Skip to main content

Posts Tagged ‘Dion Waiters’

Two-on-five works well for OKC


VIDEO: Thunder handle Mavs 131-102 in Game 3

DALLAS — There is never a downside to having a pair of top-five players as teammates, especially if they respect and genuinely like each other and seldom, if ever, conflict on the floor. This is certainly the case with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Oklahoma City would be a dusty NBA outpost without them.

There is a nit-pick, though. When the Thunder are involved in tight finishes, you often wonder why they bother calling a timeout, because there’s no sense drawing up a play. Everyone knows what’s coming. OKC will spread the floor and allow either Durant or Westbrook to go one-on-one.

It’s the type of simple and non-creative strategy that helped grease Scott Brooks‘ path out of town. The ex-OKC coach, freshly hired in Washington, showed no imagination with his playbook in the final two minutes and critics howled and cringed whenever OKC lost close playoff games to the elite teams in the West. The blame went to Brooks instead of key injuries to Westbrook and Durant.

But look here: Billy Donovan is doing the same thing, and in that sense, you can’t tell the difference between one coach and the other.

This strategy was moot in a pair of blowout victories over the Mavericks in their first-round series, but in Game 2, which OKC lost by a point, Donovan had Durant keep firing even though Durant eventually missed 26 shots. He did drill a critical 3-pointer in the final minute, but by then OKC was seconds away from being upset.

In one sense, how can any coach take the ball out of the hands of players who are averaging more than 20 points and bring great credentials? If anything, that would be grounds for a coach getting fired, or at least it seems. Besides, Durant and Westbrook probably wouldn’t stand for it and would keep the ball anyway.

“Kevin and Russell are such great one-on-one players that you’re not going to run motion offense,” Donovan said. “What you do is space the floor for them. When you create space, then it’s up to them to make good decisions. They just can’t jack-knife and shoot over two guys.”

Westbrook is so great at reaching the rim, and Durant brings superb shooting range, that Donovan (like Brooks before him) will play the odds. The downside is their teammates stand around and make little effort to be anything more than mannequins. Also, it feeds the notion that Durant and Westbrook don’t trust their teammates with the ball in those situations, and so great defensive teams will exploit that lack of trust and simply leave those teammates open while doubling on the All-Star duo.

Again, this is likely good enough to get OKC  beyond the first round and the understated Mavericks. But what about the next round against the Spurs, who can use Kawhi Leonard on single coverage on Durant? Or a smart defensive team like the Warriors? Doesn’t Donovan need to introduce a new wrinkle that in some way involves, for example, Enes Kanter, Serge Ibaka, the under-used Anthony Morrow or Dion Waiters?

It’s probably too late for that. Those players, neglected all season in these situations, probably aren’t comfortable with the ball and the burden that comes with it. And so, unlike the Spurs or Warriors, the Thunder’s offensive formula omits all but two players, although they are two very special players. OKC will go two-on-five and continue to believe that is a big advantage in its favor.


VIDEO: Durant scores 34 points in OKC’s Game 3 win

Morning Shootaround — April 18




VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Raptors not giving into negativity | Beverley fine with playing the villain | Portland’s Stotts ready to do away with hack-a-strategy | The graduation of Dion Waiters

No. 1: Raptors not giving into the negativity — They know what it looks like, kicking off the postseason for the third straight time with a loss. It would be easy for the Toronto Raptors to give into the narrative, to get lost in the social media swirl surrounding them after their Game 1 loss to the Indiana Pacers. But they’re not going there. Heading into Game 2 tonight (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV) the Raptors still believe it’s “their turn,” as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun explains:

On his 59th birthday, Dwane Casey quoted Nas, saying sleep is the cousin of death. But the words of another rap legend, Tupac Shakur, sum up how the Raptors are feeling after another Game 1 meltdown — Me against the world.

On the heels of a third dreadful opening game effort in a row and a seventh-straight playoff defeat overall, it would be natural for the Raptors to feel like the walls are closing in around them, that the bandwagon is losing members at a rapid rate, that even the staunchest supporters are wondering whether another all too familiar let-down is on the verge of being delivered.

The players know what the vibe is, what was being said after the wobbly opener and chose to ignore it.

“I definitely didn’t go on social media because I know they were probably talking a lot of trash,” Kyle Lowry said with smile while up at the podium on a sunny Sunday afternoon in downtown Toronto.

Lowry and his teammates are looking at the bright side, honing in on the fact that this series is nowhere close to over, no matter what is being said about the underachieving group.

