Posts Tagged ‘Denver Nuggets’

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reunion for Wolves, Garnett? | Jerome Kersey, Blazers great, RIP | Kanter not signing Jazz tune on deadline | Ainge and Celtics will take your calls

No. 1: Reunion for Wolves, Garnett? — He spent the meat of his certain Hall of Fame career in Minnesota, often frustrated, always brilliant, and in the end was thrilled to leave. Now, well in his twilight, and perhaps staring at the end of the road, will Kevin Garnett‘s journey finish up where it started? On the eve of the trade deadline, there apparently is enough of a thaw, at least on the Wolves’ end, to make this happen. The Wolves have struggled since Garnett left, never making the playoffs or having a winning season. And of course, they’ll struggle even if they bring him back for a curtain call because they’re loaded with young players. But from a sentimental standpoint, this would be heartwarming. Garnett remains a sports icon in the Twin Cities and the applause for him in a Wolves uniform would be thunderous. But nothing happens unless he wants it to happen. He must approve any trade, and with precious little left in the tank, wouldn’t Garnett rather be someplace warm and with a chance to win a title, like, with old friend Doc Rivers in LA? Anyway, here’s Marc Stein of ESPN:

Garnett has insisted in recent weeks that he is not in the market for an in-season exit from Brooklyn, largely because he does not wish to displace his family ‎in the middle of the season.

But the Wolves, sources say, are hopeful that the chance to play out what might be his final NBA season as a member of the team that drafted him out of high school in 1995 — and under longtime coach Flip Saunders — could lead Garnett to reconsider. Such a trade, of course, would also mean the hypercompetitive Garnett has to leave the Eastern Conference playoff race to join a team at the bottom of the West.

Saunders remains close with Garnett and is said to covet a reunion to bring back the most popular player in Wolves annals as a mentor to the many youngsters on the current roster, headlined by 2014’s No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins.

And in Young, Minnesota possesses a player the Nets have coveted for some time. Brooklyn GM Billy King drafted Young in Philadelphia and would presumably welcome his addition now as the Nets try to fortify their roster in search a playoff berth in the East.

The Los Angeles Clippers and coach Doc Rivers have been openly hoping Garnett would seek a buyout from the Nets before March 1 to become eligible to play in the playoffs for another team. But Garnett has left the impression he has little interest in a buyout.

“I haven’t thought too much of my own personal [situation],” Garnett recently told Nets beat writers. “When that road comes, I’ll cross it and I’ll deal with it. A lot of things with [my] family situation and things, it’s not just convenient to get up and move, to change things. It’s not as convenient as it once was when I was younger. I have a lot more responsibilities and things to take into account.”

In the same interview, Garnett insisted he was all-in with the 21-29 Nets, despite the fact that close friend Paul Pierce left Brooklyn over the summer to sign in free agency with the Washington Wizards.

‎In November, Garnett told Yahoo! Sports that he wants to buy the Timberwolves someday. But he has said little about how much longer he intends to play beyond this season, which is Garnett’s 20th as a pro.

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Popovich could walk away before Duncan | Nuggets’ brass back Shaw | Cousins taking a pounding in the paint

No. 1: Popovich may walk away before his deal is up — San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and star power forward Tim Duncan have worked together in their roles ever since Duncan’s rookie season in 1997-98. Through the years, they’ve won five championships, gone on countless playoff runs and are linked together in this golden age of success for the Spurs. The conventional thinking around the NBA has always been that when Duncan retires, Popovich will be right behind him. But according to a story from USA Today‘s Sam Amick, Popovich could step down in San Antonio before his current contract expires:

Despite the prevailing thought around the league that this season would likely be 38-year-old Duncan’s last, Popovich doesn’t see it that way because — stop us if you’ve heard this before — of how well his beloved big man is playing. The two men won’t truly know until they discuss the matter this summer, like they did last offseason, but Popovich isn’t planning the retirement party just yet.

“No matter how (the season) ends, I think Timmy is going to look at (retirement) again,” Popovich told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. “And if you ask me, my guess is that he’ll go for another one because he has been so consistent this season.

“It’s just consistent stuff: another double-double, over and over and over again. Because of that, I think in his mind that if it continues through the rest of the year, I think he’ll say, ‘I’m going to go another year and see what happens.’ Because what he has told me is that the minute he feels like he’s a hindrance to his team or he’s not on the positive end or helping him, he’s going to walk right off the court. It might be during the third quarter of a game.

