Posts Tagged ‘Deron Williams’

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Players only meeting works for Kings | Conley at crunch time in Memphis | Teletovic pokes LeBron | Blazers not one of the Bynum 8

No. 1: Kings players-only meeting works wonders – Three straight wins in most places isn’t worth going crazy over, not during the marathon that is an 82-game NBA season. In Sacramento, however, it’s definitely going to raise eyebrows. A players-only meeting has worked wonders for the Kings, who routed Cleveland Sunday to polish off their season-best win streak. Is this potentially a turning point for a Kings team that has dealt with adversity and distractions for months now? Time will tell. But as Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee notes, an epic beatdown of the Cavaliers is a good place to start:

The victory margin equaled a 44-point win over Denver on Dec. 12, 1992, and trailed only a 56-point win over Philadelphia on Jan. 2, 1993 and a 58-point victory over Dallas on Dec. 29, 1992.

The Kings led by 46 points, their biggest advantage of the season, and tallied season highs in points, 3-pointers (15) and blocked shots (eight).

Defensively, the Kings (13-22) held Cleveland to 11 points in the third quarter and 30 points in the second half, both season lows by a Sacramento opponent. The 80 points were also a season low, bettering the 83 the Kings gave up against Orlando on Friday.

In the third quarter, the Cavaliers (13-24) made only four shots and shot 20 percent, both season lows for a Kings opponent.

“This young team is growing and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” Rudy Gay said. “We can become a really good team. It takes hard work and we’re working hard, and coach has been great. As long as we keep going on that same path, we should be a good team.”

The defensive numbers are what pleased coach Michael Malone. After allowing 32 points in the first quarter, the Kings began to defend better, leading to the dominant second half.

“Consistency is a word we’ve used a lot,” Malone said. “It’s something we haven’t shown we can (accomplish) most of the season, but in our last three games I think the defense has been consistent, the communication has been consistent, the effort’s been there. We had breakdowns without a doubt, but our breakdowns are happening less often at the moment, and that’s a step in the right direction.”



VIDEO: Isaiah Thomas wins his duel with Kyrie Irving and his Kings get the win

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No. 2: Conley is the man at crunch time for Grizzlies – Whether you realize it or not, Mike Conley has become a stabilizing force for the a Memphis Grizzlies team that sorely needed one. Even with the likes of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen on the roster, the young point guard emerged from a humbling start to his career to evolve into the sort of floor leader that pushes the pile the way he did against the Atlanta Hawks Sunday night.  Conley is on a tear right now that suggests he might be ready for even bigger and better things, writes Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal:

Conley continued arguably the most productive week of his NBA career in leading the Griz with 21 points, 13 assists and four steals. He posted 30 or more points in each of the two previous games.

The Griz blew a 13-point lead with Conley on the bench. The Hawks began connecting on 3-pointers and used a 16-0 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters to wrestle away the momentum and take an 80-77 lead.

The game was tied at 77 when Conley returned to replace rookie reserve Nick Calathes with 10:38 left. About 20 seconds later, Conley whipped a pass to James Johnson out of a pick-and-roll and Johnson finished the play with an emphatic slam dunk. The basket was the start of a 16-4 run that allowed the Griz to regain the lead for good.

Conley set up Courtney Lee and Mike Miller for 3-pointers, Zach Randolph for a point-blank shot, and created his own scoring opportunities by zipping past defenders and into the paint.

“Once (the Hawks) started making a little bit of a run, from the bench, I noticed that we weren’t getting to the paint,” said Conley, who had eight points and six and six assists in the final period. “We weren’t getting to the rim, to the free throw line or making plays at the rim. It shows our aggressiveness when we are going in-and-out of the paint. We got just little bit too lax in that stage of the game. I just wanted to come in and act on that.”

Conley is averaging 27.3 points in his last three games, which have resulted in an overtime loss to San Antonio and wins over Phoenix and Atlanta.

“He has really taken responsibility, not for running the team but really as a leader for the team and defining whether we are successful or not,” [Grizzlies coach Dave] Joerger said. “He has taken the steps to say, ‘I’m going to be up front, and not pushing from within. I’m not going to be facilitating. I’m going to be out front and be a leader and those who follow will follow and those who don’t will get left behind.’ He is so much more assertive in his approach and our guys feed off of that.”

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No. 3: Teletovic pokes the LeBron bearIn the event that the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets meet in the postseason (yes, still months away but work with us here), Mirza Teletovic might want to be careful with his poking of LeBron James. He’s still having a little fun at LeBron’s expense in the aftermath of their dust-up during the Nets win over the Heat last weeek in that TNT showdown. His good hard foul on LeBron, when he went around the neck to prevent an uninterrupted layup attempt, prompted plenty of bickering and back and forth about not only the foul and LeBron’s immediate reaction. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald went so far as to suggest that LeBron’s long-term response will have an impact in the playoffs:

Teletovic went high around James’ neck, yes, but it appeared on replay that Teletovic was only trying to prevent James from completing a three-point play. Teletovic didn’t grab James, but James took exception and lunged at Teletovic following the play. Michael Beasley and others restrained James while Nets players rushed in to hold back Teletovic, who reacted to the sequence by flashing a smile.

“Not a basketball play” was James’ constant complaint during the 2013 playoffs, especially during the series against the Chicago Bulls. Bulls center Nazr Mohammed was ejected during Game 3 for shoving James to the ground during a fast break.

For years, the postseason scouting report on James has called for opponents to rough up the MVP in the hopes of knocking him off his game.

Although hard fouls are nothing new for James, Teletovic defended himself after the game and then had a little fun with the incident on Twitter.

“It was just a foul,” Teletovic said. “I just tried to make a foul, and he was coming down the court. He shouldn’t be reacting like that. It’s just basketball.”

Teletovic then did something he might come to regret. The European needled James on Twitter when he posted a screen shot of the scuffle and wrote, “Five in a row…Go @BrooklynNets :) lol ;)” Teletovic then changed the background of his Twitter page to a large picture of the incident.

https://twitter.com/Teletovic33/status/421920903006789632


VIDEO: Mirza Teletovic and LeBron James scuffle

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No. 4: Count the Trail Blazers out of the Andrew Bynum sweepstakes – The Andrew Bynum 8 — the reported eight teams interested in pursuing the big man’s services for the remainder of this season — does not include that surprise outfit in Portland. Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com reports that the Trail Blazers, true contenders this season in a loaded Western Conference playoff chase, have not registered any legitimate interest in Bynum:

The Portland Trail Blazers could use an extra big man on their bench, but if they did decide to make a play for one between now and the trade deadline, it won’t be for center Andrew Bynum.

