Posts Tagged ‘Detroit Pistons’

Blogtable: Player who needs (and deserves) to be an All-Star starter?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Player who needs to be an All-Star starter? |
Most impressive thing about Warriors is _____? | New coach and GM for Nets?



VIDEOWhich players out East are in need of more All-Star love?

> There’s one more week to vote before All-Star starters are announced on TNT. Give me one player in the East and one player in the West who need (and deserve) a late push from fans to make the starting five.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: With the caveat that I understand and have no problem with fans voting in the starters (it’s their game and they can choose to see whoever they want to see), from a merit perspective, John Wall in the East has certainly had a better season than Kyrie Irving so far. I’d also argue he’s having a better season than Dwyane Wade as well. Irving may be a better player — and he made his case clear by thumping Wall and the Wizards last week – but he just got back on the floor an hour ago. Wall has been sensational for the last six weeks. Out West (same caveat), it’s not debatable that Kawhi Leonard should be a merit-based starter over Kobe Bryant in the front court. He’s been sensational at both ends, and his team has been just as impressive as the Warriors, given its dependency on older players.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Toronto’s Kyle Lowry in the East and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard in the West. Lowry has been the most deserving guard in the East since the start of the season, an MVP candidate on his team for his play and his leadership, which started with his commitment to arrive in his best shape ever. Only 1,300 votes separated Leonard and Draymond Green in the most recent balloting results and both have earned the recognition. But if there’s no unseating Kobe Bryant as a starter, Leonard should leap-frog Green as a nod to the Spurs’ first half and for being, possibly, a more transferable talent than Green’s somewhat-system success.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: East: Kyle Lowry. His numbers are on par with other candidates Jimmy Butler and John Wall. But the home-court Toronto Raptors deserve a starter and Lowry gets an extra edge for making his personal commitment to Toronto. West: Kawhi Leonard. The best player on what is either the first or second-best team in the NBA deserves the starting lineup over the shadow of Kobe Bryant.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: East: Jimmy Butler. I thought about Kyle Lowry and John Wall, because both deserve to be in Toronto, or to stay in Toronto in Lowry’s case, but Butler needs more of a finishing kick than Lowry. West: Kawhi Leonard. He doesn’t even a push, based on the polling numbers from last week. Just a slight nudge. But Leonard, the best front-court player the first half of the season, obviously belongs in the first five for the All-Star Game, whether he will care for two seconds or not.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Jimmy Butler in the East and Kawhi Leonard in the West. You could make the argument that Butler is more deserving than any guard in the East. As for Leonard, he’s not catching Kobe Bryant in the popular vote, but based on his first half, he’s as good as they get in the West.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: In the East, it’s Kyle Lowry, who trailed Kyrie Irving for the second guard spot by less than 30,000 votes last week. It’s great that Irving is healthy, but he hasn’t played enough to merit an All-Star selection. Lowry is one of three East guards – Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan are the others – that deserve serious consideration here and is the closest to making the voting legit. In the West, Kawhi Leonard definitely deserves a spot, but not necessarily at the expense of Draymond Green, who led him by less than 2,000 votes last week. There’s no catching Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant, though.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: In the East, I’m going with Detroit’s Andre Drummond. He’s been an absolute monster this season, piling up double-doubles at a rate no one else in the league can keep up with. Drummond has done the one thing coaches have asked talented young prospects to do for years, and that’s work on the mechanics of his game and take advantage of all of his physical gifts. He belongs in that first five on All-Star Sunday. In the West, Kawhi Leonard shouldn’t need the push but he certainly deserves it. If you haven’t seen them much this year, please know that Leonard and the Spurs are the best thing going this season outside of Oakland. Leonard has made a compelling case for MVP this season, he should be a starter on the Western Conference All-Star team.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comToronto is No. 2 in the East and the host of the All-Star Game next month, so how have the Canadians failed to vote for DeMar DeRozan (or Kyle Lowry) ahead of Kyrie Irving, who has played in only 10 games for Cleveland? In the West, the fans have it exactly right, especially in their treatment of Kobe Bryant. He deserves to start in his final season. But for those who feel no sentiment or respect, I suppose the next-best choice should be Kawhi Leonard.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI can’t believe how far out of the running Atlanta’s Paul Millsap has been in the initial voting returns. He’s the best player on the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference, leading the Hawks in points (18.3), rebounds (8.7) and steals (1.9) per game. He doesn’t make a lot of headlines and isn’t particularly witty on social media, but he deserves to be an All-Star this season. And out West, the season Dirk Nowitzki is having is incredible at any age, not to mention at age 37.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A kinder, gentler Bryant? | Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn | Stevens rejoins Celtics | NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio

No. 1: A kinder, gentler Bryant? For the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant‘s farewell tour has become the focus of their season. Which may be a good thing, since the Lakers otherwise haven’t been very good, compiling an 8-30 record thus far. Yet despite all the losses, Kobe seems to be enjoying himself as he plays out the string, and the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan writes, has Kobe’s legendary burning desire to win faded a bit in this his final NBA season?

It was bad to be a trash can if Kobe Bryant was mad.

This was years ago, back when there were championship expectations, but Bryant booted one clear across the Lakers’ locker room at Madison Square Garden after a rough loss.

It was also sometimes bad to be toilet paper, apparently. Bryant angrily called his teammates “soft like Charmin” during a rant at practice in which he didn’t feel challenged. This was a little over a year ago.

The smoldering Bryant is now replaced by a smiling one, even as the Lakers (8-30) pinwheel toward the worst season in their 68-year history.

They played well Friday but lost a tight one to Oklahoma City. The new, lighthearted Bryant showed up again in the interview room, just like the previous night after a close loss in Sacramento.

The losses don’t seem as devastating to him.

“I just hide it a lot better,” he said Friday.

***

No. 2: Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn Last summer, Brooklyn center Brook Lopez was one of the most talented big men available in free agency. He eventually re-upped with the Nets, and though the team has struggled this season, Lopez has been a bright spot, averaging 19.8 points to go with 7.8 rebounds. The Nets may face an uncertain future, but as Andy Vasquez writes for the Bergen Record, Lopez says he has no regrets about re-signing with the Nets…

The Nets are in the midst of another disappointing season, certainly far from what Lopez envisioned when he re-signed. But the 27-year-old doesn’t regret his decision.

