams tend to clog the middle on the Cavs because they don’t have a power forward — or even a small forward — with 3-point shooting range. Former General Manager Chris Grant saw the same weakness, which is why he tried very hard to sign Kyle Korver and Mike Dunleavy last summer. But free agents took a little less money to sign elsewhere — Korver with Atlanta, Dunleavy to Chicago.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Robert Covington was named the D-League All-Star Game MVP. … Rodrigue Beaubois is receiving interest from the Memphis Grizzlies and Washington Wizards. … Chris Bosh on winning back-to-back Shooting Stars competitions: “It’s tough dealing with expectations, but that’s what champions do. We just find a way.”

ICYMI of The Night: If you missed All-Star Saturday Night last night, or even if you watched every second of it, make sure you check out the Top 10 plays:


VIDEO:  The top plays from the skills events Saturday Night

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 1


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Conley goes down in Grizzlies win | Pacers to sign Bynum | Bulls getting calls about Gibson | Irving taking responsibility?

No. 1: Conley goes down in Grizzlies win — The Memphis Grizzlies have won 10 of their last 11 games and have the league’s best defense since Marc Gasol’s return. But they lost starting point guard Mike Conley to a sprained ankle in Friday’s win in Minnesota. They should be OK without him against the Bucks on Saturday, but they visit Oklahoma City on Monday and have a huge game against eighth-place Dallas on Wednesday. Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has the story from Minneapolis:

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley sat in the trainer’s room rather than at a station alongside his teammates in the visitor’s locker room.

He wore a walking boot Friday night after the Grizzlies’ 94-90 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Target Center. Conley, who also had crutches near his side, hobbled home after the Griz polished off a sweep of their three-game road trip that included wins at Sacramento and Portland.

However, a trek that got Memphis to within a half-game of Dallas for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff standings hardly ended on a happy note.

Conley didn’t look or sound as if playing Saturday night against the Milwaukee Bucks in FedExForum would be an option. He might need several games off given the severity of his sprained ankle.

“I turned it pretty good,” Conley said. “It’s tough for me to put weight on it now. (Saturday) is looking real iffy. We still have a lot of games ahead of us. We obviously want to finish out these last several games before the all-star break with some momentum. We’ll see how long this will take.”

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No. 2: Pacers to sign Bynum — It’s been over three weeks since the Chicago Bulls waived Andrew Bynum. And it looks like he finally has a new home. ESPN‘s Brian Windhorst tweeted Friday night that the Indiana Pacers plan on signing Bynum, though a deal is not yet in place. The Indianapolis Star‘s Candace Buckner first reported that Bynum and his agent were in town to talk to the Pacers:

Free agent center Andrew Bynum and his agent are in Indianapolis.

Bynum has been a free agent since being released by the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 7 after a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers. According to earlier reports, the Indiana Pacers were one of several teams to reach out to Bynum.

Bynum’s agent David Lee told The Indianapolis Star that he and Bynum were in town. According to Lee, Bynum and the Pacers have not reached a contractual agreement.

“(Bynum) has not signed as yet,” Lee said on Friday night.

Bynum, the 7-foot mercurial center, played in only 24 games this season, averaging 8.4 points on 41.9 percent shooting for the Cavaliers. Bynum missed all of the 2012-13 season with knee problems and last March underwent surgery on both knees. Besides his health, Bynum’s commitment has also been called into question.

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No. 3: Bulls getting calls about Gibson — The trade deadline is less than three weeks away and chatter is starting to pick up. The Chicago Bulls already made a major move (sending Luol Deng to Cleveland), but would need to make another one if their ultimate goal is to add another star (like Carmelo Anthony) this summer. Shedding Taj Gibson‘s salary (and waiving Carlos Boozer via the amnesty clause in July) would give them the cap space for a max free agent. And other teams would certainly be interested in Gibson’s services. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Bulls have received calls about Gibson and what they do with him will be a clear sign of the direction they’re looking to go:

And while Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy have been churning in the trade rumor mill for more than a month, Taj Gibson’s name is the one that is picking up, and could determine how serious the Bulls are in clearing space for a max contract to land the likes of a Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James.

According to a source, the Lakers, Wizards and Bobcats have each inquired about Gibson, but they were preliminary talks in which the Bulls did not like the return.

If they do move Gibson, however, it will definitely signify how determined the Bulls are to give Derrick Rose a second superstar to play along with.

With Carlos Boozer and his 2014-15 $16.8 million contract likely amnestied this summer, moving Gibson is all but a necessity if the Bulls want to stay under the luxury tax and add a max deal. Gibson will make $8 million next season, $8.5 in the 2015-16 season, and $8.95 in his final year of the deal.

While Anthony told the Sun-Times this week that he hasn’t put any thought into joining the Bulls, there are basketball executives who think differently, as ESPN reported on Thursday.

But to land Anthony or James, it will cost the Bulls Gibson, and is a growing possibility in the next three weeks.

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No. 4: Irving taking responsibility? — There’s been talk this week about Kyrie Irving being unhappy in Cleveland, with coach Mike Brown and with the roster the Cavs have built around the 2011 No. 1 pick. But of course, Irving’s unwillingness to play defense and lack of leadership are two of the reasons the Cavs are 16-30 right now. So it was good to hear him seemingly accept some responsibility for his team’s struggles on Friday, as Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal writes:

Kyrie Irving conceded this season has been more difficult than he imagined, he’s upset so much attention has been placed on his contract and he admitted he doesn’t always have all the answers to what is plaguing the Cavaliers this season.

“I needed this. It was more or less a wake-up call,” Irving told the Beacon Journal following practice Friday. “I got away with so much my first two years. It wasn’t a breeze, but everything came easy. This is the first year where every single night it’s going to be a challenge. That’s one of the things I’m getting used to and I’ve accepted.”

Irving came under fire throughout the week, particularly after a Beacon Journal story last Sunday questioning the progress he’s made this season, followed by an ESPN report Thursday that Irving wants out of Cleveland.

“Everybody has all these rumors and stories they’re coming out with and it’s all based on me,” Irving said. “It’s not really about me. It’s about the team and what we’re going through as a team together. Obviously, some things will be put on me and I take responsibility for that, but all that extra stuff that comes with it. … It’s the business. I understand that. But that’s one of the things I wish I could change. It’s definitely not about me, it’s about my teammates and what we can accomplish.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Nate Robinson had ACL surgery on Friday, which means that the Nuggets need to figure out what they’re doing with Andre MillerKyle Korver has declined the NBA’s invitation to the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest … Wesley Matthews would go, thoughRajon Rondo likes the idea of being a free agentKemba Walker suffered a setback in his return from a sprained ankle … and Lance Stephenson says he’s “mad” about not being selected as an All-Star.

ICYMI of The Night: Terrence Ross looks ready to defend his dunk title:


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Terrence Ross takes flight and posterizes Kenneth Faried.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 31


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving: ‘I’m pretty happy’ in Cleveland | Miller, Nuggets to mend fences? | Warriors get big boost from Green, Barnes

No. 1: Irving tries to quell rumors of his desire to leave — Every week on ESPN.com, NBA reporter Chad Ford does a weekly chat with fans about various league topics. The issue of Kyrie Irving‘s long-term future with the Cleveland Cavaliers came up in the discussion, and Ford said that Irving has been “telling people privately he wants out of Cleveland.” After Cleveland’s 31-point loss in New York last night, Irving addressed the concerns about his future, writes Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal:

Kyrie Irving said he enjoys being in Cleveland and playing for the Cavaliers, but stopped short of saying he’ll take a max contract offer if he’s presented with one this summer.

“There’s been so much so-called reports coming out that I don’t want to be here. That’s what you guys get paid to do, but that’s just so much negative attention,” Irving said following the Cavs’ 117-86 loss to the Knicks. “I know we’re struggling, but it’s not about me. It’s about our team. It’s about us fighting every day for each other and me fighting for my teammates.