“He’s not going to hang on to finish a contract or make the money or have the notoriety that you know he doesn’t give a (expletive) about. So the way he’s playing now, he’s going to look in the mirror and say, ‘Hey, I’m doing all right.’ ”

If anything, Popovich said, he could wind up walking away before Duncan. Popovich signed a five-year contract extension last summer, but admitted that the length was a product of owner Peter Holt‘s desires more than it was his own.

“It’s a five-year contract, but the chances of staying for five years I don’t think are very good,” Popovich said.

“This year has been a tough one,” said Popovich, whose team lost eight of 11 games at one point and was 19-14 entering New Year’s Eve. “We had an amazing schedule, a very tough November and December and we were very injured. So it knocked the hell out of us, to where we’re now just starting.

“I told them the other day, I said, ‘We’re starting the season. We finished training camp and we’re in our seventh or eighth game right now trying to get ready. The season is over half done, and we’re just rounding into some kind of shape.’ So it’s been difficult.”

Yet here they are, posing a threat yet again at a time when no one in the West would argue if they finally rode off into that San Antonio sunset.

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe aiming for September return | Report: Howard could miss ‘extended time’ | Report: Vaughn on thin ice in Orlando | Shaw blasts Nuggets’ effort

No. 1: Kobe targeting September return; Kupchak still back Bryant — The torn rotator cuff in Kobe Bryant’s right should was officially surgically repaired on Wednesday. With that out of the way, most are wondering when (or if) he’ll be back on the court for the L.A. Lakers. According to a report from ESPN.com, Bryant is aiming to play again in September and, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Bryant still has the full support of GM Mitch Kupchack.

Here’s ESPN.com’s report on Bryant’s shoulder:

Kobe Bryant addressed his expectations a day after shoulder surgery Thursday night in a brief interview with ESPN, saying he planned on being ready to play come September for the Los Angeles Lakers’ training camp.

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” Bryant said.

Bryant said his rehab over the next couple of months will involve “a lot of patience.”

“Sore, but it’s OK,”  Bryant said of his shoulder.

Bryant said media opinion on whether he should return for a 20th season or retire wouldn’t affect his decision.

“I don’t really listen much to what people have to say to be honest with you,” Bryant said.

Bryant was back at the Staples Center for a brief visit with former teammate Pau Gasol before the Lakers faced the Chicago Bulls.

The former teammates spoke privately before Bryant left. Bryant said he wasn’t feeling well enough, 31 hours after the operation, to go on the court.

Bryant is expected to need nine months to recover from his third straight season-ending injury, a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder suffered last week that he had surgically repaired Wednesday.

If Bryant meets that timetable, he could return to basketball shortly before the start of the 2015-16 season, the final year of his contract with the Lakers.

Bryant, who will be 37 this summer, is the NBA’s highest-paid player at $23.5 million this season. He is under contract for $25 million next year.

And here’s Bresnahan on Kupchack talking about the Lakers’ future with Kobe and beyond:

Kobe Bryant was all smiles when he talked about his $48.5-million contract extension in November 2013, saying he would “run through a wall” for the Lakers to prove they were right and everybody who doubted them was wrong.

But were they right?

It’s a simple question that goes directly to the center of a struggling franchise and its rapidly aging megastar.

“One hundred percent. We have no regrets at all,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Thursday.

Why?

“Because he’s worth every penny of it.”

Kupchak acknowledged that the Lakers, who ended a nine-game losing streak Thursday and are foundering with a 13-34 record, would need a talent upgrade next season. The catch: They have room for only one maximum-salaried player.

“To me, a big part of Kobe’s contribution next year is if we can improve this team during the off-season,” Kupchak said.

“Our coaches and players have been instructed to win games. Maybe I used the wrong word. I don’t have to ‘instruct’ the players to win games and try to win games. I don’t have to instruct [Coach] Byron [Scott]. That’s why they’re here.”

One player Kupchak expected to return next season was Bryant. It would be his 20th, all with the Lakers.

“I don’t think he’s retiring,” Kupchak said. “I spoke to him [Thursday] morning. The doctor’s prognosis was released yesterday and [Bryant] said he was looking forward to training camp. That’s what we expect.”