“No, no, no. I’m happy to be here,” Lopez said Thursday at the team’s practice facility.

“Time and time again I’ve said I wanted to see something built here, I see a special opportunity, a great situation to be in.”

The current situation isn’t exactly a bright one. Brooklyn just lost starting point guard Jarrett Jack for the season with a torn ACL.

Rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who showed promise, is at least another month from returning from a broken ankle that has sidelined him since early December.

While the Nets aren’t mathematically eliminated from the NBA playoffs — it’s not even halfway through the season — they may as well be.

Brooklyn is closer (seven games ahead) in the standings to the awful Sixers than to the final playoff spot in the East (nine games behind).

The Nets don’t have control of their first round draft pick until 2019 thanks to the 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

So the franchise’s best chance is to hope free agents agree with Lopez about there being a special opportunity in Brooklyn.

Despite all the doom and gloom, the Nets do have some things going for them.

They should have about $40 million in cap space next summer, enough to offer two max salaries to free agents.

Barclays Center is still the league’s newest arena and the team’s state-of-the art Brooklyn practice facility opens next month. And then there’s the lure of the nation’s largest media market.

“The opportunity to play in New York, first and foremost,” Lopez said, when asked how he’d pitch the Nets. “The facilities we have. I think, for me, it’s all about potential.”

That potential starts with Lopez and Thaddeus Young, 27, two nice players with several prime years remaining in their careers. Both are having seasons worthy of All-Star consideration.

Meanwhile, Hollis-Jefferson was better than expected when he played. And the Nets have an intriguing young prospect in Chris McCullough, who has spent the season rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered at Syracuse a year ago.

Add the right pieces and the Nets could be a good team next season. And Lopez said that matters more than anything.

“At the end of the day, it’s about winning, regardless of where you are,” Lopez said.

“Whether we’re luring free agents or want people to stay or whatever it is, you’ve got to be able to show them that there’s opportunities here for that. We have to have the right product on the court.”

***

No. 3: Stevens rejoins Celtics Before joining the Boston Celtics, coach Brad Stevens led Butler University to several memorable NCAA Tournament appearances. And with his former Butler player Andrew Smith in the hospital battling cancer, Stevens recently missed a Celtics game in order to spend time with Smith. Stevens rejoined the Celtics on Saturday and, as the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn writes, says the last few days helped put things into perspective…

Celtics coach Brad Stevens returned to the team Saturday, conducting a rather important practice at the University of Memphis in his quest to end the team’s recent doldrums.

He returned from his trip to Indiana with a heavy heart. He acknowledged visiting former player Andrew Smith, who has been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but wouldn’t offer specifics on his condition, only to say he felt compelled to visit him immediately.

Stevens left the club in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, missing the team’s 101-92 loss to the Bulls.

“It’s very tough, not as tough on me as it is certain on [Smith and his family], but certainly emotionally, very challenging,” Stevens said following practice at the Larry Finch Center. “It certainly puts things in a lot of perspective. The conditions [of Smith] were worsening. I’ll let [his family] talk about his condition. I’m glad that I went.”

Stevens returns to a team that has lost four of five games and fallen out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics have been abysmal shooting from the field in their past two losses — 36.5 percent from the field, 25.5 percent from the 3-point line — and are playing with wavering confidence.

“We could have controlled things to give ourselves a little bit better chance,” Stevens said of the Chicago loss. “I told [the players] this today. We’ve got to get better in a lot of areas. But we usually play hard.

“Sometimes we play a little haphazard but we usually play hard, so we need to bottle that up and play a little more controlled at times.”

Isaiah Thomas, who has made just 11 of 37 shots in the last two games, took full responsibility for the Bulls loss, saying his poor body language and frustrations spilled over to his teammates. Stevens didn’t fully agree.

“I think it says a lot about him from an accountability standpoint,” Stevens said of Thomas. “And at the same time, that’s an overreaction too, because we don’t feel that way. He’s going to have his moments. Other guys are going to have their moments. Other guys are going to have bad moments. We just all have to be in this thing together. We need to improve.”

***

No. 4: NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio — The NBA has become a global league, followed worldwide and played by athletes from all corners of the earth. Australia, in particular, has become a hotbed of hoops, with its own popular domestic league and several NBA players who originated Down Under. As Roy Ward writes in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australians in the NBA are looking forward to trying to find Olympic glory this summer in Rio…

The 82-game NBA season engulfs the lives of all players and Australia’s basketballers are not immune from this.

But on planes, buses or in down time, the country’s leading players admit their thoughts turn to the Rio Olympics and the glass ceiling that sits in front of a first men’s Olympic medal.

Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Cameron Bairstow, Aron Baynes and Joe Ingles are all in thick of the action this season while Dante Exum continues to rehabilitate his reconstructed knee.

In Europe, in US college basketball and in the NBL sit the rest of the Boomers aspirants with the final 12-man squad not due to be announced until later in the year.

Since the team qualified for Rio in August last year, they have made public their goal to win the gold medal in Brazil despite Team USA’s long-running dominance in the men’s competition.

What adds credence to the Boomers’ brave stance is Bogut, Mills, Dellavedova and Bairstow are playing on NBA championship contenders while Bogut, Mills and Baynes have won NBA championship rings since 2014.

“There is a lot going on here but while it’s not the every day to day focus it’s always in your mind that it’s coming up and that all the boys are playing well, not just in the NBA but in Europe and the NBL,” Dellavedova said.

“We are all very excited and keep in regular touch through group message, we are going to catch up at All-Star break.

“We are all very excited, focused and committed to trying to do something really special at Rio and we realise the time is now for that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks got a career night from Al Horford last night in a convincing win over the Bulls … Some changes may be in store for the D-League Showcase … Chicago is hoping to get Joakim Noah back from injury this weekRobin Lopez is starting to focus on his offensive post playIsaiah Canaan pays attention to advanced stats … Powerball fever may have been sweeping the nation the last few days, but don’t expect Dirk Nowitzki to get excited about it …

Kobe, Curry continue leading All-Star voting

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — It may be Kobe Bryant‘s final season on the court, but he is clearly as popular as ever.