“Yes, I’m in Cleveland. I enjoy myself. I enjoy going out and competing at the highest level for the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about me and it’s not about this controversy, ‘Do I privately want out when my contract is up?’ I’m still in my rookie contract and I’m happy to be here. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to be here for a long time. I’m not saying anything to tell the future, but I’m pretty sure the relationship I have with Dan Gilbert and management extends off the court. I enjoy being here.”

When told he can sign a lucrative contract this summer, Irving said, “I’m aware of that,” but stopped short of saying he’d sign here long term.

“It’s still too early to say. I’m still trying to get through this season,” he said. “Everybody is trying to antagonize this team and put it on me. I’m here for my teammates, I’m here for Coach [Mike] Brown and the coaching staff and I’m going to play my heart out every single night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.”


VIDEO: Cavs GM Chris Grant talks about the state of the team at midseason

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No. 2: Miller, Nuggets may try to mend fences — Ty Lawson has a shoulder injury. Nate Robinson has a sprained ACL. Those two facts leave the Denver Nuggets’ point guard depth in a precarious state and could lead to exiled guard Andre Miller returning to the fold. Miller hasn’t played in a game for Denver since an Jan. 1 incident in which he yelled at coach Brian Shaw during a game. Christopher Dempsy of The Denver Post has more on what’s next for Miller and the Nuggets.

The Nuggets’ situation at point guard has thinned to the point of extinction if Ty Lawson is not able to play Friday night against the Toronto Raptors. The paucity of players at that position has the Nuggets considering all of their options … perhaps including asking exiled playmaker Andre Miller to play.

In addition to Lawson, backup point guard Nate Robinson was diagnosed with a sprained ACL in his left knee, suffered Wednesday night against Charlotte.

“We will explore whatever we need to explore to help us out in this situation,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said Thursday. “We have 15 players on the roster.”

Miller is one of those players, but he hasn’t played since the incident Jan. 1 when he yelled at Shaw during a game. Miller has been excused from all team activities ever since and the Nuggets are actively trying to trade him, though nothing is imminent. The NBA’s trade deadline is Feb. 20.

But the Nuggets need bodies at Lawson’s all-important position, and Miller is one right in front of them.

“He’s one of the 15 guys on the roster,” Shaw said. “So, yeah, it’s an option that probably will be explored.”

It is a longshot, to be sure.

Miller has been away from the Nuggets for a month, and outside of an injury there has been no move by either side to orchestrate a return to the team. Shaw and Miller still have not talked to each other since the incident, but Shaw insists he would have no problems coaching him if the situation were to arise.

Nothing like that would even take place without an extensive conversation among all levels of team management. General manager Tim Connelly recently has been out of the country.

“I’ll get together with the front office and discuss whatever options we may have,” Shaw said.

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No. 3: Warriors’ x-factors prove difference vs. Clippers — Over their last nine games, the Golden State Warriors had a 3-6 mark and suffered losses to contenders such as Oklahoma City and Indiana to go along with ones to Denver and Minnesota, among others, as well. Last night’s romp of the L.A. Clippers seemed to be just what Golden State needed and the combination of Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes provided a key spark that the Warriors will need more of throughout the season, writes Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News:

In a blast from the recent postseason past, Barnes exploded for a few dunks and knifing drives early against the Clippers as the Warriors built a large lead.

If Barnes finds a comfort zone and plays like that for the rest of the season … the Warriors will be a much deeper, much more dangerous team.

But generally this season, the Warriors’ second unit has been broken offensively without Barnes at electric top form — and he has looked harried and uncertain.

They’re the Warriors’ double X-factors. Barring a major trade, they’re the franchise’s best hope for this season and largest open question.

For now, coach Mark Jackson is giving both his full support, and he makes it clear that though they’re both bench players, they play two different roles.

Heading into Thursday’s game, Green was averaging just over 19 minutes a game, up from 13.4 minutes as a rookie.

Barnes was averaging 29.3 minutes, after averaging 25.4 minutes his rookie season.

The first Warriors reserve player to get into the game was Barnes — for Klay Thompson. The second was Jordan Crawford — for Andre Iguodala.

The third reserve to check in was Green — for David Lee.

And almost immediately after getting into the game, Barnes started rocketing to the basket for easy baskets; he had 10 points at halftime — his first double-digit game since Jan. 15, eight games ago.

“When you believe in somebody that doesn’t mean you just believe in them when they’re rolling,” Jackson said before the game. “The Harrison Barnes that showed up 12 games in the playoffs started the whole year — that guy didn’t play 82 nights.

“We believed he had that in him and I still do. So he will play his minutes, he will get his calls, he will get his touches, and he’s going to be just fine.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Durant says he plans to play until he’s 40 … How will Lance Stephenson react to his All-Star Game snub going forward? … The Philippines wants to naturalize Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee for their national team … Famous NBA fan Jimmy Goldstein got a picture of David Stern’s retirement party cake. Pretty cool

ICYMI(s) of The Night: The Cavs-Knicks game at MSG became the J.R. Smith highlight show with two big dunks and a crossover on Tristan Thompson that’ll live on for a while …:


VIDEO: J.R. Smith drives on Anthony Bennett and finishes with a jam


VIDEO: Off the outlet pass, J.R. Smith gets fancy in transition with a reverse slam


VIDEO: J.R. Smith crosses up Tristan Thompson, then hits a jumper

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 26


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Trail Blazers are more than just a two-man team | Shaw relished time with Vogel | Raptors weary of injuries | Heat forced to play waiting game with Wade

No. 1: Blazers more than a two-man team — The Portland Trail Blazers are riding the wave of a MVP candidate (LaMarcus Aldridge), a Most Improved candidate (Damian Lillard) and a Coach of the Year candidate (Terry Stotts) to one of the most surprising and impressive starts we’ve seen from any team in recent years. They have already equaled their win total from a year ago, after taking care of the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday. But they are more than just a two-man team with one of the hottest coaches in the game. The Oregonian‘s Joe Freeman explains:

As the Moda Center masses gathered to watch LaMarcus Aldridge go head-to-head against Kevin Love and reignite the debate over which player is the best power forward in the NBA, a funny thing happened:
The Trail Blazers proved yet again they’re more than a one-man team.
With a difference-making outing from the bench, balanced scoring and meaningful contributions up and down the roster, the Blazers used a team effort to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves 115-104 Saturday night at the Moda Center.
Oh, sure, Love and Aldridge had some sparkling moments and they provided enough highlights to satisfy a salivating sellout crowd. But their growing rivalry was more fizzle than sizzle as the Blazers (33-11) used a team-oriented approach to avenge a December defeat to the Timberwolves and equal the number of victories they had all of last season.
“One thing about LA — and we talked about it — the media and (the team) put more into it than he did,” Mo Williams said of Aldridge’s matchup with Love. “All he kept saying was, ‘Man, all I care about is the win. All I care about is the win.’ And I believe him. I thought he just came out and played basketball. He didn’t try to overdo it. He didn’t try to do too much. He wasn’t bigger than the game. I thought the game was more important than the matchup with him and Kevin Love.”
In the end, the Blazers won thanks to their bench, which outscored the Timberwolves’ second unit 34-15, and the sum of their parts rather than the talent of their All-Star. As usual, backup point guard Williams was at the heart of the Blazers’ bench, and he finished with 16 points, six assists and five rebounds during a flashy 25 minutes that featured behind-the-back passes, three-pointers and a relentless push-the-pace mentality.