VIDEO: Mitch Kupchack addresses Kobe Bryant’s comeback trail and more

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 27


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hollins addresses stats slander | Kobe’s ‘Jordan as teammate’ scenario | Wall: Wizards deserve two All-Stars | Shaw cries foul over ruling

No. 1: Hollins addresses stats slander — It’s a players’ league and a young man’s game, so one of the worst things that can be said about an NBA coach or front-office executive is that he’s set in his ways, out of touch and otherwise resistant to change. That was the impression left in 2013 after Memphis coach Lionel Hollins wasn’t brought back by the Grizzlies -– he wasn’t adept at advanced analytics, or so they said. And that’s a subject with which Hollins took some umbrage recently, according to the New York Post:

“I’m going to take a breath,” Hollins said after a long pause, “and say it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard because every coach uses stats.

“Now, do I understand some of the stats that are out there that are new? No. But I can learn them.”

As a former player — Hollins was the starting point guard of the 1977 NBA champion Trail Blazers — and longtime member of the league, it’s easy to assume Hollins has no interest in looking at the advanced stats that have become a key part of how the league is analyzed, viewed and run.

But Hollins has referenced advanced statistics throughout the season, particularly in terms of lineup data, and said he uses stats to try and reinforce why he’s making various decisions with his players.

“When I talk to a player about his play, I have to have stats to show him,” Hollins said. “When I talk about lineups, I have to have stats that show why I’m making a change and not just because I’m making a change. Players like to know that.

“It’s a part of the game. I know which combinations play well together from stats. I look at stats just about every day. So it’s a misnomer, and it was what it was and it’s over.”

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No. 2: Kobe’s ‘Jordan as teammate’ scenario — It’s fun for sports fans to indulge their zaniest “What if?” fantasies, kicking around hypothetical scenarios and imagining all sorts of different results (What if the Red Sox hadn’t sold Babe Ruth? What if Bobby Orr‘s knees had held up? How might things have gone differently had Michael Jordan not retired that first time?). Apparently, it’s fun for some of the principal players to indulge in the daydreaming as well, and Kobe Bryant offered up a doozy to the Washington Post when he talked about his notions, sparked by friction with Shaquille O’Neal, of teaming up with Jordan on the Wizards more than a decade ago.

According to two people with knowledge of the situation, after Jordan decided to sell his minority ownership stake to resume his playing career with the Wizards, Bryant informed him several times he wanted to play for the Wizards — under the assumption that Jordan would return to the front office once his playing days were over.

The Wizards never had the assets to discuss a trade for Bryant, so the only chance the organization would have had to make a run at him was when he became an unrestricted free agent in 2004. Jordan, however, wasn’t allowed to recruit Bryant because [owner Abe] Pollin decided in May 2003 not to let him continue running the team. While Jordan’s ability to land Bryant was no guarantee, a person close to him said Jordan was “confident” he would have made it happen.

With the Wizards taking a different course under Ernie Grunfeld and eliminated as a possibility, Bryant resisted overtures from Chicago, New York, Denver and the Clippers and elected to remain a Laker. Bryant signed a seven-year, $136 million contract the day after the Lakers dealt O’Neal to Miami, ensuring there would be no extreme Alpha-male contest for control of the team. Had he joined Jordan in Washington, Bryant is certain only one result would’ve unfolded.

“We would’ve put together a great team and we would’ve won championships,” Bryant said. “Listen, man. There are not a lot of players in this league that say, ‘Come hell or high water, we’re going to get this [expletive] done.’ People can look around and joke around about winning, saying they want to win. For me, it’s a matter of life or death. It was that important to me. And if it’s that important to me, I’m going to get there.”

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No. 3: Wall: Wizards deserve two All-Stars — A more current and probably realistic scenario involving Wizards teammates is the prospect of point guard John Wall having company on the Eastern Conference All-Star squad next month in New York. Wall, who will start for the East, believes that Washington’s first-half performance in 2014-15 and its place in the standings merit another such honor when the conference coaches’ ballot determines the All-Star reserves. They’ll be named Thursday, with Wall among the team’s fans in pulling for center Marcin Gortat or shooting guard Bradley Beal:

Gortat is averaging 12 points and ranks 20th in the NBA with 8.2 rebounds per game. His 13 double-doubles are 21st in the league. Beal is averaging 14.8 points and is seventh in the league in three-point field goal percentage at 44.1 percent. He missed the Wizards’ first nine games due to a fractured left wrist and came off the bench for four games upon his return. Beal is in his third season, but is still the youngest player on the Wizards at 21 years old. For what it’s worth, analyst Shaquille O’Neal thinks both Gortat and Beal should join Wall.