In the second returns of All-Star voting, released today, the Lakers’ guard remains the NBA’s overall leading vote-getter with 1,262,118 votes, increasing his lead over Golden State’s Stephen Curry (925,789) since the first round of voting results. Bryant, the leading scorer in All-Star Game history, led Curry by just over 200,000 votes in the previous voting results.

It appears fans have also rewarded Golden State’s red-hot start to the season, as Warriors forward Draymond Green (332,223) has moved into the top three among Western Conference frontcourt players, joining Bryant and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, narrowly ahead of San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (330,929) and Clippers forward Blake Griffin (298,212).

Durant’s Oklahoma City teammate, point guard Russell Westbrook (479,512), ranks second in voting among Western Conference guards. He has a healthy lead over the third-ranked guard, Clippers point guard Chris Paul (268,672).

Cleveland’s LeBron James leads all Eastern Conference players with 636,388 votes. His former Miami teammate, Dwyane Wade, is second with 562,558 votes. James’ current teammate, Kyrie Irving (271,094) — who has played just seven games this season since returning from injury — is second among Eastern Conference guards. Irving is outpacing Kyle Lowry (242,276), who plays for All-Star host Toronto and used a late push last season to get into the starting line-up.

Detroit’s Andre Drummond, the NBA’s leading rebounder this season, is still among the top three frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference, which would qualify him to start. But Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, an eight-time All-Star, has closed Drummond’s lead to about 6,000 votes. Anthony’s teammate, Kristaps Porzingis, is the highest-ranked rookie, with 160,170 votes — good for ninth among Eastern Conference frontcourt players.

The Spurs and the Warriors each have five players among the Western Conference’s leading vote-getters. After sending four players to the All-Star Game last season, the only player the Atlanta Hawks have among the leading vote-getters this season is Paul Millsap (21,625), who is 15th among Eastern Conference forwards.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be held on Sunday, Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. TNT will televise the All-Star Game in the U.S. for the 14th consecutive year.

NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon is an all-digital program that gives fans everywhere the opportunity to vote for their favorite players as starters for the All-Star Game. New to the voting program this year, fans can cast their daily votes directly through Google Search on their desktop, tablet and mobile devices. They can also vote on NBA.com, through the NBA App (available on Android and iOS), SMS text and social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 3


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry reinjures leg, Warriors win in overtime | Jack injures knee, will have MRI | Pistons, Pacers end with theatrics | Pop says Crawford will be missed

No. 1:Curry reinjures leg, Warriors win in overtime After leading the Golden State Warriors to a historic 29-1 start to the season, Stephen Curry missed the last two games while resting a shin injury. It is no coincidence that the Warriors went 1-1 without Curry, the NBA’s leading scorer at 29.7 points per game. Curry made his return last night against the Denver Nuggets, but had to exit in the second quarter after aggravating his injury. As Ethan Strauss writes for ESPN.com, even down to six players, the Warriors managed to win in overtime even without the MVP…

After missing the two previous games with a left shin contusion suffered Monday against the Sacramento Kings, Curry reinjured the shin and departed to the locker room with 2:15 remaining in the second quarter.

According to Curry, the injury occurred when a Nuggets player made contact with his leg in the second quarter.

“I got kicked,” Curry said after the game.

Curry confirmed it was a reinjury of his earlier contusion and said he was hit “right in the same spot, playing defense. It’s funny. I guess whenever you hurt something, [if] you try to play through a little bit of discomfort and try to get out there, something happens. Just got to deal with it.”

Curry’s injury left the Warriors with only six available players due to myriad other injuries.

Of the overtime victory Golden State gained despite depletion, Curry praised, “Chips stacked against them, short bench, guys playing 40-plus minutes, found a way to scrap and claw, get stops down the stretch, fight through the fatigue factor, make a couple plays on the offensive plays as well. Gutsy win.”

On how he felt going into the game, Curry said, “I felt pretty good, just somewhat fresh legs and didn’t have to compensate for anything. Just sucks that was the spot that I got hit in. See how it feels for Monday.”

Further elaborating on his prognosis, he added, “I know exactly what happened. It’s just a matter of how it feels tomorrow and go from there. It’s not as bad as the first time it happened, so that’s good news.”


VIDEO: Curry reinjures left leg

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Dec. 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Knicks’ Early shot in robbery | Payne steps up for OKC | Pistons know playoffs are long ways away | Rockets keep on struggling

No. 1: Reports: Knicks’ Early shot in early morning robbery — According to the New York Daily News, New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot in the leg as he was leaving a strip club in Queens. According to the report, Early was riding in an Uber cab when his vehicle was boxed in by three other cars. He was then surrounded by four to six people who robbed him of his jewelry and other items before shooting him in the leg. Here’s more information from Thomas Tracy, Rocco Parascandola and Dan Good of the Daily News:

New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot in the leg in an early-morning attack after leaving a Queens strip club, police sources told the Daily News.

Early was surrounded by four to six people wearing ski masks and robbed of his items and jewelry — including a gold necklace and gold caps on his teeth, sources said.

The shooting happened after Early left CityScapes gentlemen’s club on 58th Street in Maspeth Queens.

Early was reportedly in an Uber cab, about a mile away from the club, when three cars boxed in the vehicle.

He was shot once in the knee, police sources said. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital in stable condition.

Employees with the gentlemen’s club declined to comment when contacted by the Daily News.

The New York Post‘s Larry Celona and Natalie Musumeci also reported on the news, too:

New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot just after he left a Queens strip club early Wednesday, police sources said.

Early, 24, was held up by six thugs wearing ski masks just after walked out of the CityScapes gentleman’s club on 58th Street in Maspeth with a woman and got into an Uber cab, sources said.

The cab drove a short distance to Maurice Avenue before three cars boxed in the vehicle at around 4:20 a.m., sources said.

That’s when the band of ski mask-wearing men ordered everyone out of the Uber car and robbed Early of some jewelry and an undisclosed amount of cash.

During the stick-up, Early was shot once in the right knee, sources said. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital in stable condition.