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No. 2: Shaw relished time with Vogel: — Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw has nothing but love for his Indiana Pacers’ counterpart Frank Vogel. When you work as closely as they did, when Shaw worked as an assistant under Vogel prior to this season, a mutual admiration society (of two) can develop. And if familiarity with one another gives your current team an edge, as it perhaps did when the Nuggets snapped a three-game skid with a win over the Pacers, so be it. But the bond between these two men remains, regardless of the outcome of games. Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star has more:

As the story goes, Shaw would indeed listen to Frank Vogel and join his staff as an assistant head coach. Shaw became an integral part of the Pacers, influencing their play and developing lasting relationships with players. Saturday, as the head coach for the Denver Nuggets, Shaw faced his former team for the first time and recalled how his time in Indianapolis influenced his current mindset as a leader.

“I was coming from Los Angeles to Indiana,” Shaw said. “I had to learn how to do things a different way under Frank Vogel and being a part of the group that he has now, and I watched some of those players grow.

“Frank Vogel is a great coach. He comes from a video coordinating background so he believes in watching a lot of video and that was different for me. We had to come in every day and get 20 minutes every day of watching videos. Just watching how he organized practices every day and getting prepared for games, I learned from him.”

In the summer of 2011, as Vogel sought Shaw to join the Pacers, he pitched the family-friendly suburbs but mainly the opportunity for a young assistant with high aspirations.

“I told him he was crazy to go to ESPN, he should come work for us,” Vogel said. “We’re doing special things. I knew he wanted to be a head coach, and I really felt like staying in the trenches was his best way to do that and not just staying in the trenches for anyone but for a team that’s really doing some special things.

“And the first phone call, the first thing out of my mouth was, ‘Listen, we need to talk because we can really help each other.’ I was recruiting him to try and position himself but I really needed him as well.”

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No. 3: Raptors weary of injuries, especially after big night from Ross — Terrence Ross enjoyed the finest night of his NBA career against the Los Angeles Clippers, albeit in a loss. But his 51-point explosion was directly impacted by an injury to the man who has been perhaps the Raptors’ most important player this season, DeMar DeRozan. Injuries, the great equalizer for any team, are a concern for a Raptors crew, GM Masai Ujiri in particular, that understands the greatest of plans can be derailed by the wrong player going down at the wrong time. Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star delivers the details:

A few weeks ago, GM Masai Ujiri was chatting about his short-term vision for this club. As you might expect, the short-term vision is all over the place. Everything depends on how they perform. He was certain about one thing.

“Injuries,” Ujiri said. “That’s what haunts me.”

Patrick Patterson had his nose broken by a Blake Griffin elbow. In a truly Raptor-y touch, Patterson was called for a foul on the play.

But he’ll be OK; and even if he weren’t, this team would survive.

However, without DeRozan, this is an untenable exercise. There can be no true tank now — it’s too late for that. But it would be a tank without volition. This team would get very bad, very quickly.

Nonetheless, DeRozan played 10 more game minutes. He came out before the end of the first half to get re-taped. He went for two more minutes in the second half before giving up.

“It’s a little painful right now,” DeRozan said, but didn’t seem terribly concerned. An X-ray was negative.

We’ll see in a day or two. If DeRozan plays Monday in Brooklyn, no harm. Even if he sits a game or two, no biggie.

But if this is the beginning of an extended absence, some hard questions will have to be asked about those 10 extra minutes, and putting this team’s leader in real jeopardy.

***

No. 4: Heat forced to play waiting game with Wade — Dwyane Wade isn’t the only NBA superstar whose injury issues have forced his team to adjust its long-term plans for this season. Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul have all missed significant time for their respective teams this season. But none of those other stars toil for the two-time defending NBA champs. And the Heat, with today’s Finals rematch with the San Antonio Spurs on tap, still don’t know what to expect from Wade. He might very well sit out again today. The Heat have no choice but to play the waiting game with Wade. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald sheds some light on the Heat’s plight:

If this were the postseason, then Dwyane Wade would be playing.

Wade has missed four straight games do to pain in his knee, and could miss Sunday’s game against the Spurs as well, but he indicated Saturday that he’s only missing games because, well, these games aren’t really that meaningful when weighed against protecting one of the best players in the NBA.

“The playoffs are different,” said Wade, who spoke to reporters Saturday for the first time since scratching himself from the lineup last week. “If this was the playoffs, I wouldn’t have been out.”

Wade went through some of the Heat’s practice drills Saturday and worked on his conditioning in preparation for the Spurs’ first game at AmericanAirlines Arena since Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals. A final decision on his playing status likely will not be made until about an hour before tipoff, which is set for 1 p.m.

“I don’t know,” Wade said when asked if he would play. “Today was a good day just being back on the court and [Sunday] we’ll see.”

Wade, who has missed 13 games this season, hasn’t played since scoring eight points in consecutive games against the Wizards and 76ers. Before that, he scored at least 20 points in 10 of 12 games. Despite the sudden drop-off in production and games on the bench, Wade wouldn’t call his latest block of rest a setback.

“At that time it was a setback,” Wade said, referring to a comment he made after playing the Sixers on Jan.17. “Now it’s not … At this point there ain’t no setbacks, it’s just what I’m dealing with.

“It’s what I’ve been dealing with all year. I don’t know how much back I can go, so it’s the same thing.” 


VIDEO: RAnother huge night around the league is captured in the Top 10 plays

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tom Thibodeau could care less about aesthetics. The Bulls coach only cares about winning games … Might Carmelo Anthony be ready for an encore performance against the Los Angeles Lakers today? Could be … Jazz rising star Trey Burke won the battle of young point guards and the game against the Wizards’ John Wall … Lakers forward Pau Gasol delivers some painful truths about his team and their season, to date …

ICYMI of The Night: You didn’t think Kevin Durant was done, did you? He earned a night off Friday and bounced back in the fashion you’d expect from a man who has been destroying the competition all season. The leading candidate for the MVP kept up his torrid pace in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers:


VIDEO: Kevin Durant makes it 10 straight games with 30 or more points while also notching a triple-double

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe plans to sit out All-Star Game | Ainge: Rondo, Celtics have talked extension | Mozgov’s role on the rise in Denver | Jazz legend Hundley has Altzheimer’s

No. 1: Kobe plans to sit out All-Star Game — In the final voting returns for the 2014 All-Star Game, only Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry received more votes than injured Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant. Still, according to the voting totals and the set up for the All-Star Game, Bryant would be a starter in the game — if he were actually going to play. After last night’s Lakers-Heat game from Miami, Bryant told the media he will sit out the All-Star Game because of his injury-shortened season. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

Having only played in six of the Los Angeles Lakers’ first 43 games this season, Kobe Bryant does not feel he is deserving of his starting All-Star bid and plans to sit out the Feb. 16 game in New Orleans.

“With all due respect to the fans that voted me in, I certainly appreciate that, they know how much I appreciate that, but you got to do the right thing as well,” Bryant said before the Lakers’ 109-102 loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday night. “My fans know you got to reward these young guys for the work that they’ve been putting in.”

Bryant spoke to the media just minutes after the league announced the starters for the 63rd annual All-Star Game next month.

Without naming names, Bryant, 35, said that some of the league’s rising stars — Portland’s 23-year-old guard Damian Lillard (280,966 votes) and Houston’s 24-year-old James Harden (470,381 votes) come to mind — belong there more than he does.

“I think it’s important for them to go in and perform,” Bryant said. “They’ve been playing all season. They deserve to be in there. They deserve to play. So, I see no reason why they shouldn’t be out there doing their thing.”

Some Lakers likened Bryant’s selection to a kind of career achievement award.

“He’s being voted, obviously, in what he’s done in the past. Not what he’s done this year,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.

Bryant, sidelined since Dec. 17 with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee and averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 42.5 percent shooting this season, has missed the Lakers’ last 18 games. This is, of course, after missing the Lakers’ first 19 games because of a torn Achilles in his left leg.

Bryant will be re-evaluated either Monday or Tuesday of next week when the team returns to L.A. after its current seven-game road trip, according to the Lakers. However, Bryant maintained that his examination will not occur until “February,” effectively eliminating his chances of playing Tuesday against Indiana or Jan. 31 against Charlotte.