“Right now it’s up to the coaches, but if I end up losing it then I think it’s going to be more about politics,” Gortat said with a smile.

The Wizards haven’t sent two players to an all-star game since Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison represented the organization in 2008. This year, Gortat and Beal face stiff competition. Gortat will be up against Chris Bosh, Kevin Love, Joakim Noah, Nikola Vucevic, Paul Millsap and Al Horford in the frontcourt. In the backcourt, Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague are among the choices.

“I think someone else from my team should be in there with me,” Wall said. “And it’s crazy that if [Anthony] had surgery, if his knee didn’t get better, then [Gortat] would’ve been a starter. That would’ve been the funny part about it. But yeah, I think someone from my team, whether it’s him or Brad [Beal], is well-deserving of another spot from my team.”

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No. 4: Shaw cries foul over ruling — The debate rages on –- do you foul or do you not foul when your team has a three-point lead near the end of the game? –- but the Los Angeles Clippers were spared any second-guessing Monday against the Denver Nuggets. The Clippers fouled not once but twice, yet avoided sending Danilo Gallinari to the line with a chance to tie when Matt Barnes‘ contact with the Nuggets forward was ruled a non-shooting foul. Which was an interpretation quite different from the one Nuggets coach Brian Shaw had as he watched the moment play out, as reported by the Denver Post:

Down three points with nine seconds left, the Nuggets ran a play that got Danilo Gallinari a good look at a 3-point shot. And he pulled up for that shot. As Gallinari went up, Clippers forward Matt Barnes pulled down his right arm — his shooting arm. Gallinari switched the ball to his left hand and put the attempt up.

A foul was called. But not a shooting foul.

Gallo was deemed to not be in the act of shooting. So instead of getting three free throws for one of their best shooters from the stripe, the Nuggets, instead, had to take the ball out of bounds again. The Clippers then fouled Darrell Arthur and put him on the free throw line to shoot two.

Asked about his level of frustration with the non-call, Gallinari simply grinned and said, “I’ll let the people watch the replay and make their own judgment.”

Shaw, however, steamed.

“It’s frustrating when night-in and night-out all of those kind of calls go against us,” he said. “And the explanation of i changes all the time, when we get an explanation. Or they admit that they made a mistake after the fact when it’s already cost us a game.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Contestants in the 2015 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest will be unveiled on NBA TV’s Fan Night Tuesday during the Auto Trader Pregame Show at 7 p.m. ET. … Torrel Harris thanks God for his son Tobias‘ NBA career with the Orlando Magic, but he’s not so thankful for the New York Post. … ‘Shocking’ is how that same publication termed the Knicks’ contract ‘impasse’ with guard Langston Galloway. … How much did the NBA’s stance on sports gambling contribute to its soaring franchise valuations? Breitbart News asked the question. … Plans and politics edge forward in the Milwaukee Bucks’ quest for a new downtown arena. … Father Time still is undefeated, but the Chinese New Year will tackle that old man again with an NBA-heavy celebration. …

 

Morning shootaround — Jan. 22


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant hurts shoulder | Report: LeBron talks Cavs with Allen | Karl wants one more NBA coaching gig | Anthony blasts ‘tanking’ talk

No. 1: Bryant injures shoulder, but is worried about Lakers’ free agency — Kobe Bryant has appeared in 35 of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 43 games this season, including last night’s eventual loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. During that game, Bryant suffered what the team termed right shoulder soreness in the third quarter after a two-handed dunk. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times reports that Bryant will need an MRI on the shoulder, but the Lakers’ star was more worried about the team’s offeseason plan than his injury:

Kobe Bryant slung a designer backpack over his shoulders — both of them, it was important to note — and talked about something eminently important to him.

He left a game because of a sore right shoulder from a third-quarter dunk, unable to finish in the fourth after firing up two shots, both with his left hand, in a 96-80 loss Wednesday to the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Lakers said there would be an MRI exam Thursday, but Bryant didn’t seem concerned. He was more interested in discussing his pitch to would-be free agents in July.