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win | Suns throw in towel against Denver | Hawks starting to soar | Butler wants to lead Bulls

No. 1: Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win Wednesday night the Dallas Mavericks visited Brooklyn, which meant the return of Deron Williams to the borough where he formerly played. But with Williams out injured, leave it to the 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki to post a performance worthy of the Big Apple. Not only did Nowitzki pass Shaquille O’Neal for sixth all-time in scoring in the NBA, but he also hit the game-winner in overtime to give the Mavericks the victory. And as Eddie Sefko writes in the Dallas Morning News, in some ways it was business as usual for Nowitzki

“Way back when I was a skinny 20-year-old, bad haircut, bad earring, not the most confident guy,” he said, before stopping, clearly thinking about the enormity of having only five players ahead of him on the all-time scoring list.

“Sounds pretty good, huh?” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”

And the way he passed Shaquille O’Neal on Wednesday couldn’t have been more fitting. He nailed a midrange jumper early in the second quarter against Brooklyn, took congratulatory hugs from teammates and coaches, then, a couple hours later, slipped to the basket for the winning layup in a 119-118 overtime victory that the Mavericks needed a lot more than Nowitzki needed any milestone.

Along the way, the Mavericks needed a lot of help from a guy who’s only 23,607 points behind Nowitzki on the scoring list.

J.J. Barea had a career-best 32 points, including several key 3-pointers, paying big dividends for coach Rick Carlisle starting him in place of the injured Deron Williams.

“I think the coach threw me in there early to give us a little energy early and I got in a rhythm and was able to help my team out big time,” Barea said. “I wanted to get to 30 (points in a game) before I finished my career.”

But even he knew this night was not about him, even though he’s never had a better statistical night. He hit his first eight shots and finished 13-for-20 and also dished out 11 assists.

“I’ve been through all the battles with him and seen him break all kinds of records,” Barea said. “But this one is amazing.”

Nowitzki started fast with six points in the first six minutes. Early in the second quarter, he got the ball on the left wing and wasted no time, pulling up and nailing an 18-footer for the record.

“It was a special moment for me,” he said. “I saw the whole team getting up and everybody gave me a hug and I’ve obviously been blessed in this organization for a long, long time.

“There have been a lot of great players who didn’t score as many points because they were cut short by injuries. I’ve been lucky. And we got the win. It would have felt really salty flying home with a loss.”


VIDEO: Arena Link — Dirk Nowitzki

***

No. 2: Suns throw in towel against Denver The current Phoenix Suns feel light years removed from just two seasons ago, when they unveiled a small ball lineup that raced through the Western Conference and nearly earned a playoff berth. These days they are in flux, with forward Markieff Morris recently assigned to the bench. Last night the Suns lost at home to an undermanned Nuggets team, as Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic, while Morris evoked Robert Horry … and not in a good way…

In one of their more advantageous scenarios of the season, the Suns posted another dreadful loss with play so frightful and no signs of stopping. The bow on Wednesday night’s stocking of coal came when Markieff Morris added to a season of distraction by harkening back memories of Robert Horry’s towel toss at Danny Ainge by tossing a towel toward coach Jeff Hornacek in Wednesday’s fourth quarter.

The Suns lost 104-96 at Talking Stick Resort Arena to a Denver team playing a night after losing at home to the last-place Los Angeles Lakers and was missing five players (two starters) with no backup point guard available.

That is not all that surprising any longer for a team that has gone 5-14 since Nov. 22. How the Suns fell behind by 22 points, rallied to lead by three, started each half with new lineups and lost is now of less interest than Morris’ towel toss.

Much like Horry on a 10-21 Suns team in 1997, Morris was upset about being pulled from the fourth quarter from a 12-19 Suns team. With 9:47 to play and Denver leading 84-75, Morris was taken out of the game and he threw the towel while barking at Hornacek. Hornacek picked up the towel and threw it back Morris’ way with his own upset words for him.

“He’s mad about not playing,” Hornacek said. “I look at the stat sheet. He’s a minus-13 in 12 minutes. So there, I took him out. … He thinks he’s better than that. Show me.”

Hornacek said the Suns staff will discuss possible discipline for Morris, who has created a stir since the offseason when he asked to be traded after his twin, Marcus, was dealt. Markieff did not arrive in Phoenix until it was required for training camp. He lost his starting job earlier this month.

In January, Marcus also engaged in a shouting match during a game with Hornacek. He apologized publicly and to Hornacek after the game.

“That’s between me and ‘H’ (Hornaceck),” said Markieff, who made 2 of 8 shots and had one rebound Wednesday. “It’s not for media. It’s something between me and him that happened. We’ll talk about it.”

***

No. 3: Hawks starting to soar They won 60 games a season ago, including a 19-game win streak, but thus far this season, even with a winning record, the Hawks have mostly flown under the radar. That may be changing now. Wednesday night the Hawks got their fifth win in a row with a convincing home victory over the Detroit Pistons, and the Hawks are now in second place in the Eastern Conference. As Brad Rowland writes for Peachtree Hoops, the Hawks hacked Andre Drummond and got a big night from Jeff Teague to get the win…

The game was highly competitive early on, with Detroit taking an 18-14 advantage after a 7-0 run. That momentum would not last particularly long, however, as Mike Budenholzer employed the aforementioned “Hack-a-Drummond” strategy freely from that point forward, and that seemed to turn the tide. Dennis Schröder exploded for seven straight points to end the opening quarter (11 in the period), and in a flash, the Hawks were in control.

The “big” spurt was yet to come, though, and it appeared to close the second quarter. Atlanta raced to a 26-9 run to end the half, with Jeff Teague taking things over, and he finished with 13 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds before the break. That big run netted the Hawks a 61-45 lead, and on the defensive end, Atlanta was quite effective in holding the Pistons to just 33% shooting (27% in the second quarter) in addition to the poor free throw shooting from Drummond.

To begin the second half, the Hawks quickly increased the lead to 22 points, but the margin settled into the mid-teens for much of the remainder of the contest. In truth, Atlanta didn’t play particularly well down the stretch, including a third quarter in which they allowed 50% shooting to Detroit, but the Pistons were never able to seriously challenge on the scoreboard until the closing minutes.

Detroit managed to climb within an 8-point deficit within the final two minutes of game action, using an 11-4 run to force a timeout from Budenholzer with 1:52 left in the game. Though it wasn’t pretty, the Hawks managed to salt the game away for good using a Jeff Teague basket (that was actually a goaltend from Andre Drummond) to push the lead back to 10 with 41.1 seconds remaining and that was the end of the threat. From there, Atlanta put away a 7-point win and the winning streak reached five games in pleasing fashion.