He added that his knee injury is not being hampered by his initial Achilles tear.

“I don’t even worry about my Achilles,” said Bryant, adding he is going through vigorous exercise bike workouts to stay in shape. “It’s not even something that’s on the radar anymore. It feels great.”

He said he plans to return to the Lakers’ lineup sometime before the All-Star Game.

“It wouldn’t be enough to have me be deserving to play in the All-Star Game,” Bryant said.

The five-time champion was wary of a stipulation in the league’s collective bargaining agreement that requires elected players to perform in the All-Star Game if they are healthy enough to do so.

“If I played [for the Lakers] before [the All-Star Game], the rule is you got to go in there and play or miss the next two games,” said Bryant. “So, that just means somebody would have to lose a spot, unfortunately and the back-ups would be playing a lot, because I’d go in there and do my two minutes and sit out.”

While Bryant referenced a rule, no such rule is believed to actually be in the NBA’s handbook. A league source said that the automatic two-game suspension that Bryant referred to was “not really true.”

***

No. 2: Ainge: Celtics, Rondo have discussed extension — Point guard Rajon Rondo is finally back in the Celtics lineup after tearing his ACL nearly a year ago. The former All-Star has played in just three games this season, but Boston is well aware of what he provides them when fully healthy and on top of his game. Next season is the last season Rondo will be under contract with the Celts and team president Danny Ainge said Boston is trying to work out an extension with the guard. However, as ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg notes, an agreement on a deal likely won’t come until this summer or next:

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said the team has talked with point guard Rajon Rondo about a contract extension, but the restrictive nature of the collective bargaining agreement makes it more likely that talks will escalate after this season.

“We did talk to Rondo about extending him,” Ainge said Thursday during his weekly appearance on Boston sports radio 98.5 the SportsHub. “But that’s all part of the negotiation that will happen again this summer and most likely the summer after.”

Later Ainge added, “In the collective bargaining agreement, there are limits on what can and can’t be done. Really, it’s not that Rondo doesn’t want to accept an extension, as much as it’s just not financially smart for him to accept it right now. We didn’t think he would [sign], but we did try.”

Pressed on the potential parameters of an extension, Ainge backed off, noting as he often has that he preferred not to discuss negotiations through the media and admitting, “I think we’ve said enough.”

“I think that Rondo will demand quite a bit in the open market,” Ainge said. “The competition for Rondo in free agency will be very high.”

***

No. 3: Nuggets’ Mozgov seeing role in offense increase — It’s been quite a career for Timofey Mozgov with the Denver Nuggets to say the least. Since arriving in town via the Carmelo Anthony trade in 2011, Mozgov has seen his minutes and role fluctuate wildly from regular rotation player (during the 2011-12 season) to seldom-used reserve (last season). This season, however, Mozgov is tied with teammate J.J. Hickson with a team-best 5.0 close touches per game (per NBA.com/Stats), a number that puts him 25th in the NBA overall. The translation of this stats talk? When the Nuggets play in the post, it is likely going to Mozgov first. And, as Nuggets coach Brian Shaw tells Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post, that’s a trend that’s likely to increase.

Mozgov is Denver’s most improved player. Going into Thursday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the 7-footer was averaging career highs in points (8.7), rebounds (6.0) and blocked shots (1.2). He was shooting 55.8 percent from the field, another career high.

A lot of what he’s done has been done in the low post, and that’s what has caught the attention of coach Brian Shaw, who wants the Nuggets to play inside-out offense.

“We’ve had to evolve into getting away from that,” Shaw said. “We’re actually going to come back around to getting the ball inside, because what’s been a pleasant surprise has been Timo inside. When we do get the ball inside to him, he’s shown the ability to finish and do things with it, with his back to the basket.

“So, particularly for him, we’re starting to diagram, dial in more things for him to get touches and use his size and shooting ability inside to our advantage.”

***

No. 4: Legendary Jazz announcer Hundley suffering from Alzheimer’sBefore they were the Utah Jazz, the franchise had its beginning as the New Orleans Jazz in 1974. From those early days with Pete Maravich and Truck Robinson as the stars, to the golden age of Jazz hoops with John Stockton and Karl Malone on through to the Deron Williams-Carlos Boozer-era squads of the late-2000s, one man served as the Jazz’s play-by-play voice: Rod “Hot Rod” Hundley. The Hall of Fame broadcaster stepped down from his role after the 2008-09 season and has been mostly reclusive since then. But some sad news today via The Salt Lake Tribune‘s Steve Luhm that the announcer is now suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease:

Rod Hundley, the iconic former broadcaster for the Utah Jazz, is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Hundley, 79, lives in Arizona with his partner, Kim Reardon. She told The Salt Lake Tribune this week that the disease has progressed to a “moderate” stage.

Hundley no longer speaks to large groups, Reardon said. But they plan to attend festivities in Utah next week, when the Jazz will honor former coach Jerry Sloan.

He started as the TV and radio voice of the expansion New Orleans Jazz in 1974 after working for the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and CBS.

In 1979, Hundley followed the team to Utah, where he became one of the most recognizable faces of the franchise for the next three decades.

Hundley handed over his TV duties to current play-by-play announcer Craig Bolerjack prior to the 2005-06 season. But he remained on the radio for another four years.


VIDEO: Rod Hundley talks with NBA TV in 2009 as his career with the Jazz nears its end

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mark Cuban is convinced the Mavs are worth at least a billion dollars … Native Wisconsinite Caron Butler says he wants to be a long-term part of the Bucks’ rebuild … Great read about Magic center Nikola Vucevic and his experience during a train crash in Montenegro eight years ago that killed 47 people … Which team is the third-best squad in the East? … Clippers forward Antawn Jamison brought the boys basketball team from his old, Charlotte-area high school to the Clips-Bobcats game

ICYMI of The Night: We like a strong take to the rim around here as much as anyone, and Damian Lillard certainly provided that last night against Denver. But what we like even better? Multiple views of a monster jam like Lillard’s:


VIDEO: Get an all-angles view of Damian Lillard’s monster dunk on the Nuggets

Air Check: The King And Pop

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – For NBA fans like us, there’s nothing better than League Pass. Having the ability to watch every game every night (and then again the next day) is heaven.

Of course, with local broadcasts, you get local broadcasters, which can be good and bad. It can be good, because these guys know their teams better than most national broadcasters. It can be bad, because these guys love their teams more than most national broadcasters. And they’re usually not afraid to show that love.

Air Check is where we highlight the best and worst of NBA broadcasts.

Efficiency is in the eye of the beholder

After a timeout during the Pistons-Wizards match Saturday, the Washington broadcast came back with Steve Buckhantz saying “Two of the most efficient players in the NBA are playing here tonight.”

At that point, your mind races. Andre Drummond and Martell Webster? Both are near the top of the league in effective field goal percentage.

No, Buckhantz was talking about a couple of other guys…


VIDEO: Wizards’ broadcaster Steve Buckhantz has high praise for John Wall and Brandon Jennings

So, Buckhantz called John Wall and Brandon Jennings “two of the most efficient players in the league” because they ranked second and third in games with at least 10 assists and less than four turnovers. That’s an interesting definition of efficiency.

At the time, Wall and Jennings ranked 203rd and 229th in effective field goal percentage among 247 players who had attempted at least 150 shots from the field. Their true shooting percentage ranks among the same group were slightly better: 152nd and 222nd.

Oh, if you want to go back to assists and turnovers, Jennings and Wall ranked 18th and 29th in assist/turnover ratio among qualified players.

So yeah, that stat that the Wizards showed – in which Chris Paul was lapping the field, by the way – could have used some context. And to top it off, Wall threw the ball out of bounds on the first possession after they showed it.