CSNNW.com was informed by a well-placed league source that Portland is not one of the reported eight teams interested in Bynum. Another source backed it up saying, “Portland has not inquired” about the services of the 7-foot free agent Bynum.

This revelation isn’t much of a surprise.

There are a couple of reasons why Portland opted not to take such a risk: the concern regarding Bynum’s character and how he would fit inside a locker room that has gelled seamlessly, had to have been a huge road block. Bynum has had his share of knee problems, a road Portland is reluctant to travel down.

The other obstacle is Portland is already carrying 15, the maximum amount of players allowed on a roster. If they were thinking of adding a player such as Bynum, someone would have to be released.

And being that every Trail Blazer on the roster has a guaranteed contract for this season, if Portland did decided to waive a player to make room for a free agent, they would have to eat the contract of that released player.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Memphis basketball coach Josh Pastner claims there might be film of Wilt Chamberlain‘s 100-point game … Deron Williams will not make the trip to London with the Brooklyn Nets … Lakers on the verge of getting injured shooting guard (Xavier Henry not Kobe Bryant) back this week … Speaking of the Lakers, GM Mitch Kupchak says “taking” is never discussed in Lakerland.

ICYMI of The Night: Who, you ask, is Jeff Ayres? He would be the former Jeff Pendergraph of the San Antonio Spurs, the same man you here getting his Dunk of the Night on in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves:


VIDEO: Ayres throws it down over the Timberwolves

Morning Shootaround – Jan. 11


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rondo may return before All-Star break | Report: Love to join Lakers in 2015? | Report: Rockets, Nets discussed Williams trade | James accuses Kirilenko of flopping

No. 1: Rondo may return before All-Star break — New head coach Brad Stevens has the short-handed Boston Celtics playing slightly above expectations so far this season at 13-24. While that record doesn’t seem too impressive, the Celtics are only two games out of the playoffs and 5.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors for the Atlantic Division lead. The return of All-Star Rajon Rondo would certainly help the Celtics’ playoff push (if they don’t sell at the trade deadline) and it sounds like the guard may be back soon, as he told reporters during shootaround prior to the Celtics’ game last night in Golden State and as reported by Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe

“It may be this month, next month. It’ll be before All-Star break,” Rondo said.

Rondo suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee a year ago. He had surgery in February 2013, performed by Dr. James Andrews, and has been rehabbing since.

“I haven’t had any swelling,” he said. “I’m wearing my brace. At times when I play, it doesn’t feel like I have it on. No setbacks. It’s just, I’m taking my time.”

At this point, conditioning remains a key hurdle.

“I’m just trying to get back into shape,” he said. “I haven’t played ball in 12 months. You can do all the cardio, treadmill, running you want, it’s still different from basketball shape.”

Rondo didn’t rule out a possible stint in the NBA’s Development League, either.

“I might go practice with them when I get back,” he said. “Still just not sure yet.”

Since he was first cleared to participate in full-contact practice in December, Rondo said, he has made considerable progress.

“I feel 10 times better,” he said. “I feel more confident, stronger, more explosive. What I’m doing in the weight room, it’s productive.”

He also said he’s getting more comfortable with his teammates, many of whom haven’t played with him before.

“I’m getting a feel for them, they’re getting a feel for me,” he said. “I’m hitting a couple guys in the face or the chest, not knowing the ball is coming. The biggest thing is, I’m always telling guys, always be ready, even though it may not seem like the ball is coming to you.”

Still, the hardest part, he said, is “just not playing.”

“I don’t even like to watch the game anymore,” he said. “It’s frustrating. You see things that you just can’t help. It’s only a matter of what you can do from a vocal standpoint on the sidelines.”

***

No. 2: Report: Love to join Lakers in 2015? — Although the Minnesota Timberwolves’ commanding win over the Charlotte Bobcats last night helped ease the sting, things have not been going too well for them as of late. They’ve failed to win a close game this season (now 0-10 in games decided by four points or less) and after Wednesday night’s heartbreaking loss to the Phoenix Suns, Kevin Love called out the poor body language of some of the team’s bench players. Now, to make matters worse for Timberwolves fans, a league executive believes Love is destined to become a Laker in 2015. This rumor seems to always swirl around each season which gives credence to the recent report by CBS Sports’ Ken Berger:

Love, in his sixth season and the second of a four-year extension (more on that later), has yet to make the playoffs in Minnesota. The team’s highest win total since drafting Love fifth overall in 2008 was 31 last season.

When time came to sign Love to an extension during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, [David] Kahn declined to give Love a five-year, 30 percent max deal under the newly minted Derrick Rose rule. Love had to settle for a four-year deal in which he demanded — and received — a player option after the third season.

That opt-out is coming in July 2015 and will be a guiding force in every decision that the new GM, [Flip] Saunders, makes between now and then. Essentially, Saunders will be faced with the same predicament that encumbered Masai Ujiri in Denver with [Carmelo] Anthony; Otis Smith in Orlando with [Dwight] Howard; Kevin O’Connor in Utah with [Deron] Williams; and, once upon a time, Danny Ferry in Cleveland with [LeBron] James.

So what do Saunders and the Timberwolves do about Love? Play their hand to conclusion and hope for the best, as Ferry did in Cleveland and Smith did in Orlando? Or get out in front of the problem, like O’Connor did in Utah?

There’s no clear answer, and no guarantees that one strategy will work better than the other. It’s worth noting, of course, that Love shares the same wanderlust for a bigger market that led to Williams’ departure from Utah. He also shares the same agent, New York-based Jeff Schwartz.

“They should trade him,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “No one thinks he’s staying. Everyone knows he wants to go to the Lakers.”

But not all executives agree, and while none would wish Saunders’ dilemma on his worst enemy, there’s another situation that bears comparison to Love’s. That would be the one involving LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers.