It was a big night from Teague, and that was the biggest individual story. He has struggled, at least relatively, to this point in the season, but this may serve as a “breakout” from the 2015 All-Star, as he finished with 23 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds while keying everything Atlanta did offensively. In support, Paul Millsap added 18 points and Al Horford chipped in with 15 points in his own right, but this night was about Teague and a strong team effort on the defensive end.

***

No. 4: Butler wants to lead Bulls As the Chicago Bulls try to right the ship and find some offense to go along with their defensive prowess, reports of unrest continue. According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, as the Bulls consider roster moves, some players aren’t thrilled with Jimmy Butler‘s attempts to position himself as the leader of these Bulls…

While Jimmy Butler won the self-appointed leadership role unopposed, not everyone associated with the Bulls is a supporter.

One source told the Sun-Times that there are several players that often simply laugh when told of Butler’s latest thumping-of-the-chest leadership proclamations, and while Derrick Rose seems to be completely detached from the situation, his camp is very annoyed by all things Butler these days.

A veteran that is behind the Butler push, however? Well, it just so happens to be the one player in the locker room with two championship rings.

“I don’t mind those comments,’’ big man Pau Gasol said, when asked about Butler declaring himself the leader throughout this season. “I think those comments are positive. Those comments and attitudes don’t raise my eyebrows. I think it’s good certain guys want to take ownership and say, ‘Hey let’s go.’ ‘’

Gasol said that Butler worked his way into that role of leader, and was obviously paid like it this offseason, when the Bulls gave him a five-year, $92.3 million contract extension.

“I don’t disagree with it,’’ Gasol said. “I think Jimmy is obviously one of the main guys here.’’

He’s more than that. He’s the future. His deal is guaranteed through the first four years, with a player option of $19.8 million following the 2019-20 season.

Basically, last man standing of all the veterans on the roster.

Gasol has a player option at the end of this season, and there continues to be more whispers that he’s done with the Bulls experiment, while Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks each come off the books when this season comes to an end.

Rose and Taj Gibson are free agents after next season, while the Bulls own the $5.175 million option on Mike Dunleavy for the 2017-18 season.

The likes of Gibson, Noah and Gasol might not even see the end of their current contracts, as several sources indicated that the Bulls are taking calls on all three players as the trade deadline draws near.

Noah’s value has taken a hit this week with a small tear in his left shoulder, and the center told reporters on Wednesday that he is looking at a two-to-four week window now. Not the best news for a player that was starting to look like his old self.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA debuted a new public service announcement campaign against gun violenceSteph Curry says he’s the best player in the worldKobe Bryant and Kevin Durant exchanged shoes after playing against each other … Mark Cuban says Rick Carlisle’s threat to trade players was a motivational moveAlan Anderson looks to be out for a few more weeks. Meanwhile, John Wall has his own set of injury issuesNik Stauskas says he’s the hardest working guy on the Sixers … The Houston Rockets are trying to help former players stay on top of their health

Pistons fulfilled, Bulls foiled, all fatigued after 4OT thriller


VIDEO: Andre Drummond leads the way in the Pistons’ 4OT win over the Bulls

CHICAGO – Andre Drummond was so tired by the end of four overtime periods, he needed to rest up just to answer a question.

Asked about his fatigue after his Detroit Pistons outlasted the Chicago Bulls, 147-144, in quadruple overtime, Drummond paused, smiled and after several seconds said, “I don’t even know, man. I’m more happy than tired right now. But I’m sure when I get on the plane, you probably won’t hear a word out of me.”

The Pistons earned some airborne naps by winning only the 13th four-overtime game in NBA history. It was the second ever for Chicago, dating back to March 1984 – a couple months before the Bulls drafted Michael Jordan. For the Pistons, it was their first – and they’ve been league members since 1948-49.

The game ended in a veritable scoring explosion, both sides apparently too tired to play much defense. Detroit won the final five minutes 20-17, those 37 points coming close to the 44 the Pistons and Bulls scored in the first three OT periods combined.

Through rubbery legs and disqualified players (Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson and Drummond fouled out for Detroit), the two teams’ offensive strategies devolved to the most basic tactics, Piston coach Stan Van Gundy said.

Fred [Hoiberg, Bulls head coach] and I didn’t exactly set the world on fire with offensive creativity in the overtimes,” Van Gundy said. “It was [Derrick] Rose or [Jimmy] Butler running pick-and-rolls, and Reggie Jackson running pick-and-rolls. We didn’t trick anybody, they didn’t trick anybody.”

In the fourth overtime, Jackson took six of the Pistons’ 10 shots. Butler launched seven of Chicago’s 10. The starters on both sides logged outrageous minutes, but neither coach was going to risk subbing in backups who had gone long cold.

Despite all that final-session scoring, it was two misses by Pau Gasol at the start that enabled Detroit to grab a margin it leveraged to the victory. Chicago hung tough, but when Jackson drove around Anthony Tolliver‘s screen to shed Rose and then blew by Gasol, his layup again had the Pistons up by six, 145-139, with 54.9 seconds left.

Butler’s desperate 3-pointer cut the deficit to one point and the Bulls sent Jackson to the line for two free throws with 4.4 seconds left. But Butler’s next attempt from nearly the same spot hit the right crotch of the rim.

“When he took the shot, my heart stopped,” Drummond said.

It was pretty much the only thing about Detroit’s bruising center that did. Drummond posted crazy numbers – 33 points, 21 rebounds in 54:12 minutes, the Pistons’ first 30/20 game since Dennis Rodman 25 years ago – but his most impressive might have been the 24 minutes or so he played in the fourth quarter and overtimes with five fouls. He collected 17 points and eight boards while controlling his aggressiveness to avoid fouling out until just 1:07 remained.

“For him to find a way to stay in the game,” Jackson said, “and to stay engaged – not to just be a body out there – to still challenge shots and be vocal out there and give us second changes on offense, grabbing rebounds, that was phenomenal to see.”

Said Drummond: “First of all, my guards did a really good job of stopping the ball and not allowing them to try to attack me. When they did come toward me, I just did a good job of trying to be vertical.”

Jackson finished with 31 points and 13 assists to just two turnovers. In fact, Detroit amassed only 11 in 68 minutes of basketball, including just two in the extra 20 minutes. The flip side for the Pistons were the 19 free throws they missed – they wound up 29 of 46 and already had bricked 14 (20 of 34) through four quarters, when they might have won in regulation.