The King of Air Check returns

If you’ve been reading Air Check for the last couple of years, you’re familiar with the shots Scott Hastings takes at the officials. If you haven’t, see some examples here, here and here.

Let’s add this one to the list…


VIDEO: Scott Hastings demonstrates why he is the best

“I’m telling you,” Hastings says after Evan Fournier gets a bucket, “in a year or two, if he doesn’t get that call as an and-one, then officiating is as bad as I thought.”

That’s why he’s the King.

The fear of Pop

You’ve certainly seen Jeff Van Gundy‘s between-quarters “interview” with Gregg Popovich from a couple of weeks ago, probably the best broadcasting moment of the season…


VIDEO: Jeff Van Gundy and Gregg Popovich share a special moment

A week later, the Spurs were on ESPN again. And again, there was no sideline reporter. So play-by-play man Dave Pasch and analyst Jon Barry flipped a coin to see who had to do the interview. Pasch lost and got the standard Popovich treatment…


VIDEO: Dave Pasch loses coin toss and interviews Popovich

Gallinari’s Second Surgery A Blow


VIDEO: Danilo Gallinari scored 22 points in a victory over the Bucks last season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Denver Nuggets’ roller-coaster season took a severe nosedive Tuesday with the team announcing that 3-point shooting forward Danilo Gallinari will miss the rest of the season after undergoing a second surgery on his left knee in nine months.

Gallinari tore his ACL during a game on April 4 against the Dallas Mavericks and had surgery on April 30. Gallinari was initially hopeful of returning to the team during the first half of the season, but he has not been able to play at all. Nuggets general manager and vice president of basketball operations Tim Connelly explained why:

“It was recently determined that the procedure that Danilo underwent on his knee this past summer was insufficient,” Connelly said in a statement. “Danilo’s knee required that he undergo reconstruction of the ACL, which was successfully completed earlier this morning.”

The Nuggets’ second-leading scorer last season and one of its top 3-point gunners, Gallinari’s loss is a blow to the middling Nuggets’ playoff chances under first-year coach Brian Shaw.

“It’s disappointing,” Shaw told the Denver Post. “The fact that we know how hard he worked rehabbing over the last few months to try to get back for this season. We feel for him, and know how tough a situation that is to deal with.”

Gallinari, 25, is the second player this season to experience a setback after the initial knee surgery, joining Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook, who had surgery in late April to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. He’s also undergone two arthroscopic procedures in the last three months due to related issues. Westbrook’s situation, however, is not as serious as Gallinari’s and he is expected to return to the Thunder’s lineup around the All-Star break.

That won’t be the case for the 6-foot-10 Gallinari, who would have been starting his third full season with Denver and his sixth in the league. He posted career highs in points (16.2 ppg) and rebounds (5.2 ppg) and shot 37.3 percent from the 3-point line.

Without him this season, Denver’s offense ranks 11th in the league and its 3-point shooting percentage ranks 15th. The team has fluctuated between extremes, riding extending losing and winning streaks to a 20-20 record. Now they know Gallinari won’t be riding in to help bring a bit of consistency to the second half of the season.

“Knowing Danilo’s drive and work ethic, we look forward to a full recovery and a healthy return to the court next season,” Connelly said.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Smith’s future with Knicks uncertain | Report: Miller back in Nuggets’ lineup? | Manziel signs with LeBron’s marketing firm | Should foes wear KD’s shoes?

No. 1: Smith’s future with Knicks in limbo – The NBA handed J.R. Smith a $50,000 fine for his shoe-untying incidents over the last week, but that was apparently just the start of a bad week for him. According to Frank Isola of The New York Daily News, the Knicks are losing patience with the mercurial shooting guard with coach Mike Woodson refusing to address any questions about Smith either before or after last night’s eventual victory over the Miami Heat. Smith was benched for the entire game and spoke briefly with reporters after the Knicks’ win about whether or not his time in New York is coming to an end:

As crazy as this sounds, Smith once believed that he would spend the rest of his career with the Knicks, which either proves he’s a big dreamer or incredibly naïve.

Patrick Ewing didn’t retire a Knick. Neither did Charles Oakley or John Starks. Of course, two better examples for J.R.’s purposes would be Latrell Sprewell and Stephon Marbury.

The motto is “Once a headache, always a headache” until you get on Dolan’s bad side and the ugly divorce begins.

“Honestly I don’t even know,” Smith said when asked if he has a future with the club. “At one point I was, for sure, and now it’s rocking the boat.”

No one rocks it like Smith, Dolan’s onetime golfing buddy whose list of transgressions is as numerous as the tattoos that cover his body. The latest screwup was harmless in some ways but also incredibly foolish, especially after the NBA warned Smith not to untie an opposing player’s sneakers like he did to Shawn Marion on Sunday in Dallas.

To be fair, it was reported to be a warning, but in J.R.’s world, warnings are open for interpretation. So here it goes:

“Yeah, pretty much. They warned me, but it wasn’t one of those warning where you go ‘Oh damn,’ it was one of those warnings where you really don’t know the outcome of it. You don’t even know if it was a warning or what it was. But at the end of the day it doesn’t really change anything now. We won. We beat Miami, a championship team, so you can’t complain.”

Woodson refused to address Smith’s status before or after Thursday’s victory, which only added to the confusion. That is a Knicks specialty, of course.

Smith claims he arrived for work, albeit $50,000 poorer, fully expecting to play against Miami. He also claims that Woodson never addressed the fine or the benching with him.

“That’s the most misleading part of it,” Smith said. “I can see if I was told, but there was no conversation about it. But it is what it is. We got the ‘W.’ ”

This doesn’t make Smith a martyr, the way Dolan famously turned Sprewell into one more than a decade earlier. Still, it wasn’t handled well, and it was pretty weird seeing Smith seated within 15 feet of actress Katie Holmes and Smith’s enabler, Dolan.

Dolan is trying to distance himself from Smith the way Holmes ran away from Tom Cruise and the Church of Scientology. Dolan should have been smarter last summer when he foolishly signed Smith to a three-year contract when the team knew the guard was headed for knee surgery.

Smith has never been right physically, and his conduct deteriorated rapidly last week once the club informed him it was cutting his younger brother, Chris. J.R. tweeted a reference to feeling betrayed, and a few nights later in Houston, he took an ill-advised shot in a tie game because he mistakenly thought the Knicks were losing.

On ESPN Radio in New York on Thursday, Smith’s former coach in Denver, George Karl, said it perfectly: “He’s going to wake up some day and he’s going to realize that he’s thrown away some great opportunities and great years because of this mockery that he brings to the game.”


VIDEO:The Inside the NBA crew discusses J.R. Smith’s benching vs. the Heat

***

No. 2: Report: Miller could get back into Nuggets’ lineup — Since his on-court outburst against coach Brian Shaw on Jan. 1, the future of Nuggets point guard Andre Miller in Denver has looked more and more like he was headed out of town. The Nuggets have reportedly had several trade offers for Miller (the Kings seem the most interested in him), but the player may not end up leaving Colorado after all. Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post reports that there is a slim chance Miller sticks around with the team:

There is a chance that embattled Nuggets guard Andre Miller could find himself back in Denver’s lineup in the near future.

A league source indicated that there is a slim chance, but one nonetheless, that Miller could suit up again. Miller has missed four straight games after being dismissed from the team for a mandatory two games for his part in an on-court verbal confrontation with coach Brian Shaw in the Nuggets’ game against Philadelphia on Jan. 1.

Miller worked out on the Nuggets practice court as recently as Thursday, keeping himself in as good a shape as he can while he sits out. The Nuggets continue to explore deals to trade the veteran, but have been unsuccessful to this point.

Any Miller return would come with the understanding that playing time still would be scarce or non-existent. Miller’s beef is with his declining role, which bottomed-out in the first “Did Not Play – Coaches Decision” of his career in that game against Philadelphia.