“I’m not shying away from it. It’s just at that point where it’s like, ‘all right, whatever.’ You know what? I know what everybody’s going to say: ‘Here we go again.’ I read everybody (including the media), there you go right there: That’s what they said,” Lowry said

Lowry insists the uproar and negativity on social media isn’t bothering him.

“No. That’s what it’s for. It’s for people to say their opinions. It’s for people to have an opinion. And that’s the world we live in. So I appreciate it, I love it, I mean I have my own opinion, I always comment on Twitter, I watch games, I say what I want to say. So that’s what it’s for. It’s for people to have a personality and have a voice. And you know, it’s part of the world. And for us, for me, I really just didn’t want to read it.”

Fellow all-star DeMar DeRozan loves the fanbase and having the entire country of Canada as potential backers, but wants the focus in the room to be on the brotherhood between the players and the staff alone.

“I don’t think we have (panicked) this time around,” DeRozan said.

“I think the outside people have. I’ve just been telling our guys, it’s all about us. It’s the guys in this jersey, the coaches, it’s one game. We understand what we have to do. We played terrible and still had a chance. We gave up 19, 20 turnovers, missed 12 free throws, we still had a chance. It’s a game. We’ve got another opportunity on our home floor to even it out. It wasn’t like we were going to go out there and sweep ’em. You know, that’s a tough team over there. Now it’s our turn to bounce back Monday.”

Head coach Dwane Casey said he didn’t tell his players to get off the likes of Twitter and Instragram, but is pretty sure ignoring the noise is a wise call.

“I just said you find out who your friends are, you’re going to find out real quick who your friends are, who’s calling for tickets and that type of thing when you’re backs are against the wall,” Casey said.

“And that’s good, you find out who’s pulling for you, who believes in you and who has your back. What I said is that group in that room is the ones that really have your back and the ones you should trust on the court. I did say that but I don’t know enough about social media to say anything about that.”

*** (more…)

The Graduation of Dion Waiters

VIDEO: Waiters gets served.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Fourth-year Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dion Waiters is averaging the fewest points per game (9.8 ppg) of his career. Waiters is also probably playing the best overall basketball of his career. It speaks to Waiters’ continuing basketball education that he realizes the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

As the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Waiters joined a rebuilding Cavaliers team with plenty of shots to go around. But as part of Cleveland’s rebuild following the return of LeBron James, Waiters was traded to Oklahoma City, where the Thunder just missed the postseason last year while Kevin Durant was out injured.

This season, things finally fell into place for the Thunder and Waiters, as he played in 78 games for the 55-27 Thunder. Waiters made his playoff debut last night in the Thunder’s 108-70 win over the Mavericks. Waiters chalks up his 1-of-9 shooting game to being overexcited. But it’s worth noting, Waiters also netted a +17 plus/minus rating thanks to two rebounds, two steals, three assists, and making an effort on the defensive end.

We sat down with Waiters after practice Sunday, where the guy who used to relish going one-on-one is now talking about hockey assists and giving up good shots for great shots.

DION WAITERS: I’m excited just to be here first and foremost. I’m blessed. My first playoffs ever. I was real excited yesterday, too excited. I’m glad I got one game under my belt now.

NBA.COM: You were too fired up?

DW: I was too hyped. I came out like that. But I needed one of those games, needed one of those to get those emotions out. I’m fine now. Guys were telling me how crazy it would be. You just see it, the stands with people wearing blue and white. It was great.

NBA.COM: What’s the transition been like for you, into this organization as you’ve learning your role here?