Butler finished with 43 points. Rose had 34 on 14-of-34 shooting. Gasol scored 30 with 15 rebounds and Taj Gibson doubled up with 14 and 12. Johnson, the Detroit rookie, scored nine of his 16 after the third quarter.

It was a wildly entertaining game, though not everyone saw it that way.

“Maybe for you guys. I think for Fred and I it was excruciating,” Van Gundy said. “It was an epic game. You don’t play too many four-overtime ones. I’ve never been in one. It was incredible. It’s only fun if you’re on our end of it at the end. It’s excruciating if you’re on their end of it and it’s excruciating while you’re going through it. Fun was not part of it for me.”

For the record, Jackson confirmed afterward that the always-vocal Van Gundy did not lose his voice through 68 minutes. “Sometimes you hope he does,” the point guard said with a laugh.

Detroit now gets a little seam in its schedule, nicely timed after a run of 17 games in 29 days. For Chicago, it was a postgame flight to New York to face the Knicks on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. And the loss of more time, flying from Central time to Eastern. Managing minutes and a ground-down rotation will be on Hoiberg and his staff.

Meanwhile, for so many who stuck it out at United Center Friday night, the end result wound up a lot like this:

Breaking down the parity in the East


VIDEO: Jeremy Lin’s 35 points lead the Hornets over the Raptors in overtime

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers’ win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday put the Eastern Conference back over .500 (76-75) in games against the West. While the West has only six teams with winning records, the East has 10.

Only 2 1/2 games separate the second place Bulls from the 10th place Celtics in the standings. Teams Nos. 2-10 in the East all have 14, 15 or 16 wins.

That makes for a lot of good matchups between teams fighting for playoff position. And there are three of them on League Pass Friday night: Hawks-Celtics (7:30 ET), Raptors-Heat (8 ET) and Pistons-Bulls (8 ET).

Beyond the Cavs, no team has distinguished itself as a favorite to win a round or two in the playoffs. They all have reasons to believe in them and reasons to doubt them. Here’s a rundown of Teams 2-10 in the East…

20151218_east_2-10_over

Atlanta (15-12) has the experience. It was the No. 1 seed last season and is one of only two teams within the group that won a playoff series earlier this year. But the Hawks are 7-10 since Nov. 13 and have played the easiest schedule among these nine teams.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ BOS, 12/20 @ ORL, 12/23 vs. DET, 12/28 @ IND

Boston (14-12) has a top-five defense, has a point differential of a team that’s actually 17-9, and has played the toughest schedule among these nine teams. But they’ve actually played the worst defense (by a wide margin) in games played within the group. They allowed the Pistons, a bottom-10 offensive team, to score 119 points on Wednesday.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. ATL, 12/23 @ CHA, 12/26 @ DET

Charlotte (15-10) ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but has played five more home games than road games. It’s also fair to wonder if Kemba Walker will continue to shoot as well as he has, having been the league’s worst shooter over the first four seasons of his career.
More vs. the group this month: 12/23 vs. BOS

Chicago (15-8) has the best record, but the seventh-best NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) among these nine teams. Ten of their 15 wins have come by six points or less, and they’ve been outscored by 41 points in their eight games against the other eight teams on this list, having lost three straight within the group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. DET, 12/28 vs. TOR, 12/30 vs. IND

Detroit (15-12) is 5-2 within the group after Wednesday’s win over the Celtics, but five of those seven games have been at home. Overall, the Pistons have been 9.3 points per 100 possessions better at home than on the road. Only Milwaukee (12.3) has a bigger differential.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ CHI, 12/22 @ MIA, 12/23 @ ATL, 12/26 vs. BOS

Indiana (15-9) is a top-10 team on both ends of the floor, is 8-3 (6-0 at home) in games played within the group, and has a point differential of a team with a 17-7 record, which would have them tied with the Cavs for first place in the conference. The Pacers certainly have the best resume of the teams on this list. But their starting lineup has been pretty bad, especially defensively.
More vs. the group this month: 12/28 vs. ATL, 12/30 @ CHI

Miami (15-9) ranks third in defensive efficiency and has the talent to be a top-10 offense if it gets its starting lineup on the same page. But the Heat have played a home-heavy schedule thus far and are 3-6 (1-4 on the road after Monday’s win in Atlanta) in games played within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. TOR, 12/22 vs. DET, 12/26 @ ORL,

Orlando (14-11) is another team with a top-10 defense and has won its last five games against non-Cavs East opponents. But the Magic have the ninth-best NetRtg in the East and have played the fewest games within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/20 vs. ATL, 12/26 vs. MIA

Toronto (16-11) is one of only two teams (Chicago is the other) with three wins over the four best teams in the league (Cleveland, Golden State, Oklahoma City and San Antonio), getting last week’s win over the Spurs without two starters. But the Raptors’ offense has been rather anemic in its seven games within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ MIA, 12/28 @ CHI

20151218_east_2-10

Three of these teams will have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and at least two of them aren’t going to even make the postseason. Maybe at some point between now and April 13, it will get easier to distinguish the contenders from the pretenders.

Blogtable: Who’s getting traded?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Lasting impression from Warriors’ start? | Who’s getting traded? |
Rondo suspension harsh enough?