***

No. 3: Rockets, Nets discussed Williams trade – The Brooklyn Nets have finally found their chemistry in 2014 as they’ve won five-straight games, including an impressive win over the Miami Heat last night. However, this recent surge by the Nets has been without star point guard Deron Williams, who is out with an ankle injury. This fact, plus the recent report by Ken Berger of CBS Sports that the Houston Rockets and Nets briefly discussed a deal centered around Williams, may cause some in the Nets’ front-office to consider Williams expendable (it’s important to emphasize that this deal was reportedly just discussed and didn’t gain much momentum):

Among the interesting tidbits floating around the D-League Showcase in Reno, Nev., this week involved the possibility of the Rockets pairing Dwight Howard with Deron Williams in Houston — an arrangement that now seems farfetched if not impossible.

Remember that the thrust of the Nets’ multiple attempts to acquire Howard in a trade two seasons ago was to team him up with Williams, who the franchise was trying to re-sign. Both players were on board with teaming up, but the Nets were never able to satisfy Orlando’s trade demands. Howard, of course, wound up getting dealt to the Lakers and famously bolted LA for the Rockets as a free agent this past summer.

But the subject of a Dwight-Deron duo was broached again in recent weeks, with the Rockets and Nets briefly delving into the particulars of a deal that would’ve sent Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin to the Nets for Williams. It made sense on many levels. The Nets would’ve gotten an insurance policy at center for the often-injured Brook Lopez (who has since been injured again and is out for the year). The Rockets would’ve solved their own center problem, as Asik doesn’t want to remain in Houston. They’ve been trying to get off the Lin contract, and the Nets are one team that wouldn’t mind his $15 million balloon payment next season. All the better to stick it to the Knicks.

But the the idea never gained any traction and was shelved. Now, it’s probably dead for good with Williams undergoing multiple injections in his chronically bad ankles this week.

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No. 4: James accuses Kirilenko of flopping – The aforementioned Heats-Nets game saw LeBron James foul out for the first time since 2008. That’s a mighty long time and James had a postgame reason for his early disqualification, as reported by Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News

“I thought [Andrei] Kirilenko flopped a few times,” said James, who fouled out for just the sixth time in his career. “To be honest, I thought he flopped and he got the call. I thought the last one that fouled me out (against Shaun Livingston) could have been a foul for sure. … But Kirienko definitely flopped on me a couple times and got the call.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephen Curry did what Stephen Curry does. … European football logos designed for each NBA team … Lakers may drive head coach Mike D’Antoni to the bottleNick Young questions the Clippers’ ability to win in the playoffs. … Kobe Bryant didn’t look too happy on the bench during the Lakers’ blowout loss to the Clippers.

ICYMI of The Night: While Blake Griffin‘s dunk over Chris Kaman got the most love last night, this one by Derrick Williams deserves equal attention:


VIDEO: Williams throws it down

Hawks’ Teague Ready For (All-)Star Turn?




VIDEO: Jeff Teague does it all for the Hawks in an overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers

ATLANTA – It’s a good thing Jeff Teague doesn’t have to rely on … uh, Jeff Teague to crank up the hype machine on his All-Star campaign. Because the Atlanta Hawks’ point guard would rather discuss anything but his obvious candidacy for one of those coveted spots on the Eastern Conference reserves list.

Make no mistake, Teague wants on that prestigious list. He makes that clear night after night during his fifth and finest season in the league. He’s just not willing or able to commit himself to the sideshow that is lobbying on his own behalf, which is actually pretty refreshing.

In an era when some players are busier on Twitter and other social media sites than they are on the court on a given night, Teague is decidedly frills-free in his approach to the game and everything else that comes with along with his status as the healthy face of the Hawks. Al Hoford, who was headed for his third All-Star nod before suffering a season-ending right pectoral muscle tear on Dec. 26, is physically unable to perform that duty now. That leaves the work to a committee headed by Teague, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver.

“I honestly don’t worry about that stuff,” Teague said before leading the Hawks past the Indiana Pacers to snap a three-game losing streak Wednesday night at Philips Arena. “I just play, do my job and let everything else take care of itself.”

That shouldn’t be hard in an Eastern Conference All-Star landscape where Teague is the head of the snake of one of just three teams with a winning record (the Pacers and Miami Heat are the others). And with the likes of Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams either injured or suffering through injury-plagued seasons, there is an opening for some fresh blood in the All-Star point-guard mix.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel praised Teague’s work this season and said he’s absolutely on the short list of players that Eastern Conference coaches need to consider when filling out their All-Star reserves ballots.

“The history of the league has rewarded winning teams,” Vogel said. “He’s certainly and All-Star level, an All-Star caliber player. He’s having a terrific season and carrying the load now even more that Horford is out. And I know he is the focal point of our game plan every time we play these guys. They are spread out more and they have 3-point shooting bigs, and I think that just opens up the court for him to go to work and makes it more difficult to help. And he’s just growing, he’s developing and each year he’s gotten better. Like I said, he’s a terrific young guard.”

Seven months ago the restricted free agent wasn’t even sure he’d be wearing a Hawks uniform. Teague signed an offer sheet with the Milwaukee Bucks, where his former coach Larry Drew landed, and was prepared to start over in the Central Division. After spending his first four seasons here in Atlanta, with the team that drafted him with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Teague was mentally prepared to start over if the Hawks didn’t match the Bucks’ four-year, $32 million offer.

Once the Hawks made it clear that they planned to rebuild with Teague at the controls, he was able to make peace with his situation and dive into the point-guard friendly system of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. Atlanta’s new boss learned a thing or two about tutoring young point guards after helping mold San Antonio Spurs All-Star Tony Parker‘s game over the years.

“I’m happy to be here, I love Atlanta, the city … it’s perfect for me,” Teague said. “I’ve been here my whole career, so I was glad to be back. We’ve got all good guys, nobody looking for extra. Just all good guys working hard and trying to get better and trying to win. So at the end of the day, it’s a perfect environment for me.”

A perfect environment with the perfect coach. Budenholzer’s meticulous approach intrigued Teague. His collaborative approach also struck a chord with the extremely laid back Teague, whose easygoing nature should not be confused for any lack of desire or effort to try to dominate the opposition on a nightly basis.

“He pulls me aside all the time just to talk basketball,” Teague said. “I’ve never had that happen before. It’s just the perfect system for me, the perfect blend. And we’re all still trying to figure it out. As the year goes on I think we’ll get better and better at doing what we do.”