DW: I mean, of course, it’s different. My rookie year, my sophomore year, I was able to play and play a lot. I was one of the go-to guys. My rookie year and sophomore year I got better each year, but we were losing. My third year, LeBron came, and things just weren’t going right. I got traded in January, came here, and when I got here, I just felt the love. Everybody connected. The atmosphere, the love, the people that really want to help you. And I knew what it took to be a pro, but over here it was pro’s pros. If practice is at 11, these guys are here at 9, out on the floor, setting an example. So I started trying to beat them here. I see what it takes. And they do it every day, no breaks in between, they got the same routine. When I got here, instantly I got better. Of course, you’ve got to make sacrifices. You’ve got to find your niche. When I got here, unfortunately KD had gotten hurt, so Scott Brooks let me play, and that was some of the most fun basketball I’d had, being one game away from the playoffs even though I ended the season strong. I knew coming here with KD was going to be different, because that’s what he does, he scores. And a guy like me, I need the ball. So I’ve tried to make different adjustments now, as far as like, working on being able to catch and shoot. I’m at like 40-percent now on catch-and-shoot situations, so that’s great. I was a guy who had to take you off the dribble. Now that I’m here, I don’t always have to do any of those things because I’ve got two top-five players in the League in Russ and Kev. I know I can score the ball, but now I want to show other people that I can defend, that I can get to the lane and make plays for myself and others. And one thing about here? You’ve gotta understand, some games you might have a big night, some games you might have 10 points. But what did you do to impact the game? I’m learning that. I’m only 24 years old. Just by me being here for a year and a half, I’ve gotten so much better as a player, as far as developing a consistent routine, I feel like my body is good, just working and continuing to work on an everyday basis. So it’s been a great ride for me so far, man. I’m enjoying every moment, and it’s about being patient, being patient. I know my time is going to come, I’ve just got to continue to work hard and be a part of a winning team and enjoy it. You can’t substitute anything for winning. I was losing my first three years. Just to win 50 games alone is great.

NBA.COM: Man, you need to have a radio show.

DW: I should?

NBA.COM: Yes, you should. Because you can really talk.

DW: (laughs) When I first got here, I was just talking without making sense. I used to hate watching myself in interviews.

NBA.COM: You talked about making sacrifices with your game. What kind of things have you pulled back on, what have you emphasized?

DW: Just trying to figure out when to be aggressive. I’m always going to be aggressive, that’s who I am. But learning the difference between what’s a good shot and what’s a great shot?

NBA.COM: What is the difference?

DW: It’s a good shot when you’re open, but a great shot if you’re open but you’ve got a guy open in the corner, and the defender in between comes to you and you kick it to him. Or if you make the hockey assist or get an assist. I can always get my shot off, I feel. At the end of the day, when you’re a scorer, you think scoring first. That’s just your mentality and your instinct. But here we’ve got so many great players who can make plays. Sometimes you even make a pass, get the guy the open shot, and it might come right back. Those type of things, I’m learning each day. I would say, coming into the league you really don’t know what to expect and you learn on your own, on the fly. That’s the difference between me three years ago and now. I’d say I was a pretty good, smart basketball player, but now I know the difference, and you know when you’re wrong and when you take a bad shot.

NBA.COM: I don’t know if you mean to, but you keep talking about your “sophomore” year in the NBA, and it’s almost like you’re talking about college. Now that you’re in your fourth season, does it feel like you’re a senior ready to graduate?

DW: That’s exactly it. I’m ready to take off. But we still have to focus on the task at hand right now. That’s my whole thing, I’m ready for that next step. That’s what it is man. I know what it takes.

Morning shootaround — March 17


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors head on road looking sharp | New images of Bucks’ proposed arena unveiled | Bulls’ Gasol to miss more games | Waiters returns to OKC lineup

No. 1: Warriors embark on road trip looking sharp — The Golden State Warriors haven’t lost a game since a March 6 slip-up on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers. Since then, they’ve won six in a row — all of them in the friendly confines of Oracle Arena — as they ready for a three-game road trip (highlighted by a Saturday showdown with San Antonio on ABC). As they get ready to leave town, Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle points out that last night’s win against the New York Knicks might have been one of the Warriors’ most complete efforts in a while:

When this week’s defensive assignments were rattled off to Draymond Green, he said: “Man, tough, right?”

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that Green actually was talking about how tough it was going to be on his opponents.

A game after helping limit Anthony Davis to 6-for-20 shooting, Green made New York’s 7-foot-3 rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis a non-factor during a 1-for-11 shooting performance that allowed the Warriors to run away with a 121-85 victory Wednesday night at Oracle Arena.

“I thought Draymond was brilliant,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “A great night for him. He was passing the ball, rebounding, defending and taking care of the ball. … He sees the game. He knows what’s happening at all times. Tonight was a fantastic game for him.”

Green had six points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, and the Warriors outscored the Knicks by 31 points in his 29 minutes.

Of course, these Warriors aren’t about individual accolades. They’re chasing team history.

The Warriors (61-6) have won an NBA-record 50 straight regular-season home games and remained a game ahead of the pace of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who won a single-season-record 72 games.

“History,” Warriors reserve big man Marreese Speights said. “We keep making history. Everything we do from now on is history.”

After a blip in Los Angeles on March 6, the Warriors resolutely marched through a 6-0 homestand, settling their play and monitoring minutes just in time for a three-game trek to Dallas, San Antonio and Minnesota.