VIDEOThe Starters discuss who may get traded this season

> Give me a name or two, guys who you think almost certainly will be traded between now and the Feb. 18 trade deadline.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: How ’bout Markieff Morris, Brandon Jennings, Kevin Martin and (a constant on these speculative lists) DeMarcus Cousins? Morris has wanted out of Phoenix since the Suns broke the family bond by dealing away brother Marcus. Jennings, if he can demonstrate his ability once he returns from Achilles-surgery rehab, would be redundant for Detroit behind Reggie Jackson if he can’t settle into a sixth-man role. Martin is the rare Timberwolf who is in mid-career and thus, out of place in Minnesota’s mentor-driven rebuild. As for Cousins, he’s done the groundwork to join that historical group of malcontented NBA big men who got traded two or three times in their careers, so he might as well get the first one out of the way.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Ryan Anderson. Pelicans need to do something for the future and he’s probably their most valuable trade chip. Also, Terrence Jones, who is a victim of a Rockets numbers game with Clint Capela and Donatas Motiejunas.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comJoe Johnson, brutal salary and all. But the Nets need to hurry. Even if they price Johnson to move, his offense has become more problem than attractive. I would still expect a playoff team looking for a veteran to show interest.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Taj Gibson, Brandon Jennings, Markieff Morris. The Bulls have a replacement for Gibson, Morris and the Suns are overdue for a parting (and his team-friendly contract would be in demand) while the Pistons have no need for Jennings and besides, coach Stan Van Gundy doesn’t seem to be a big fan.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comIt’s hard to say that someone will “almost certainly” be traded, because it takes two to tango and a trade it’s more difficult these days to convince another team that your trash is their treasure. The Clippers may want to cut bait on the Lance Stephenson experiment, but they’re more likely to find a taker on Jamal Crawford. If the Pelicans don’t survive this five-game road trip (which is already off to a rough start) they’re on, they should start looking at the future and seeing what they can get for Ryan Anderson. The Grizzlies, Rockets and Wizards are all primed for a shake-up, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Tony Allen, Corey Brewer, or Nene in a new home by Feb. 18.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Brandon Jennings is a prime target, what with Reggie Jackson making himself at home as the starting point guard in Detroit for the foreseeable future. Quality point guards are always in demand and he’d be an intriguing fit in several places (Utah, New Orleans, just to name a couple). Lance Stephenson just doesn’t seem to fit with the Clippers and what they are trying to do. If someone gets thrown overboard between now and the deadline, I won’t be shocked if it’s Born Ready.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Brandon Bass, the Lakers’ 30 year old power forward, has an affordable two-year contract totaling $6.1 million. His midrange shotmaking, defense and postseason experience could help any number of playoff contenders. By February their fans will be begging the Lakers to unload short-term talents like Bass in hope of retaining their No. 1 pick, which goes to Philadelphia if it falls outside the top three.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’d guess either Brook Lopez or Thaddeus Young. Brooklyn is in deep trouble looking ahead, with their draft future mostly belonging to Boston and their on-court future looking murky. They need to rebuild, but don’t have the pieces to do it. Their only real option is to move whatever they have left and try to get some pieces they can build upon going forward. And from what I can tell, Young and Lopez are their best bets this season to dangle at the trade deadline and hope to get a Draft pick in return.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 13


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors finally lose | Gentry, Pelicans look to move up | NBPA offers heart help | Harden remains a Kobe fan

No. 1: Warriors finally lose Turns out the Golden State Warriors are human after all. Sure, they managed to win 24 in a row to start the season, but on the seventh game of a road trip, less than 24 hours after a double-OT win in Boston, it all caught up with the Warriors, as they lost in Milwaukee, 108-95. And now, as our own Steve Aschburner writes, the Warriors begin the real work of trying to improve and expand on that historic start…

The Warriors’ streak ended at 24 victories as their long road trip, a succession of opponents’ best efforts and their own human frailties (mostly fatigue) reared up in a 108-95 loss to Milwaukee.

The Bucks did so much right. Center Greg Monroe (28 points, 11 rebounds, five assists) asserted his bigness against the NBA’s most dangerous band of smalls. Giannis Antetokounmpo (11 points, 12 boards, 10 assists) picked the best possible time to post the first triple-double of his young, versatile career. O.J. Mayo put starch in the home team’s shorts early, while Jabari Parker and Michael Carter-Williams saved their best for later. And Milwaukee’s lanky, reaching defense held the previously perfect defending champions under 100 points for the first time this season, limiting them to just six 3-point field goals in 26 attempts.

What did the Warriors do wrong? Nothing, really, beyond succumbing to the wear and tear of their record-setting start to the season. Stephen Curry scored 28 with seven rebounds and five assists but backcourt mate Klay Thompson was off after missing Friday’s double-overtime game in Boston with a sprained ankle. The bench, other than Festus Ezeli, brought little offensively.

Still, to pick at them any more would seem out of line. Only one team in league history — or two, depending on how you’re counting — ever strung together more victories: the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers won 33 in a row, and the 2012-13 Miami Heat got to 27. Golden State made it to 28, if you count the four victories in April at the end of last season, or 24 if you don’t.

Just in terms of this season, the Warriors went 47 days deep into 2015-16 before they lost for the first time. None of the NBA’s other teams lasted more than 10.

“Y’all thought we were gonna be sad, huh?” Draymond Green said to reporters milling about, long after the final horn and the green confetti preloaded by the Bucks’ operations crew in hopes of precisely what happened.

While the Bucks were thrilled — their 10-15 start largely had been a disappointment until Saturday — and their sellout crowd of 18,717 was giddy, the Warriors were a long ways from sad.

Green even made sure of that, speaking up immediately afterward to the crew that had accomplished so much. The streak is dead? Long live the season.

“I just told the guys that now we can have a regular season,” the all-purpose Warriors forward said. “It’s been kind of a playoff feel to this, with the streak and all the media and attention around. But our goal was always to get better each and every time we get on the floor. … I think that, probably the last seven or eight games, we’ve stopped getting better and we’ve just tried to win games.”

Interim head coach Luke Walton had talked longingly for several days of teachable moments, the “issues that get swept under the rug” when a team keeps winning. It’s hard to be hyper-critical, and to get players’ attention, when small flaws don’t undermine the big picture.

Now the Warriors can exhale. And clean a few things up.

“We didn’t have our shots falling and we were a little slow on our defensive rotations,” said Walton, filling in while head coach Steve Kerr recovers from back issues. “It happens. It takes nothing away from what they’ve done to start the season.”

***

No. 2: Gentry, Pelicans look to move up — After a playoff appearance last season, the New Orleans Pelicans hired a new coach, Alvin Gentry, away from Golden State and embraced higher expectations for this season. Only, it hasn’t worked out that way. Sure, the Warriors have been rolling, but the Pelicans have been beset by injuries, making it hard to implement Gentry’s system. And as Jeff Duncan writes for Nola.com, for now the Pelicans are just focused on getting out of the Western Conference basement.

Where Gentry finds himself today isn’t where he expected to be six months ago when he accepted the head coaching job here. After Friday night’s 107-105 victory against Washington, the Pelicans are 6-16 and holding company with the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference cellar.