They’ll have to do it without the security blanket that Horford provided. Horford’s steady face-up game allowed the Hawks to lean on their “system” in the fourth quarter of games, to let Teague and Horford’s chemistry to shine through.

“We’re running the same stuff but it’s definitely different without Al,” Teague said. “In the fourth quarter we usually go the high pick and roll with me and Al. And that was real effective for us. I honestly didn’t get a chance to play a whole lot with Pero (Antic) and Elton (Brand), so we’re all still getting adjusted, I’m still getting comfortable with those guys and learning where they want to be and where they like to get the ball in those situations. We’re still learning each other and still learning on the fly right now.”

Teague has already put in the necessary work to garner favorable All-Star consideration. He’s averaging career highs across the board, in points (16.9), assists (8.0), rebounds (2.8) and minutes (33.5).There is still plenty of work to be done, something Teague is the first to admit. His 3-point shooting remains streaky as ever, he made just 3-for-17 from deep in the five games prior to Wednesday night’s game.

Still, the overall strides made in his game from last season to this one are glaring and should not be overlooked when All-Star bids are discussed.

“I just know how valuable he’s been to us,” Budenholzer said. “He’s kind of that engine that gets us going. And any success we’ve had this year, he’s been a huge part of that, taking on the responsibility with the ball in his hands a lot and generating shots for others and for himself. I know there are a lot of good point guards, and I’m a little bit biased, but I think he deserves to be [on that list].”

At least someone is willing to lobby for Teague, even if he won’t.

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 29


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

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

He wanted the extra point too.

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

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

It was. So much better.

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

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

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

It went just as they planned.

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

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

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

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

With 0.5 seconds left, it fell through.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

How long it lasts remains to be seen.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.***

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

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

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

Not to worry.

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

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

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

***

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

With Horford, Hawks Were Most Improved This Month


VIDEO: NBA Action: One-on-One with Al Horford

The List

Most improved teams, NetRtg, Oct-November to December

Team Oct.-Nov. Rank December Rank Diff.
Atlanta -1.1 16 +8.1 2 9.2
Brooklyn -6.9 27 +0.7 11 7.7
Cleveland -8.8 28 -2.5 21 6.4
Milwaukee -11.1 29 -5.7 26 5.3
Oklahoma City +6.0 5 +11.3 1 5.3

NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Context

This would be an encouraging stat for three of the five teams on the list had they not lost All-Stars to serious injuries during the course of the month. Brooklyn lost Brook Lopez for the season as it was playing its best offense of the season, Atlanta lost Al Horford indefinitely as it was beginning to pick up some steam, and Oklahoma City lost Russell Westbrook until after the All-Star break as it was establishing itself as the best team in the league.

The Hawks are just 7-4 in December, but have the league’s second-best point differential in the month, mostly because they beat the the Cavs, Lakers, Kings and Jazz by an average of 20.8 points. But they do have a win over the Clippers and had a huge offensive game in Miami.

Atlanta’s improvement has been all about the offense. They’ve scored 9.6 more points per 100 possessions in December (110.6) than they did in October and November (101.0). They’ve played some bad defensive teams this month, but they’ve scored more points per 100 possessions than their opponent’s season average in eight of their 11 games.

The biggest difference in the Hawks’ offense has been 3-point shooting. Not only have they been shooting 3s better, but they’ve been shooting them more often.

Hawks 3-point shooting

Month 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank %FGA Rank
Oct-November 138 390 35.4% 16 27.0% 11
December 126 302 41.7% 1 31.3% 2

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

A healthy Lou Williams has given Atlanta an additional threat from long range, but Paul Millsap has also been a big part of the improvement. Millsap shot 7-for-10 from 3-point range in that overtime loss to the Heat, and 27 percent of his shots in December have been 3s , up from 13 percent in October and November.

Millsap is shooting 46 percent from downtown, so he should keep launching them if he can. Horford’s absence will put more of the defensive focus on Millsap, but thus far, Millsap has actually taken a greater percentage of his shots from 3-point range with Horford off the floor (33/116) than he has with Horford on the floor (37/252).

Overall, the Hawks have actually been a slightly better offensive team (105.4 points scored per 100 possessions vs. 104.4) with Horford off the floor, but they’ve been much worse defensively (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions vs. 100.7). Basically, they’re a top-10 defensive team with Horford and a bottom-five defensive team without him.

While their offense has been the reason for their improvement, they wouldn’t have the third best record in the East without a solid defense. And now, they will likely struggle to get stops consistently.

Brooklyn is in a similar situation. Their improvement is mostly about their offense, which received a huge boost when Deron Williams returned from his ankle injury and has scored 107.4 points per 100 possessions in the nine games he’s played in December. But they’ve been much better defensively with Lopez on the floor and aren’t likely to climb out the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency without him.

The Video

Here are Millsap’s 10 3-point attempts against the Heat on Dec. 23, here are Jeff Teague‘s 15 assists against the Kings on Dec. 18, and here’s Teague’s game-winner in Cleveland on Thursday.

The bottom of the list

The Spurs have been 8.7 points per 100 possessions worse in December than they were in October and November. The drop-off has come on defense, where they rank 17th this month after ranking second through Nov. 30.

The Pacers still rank No. 1 defensively, but have fallen off quite a bit on that end as well. Maybe they just set too high a standard in the first month, because they’ve allowed 11.1 more points per 100 possessions in December. They’ve improved offensively (+4.0), but their NetRtg difference of minus-7.1 points per 100 possessions has them 29th on the list.

Above the Pacers are the Sixers (minus-7.0), the Rockets (minus-6.8) and Lakers (minus-4.9).

10 Teams Make A Merry NBA Christmas!




VIDEO: LeBron James and the Miami Heat will help supply the Christmas Day fireworks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It can’t possibly get much better than what the NBA has lined up for its fans on Christmas Day. Ten teams, five great matchups and an all-day basketball showcase on the biggest day of the year.

And we get to see it all unfold, game-by-fantastic-game. And it all starts with …

BULLS AT NETS, Noon ET  (ESPN)

Keep an eye on: The visiting Bulls are a superstar down with Derrick Rose in street clothes, while the Nets will play without an All-Star of their own in Brook Lopez. But that won’t stop either one of these playoff combatants from a year ago from going after each other in the Christmas Day opener.  Tom Thibodeau‘s Bulls never back down from a fight. And the Nets have to prove to themselves and the rest of the basketball world that they are better than what they’ve shown thus far.