Afterward, he left quickly and hasn’t been around the team since.

Shaw still has not spoken with Miller since the incident, but has said before that he could definitely co-exist with the point guard.

He re-iterated that point after Thursday night’s game against Oklahoma City.

“I’m willing to coach anybody on our roster that’s willing to play and do what the best thing is for the team, whatever role that is,” Shaw said. “And so right now he…is dealing with what he wants to do. But in the process, my concern is what’s best for the Denver Nuggets and right now that is continuing with the guys that are here right now and just looking ahead to our next opponent and what we need to do to prepare for that.”


VIDEO: Inside the NBA’s crew discusses the Andre Miller situation

***

No. 3: LeBron’s marketing firm to represent Johnny Manziel — Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who won the Heisman Trophy last season, announced this week that he was declaring for the NFL Draft. Manziel is expected to be a first-round pick — perhaps taken very early in that round — and as such, he is starting to get his life together for a professional career. As such, the man known as “Johnny Football” has hired LeBron James‘ marketing firm to handle his publicity efforts, writes Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

LeBron James has gotten into the football game. More to the point, he has gotten into the Johnny Football game.

The Miami Heat forward confirmed before Thursday night’s game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden that his marketing firm will represent former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

James said the relationship with his LRMR firm was the product of an ongoing relationship.

“They reached out to me when he was going through a lot of off-the-field things, that I thought was just overblown,” James said of the former Texas A&M quarterback. “He’s not the only college kid that’s ever went to a frat party, or the only college kid that ever had fun. But obviously, he’s Johnny Manziel so it’s blown out of proportion.

“When the opportunity was brought to me, I basically just told him, if he’s willing to listen, if he’s willing to take my advice then I’m willing to give it. And throughout this whole season, I would text him weekly before the games and after the games. I didn’t know it would lead to us being together now because of business, but I was happy to help him.”

***

No. 4: Should foes wear Kevin Durant’s shoes? — Three-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant, not surprisingly, has his own line of shoes from Nike that have become popular with players not named Durant around the NBA. Apparently, wearing his shoes when facing him has become a big point of contention for some around the league, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, and was an issue Nuggets coach Brian Shaw went in depth on before last night’s Thunder-Nuggets game from Denver:

Denver has at least two players who routinely wear Durant’s line of “KDs,” forward Wilson Chandler and center Timofey Mozgov.

But should players wear them against Durant?

“We were actually having a conversation about that with the players,” said Nuggets coach Brian Shaw. “When I came (into the NBA) in 1988, shortly after that, (Michael) Jordan started with his Jordan One. They only made them in red, white and black, Bulls colors. I remember Nike wouldn’t let you wear his shoes. They only let him wear it. You could order them through your account, but you couldn’t wear them in games.

“And then, when they started making different colors, they started allowing guys to wear them in games. Obviously, the most important thing is that it’s a shoe that fits your foot and (if) you’re comfortable in it then you’ll want to wear it. But I always thought that that gave; like being on the Lakers, when guys would wear Kobe (Bryant’s) shoes when we were playing against them, he always would, in his mind, feel ‘I got him because he’s wearing my shoes.’ So the guys who do wear KD’s, we were talking yesterday, ‘Are you really going to wear those tomorrow when we play him?’ So it was a debate back and forth about the comfort of the shoe as opposed to what message it sends when you’re wearing a guy’s shoes.”

Durant downplayed the potential psychological advantage angle.

“I’ve seen a few guys wear my shots,” he said. “It’s flattering to me. I don’t really look at it as an advantage at all. More so, it’s just cool seeing “KD” on other guys’ shoes, because I’ve grown up watching people wear Jordans and play in Jordans. And now, to have my own signature shoe and have my peers wearing it, it’s pretty fun to see.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Nets guard Deron Williams will miss the next two games and possibly the team’s game to London … Cool preview of this Saturday’s “Inside Stuff” with Kevin Love, who gives you a taste of how he works his rebounding magic … ICYMI, the Rockets’ mascot, Clutch, does an awesome job of scaring Houston’s players … Does Eric Bledsoe actually want to stick around with the Suns?

ICYMI Of The Night: We love Kenneth Faried around here, but he got banged on last night by the Thunder’s Reggie Jackson


VIDEO: Reggie Jackson throws down a power jam on the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried

So … Who Wants To Be No. 1 In The West?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – We’ve spent two months knee-slapping and belly laughing over the bumbling, stumbling (L)Eastern Conference while keeping nightly tabs on the Western Conference’s conquests over the feeble JV division. The divide’s grown so disproportionate it’s no longer worth counting.

And then something silly happens like Miami going on the road, and without LeBron James in uniform, drop-kicking West-leading Portland. Just like that, all the ribbing of the other side doesn’t seem all that appropriate — or wise. The West might be deeper, but the cream still rises in the East.

The Heat continue to find ways to remind us that they still rule the NBA. And the East, as exasperating as it is to look at teams No. 3-15, is delivering a stout two-team race: Miami and its lone challenger determined to prevent the Heat’s fourth consecutive Finals appearance — the self-assured Indiana Pacers.

The West is not the East. The West is entangled, wild and woolly; a shootout, a grudge match and pure survival every night. Think about this for perspective: The West’s 12th-best team, Memphis, would be fifth in the East. With so many capable teams, an injury here, a cold snap there, a trade down the road can tip the balance of power.

As we steamroll into 2014 and toward the mid-February All-Star weekend and then the trade deadline, these forces are already at work, making the West far more unpredictable than even what we thought at the beginning of the season.

No one team is pulling away. Several have key injuries. And all are not without a potential fatal flaw.

THE UPPER CRUST

Oklahoma  City Thunder (27-7): Russell Westbrook‘s combination of strength, power and speed makes him indispensable to a Thunder title charge. A third surgery in the span of eight months on his right knee is hardly optimum, but at least the last two were both arthroscopies and therefore far less invasive than the original April surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Judging by his rapid return last time and his explosive play, we’ll lean toward Westbrook again returning as if nothing happened (especially since early reports of his recovery already sound encouraging). OKC is better equipped than last season to survive a potential two-month absence. Reggie Jackson is having an excellent season, Serge Ibaka has All-Star credentials, the bench is deep and OKC is committed to elite-level defense. And then there’s that guy Kevin Durant. The Thunder, an impressive 17-5 against the West, remain my pick to be last team standing — as long as Russ can be Russ.


VIDEO: See why OKC’s Kevin Durant was named the Kia Player of the Month winner for December

San Antonio Spurs (26-8): Coach Gregg Popovich bristled at the notion that the Spurs’ win over the Chris Paul-less Clippers on Saturday night should go on the board as a win over a big-boy team. While the Spurs own the second-best record in the West, they’ve done it by rolling everybody but the teams closest to them in the standings. They’re 1-6 against the four other teams that have mostly made up the top five all season (0-1 vs. Portland; 0-2 vs. Oklahoma City; 0-2 vs. Houston; 1-1 vs. the Clips). They’re also 0-1 against Indiana. It certainly does raise eyebrows, but at the same time, it’s not like the Spurs don’t know how to raise their level of play when it counts. Popovich is thinking down the road, too, manipulating his deep roster and spreading minutes. Tony Parker is the only player averaging more than 30 mpg (30.8). San Antonio plays solid defense, Parker remains phenomenal, Manu Ginobili has raised his game and the Spurs can shoot the 3. It’s not quite time to worry that the Spurs are yet again too old to keep up with all of the West’s young bucks.