“It’s a pretty simple message. It’s the best organization in the world, best brands in the world,” he said, reluctant to name names because of the NBA’s tampering rules. “We win championships. That’s what we do. It would be much more than … Xs and O’s and style of play, things of that nature. There’s no place like winning in Los Angeles, man.”

But Bryant lauded the ability of Lakers General Mitch Kupchak.

“It’s phenomenal, so much so that the league had to protest a trade that he made,” Bryant said, referring to the vetoed Chris Paul deal in 2011. “When you pull that off and save money, what other GM could pull that off? You’ve kind of got to lean on the track record of the front office and the decisions that they make. He makes really solid ones.”

Meanwhile, there was a game Wednesday and a baseline dunk by Bryant against a surprised Dante Cunningham. But as Bryant said, “I felt fine when I went up, didn’t feel too good when I came down.”

He added that the shoulder “came out a little bit. It’s been bothering me a lot but right now it’s a little achy.”

When Bryant re-entered in the fourth, he quickly made a 14-foot turnaround with his left hand but then airballed an eight-foot hook shot, also with his left. He dribbled and passed almost exclusively with his left hand.

Bryant walked off the court and straight to the locker room after the Lakers called a timeout with 1:09 to play. He didn’t rule himself out of Friday’s game against San Antonio.

“I’ve played with a torn labrum before,” Bryant said, adding he played with a separated shoulder earlier in his career.

Earlier in the day, Bryant filmed a scene for a movie with Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg called “Daddy’s Home.” Bryant shot it with the two stars in his Lakers warmups at the Pelicans’ arena.

Later, at halftime, fans were encouraged to stay in their seats as Ferrell came out and made a mockery of a halfcourt shooting contest in two takes. After the cameras turned off, Ferrell, a frequent courtside presence at Lakers games, hugged Jordan Hill and Nick Young before leaving the court.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant tries to play solely with his left hand after his injury

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 15


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks keep on soaring | Lakers may shut down Kobe | Gortat pokes Bulls fans on Twitter | Report: Clippers closing in on Rivers trade | Shaw: Nuggets not actively shopping Afflalo, Chandler

No. 1: Hawks’ winning ways show now signs of stopping — Atlanta rested Al Horford and Kyle Korver last night in Boston,  yet still beat the Celtics by 14 points. That makes 10 straight wins for the Hawks. Are there still doubts about just how good this team is? Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journa-Constitution breaks down how Atlanta just keeps winning, and winning and winning:

For the second consecutive night Atlanta rested several starters and still won going away. This time it was Boston that was run out of its own arena against a less-than-complete opponent.

The list of accomplishments for the NBA’s hottest team gets more impressive with each victory.

The Hawks (31-8, 15-5 road) have:

  • Won 10 consecutive games for their longest win streak since they started the 1997-98 season with 11 consecutive victories;
  • Won 10 consecutive games on the road, improving on their franchise record;
  • Won for the 24th time in the past 26 games as they have lost just twice since Nov. 28;
  • Won three in a row against the Celtics, including two this season.

“You have to give credit to the bench,” DeMarre Carroll said of the Hawks’ past two victories. “That shows you the beauty of our team. We’ve got a lot of guys who can play. That is what we expect. These guys work just as hard and when their opportunity came they took advantage of it.”

The Eastern Conference-leading Hawks continue make believers of those around the NBA. Boston coach Brad Stevens called the Hawks “elite” prior to the game.

Then the Hawks went out and proved it.

The remaining three starters, all of whom sat out Tuesday’s victory at Philadelphia, carried the Hawks. Carroll (22), Jeff Teague (22) and Paul Millsap (18) combined for 62 points. Millsap also had 10 rebounds for a double-double. Mike Scott added 11 points off the bench.

“They stepped up to the occasion,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “When you are feeling fresh and healthy and in attack mode, all three of them, it’s really positive. They can score in different ways and impact the game in different ways.”

“We are happy to grow and develop,” Budenholzer said. “Guys get different opportunities. Different players are put in different situations. To find a way to win on the road is always good. I think where we just want to continue to grow and develop and get better. On a night like tonight, we did that. I think last night we did that. Going forward, we have to continue.”