Gentry already has lost more games with the Pelicans than he did all of last season as an assistant with the Warriors (67-15).

“It’s difficult,” Gentry said. “I didn’t anticipate having a record like this. I’m sure the guys didn’t anticipate having a record like this.”

This wasn’t what Gentry signed up for last May. At age 61, New Orleans was likely Gentry’s final chance as a head coach. After struggling in previous stints with the Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns, the Pelicans represented a shot at redemption, a chance to resurrect his head coaching career and move his career won-loss record from red to black. Here, he had Anthony Davis, one of the best young players in the world, and a talented young core in place around him. All systems were go — until they weren’t.

Injuries beset the roster before the Pelicans took their first dribbles. Gentry’s team opened the regular season against Golden State with projected starters Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Omer Asik and key reserve Quincy Pondexter sidelined. Gentry took the court one night without six of his top eight players because of various maladies.

He’s fielded 13 different starting lineups in 22 games and is still defining roles and playing time as key regulars work their way back into the mix.

“Really we’re going through a training camp right now,” Gentry said. “The injury bug has bit us, and we didn’t anticipate that. We have to commit ourselves to make a conscious effort to get ourselves back in the race.”

To get there, the Pelicans must start playing more consistently, with better effort and execution nightly. Gentry is as confounded as anyone as to how the Pelicans can beat Cleveland one night then turn around and get blown out at home by Boston three nights later.

Gentry lit into his troops for what he thought was their half-hearted effort in a 111-93 loss to Boston on Monday night at the Smoothie King Center.

While he arrived in New Orleans with the reputation as a genial players’ coach, Gentry has shown he’s not afraid to bust out the “over-18 lecture” when necessary.

“He’s liable to cuss us out if we don’t compete or execute the plays,” Holiday said.

***

No. 3: NBPA offers heart help After several former NBA players passed away this summer from heart-related issues, the National Basketball Player’s Association announced plans to offer free heart- and health-care screenings for retired players. The first of those cardiac screenings happened this weekend in Houston, writes ESPN’s J.A. Adande…

About 25 retired NBA players showed up for the screenings, which included heart testing. The NBPA initiated talks on the screenings at their July meetings, and the effort was given added urgency with the heart-related deaths of Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins.

In a conference room provided by the Houston Rockets, physicians met with the retired players to discuss their medical history, test blood pressure, administer EKGs to check the heart’s electrical activity, perform an echocardiogram to check the structure of the heart, scan carotids to look for plaque buildup in the arteries, check for sleep apnea and draw blood. The retired players also received attachments for their cellphones that can perform EKGs and send the results to cardiologists.

“Even in this small sample of patients that we’ve done, we’ve been able to get some abnormalities,” said Dr. Manuel Reyes, a cardiologist with Houston Cardiovascular Associates at the Houston Medical Center. “A couple of incidents with decreased heart function, weakened left ventricle, which is the main chamber of the heart.”

Since 2000, more than 50 former NBA players have died of complications related to heart disease, according to the Philadelphia-based news site Billy Penn. It is unclear if basketball players are more susceptible to heart disease, which was one of the secondary aspects of screening former players.

“That’s one of the things that we’re looking to benefit is the research component,” said Joe Rogowski, the players’ union director of sports medicine and research. “We’re looking for trends. There’s never been a real study that looks at this population and looks for norms and trends. They’re bigger. They carry more weight, which leads to other factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Union executive director Michele Roberts and NBA commissioner Adam Silver both said earlier this year that cardiac testing was a high priority. Silver said the NBA was prepared to provide the union with both financial support and a vast array of medical resources.

Union representatives presented their vision of comprehensive screening for retirees to current players at their annual Las Vegas meeting in July. Sources said players voted to set aside funds to implement screenings. The larger — and more costly — issue of supplementing health insurance is slated to be addressed at their February meetings, when a more comprehensive blueprint would be available.

The ages of the deceased players are alarming. Malone was 60. Dawkins was 58. Caldwell Jones, who died last year, was 64. Other recent deaths of former players include Jack Haley, 51, and Anthony Mason, 48.

“Something’s got to be done,” said Rogowski, who was an athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach for 10 years in the NBA. “The NFL is dealing with their issues with retired players. This may be our issue that we’re dealing with retired players on.”

***

No. 4: Harden remains a Kobe fan Greatness attracts greatness, and as Rockets guard James Harden explains, after growing up in California, he had been a Kobe Bryant fan for years. But later, he was able to become a Kobe friend. And as Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle, Harden is looking forward to squaring off against Bryant this week in a Houston stop on his farewell tour…

James Harden had long known what he wanted in life. Before the shoe deals and stardom, before the first stubble on his chin, he had watched Kobe Bryant in his prime, young and gifted, hungry for greatness and a place in NBA history. That was, Harden decided, what he wanted.

“Kobe was my guy,” Harden said. “I was a Laker fan. And I was a Kobe fan. Always.”

Eventually, when Harden finally had his first chance to face his hero, Bryant might have seen something in Harden, too. They will face one another again Saturday night in Toyota Center as Bryant’s farewell tour rolls through Houston. But their first meeting came far removed from the NBA, far from the media circus that follows Bryant through his final season.

They met in a summer pickup game at Loyola-Marymount. Harden was not in awe, he said, but remembered the day as more special than all the summer sessions to come.

“I wanted to go at him,” Harden said, indicating he learned his lessons well.

“I remember he came in the gym, took off his shirt and was like, ‘OK, let’s go,’ ” said Harden’s agent, Rob Pelinka, who also represents Bryant. “Kobe was (Harden’s favorite) because he works so hard.”

Years later, Harden considers Bryant a friend. He received texts from Bryant before last season’s playoffs encouraging him, as if welcoming Harden to that highest echelon of stardom.

“He’s my guy,” Harden said. “We talk. He’s a pretty cool guy. Obviously, on the court, he’s a beast. He does whatever it takes to win games. He’s a winner. He’s passionate about it. But obviously off the court, he’s so savvy. He’s business-minded.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Is Dave Joerger‘s seat getting warmer in Memphis? … The Wizards will be without Bradley Beal for a few more weeks … Gregg Popovich said Kobe’s retirement will mean “a great personality gone” … Dwyane Wade would like to own an NBA team someday … LeBron James made good after losing a friendly wager against Draymond Green …