It certainly doesn’t help matters when Nets coach Jason Kidd talks like this after losses, “We are kind of getting comfortable with losing. And we got to make a stand with that because, when things get tough, do we just give in? And most of the time right now we do.” But the truth hurts, especially on Christmas. And right now the Nets aren’t playing up to their payroll or the standard so many people predicted they would when this group was assembled over the summer. What better day to turn things around?

***



VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant will go toe-to-toe on Christmas in New York

THUNDER AT KNICKS, 2:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

Keep an eye on: As if the Knicks didn’t have enough to worry about, Carmelo Anthony rolled his left ankle early in the third quarter of Monday’s win over the Orlando Magic and did not return to the game. It’s unclear whether or not he’ll be available against a Thunder team that has been steamrolling the competition this season. Knicks coach Mike Woodson just got Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton back from injuries, he can hardly afford to lose Anthony with his job seemingly on the line every night. Anthony insisted he’ll be ready to go against the Thunder. “I don’t want to miss that game,” he said. “It’s Christmas Day at the Garden. I’ll be there. Hopefully, I’ll be there.”

You don’t have to worry about Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook showing up and balling out. They do it every night. One of the top scoring duos in the league this season, they rarely miss an opportunity to make an impression on the biggest stage. They are also still smarting from their first home loss of the season (Sunday against the Toronto Raptors) and the only way to remedy that for this ultra-competitive bunch is to take it out on the Knicks in their lone trip to Madison Square Garden this season.

***



VIDEO: The Spurs and Rockets battle for Texas bragging rights on Christmas

HEAT AT LAKERS, 5 p.m. ET (ABC)

Keep an eye on: Kobe Bryant relishes showdown games as much as any superstar has before, during and probably after his time in the league will have ended. So you know it’s particularly painful for the Los Angeles Lakers’ star to have to sit this one out against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. But that knee fracture will have Kobe stuck in his Christmas suit behind the bench. The Lakers have to continue to tread water with Kobe out for at least five more weeks and hope that they can stick around the Western Conference playoff chase during that time.

The Heat have health concerns of their own to consider with Dwyane Wade continuing the season-long monitoring of his knees. While he doesn’t have to worry about a back-to-back scenario for this game, the Heat have been extremely cautious with him thus far — he sat out Monday’s overtime win over the Hawks due to “general soreness.” That strategy is paying off, too, as the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week is averaging 26 points on 60 percent shooting from the floor in his last five games.

***

ROCKETS AT SPURS, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Keep an eye on: Dwight Howard has to be enjoying this extended stretch of not being at the center of each and every controversial headline surrounding the NBA. After nearly two straight years of non-stop drama, the Houston Rockets’ big man is having  a solid bounce-back season alongside fellow All-Star James Harden. A marquee matchup against a future Hall of Famer like Tim Duncan should be the perfect fuel to get Howard’s competitive juices flowing on this day. Duncan, after all, is the man who overtook Howard last year as the center on the All-NBA first team.

Finals heroes Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green have not ascended to superstardom, as some might have imagined they would after the way both men played against the Heat to end last season. It’s just not the “Spurs’ Way” for youngsters to take on roles bigger than the ones Gregg Popovich has designed for them. Both Leonard and Green have struggled a bit amid the increased expectations this season. But it would be nice to see them both in the starting lineup against the Rockets, if only to bring some sense of normal to a season that has had little of it around the league.

***



VIDEO: All 10 Teams Of Christmas

CLIPPERS AT WARRIORS, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Keep an eye on: A fitting end to a day loaded with this sort of action is undoubtedly having two of the league’s most exciting and entertaining teams dueling before arguably the best crowd in the league. The Warriors, with Andre Iguodala finally back in the lineup and comfortable, need all the quality wins they can get after getting off to a shaky start this season. The Warriors’ turnovers and oft-times porous defensive effort has not allowed them to take full advantage of the position they had assumed after last season’s playoff run. They’ve been to careless with all of it far too often.

The Warriors will face a Clippers team with similar issues. While Chris Paul continues to operate at a MVP level and Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford supply their usual All-Star-level production, the Clippers (believe it or not) miss J.J. Redick‘s presence on the floor. Paul needs a backcourt mate capable of spreading the floor on a consistent basis in order to take full advantage of the Clippers’ assets. Their defensive shortcomings, however, remain one of the biggest concerns for coach Doc Rivers. But you knew it would take more time for them to get adjusted on that side of the ball. And to be honest, that should be a moot point against the Warriors. The Christmas Day nightcap figures to be an offensive shootout anyway!

***



VIDEO: NBA players and teams show the true meaning of the season by giving back

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: Highlights from all of Monday’s NBA games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo sprains ankle | Pierce, Nets implode, Kidd explodes | Dirk climbs all-time list | Wade sits, LeBron shines | End of the Lottery?

No. 1: Melo leaves with sprained ankle– As if enough hasn’t happened to the New York Knicks in the season’s first two months, now they’re dealing with a sprained left ankle to their best player, Carmelo Anthony. The club’s leading scorer limped to the locker room in the third quarter of New York’s 103-98 win over Orlando. Yes, the Knicks still managed to hold on and win. Oh, to make matters worse, point guard Raymond Felton, who had just returned from injury, left in the fourth quarter with a strained right groin. Both players will be reevaluated Tuesday and Anthony insisted he’s hoping to play on Wednesday, Christmas Day, when the Knicks play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder (2:30 ET, ABC).

More from Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“It’s on. I still have it. It ain’t going nowhere, so I’ll be there,” Anthony said of his sprained ankle. “Hopefully, I’ll be there. … It’s Christmas in the Garden. I don’t want to miss that game. I don’t know, I’m hard-headed sometimes when it comes to that. But I’ve got two days.”

The Knicks (9-18) constructed a 24-point cushion at halftime and still led 72-52 when Anthony went up for a rebound of his own miss and landed awkwardly, with his left foot coming down on the foot of Orlando forward and Long Island product Tobias Harris with 7:26 remaining in the third.
“Melo’s a tough kid. He don’t sit down very often,” Mike Woodson said.

Anthony, who also battled knee and shoulder problems last season, described this ankle injury as “not as severe” as one that kept him out of two games this time last year.
Still, Anthony limped to the bench and remained there for several minutes while receiving treatment from trainer Roger Hinds. During a timeout with 5:43 remaining in the quarter, the pending free agent headed for the locker room and did not return.