VIDEO: The Hawks have piled up wins against the NBA’s elite all season long

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 5




VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Stoudemire is shocked | A new-look Love? | Rocky Mountain Zzzzzzs | Kareem helps Hibbert | A special anniversary in Dallas

No. 1: Knicks boggle Amare’s mind — The Knicks are bad. Historically bad. You’d have thought that reality might have set in on the bench and in the locker room weeks ago. Maybe it’s the pages on the calendar turning from the old year to the new, but the plunge to the bottom of the standings has hit veteran Amar’e Stoudemire in a way he didn’t expect. Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com has the details:

“It’s beyond my imagination at this point,” he said Sunday before a 95-82 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks that extended their losing streak to 11 games. “I never thought I’d see this. … This is definitely kind of mind-boggling.”
The Knicks (5-31) dropped their 21st of 22 and have the most losses in the NBA.

Carmelo Anthony missed his second straight game due to knee soreness. There was no clear timetable for his return.

“It’s a tragic thing,” said center Samuel Dalembert of the mounting losses. Though healthy enough to return, Dalembert did not play after missing three straight games with an ankle injury.

The Knicks are now one loss shy of tying the franchise mark of 12 straight defeats, last done in 1984-85. New York has already set the record for consecutive home losses. It was the team’s 10th straight loss at home.

Of course, this wasn’t how Stoudemire — who missed his fourth straight game due to knee soreness — envisioned what could be his final season in New York playing out.

When Stoudemire signed a five-year, $100 million contract with the Knicks in the summer of 2010, he declared the team would return to relevance. He mostly delivered on that promise, helping New York reach the playoffs for three straight seasons.

But things have fallen apart this season. Now, in the last year of Stoudemire’s contract, it seems as if the only thing the team is competing for is a lottery position.

“When I first signed with New York, that wasn’t the game plan,” Stoudemire said. “… But the past is not here. And neither is the future, so we’ve got to deal with the now, and I think we’ve just got to continue to try to get better as a team and as players, try to keep improving.”


VIDEO: The Bucks handle the Knicks at MSG (more…)

Morning shootaround — Dec. 27


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets | Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win | Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk | Bucks looking for different advantages

No. 1: Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets — There’s no place like home for the holidays … as long as you have a home. After being waived earlier this week by the Detroit Pistons, Josh Smith agreed to a free-agent deal with the Houston Rockets. Friday night he made his debut for the Rockets in Memphis against the Western Conference power Grizzlies, tallying 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in Houston’s 117-111 overtime win. As Jonathan Feigen writes in the Houston Chronicle, Smith provided the Rockets exactly what they were looking for when they signed him…

The Rockets had no intention of relying so heavily on forward Josh Smith with the ink on his contract barely dry.

They did not even intend to play him so long into the night.

The Rockets knew they wanted Smith the minute the Detroit Pistons cut him loose.

They needed him as soon as they plugged him into the rotation.

With the Grizzlies defending Smith with Vince Carter, the Rockets went to him again and again down the stretch Friday night, not only helping key a comeback to a 117-111 overtime win but offering a glimpse of the sort of talent they had plugged into the mix.

“They think big of my talents,” Smith said. “This is a team that instills confidence in all of its players.”

With the two-season disaster in Detroit rapidly behind him, Smith had 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in his Rockets debut, tacking on the game-winning free throws in overtime when he grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds and then knocked down a pair of free throws for a four-point lead.

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No. 2: Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win — The Orlando Magic are still in the nascent stages of their rebuilding plan, and as such still have lessons to learn. Last night, hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were without an injured Kyrie Irving, the Magic learned an important truth: You come at the King, you best not miss. With Orlando leading the Cavs 64-62 in the third quarter, Magic forward Tobias Harris and LeBron James got tangled under the basket and exchanged some heated words. Whoops. As Chris Haynes writes, Harris woke a sleeping giant, helping push Cleveland to the win…

James looked out of sorts. Disinterested. He had three turnovers in the first 10 minutes.

Orlando was up 64-62 in the third quarter and a coasting James was 5-for-13 from the field. The Magic was on pace to steal one. Harris, acting as the catalyst, had 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

Then things suddenly changed.

Midway through the third, Harris was facing up James on the baseline and to create some separation; he flung his elbows around in the vicinity of James’ face. James backed up to avoid the connection, but he took exception and said something to Harris.

The two jawed back and forth at one another and had to be separated. While walking away, Harris yelled, “Stop flopping.”

“He barked up the wrong tree,” the Cavs’ Dion Waiters said of Harris after the game.

A sleeping giant was awakening.

Two possessions later, James stole a crosscourt pass and shot out on a one-man break. Orlando’s Elfrid Payton managed to get a hold of James from the back and James took him along for the ride to finish the left-handed layup, plus the foul.