“That was probably our most complete game in a while,” point guard Stephen Curry said. “Forty-eight minutes of complete focus.”

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 22


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Feb. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors beef up big man ranksVan Gundy takes blame for Pistons’ surrender to Davis | Lakers to start Russell the rest of the way | Was Lebron was right about Waiters?

No. 1: Warriors beef up big man ranks — What do you get the (championship) team that seems to have everything? Another big man, if you are the Golden State Warriors. They’ve added former Cleveland center Anderson Varejao, a LeBron James favorite during their time together with the Cavaliers, who helps bolster their big man ranks with both Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli ailing. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle provides the details on the Warriors’ big man insurance policy:

The Warriors went without a center in their starting lineup out of necessity in Saturday night’s victory over the Clippers.

The team, however, didn’t consider that a long-term option, and on Sunday, it reached an agreement to sign free-agent center Anderson Varejao to a veteran minimum contract, league sources confirmed.

The Warriors cut forward/center Jason Thompson to clear roster room for Varejao and complete the move, which first was reported by the website, the Vertical.

Varejao, who’s 6-foot-10, had spent all of his 12-season career with the Cavaliers before being traded last week.

He was averaging career lows in points (2.6), rebounds (2.9), blocked shots (0.2) and minutes (10) for Cleveland before being sent to Portland in a trade-deadline deal Thursday. The Trail Blazers immediately cut him in a salary-cap move, and the Warriors expressed interest in the 33-year-old. They beat out other playoff teams who tried to ink him once he cleared waivers Sunday.

“I have not been notified of that, but it makes perfect sense, right?” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Friday night when told that his team’s interest in Varejao had been reported by ESPN. “I don’t even know if I am allowed to even mention his name. I can get fined by the NBA. I don’t even know what the rule is.”

The interest increased when starting center Andrew Bogut was forced to miss Saturday’s win at Staples Center because of a sore right Achilles tendon. Backup center Festus Ezeli is on the shelf after undergoing left knee surgery and is expected to miss at least another month.

With Bogut and Ezeli out, it was thought that Kerr might give either Marreese Speights or Thompson a start in the middle against the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, who’s 6-11.

Instead, the Warriors went small with 6-6 swingman Brandon Rush joining the starting five. That moved Harrison Barnes to power forward and shifted 6-7 Draymond Green to the center spot. Green responded with his league-leading 11th triple-double in the Warriors’ 115-112 win.

Varejao twice averaged double-doubles in his career (2011-12, ’12-13), but his numbers have fallen considerably since then. He didn’t play in the Cavs’ six-game loss to the Warriors in last season’s NBA Finals.

***

 No. 2: Van Gundy takes blame for Pistons’ surrender to DavisAndre Drummond had no chance. Neither did Tobias Harris or anyone else the Detroit Pistons tried to throw at Anthony Davis Sunday, when Davis dropped a NBA season-high 59 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in the New Orleans Pelicans’ win at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t blame his players, though. He owned up to this one, pointing the finger at the man in the mirror after Davis etched his name in the history books with his monster performance. John Niyo of the Detroit News explains:

There was no voiding Sunday’s result, though, and rather than ripping his team, the Pistons coach ripped himself for the effort against Davis, who finished 24-of-34 from the field to post the NBA’s single-game high for the season and the best ever at the Palace, topping LeBron James’ 48-point outburst in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals. Davis had 51 points in the final three quarters alone, and later shrugged, “After a while, you feel like any shot you put up is going to go in.”

“That one’s on me,” Van Gundy insisted. “You’ve got to come up with something. A guy can’t get 59. That’s terrible coaching. Terrible.”

Whomever you want to pin it on, the Pistons have now lost eight of their last 10 games to fall two games below .500 for the first time all season — and two games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.

And before you blame this latest skid solely on new faces and changing roles, remember the Pistons are 5-11 since that roof-rattling win over Golden State in mid-January.

They’re 6-13 in the last six weeks, with a road game at Cleveland on tap.

That might explain why Van Gundy had little interest Sunday in talking about the pending trade or the depleted lineup or the possibility changing roles might have something to do with his team’s disjointed performance at both ends of the floor.

Davis lighting up The Palace scoreboard certainly wasn’t the only issue Sunday. Marcus Morris, whose duties were altered the most by the trade with Orlando for Harris, finished with a season-low two points in 34 minutes. He and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — coming off a core-muscle injury — are a combined 10-for-45 from the field in the two games since the All-Star break.