“The pain was too much. I was actually trying to walk to see if I could get back in the game. There wasn’t no reason for me to go out there and risk it anymore,” Anthony said. “But I’m walking. I think I caught it before it rolled all the way, but it rolled pretty bad. We’ll evaluate everything (Tuesday), but the good thing is I am able to walk with a little bit of pain.”

Felton was back in the lineup after missing the previous six games with a strained left hamstring, scoring 13 points with four assists in 25 minutes before he collapsed to the floor following a midair collision with Jameer Nelson with 3:21 to go.
Felton, who also missed time earlier this season with a pinched nerve in his hip, admitted he “felt a pop” in his right groin.

***

No. 2: Pierce ejected, Kidd explodes – With the Nets down 19 points to the East-leading Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce, in the midst of a horrible personal season, took down Indiana’s George Hill on a fastbreak. The play was ruled a Flagrant 2 resulting in the automatic ejection of the former Celtics great. But that’s not as bad as it got. Following the Nets’ 103-86 to fall to 9-18, rookie head coach Jason Kidd went off on his underachieving team that just two days ago lost All-Star center Brook Lopez to a broken foot. Kidd’s most damning quote of his club: “Well I think it is getting very close to just accepting losing. We are kind of getting comfortable with losing. And we got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in and most of the time right now we do.”

ESPNNY.com’s Mike Mazzeo has more:

The Nets came into the season with the NBA’s highest payroll — an estimated $190 million counting the impending luxury tax — and extremely high expectations. But they’ve failed to meet them.

During the summer, Nets general manager Billy King mortgaged the future, relinquishing several future assets to acquire veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry in an effort to try and win now. But so far, it hasn’t worked out.

On Monday night, Garnett and Pierce both left without talking to the media. Pierce was automatically ejected after being accessed a flagrant foul 2 for clotheslining Pacers point guard George Hill, who tried to finish a layup in transition with 4:22 remaining in the third quarter. He could face a fine or suspension from the NBA league office as a result.

Pierce (0-for-7) was held scoreless for the first time since March 9, 1999 — the 16th professional game of his 16-year career. Garnett went 3-for-10 from the field in 19 minutes. Both players have struggled mightily while trying to fit in with their new team for the majority of the season.

Told of Kidd’s comment, point guard Deron Williams said, “I’m not. I’m not comfortable losing. It’s not fun. Not only when we’re losing during the game, but when I go home sitting there and thinking about it, it’s not fun.”

***

No. 3: Dirk passes English, destroy RocketsEvery few games it seems Dirk Nowitzki is passing another legend of the game on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. On Monday night, Nowitzki overtook Denver great Alex English for No. 13. The Mavs’ sweet-shooting 7-footer did it in style, dropping 31 points on Dwight Howard and the Rockets to move to 2-1 against their Southwest Division rival this season. Nowitzki, of course, traveled to Los Angeles with owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle over the summer to recruit the free-agent Howard, who preferred the situation in Houston. Nowitzki scored 10 points in the final nine minutes to help Dallas protect the lead and end a two-game skid.

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News was there:

Dirk Nowitzki simply said: Come on, boys, and climb on my back.
“Listen, he’s the great Dirk Nowitzki,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “The guy has changed the game with the way he plays. The game is not the same. He changed the power forward game forever, and it’s reflected in the modern game now. He’s a great player.”

Nowitzki piled up 31 points, including 10 points in the final nine minutes when the Mavericks were protecting a nice lead they had earned in the third quarter. Along the way, Nowitzki passed Alex English for 13th place on the all-time NBA scoring list.

His play was made possible in part by the shooting of Vince Carter, Jae Crowder and Jose Calderon, all of whom loosened up the Houston defense in a third quarter that the Mavericks won by 15 points to turn the game around.

“They had a lot of respect for our shooting at that point,” Nowitzki said. “So they were a little hesitant to double me. And I got to take advantage of the matchups when they play me with 6-7, 6-8 guys and I can shoot over them. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole career.”
And so the Mavericks still have not had a three-game losing streak this season. They stopped the skid at two with their gutsiest victory of the season.

It’s worth noting that the Rockets were playing without leading scorer James Harden (ankle), point guard Patrick Beverley (hand) and center Omer Asik (thigh).

As such, the Rockets leaned heavily on Dwight Howard, who was a beast all night. But the Mavericks held most of the other Rockets in check in the second half.

.***

No. 4: Wade sits, LeBron shinesThe Miami Heat continued their cautious approach toward Dwyane Wade and his cranky news, sitting the superstar yet again Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks. This time it seemed it would be too much for Miami to overcome. Then again, they do have LeBron James, who had 38 points and one massive late fourth-quarter dunk over Paul Millsap that helped get the game to overtime and allow the Heat to take a 121-119 decision.

David J. Neal of the Miami Herald has more:

No Dwyane Wade. Later, after an elbow to the jaw, no Chris Bosh, either. But the Heat still had a LeBron James, and could pull a Michael Beasley off the bench. And then a Ray Allen and, even for the last 2.3 seconds, Bosh.

Which is how the Heat outlasted the Hawks 121-119 in overtime Monday night. Allen got the Heat to overtime. Beasley provided the game-winning free throws. Bosh provided the long arms.

“The one thing I did like about this game, in the last couple of years with this group, if we’d given up 17 threes in a game, we don’t win that game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s ninth win in a row over the Hawks. “It would collapse our spirit and our mind.”

Beasley had 10 points. Allen had 19. James scored 38 points on 16 of 28 shooting, six of his last seven as the Heat came from 11 down in the second half. As remarkable, James had six assists without a turnover. About the only thing James didn’t do well was hit free throws (two of six).

“For the basketball aficionado out there, this is a game where you see his full skill set,” Spoelstra said.

***

No. 5: End of the LotteryWith a multitude of front offices seemingly setting up their teams to be very bad this season with an eye toward what is believed to be a very talented draft class, and the league quite sensitive this whole notion, a proposal for a change to lottery system might be floated to owners in 2014.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe has the story:

We can also search for solutions, and there are lots of folks in the league office and among the 30 teams who find tanking abhorrent — who bristle at the idea that the league has incentivized teams to be anything but their best every single season. One detailed proposal, submitted by a team official, has gained initial traction among some high-level NBA officials — to the point that the NBA may float the proposal to owners sometime in 2014, according to league sources. Other top officials in the league office have expressed early opposition to the proposal, sources say.