The four-time MVP proceeded to trot past Orlando’s bench to have a few words before taking his foul shots. Just like that, James was awakened.

“That’s the best player in the world,” the Cavs’ Kevin Love said. “That’s something you don’t want to do.”

From that point on James dominated Harris, going 5-for-7 in the final 17 minutes. He scored 15 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth. After that alteration with James, Harris only scored one point. He finished with 17 points on 6-for-12.

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No. 1: Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk — Much was made earlier this season of Kobe Bryant‘s pursuit of Michael Jordan and the third spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Last night there was another repositioning of the list, though a few spots down from Kobe and MJ. Dallas’s Dirk Nowitzki moved into 8th on the all-time scoring list, passing Elvin Hayes in a 102-98 Dallas win over the Lakers. As Dirk joked after the game, he’s now got Kobe squarely in his sights, writes ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon

“I told [Kobe] that I was going to catch him,” Nowitzki said after his Dallas Mavericks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 102-98 with Bryant resting and watching from the bench. “But that’s going to be tough.”

Nowitzki now stands eighth among scorers in NBA history, five spots behind Bryant, after passing Hall of Fame forward Elvin Hayes on Friday night.

Nowitzki needed six points entering the game to pass Hayes, who finished his career with 27,313 points, and did so on a midrange jumper off a feed from Monta Ellis on the opening possession of the second half.

Nowitzki, who has been battling a stomach illness for about two weeks, finished the game with 14 points in 24 minutes, giving him 27,322 points in his career.

“I’m fortunate to have great teammates to put me in position to keep scoring, even as I’m older,” said Nowitzki, a 36-year-old who has spent his entire 17-year career with the Mavs. “It’s been fun. Still competing at a high level and hopefully will win a lot more games these last couple of years, which really means more to me right now than all the points. But it’s definitely been a fun ride.”

Hayes is the second top-10 all-time scorer passed by Nowitzki this season. Nowitzki bumped Hakeem Olajuwon to No. 10 on the list in a Nov. 11 win over the Sacramento Kings.

Nowitzki, who is averaging 18.5 points per game this season, likely will pass Moses Malone (27,409 career points) in early January to move into seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

With 32,365 points and counting, Bryant is almost certainly out of reach for Nowitzki. However, Nowitzki should pass Shaquille O’Neal (28,596 points) next season and has a chance to move into the top five by passing Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) before he retires.

***

No. 1: Bucks looking for different advantages — The Milwaukee Bucks were purchased by a collection of investors led by some New York financial titans in 2013, and since then they’ve been attempting to build a stronger infrastructure for the franchise, in some ways by utilizing some creative thinking. One way they’ve done that: Spending money on people who do things NBA teams have traditionally undervalued, or perhaps not valued at all. For instance, as Kevin Randall writes in the New York Times, the Bucks recently hired a “facial coding expert”…

So in May, the team hired Dan Hill, a facial coding expert who reads the faces of college prospects and N.B.A. players to determine if they have the right emotional attributes to help the Bucks.

The approach may sound like palm reading to some, but the Bucks were so impressed with Hill’s work before the 2014 draft that they retained him to analyze their players and team chemistry throughout this season.

“We spend quite a bit of time evaluating the players as basketball players and analytically,” said David Morway, Milwaukee’s assistant general manager, who works for the owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. “But the difficult piece of the puzzle is the psychological side of it, and not only psychological, character and personality issues, but also team chemistry issues.”

Hill contends that faces betray our true emotions and can predict intentions, decisions and actions. He employs the psychologist Paul Ekman’s widely accepted FACS, or Facial Action Coding System, to decipher which of the 43 muscles in the face are working at any moment. Seven core emotions are identified: happiness, surprise, contempt, disgust, sadness, anger and fear.

Before the 2014 draft, Hill spent 10 hours with Milwaukee’s team psychologist, Ramel Smith, watching video of various college prospects and picking apart the psyches of potential picks. The Bucks had the No. 2 selection over all as well as three second-round picks, one of which they traded.

A vexing player at the top of the draft was Dante Exum, a point guard from Australia who was projected to be taken among the top four selections. Smith had done player personality analyses but wanted to validate them by having Hill present his player assessments first. The Bucks selected Jabari Parker with their top pick, and Exum fell to Utah at No. 5.