“Why would the trade set it back?” Van Gundy countered, when asked about Morris. “He’s struggling. I don’t know if it’s with the multiple roles or if he just can’t get the ball in the basket. No excuses, though.”

But answers? We’ll see, especially now that Anthony Tolliver’s status is in limbo as well. In his second game as a starter following the trades — a place-holder for Harris as he gets adjusted to his new team — he limped off the court following a collision with Andre Drummond in the first half Sunday. Tolliver was headed for an MRI after the game, another troubling sight for a team that’s headed the wrong direction in the standings.

“I think everybody’s frustrated,” Van Gundy said. “Nobody likes to lose. Of course everybody’s frustrated. We’ve just got to keep playing through stuff.”

***

No. 3: Lakers to start Russell the rest of the way — After a nearly three-month stint coming off the bench, Los Angeles Lakers rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell is back in the starting lineup and apparently there for good. Russell and Lakers coach Byron Scott have had their issues this season, but with the team’s season headed for an ugly finish of the Kobe Bryant farewell tour, it’s time to let the rookie go. Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com has more:

“It was just time,” Scott said when asked why he moved Russell back to the starting lineup, where Russell spent the first 20 games before being moved to the bench in December.

“Each month he has seemed to get better,” Scott continued. “He’s really starting to understand what this game is all about. He still needs to pick it up at times. Obviously on both ends he needs to continue to work, but I like what I saw [Sunday], and I like what I’ve been seeing from him over the last couple months.”

Russell’s playing time — and lack thereof at times — has been the biggest hot-button issue surrounding the 11-46 Lakers in what is on pace to be the worst season in franchise history. Scott has often benched Russell in the fourth quarter or, in one instance, pulled him for “trying to take over the game.”

“I get this question asked all the time. I don’t really care,” Russell said of starting versus coming off the bench. “I just want to play the right way. If that’s coming off the bench or starting, I just want to make an impact right away. I wish we could’ve won, just so I could feel better about it. But I trust coach’s decision and go with it.”

What does Russell hope to accomplish in the final 25 games?

“I just want to get better,” Russell said. “Coach always said, you’ve always got something to play for no matter how many games we’ve got left. However many games we’ve got left, I feel like I’ve still got something to prove.

“And I don’t want anybody to take it the wrong way, but you feel like your best players are your starters. And I feel like I’m going to keep the confidence and say that I’m one of the best players, so I feel like I just want to keep proving that I deserve to start, deserve to be out there and play crunch time minutes.

“With these last few games, I want to show that I have to be out there, like build that trust with my coach that he has to put me on the floor.”

Russell said being in the starting lineup along with guard Jordan Clarkson and forward Julius Randle will allow the trio of promising young players to build even more chemistry together.

“We can grow. We can play a lot tighter,” Russell said. “There’s a time when you can learn from each other as far as when one or them or myself mess up, we can figure out how to grow or we can watch film together. We should’ve done it earlier in the year, but I guess we were caught up in different ways. We can really take this time to grow together.”

***

No. 4: Was LeBron right about Waiters?Dion Waiters wasn’t a good fit in Cleveland once LeBron James decided to bring his talents home to northeast Ohio. So when the Cavaliers traded Waiters and went instead with J.R. Smith, much was made of the move. People wondered if LeBron and Cleveland had given up on Waiters too soon. But maybe LeBron was right, per Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman, who highlights the struggles of Waiters against his former team after the Cavaliers thumped the Thunder Sunday:

Waiters was awful for the second straight game. He followed a pointless Friday night game against Indiana with an equally fruitless game against his former team.

Waiters made LeBron the General Manager look incredibly wise. Waiters famously was traded by the Cavs to the Thunder 13 months ago because LeBron preferred to play with the mercurial J.R. Smith. The same J.R. Smith who made five of eight 3-pointers Sunday for Cleveland.

Meanwhile, Waiters missed his first seven shots, including an air-balled 3-pointer and a wild drive in which the ball bounced off the backboard 13 feet off the ground. Waiters made only his last shot, a 16-footer with 3:40 left in the game. That basket came with the score 109-88.

By the third quarter, Billy Donovan was designing plays for Waiters to boost his confidence, the Cavaliers were letting Waiters shoot and he wanted no part of it, preferring to drive and pass and keep the embarrassment to a minimum.