The Proposal

Grantland obtained a copy of the proposal, which would eliminate the draft lottery and replace it with a system in which each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once — and exactly once — every 30 years. Each team would simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year. Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year, up to 30 years out from the start of every 30-year cycle. The practice of protecting picks would disappear; there would never be a Harrison Barnes–Golden State situation again, and it wouldn’t require a law degree to track ownership of every traded pick leaguewide..

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni tells fans to find another team if they’re discouraged … According to a report, attempts to revive Kyle Lowry trade talks failed … Metta World Peace to have same blood-spinning procedure as Kobe Bryant … In wake of Brook Lopez injury, Nets will file the paperwork for a Disabled Player Exemption

Hang Time Q&A: Trey Burke On Patience, Pressure, John Stockton And More …




VIDEO: Trey Burke settles into his new role, new city and new life in the NBA

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Trey Burke has had that giant chip on his shoulder from his first day of organized basketball. The first time someone doubted him started the trickle of resolve that turned into a raging waterfall by the time he reached high school in Columbus, Ohio (where he would eventually win Mr. Basketball honors after leading his team to a state title as a senior) and later Ann Arbor, Mich. (where he earned National Player of the Year honors and led Michigan back to the Final Four and NCAA title game after a two-decade absence).

It continued on Draft night in June, when Burke fell out of the top five and was picked by Minnesota only to be traded before he could get the right fit on his hat for the cameras. Next came a rough start in summer league and then a busted finger that cost him the first 12 games of his rookie season, those hiccups, of course, brought more doubters.

But the more people doubt him, the stronger Burke’s drive to continue to silence his critics and fuel his team’s rise, wherever he goes.

Burke talked about patience, pressure, summer school with Hall of Famer John Stockton and much more in a recent Hang Time One-On-One with NBA.com:

NBA.com: You spend your whole life dreaming about playing in the NBA and then you have to sit and watch the first 12 games with the busted finger. What did it look like watching your dream unfold from the sidelines like that?

Trey Burke: A lot of people would have expected me to be down or something like that. But I tried to stay as positive as possible at that time. I knew that when I came back I was going to have an opportunity to play and make an impact, so I tried to do everything I could from taking care of my body to staying in shape to eating right and preparing myself in every way I could to perform right away.

NBA.com: You actually delayed your NBA debut by a year. You could have entered the Draft after your freshman season at Michigan but chose to go back for another year. What did you hear and where from, that made you stay in school another year?

TB: The people that I trusted, the people in my corner, what they were saying sounded accurate in terms of what I needed to work on to improve my stock and be ready for the NBA. Me, I obviously wanted to get to the NBA as fast as I could, I dreamed about it my whole life. But I needed another year to mature and get better, not only the basketball court but off the court. I needed the maturity. I needed the life experiences. I needed that extra year of college. And it worked out for the best really. Had I come out after my freshman year, who knows where I would be now. I might have been a late first, early second or mid-second round pick. I’ll never know. But going back to school, making that Final Four run we made at Michigan, I think looking back it was definitely the right decision.

NBA.com: Coaches and people love to tell a young point guard different things. But you worked with Hall of Famer John Stockton this summer. I cannot imagine you getting any better advice on how to do your current job than you did from him. What did he hone in on in your game this summer and what ultimately was his message to you?

TB: One of the biggest things was pace of the game. And he said he’d watched me before, he watched my game and one thing I could work on was my pace. He said I had to work on setting guys up. He knew that I was a natural scorer at heart, but he knew that I also wanted to become a pure point guard that could score, kind of like a Chris Paul. He said when he started out, a lot of times he didn’t really like to take a lot of 3-pointers because it would mess his shooting percentage up. He said his goal was to try and get the easiest shot for his teammates or himself by attacking and being aggressive in that manner. It was a lot of information he gave me, it was funny, because he would stop us during the workout and just keep talking and talking. You could tell that he had a lot of stuff he wanted to tell us. It was just a great experience to be able to work with a Hall of Fame point guard like that.

NBA.com: There was so much speculation about where you might end up on Draft night. What went goes through your mind as a point guard when the Jazz, a franchise with a history of drafting both John Stockton and Deron Williams, decide you are the guy they want?

TB: Absolutely, I was just talking about that. Minnesota, when they picked me I was kind of like, ‘I didn’t work out with them or even interview with them.’ It didn’t make sense at first. And then five minutes later I get traded to Utah, and I didn’t work out with them. But I got the opportunity to sit down with them in Chicago and the pre-Draft camp and just to know that Deron Williams and John Stockton, some really great point guards came from there, I knew I was going to be put in a great spot to make an impact o this franchise. I just want to have a chance to be an impact player and leave my mark on this franchise. And that’s all you can ask for in the end.

NBA.com: I’ve heard you talk about comparisons to current or past NBA players and the name Chris Paul always comes up. But a former NBA player said you remind him of Allen Iverson in build and with your game. Do your try to pattern yourself after anyone or do you really, at this stage of the game, worry about being Trey Burke first and foremost and let other people worry about the comparisons?

TB: That’s funny, I just thought about this today, I want to go down as my own player. But I watched so much of Allen Iverson growing up that it’s kind of a blessing and a curse right now. I try to do so many things, like his jump shot for example, when he drifts and fades away, that it’s not really beneficial for me because sometimes I fade unnecessarily and it’ll make my shot flat or fall short. And that’s just a habit you pick up from watching such a phenomenal player like Allen Iverson do things that not everyone else can do. Growing up as a little kid, that’s obviously a guy I wanted to pattern my game after, but I know for this team I need to be a point guard first. We’ve got a lot of really good weapons, I’ve got a lot of really good weapons around me and I need to utilize them to the best of my ability. I want to be that point guard that can score if needed, but not at the expense of setting my teammates up. I think that’s when we are best as a unit.

NBA.com: You’ve had so many transitions in the past few years, from Columbus to Ann Arbor and now to Salt Lake City all before your 21st birthday (which was Nov. 12). That’s a lot of life changes in a short amount of time. Does it seem like it’s all gone by in a blur?