“Nothing against Exum, but emotional resiliency, stability and an immediate, assured presence were all key considerations in support of selecting Parker,” Hill said.

Until he sustained a severe knee injury on Dec. 15, Parker was among the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. Exum is averaging 4.9 points and 2.0 assists coming off the bench for the Jazz.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jared Dudley couldn’t miss last night in Atlanta. Like, literally, he couldn’t miss … Kenneth Faried was basically unstoppable for Denver last night … After passing him on the all-time scoring list, Kobe Bryant said Michael Jordan urged him to now go after Karl Malone … Did Kevin Garnett play his final game in Boston? … Quincy Acy got a one-game suspension for his Christmas Day scuffle with John WallDajuan Wagner is in the early stages of mounting a comeback

Morning shootaround — Dec. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant could be game-time decision | Report: Cavs submit bid to host All-Star Game | Green shining for Golden State | Faried’s game off the mark

No. 1: Durant could be game-time decision Tuesday — The Oklahoma City Thunder got All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook back from injury last week and he looked more than fine in his debut, roasting the New York Knicks to the tune of 32 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Could his All-Star partner in crime (and the reigning MVP) Kevin Durant be back from his injury as soon as tonight in New Orleans (8 ET, League Pass)? We likely won’t know until OKC holds its morning shootaround, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

Scott Brooks stopped and thought about the question before answering.

“Any lineup changes?” the coach was asked Monday.

Brooks began with an “Um” before proceeding with a pregnant pause that left all in attendance at the end of the Thunder’s practice wondering if this would be the moment he announced Kevin Durant is back.

“No,” Brooks then said, finally. “Nothing as of yet.”

The “as of yet” part left Durant’s timetable up to interpretation, and it’s looking and sounding more and more like the reigning MVP is extremely close to making his season debut, perhaps as early as Tuesday at New Orleans.

It’s not out of the question that Brooks will announce Durant as a game-time decision at the team’s Tuesday morning shootaround. Traditionally, the Thunder has preferred to see how players coming back from injuries respond to that light morning session before penciling them into the lineup. In rare cases, like Andre Roberson at Denver on Nov. 19, the Thunder will even wait for a player to go through a final pre-game workout before determining whether he will suit up that night.

But in the case of Durant, all indications are that he’s set to return from a season long absence caused by a broken right foot. He appears to be so close that any game from here out could be the night. If he doesn’t take the court Tuesday night at New Orleans, it would be surprising if he doesn’t play Friday at Philadelphia. If he skips the Sixers game, we’d be shocked if he doesn’t make his debut Sunday at Detroit.

The Thunder will have two more days between the Pelicans game and the Sixers game, and that’s just additional practice time and rest to ensure Durant is acclimated and ready if he doesn’t play Tuesday night.

Both the signs and the Thunder’s schedule are lining up.


VIDEO: OKC players and coaches talk after Monday’s practice

(more…)

Afflalo’s flagrant 2 deserves second look


VIDEO: Arron Afflalo is ejected after his forearm blow to Alec Burks’ head is ruled a flagrant 2 foul

On the one hand, the Nuggets would have had mostly themselves to blame for letting a game get away that they’d led by 22 points in the second quarter.

But on the other, it would have been a tough pill to swallow if it happened in part because Arron Afflalo spent the last 5:55 of the game in the locker room as the result of a questionable video review decision.

Afflalo was slapped with a flagrant 2 technical foul, which comes with a mandatory ejection when he tried to make a play on Utah’s Alec Burks driving to the basket.

Yes, we saw that Burks’ fall to the floor was ugly and potentially dangerous. Yes, we saw that Afflalo swung his right arm and hooked Burks around the head on the take-down.

But we also saw that Burks did a pump fake on his way up and it was that move that caused Afflalo to whiff at his play on the ball and resulted in the head shot.

The official description from the rulebook:

A flagrant foul-penalty (2) is unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent. It is an unsportsmanlike act and the offender is ejected immediately.

Game officials Marc Davis, Leroy Richardson and Curtis Blair took a long time viewing video and consulting with the league’s replay center in Secaucus, N.J. and decided that Afflalo’s action merited the harsh punishment.

The Nuggets eventually hung on for a 103-101 win.

But we’re going to be surprised if this doesn’t get another look from the league office. Because Afflalo was not malicious and was clearly making a play on the ball.