Portland Trail Blazers (26-8): No one predicted upper-crust status at this point and I even hesitated putting them here now with their recent slowdown. But with wins over San Antonio, Indiana, Houston, the Clippers and two over Oklahoma City (one without Westbrook), it would be unfair to deny this team what they’ve earned. Led by star-in-the-making point guard Damian Lillard and All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, they own the league’s most efficient offense and absolutely shoot the lights out from downtown, already hitting a franchise-record 21 3-pointers in a game twice. While they don’t possess a great defensive rating, they are certainly capable defenders and can surge at that end from time to time. They added nicely to a thin roster with center Robin Lopez and reserve guard Mo Williams, and rookie C.J. McCollum is on his way back. Yet, you have to wonder if they’re ultimately deep enough behind their starting five, and too reliant on the long ball when push comes to shove in the playoffs.


VIDEO: Inside the NBA’s crew discusses Portland’s place among the West’s elite

THE TASTY FILLING

Los Angeles Clippers (24-13): Doc Rivers‘ team has been more inconsistent than many thought, and early on were downright awful defensively. It hasn’t helped that J.J. Redick has been out for five weeks with a fractured hand. Now, of course, comes the ultimate test with Paul sidelined for six weeks with a separated right shoulder. The Clips don’t have an athletic, playmaking wing and will need Jamal Crawford to help take pressure off of Blake Griffin, who will be targeted by every opponent. Bottom line is L.A. will really have to claw to remain in the top five or six in the absence of CP3, the league’s assist leader. L.A.’s defensive rating now ranks eighth and they’ll have to rely on that end of the floor to win games in the interim or else it could mean giving up homecourt advantage in what promises to be a difficult first-round matchup.


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses Chris Paul’s injury and its effect on the Clippers

Golden State Warriors (23-13): Early turbulence, namely a hamstring injury to glue guy Andre Iguodala, sent the Warriors into weeks worth of sketchy play. A nine-game win streak has made that slog a distant memory and now the Steph Curry-led Dubs look like the team everybody expected after last season’s playoff breakthrough. As always, this team will go as far as Curry and his fragile ankles (knock on wood) take them, plus the health of center Andrew Bogut, who has managed to play in 35 of 36 games and average double-digit rebounds and 1.74 bpg. The big issue with Golden State is exhaustion. With the reliable Jarrett Jack gone, Toney Douglas has averaged just 11.7 mpg in 21 games. Curry and Klay Thompson are averaging close to 38 mpg, a pace that could take a toll down the road.

Houston Rockets (22-13): We knew it would take some time for this team to come together and they’ve certainly had bouts of inconsistency marked by trouble closing out games. They’re also only 12-11 against the West, meaning they’ve gotten fat off the East. However, they’ve also dealt with injuries to James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley and have managed to hang tough. Dwight Howard (17.8 ppg, 12.9 rpg) has put up good numbers and on some nights he looks like the force he was before these last few years of perplexing indecision. Yet at other times, he still seems to be out of sorts. His presence in the middle hasn’t made the Rockets an elite defensive team, ranking in the middle of the pack.

Phoenix Suns (20-12): The Suns were headed for the next group on our list until some deeper thought got them in at the last second. With two wins against Portland, and wins over Houston, Golden State and a blowout on the Clippers’ home floor, plus a top 10-rated offense and defense, they belong here. The question is can a journeyman like Gerald Green (13.4 ppg, 39.0 3-point FG pct.) and a young, overlooked center like Miles Plumlee (9.9 ppg, 9.2 rpg) continue to produce at their current levels? More than a third of the way through the season, that appears more and more to be yes. Both Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic have been All-Star worthy and with blue-collar workers like P.J. Tucker and the Morris twins, the Jeff Hornacek‘s Suns possess the toughness to compete every night. The hallmark of this club has been one that doesn’t take a play off.


VIDEO: The Starters give Suns coach Jeff Hornacek some props

THE OUTER CRUST 

Dallas Mavericks (19-15): While the Dirk Nowitzki-Monta Ellis combo gained traction early, this team has perhaps irreparable flaws starting with a porous defense. Center Samuel Dalembert is proving unreliable and leaving Dallas severely outmanned in the middle. Point guard Jose Calderon, while being a smart and steady quarterback and an excellent shooter, has seen the West’s athletic point guards exploit his size and lack of foot speed. Even Nowitzki recently questioned his team’s playoff chances after it continues to blow leads.


VIDEO: NBA Action catches up with Mavs guard Monta Ellis

Minnesota Timberwolves (17-17): Perhaps the biggest mystery team of the bunch. Thought to be a playoff team for two seasons now, this time they can’t use injuries as an excuse. Even with Kevin Love putting up monstrous numbers, the Wolves can’t close out games and have lost a handful of games they seemingly had in their back pocket. That’s no way to do business in this conference. Perhaps most perplexing is point guard Ricky Rubio, who has not emerged as an All-Star candidate this season and seems to have little confidence in his shooting ability.

POTENTIAL FILLER

Denver Nuggets (16-17): It’s been a roller coaster season under first-year coach Brian Shaw. A slow start gave way to an impressive winning streak that crumbled into a rather stunning losing streak. More roster shakeup is on the way with disgruntled Andre Miller on the outs. At some point Danilo Gallinari will return from the ACL injury suffered late last season, providing 3-point pop and needed depth. They aren’t hanging their hat at either end of the floor right now, adding skepticism that they can improve enough to nab the final playoff spot.

New Orleans Pelicans (15-17): Anthony Davis is proving why he was the No. 1 pick in 2012, averaging a double-double (19.0 ppg and 10.1 rpg) while leading the league in blocked shots (3.2). Ryan Anderson missed the first part of the season and now is out indefinitely with a herniated disk.  You certainly wonder where this team might be if it had full health (Davis also missed seven games) from the jump. We’ve seen glimpses of how dangerous the backcourt of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans can be. The question is: can do it with consistency?


VIDEO: Inside Stuff catches up with Pelicans star big man Anthony Davis

Memphis Grizzlies (15-18): Under rookie coach Dave Joerger, the Grizz were wobbly before Marc Gasol went down with a knee injury after 13 games, but as he nears a return, there is optimism that he, Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Zach Randolph can pull things together and make a run. That’s why they dealt Jerryd Bayless to Boston for a better 3-point shooter (Courtney Lee). If they don’t get things together, Randolph could be on his way out.

MYSTERY INGREDIENT

Los Angeles Lakers (14-20): Will Pau Gasol remain a Laker? Will Kobe Bryant be back sooner than later? Can Steve Nash return with anything left to offer?Can they steady the ship since their swift downturn after Bryant fractured his knee? If the answer to those questions is yes, then it’s possible — not likely — but possible the Lakers can make a second-half charge similar to last year when it appeared they were cooked, yet grabbed the No. 7 seed.

LEFT OUT

Sacramento Kings (10-22): DeMarcus Cousins is putting up All-Star numbers, but the Kings’ poor start negated all the positive preseason momentum.

Utah Jazz (11-25): Rookie Trey Burke is looking good. But Jazz fans had already come to grips that the name of the game is patience as they wait on the youth movement.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 7


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Kings interested in Nuggets’ Miller | Report: Deng balked on extension with Bulls | Report: Clips looking at Turkoglu, Vujacic | Z-Bo, Grizz excited about pending addition of Lee

No. 1: Report: Nuggets discussing trades for Miller — As we reported in this space yesterday, the Nuggets and Andre Miller seem destined for a parting of ways. The Denver Post reported yesterday that the team is actively looking for deal the point guard and Yahoo!Sports.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski has some news on prospective teams, which could include the Sacramento Kings:

Guard Andre Miller has possibly played his final game for the franchise, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

After a two-game suspension turned into an indefinite exile on Monday, the Nuggets are motivated to move Miller within the next 24 to 48 hours, league sources said. It has become clear to rival executives that Denver is moving quickly on engineering trade scenarios and completing a deal.

Sacramento Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro – a longtime Nuggets executive – has been at the forefront of trying to acquire Miller, league sources said. The Kings plan would be to use Miller as a mentor for the franchise’s talented young point guard, Isaiah Thomas.