TB: It is a lot. Two years ago I was moving into my dorm and basically nobody knew me at Michigan. Some people might have known me after the Mr. Basketball and everything I was starting to make a name and a little buzz, but that seems like yesterday. My mom and dad and everybody was with me and we honestly didn’t know what to expect. But even from the Draft until now, being in Chicago for pre-Draft and then at summer league and now we’re 24, 25 games into the season. It’s all moving fast and that’s why I’m doing whatever it takes to keep getting better as the days go on because you don’t want to miss any opportunities or overlook any of the little things along the way that make this so special.

NBA.com: Is your work ethic born out of the absence from the McDonald’s All-American game and all of the other accolades most “late bloomers miss out on in terms of recognition?

TB: Some of the best players in this league came in with people doubting them, telling them what they couldn’t do and that they would never make it. I’ve always been a small point guard, so I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder from people saying I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t fast enough, wasn’t big enough. That just gave me that drive and determination to get better. I know what I can do, I know the parameters of my game and when I’m going outside of my game. Some of the best players in this league had the hype coming in but just as many didn’t have that hype. And it’s a correlating effect, look at a guy like Victor Oladipo that wasn’t really highly recruited in high school. He was the second pick in the Draft and now he’s in contention like myself and Michael Carter-Williams for Rookie of the Year. Guys have that drive when you’re doubted your whole life.

NBA.com: Are you glad you got picked where you did because of the opportunities that are open to you now in this situation as opposed to going somewhere else where, who knows what the expectations might have been?

TB: Absolutely. Absolutely. A lot of people came to me saying, “you were the national player of the year, you should have been a top five pick.” Obviously, you want to be a high pick. But to me, being a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft … who’s going to complain about that. I landed in a perfect situation, and I thank God for that, it’s the perfect fit. In Utah, we’re a young team that’s trying to grow together as a team. We’re struggling a bit right now, but we’re getting better. But I have the opportunity to come in and make an immediate impact. And that’s one of the biggest things I wanted to be a part of coming into the NBA.

NBA.com: You’ve put together some monster efforts already your first (17) games in the league. The 30 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds in the win over Orlando sticks out. No Jazz rookie point guard has ever done that. Not Stockton or DWill. Do you have to be careful, though, about chasing ghosts and numbers instead of taking a more measured and methodical approach?

TB: Yes, I’m trying to bring it every single night You have to make sure are playing your best and doing what’s best for your team first every night and not getting caught up in anything else. People talking about you hitting that rookie wall, so you have to be careful. It’s in the back of my mind, but I personally think it’s mental. It’s also about the way you are handling yourself off the court, what you are eating and putting into your body, the amount of rest you are getting. I think all of that comes into play when you’re talking about how you’re going to play when game 40 comes and game 62 comes around, those games when you’re in a cold city and you’ve got a game the next morning and you’re coming off of a back-to-back. All of that factors into how you play. So I’m just going to continue to be around my vets and listen to them and learn from the guys who have the experience in this league to make sure I’m doing whatever I need to do to perform well from start to finish.

NBA.com: You got some great preparation for what you’re going through now trying to help revive a franchise in college. Michigan hadn’t been a championship team for decade before you arrived. It’s a huge burden to carry, on and off the court, when you’re the guy people expect to be that agent of change. Do you take that same knowledge and apply the things that connect in your current situation?

TB: At Michigan we were rebuilding, weren’t highly ranked my freshman year and then boom, the next year we take off and we’re No. 1 in the country for a time and end up making it to the championship game. I know this is a completely different level of competition, so it’s not going to be just like that. But I definitely have been a part of this same sort of thing, even before Michigan. Back in high school it was kind of like that. We came from basically out of nowhere to be the No. 1 team in the country and win a state championship. I’ve always been a part of winning programs that come from a struggle of some sort, from losing before we turn it around. That gives me confidence that it can happen with the Utah Jazz. This is a great franchise, a really family oriented franchise, but one built on all the right things. And all of my experiences, so far, definitely give me hope that we’re going to turn this thing around and be a factor in this league.


VIDEO: Trey Burke joins the Game Time crew on a recent visit to the NBA TV set

LeBron, KD Top Early Fan Voting

The first returns of NBA All-Star balloting 2014 are in and to little surprise, Miami’s reigning MVP and the Finals MVP, LeBron James, is the overall leader with 609,336 votes. West rival Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder is close behind with 607,407.

And if there was any question just how beloved Kobe Bryant remains throughout the world, the 35-year-old coming off Achilles surgery (and back for just two games prior to the release of the first balloting) is the leader in the West backcourt with 501,215 votes. His Los Angeles neighbor, Chris Paul of the Clippers, is second with 393,313.

All-Star weekend returns to New Orleans with the game on Feb. 16 at New Orleans Arena.

In a bit of a strange twist, the 6-foot-9 James could essentially be the Eastern Conference’s starting center. He, along with New York’s Carmelo Anthony (424,211) and Indiana’s Paul George (489,335), are the East’s top vote-getters for the frontcourt. All three are essentially small forwards. Last year, the NBA did away with selecting a true center and designated players as simply “backcourt” and frontcourt.”

Indiana’s Roy Hibbert leads all true centers in East voting and is fourth overall among frontcourt players with 208,369. Brooklyn’s Kevin Garnett, who technically started at center for the East last season as a member of the Boston Celtics, sits sixth with 102,825.

The East backcourt is headlined by Miami’s Dwyane Wade (396,279) and Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving (365,712), who made his All-Star debut last year. Chicago’s Derrick Rose, who missed last season’s game due to an ACL injury, is third in fan-voting. He is again sidelined by another knee injury. Washington’s John Wall, Miami’s Ray Allen and Boston’s Rajon Rondo, who is still recovering from ACL surgery, and Brooklyn’s Deron Williams round out the top seven.

The West’s frontcourt will likely have a true center starting for a second consecutive year under the new rules as Houston’s Dwight Howard is second in fan voting behind Durant. Howard started last year’s game in Houston as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The third starting spot will be an interesting race to watch. Clippers forward Blake Griffin has it with 292,925 votes, 17,149 more than Minnesota’s Kevin Love. San Antonio’s Tim Duncan is fifth and the hometown kid, the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, is a distant sixth.

Behind Bryant and Paul in the backcourt is Golden State’s Stephen Curry (327,449), who received the most attention last year as a snub, followed by Houston’s Jeremy Lin and James Harden.