Denver general manager Tim Connelly has had conversations with multiple teams, including Sacramento. Miller is owed the balance of his $5 million this season and a partial guarantee of $2 million in 2014-15 on his contract.

Connelly and Miller’s agent, Andy Miller, have been in regular communication about the next steps for the franchise and point guard.


Miller, 37, had a 239-consecutive-game streak end in the loss to the Sixers, and endured the first “Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision” of his 15-year career.

The frustration that started on the floor on Wednesday night extended into the postgame locker room, sources told Yahoo Sports. Before the bubbling over on Wednesday, Miller had recently addressed some issues to Shaw in a locker-room meeting forum, league sources said.

Connelly spoke with Miller for approximately an hour late Wednesday at the Pepsi Center, and the team suspended Miller on Thursday for its next two games.

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No. 2: Report: Deng turned down extension with Bulls days ago — As you probably heard, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls pulled off a trade last night that sent disgruntled Cavs center Andrew Bynum and three future Draft picks to Chicago for All-Star forward Luol Deng. The Bulls moved Deng in part because he was an unrestricted free agent this summer and also, as our David Aldridge points out in his excellent breakdown of the deal, to lessen their immediate salary-cap burden. Over the summer, Deng and his representatives couldn’t reach an agreement on a contract extension and, according to Yahoo!Sports.com.’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Bulls and Deng tried to hammer out an extension again before the Cleveland trade took place, but Deng didn’t want to sign:

Within days of the Chicago Bulls unloading Luol Deng for salary-cap relief and a first-round draft pick, the All-Star forward rejected a three-year, $30 million contact extension, a league source told Yahoo Sports.

Deng, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, turned down the deal on Friday, clearing the way for Bulls management to complete a deal with Cleveland for broken-down center Andrew Bynum and a package of draft picks on Monday night.

The Bulls and Deng’s representatives had informal talks about an extension over the summer, but Chicago never made a formal offer.

The Bulls were unwilling to pay Deng, 28, market value in the $12 million-to-$13 million-a-year range over four or five seasons. Deng spent nine-plus seasons in Chicago, where he often played hurt. Chicago is committed to re-signing shooting guard Jimmy Butler to a lucrative contract extension this summer, and after the loss of Derrick Rose for the season, the Bulls made a move for the long-term.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the Bynum-for-Deng swap

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No. 3: Report: Clippers mulling veterans Vujacic, Turkoglu — The shoulder injury that star point guard Chris Paul suffered last weekend could potentially keep him out of the L.A. Clippers’ lineup for as long as six weeks. That means the Clips’ depth is going to be tested and as L.A. prepares to weather a bit of a storm without him, the team is thinking about adding free agents to the roster. The Clips, according to Marc Stein and Ramona Shelbourne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, have an eye on Hedo Tukoglu (who was recently waived by the Orlando Magic) and ex-Lakers and Nets guard Sasha Vujacic. Adding either of those players, though, would possibly force the team to part ways with Stephen Jackson:

The Los Angeles Clippers are looking hard at well-known veteran free agents Sasha Vujacic and Hedo Turkoglu as they try to fill the playmaking void created by Chris Paul’s shoulder injury, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Clippers could make a new 10-day signing as early as Tuesday, with Vujacic and Turkoglu currently at the forefront of L.A.’s thinking.

Paul is expected to miss up to six weeks after suffering a separated shoulder Friday night in Dallas. The Clippers are still without starting shooting guard J.J. Redick, who is making progress in his recovery from hand and wrist injuries but is believed to be out for at least another week.

The Clippers, though, would have to open up a roster spot before making any further signings and face an immediate decision on Stephen Jackson, whose minimum-salary contract will be guaranteed for the rest of the season if he’s still on the Clippers roster beyond Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Vujacic, 29, has been working out in Los Angeles for months in hopes of getting back into the NBA after the former Lakers guard from Slovenia spent the previous two seasons playing in Turkey.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers, confirming his interest in Turkoglu, said before Monday night’s game against the Magic, “I just like him. He’s out there and we should look at him. I’ve always liked him. He can shoot and play [small forward and power forward].”


VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers talks about the state of the team before Monday’s game vs. Orlando

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No. 4: Grizz, Z-Bo happy about addition of Lee — While the trade between the Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder has yet to be finalized, the folks in Tennessee are getting excited about the pending move. The deal — which will send Courtney Lee to the Grizz, Jerryd Bayless to the Celtics and Ryan Gomes to the Celtics (where he’s expected to be waived) — is thought to give some new life to the Grizzlies’ renewed playoff hopes. Michael Cohen of The Commercial-Appeal has more on the trade and how Zach Randolph and others are reacting to it:

It was late Sunday afternoon when the Grizzlies found out Jerryd Bayless was leaving, the players beginning to bubble with confidence after a convincing and reassuring win over Detroit. The 112-84 victory marked the end of a successful three-game road trip, protecting the flickering flame that is Memphis’ playoff hopes for at least a while longer.

Strengthening that postseason belief was the impending trade involving Bayless, one that sends the reserve guard to Boston in exchange for sharpshooter Courtney Lee. The players learned of the deal on their flight home after beating the Pistons, the atmosphere onboard equal parts sad and salutary.

“It’s very encouraging when you see the front office try to get better and see what we need to improve at,” Zach Randolph said Monday, before the team’s practice at FedExForum. “That’s what you’ve got to do, that’s what we’ve got to do. We want to be a top-echelon team.

“This season is far from over. For us to say that we’re out of the playoff hunt and we won’t make the playoffs is ludicrous because we still have a chance.”

The trade between the Grizzlies and Celtics is still not official, and coach David Joerger was unable to speak about the imminent deal Monday morning. But point guard Mike Conley said the players “knew something was going on” during the flight back from Detroit, prompting them to enjoy Bayless’ company for what they understood was likely the final time. The trade was a business transaction to make the team better, even if its members lost a friend in the process.

“We talked to him then and took that plane ride back and hung out as much as we could,” Conley said.

For the better part of a month the Grizzlies have toiled in inferiority, dropping five consecutive games in mid December before finally putting together a pair of wins against the Knicks and Jazz — two of the NBA’s worst teams. Since then, victories and defeats have alternated in agonizing fashion, with each step forward giving way to a disillusioning step back.

But the 28-point throttling of Detroit and a disposing of the Suns three days before has breathed life into a franchise one season removed from an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. The offense is more fluid, the bench more productive and now, thanks to the likely addition of Lee, a major hole filled: shooting.

Lee, who is shooting 44.2 percent from beyond the arc this season, joins a team ranked last in the league in 3-pointers made per game (4.9) and 18th in 3-point percentage (34.9). When asked if he would welcome more potency from beyond the arc, Randolph could barely contain himself. He grinned, then laughed, then stammered away with excitement. “Oh man, gosh, come on,” he said complete with a beckoning gesture.

Adding to Monday’s festive mood was a positive update from Joerger on Marc Gasol. The all-star center has been cleared for “light, light on-court action,” following an MRI to evaluate the sprained MCL in his knee that has sidelined him since Nov. 22.

Gasol was at practice Monday sporting a black brace on his left knee and he appeared to be in good spirits in the training room. There is no timetable for his return, but that he is on the court at all is a welcomed sign of progress for a team in need of a lasting spark.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After the Bulls release Andrew Bynum, they will have 12 players and be below the tax line. They’ll have to add at least one more player for about $520K … The Salinas Bros. may soon see their long-standing annual TV rights payout from the NBA end soon … The Magic have suffered 86 losses since the start of the 2012-13 season, but last night’s to the Clippers might have been an all-time lowRonny Turiaf was more than happy to be back on the court at last for the Timberwolves

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: Blake Griffin with an in-game, alley-oop windmill dunk. There’s nothing more to be said here …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin’s in-game, alley-oop windmill jam vs. the Magic