Seemed clear that Waiters was pressing to produce against the Cavs, who discarded him. Just as he did back in December, when Waiters scored four points on 1-of-7 shooting and the Thunder lost 104-100.

“Nah,” Waiters said. “Shots I normally make, I just missed. It’s going to come around. I ain’t worried about it.”

You can’t blame Donovan if he’s worried about it, though the Thunder’s first-year coach stood by his man.

“I’ve got confidence in Dion,” Donovan said. “When a guy’s not shooting the ball well, to me, that’s when you gotta really trust him. Obviously Dion hasn’t shot the ball great, but the guys in that locker room still believe he can help us.”

Donovan is right. He has no choice but to trust Waiters.

Not in the starting lineup. As soon as Andre Roberson is healthy, he needs to get back to opening games. The Thunder starting lineup with Roberson has been fantastic two years running, so even when Waiters is hitting, Roberson should be the starter.

But the Thunder has to have Waiters contributing offensively. His defense is solid. And who else off the bench is doing anything? Anthony Morrow can’t defend, and he’s made just 5-of-20 on February 3-pointers. Kyle Singler? Newcomer Randy Foye is available, but he’s 32 and on the downslope.

Waiters has to play and play well for the Thunder to prosper. The Cavs proved that.

“They were loading up on Kevin and Russell quite a bit,” Donovan said. “I thought our offense was OK in the first half. But when we did move and share the basketball, and found Dion or found different players, we didn’t make enough shots. For Dion, I thought he had some good looks tonight and it didn’t go down.

“I think maybe pressing’s probably a good word. Maybe he was a little bit. I don’t think it had anything to do with Cleveland as much as it had to do with probably coming out of last game.”

Maybe. But I don’t buy it. Looked like Waiters desperately wanted to prove LeBron wrong and instead proved him right.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pistons are still waiting to get clearance on their trade for Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus ThorntonKobe Bryant never shied away from the legacy of Michael Jordan in Chicago … Tonight’s Warriors-Hawks matchup (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV) at Philips Arena lacks the sizzle of last season’s tilt between the best of the best … The Indiana Pacers’ gamble on Myles Turner continues to pay off handsomely for Larry Bird … Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is looking forward to adding a quality veteran in David Lee today

Morning shootaround — Dec. 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Next man up is new normal in Cleveland | Riley says Heat not looking to trade | Howard responds with love in Houston | Shumpert truly delivers

No. 1: Next man up is new normal in Cleveland The Oklahoma City Thunder entered Cleveland having won six games in a row, but the Cavs used a strong second half run to build an insurmountable lead and win, 104-100. While Kyrie Irving has still yet to return from injury for the Cavs, LeBron James once again stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 33 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds to lead the way for the Cavs. And as our Steve Aschburner writes, it’s still early, but the Cavs look locked in:

No Kyrie Irving (recovery from knee surgery), Iman Shumpert (groin) and Mo Williams (thumb sprain) meant minutes and opportunities for others. No biggie for the Cavs, for whom short-handed is the new normal. You have to go back eight months and 44 games, to the postseason opener against Boston, for a game in which Cleveland had all its guys healthy.

“Our motto is the next man up,” said James, who now has a 16-4 personal record head-to-head (regular season or playoff) against OKC’s Kevin Durant. “There’s no excuses around here. Whoever’s in the lineup is ready to go.”

While OKC was missing the playoffs last spring, done in by Kevin Durant’s and Russell Westbrook‘s injuries, Cleveland was busy getting resourceful. The Cavs beat the Celtics, the Bulls and the Hawks, and pushed the Warriors to six games in the Finals, by leaning on the likes of Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson like never before. James at times seemed startled by how much those role players could handle, but by doing so they toughened up and built a bond.

That was evident again Thursday. Thompson gave the Cavs repeated extra chances by grabbing 15 rebounds overall — 11 on the offensive end — to go with 12 points. Dellavedova chipped in his own double-double with 11 points and 10 assists. Veteran Richard Jefferson scored 13 points and wild card J.R. Smith was big early, both scoring and making timely defensive plays.

This essentially was the crew that pushed Golden State to an extra level of great last spring. It’s the team that, with Irving, Shumpert and Williams all due back soon, knows how to fold back in talented players because it did that over the second half of last season. It’s the biggest reason Cleveland stands alone as a legit contender from the East, while the Thunder will slug it out with two or three rivals out West.

Durant and Westbrook combined for 52 points and Serge Ibaka added 23 more, but the OKC bench went from good enough in the first half to ghastly in the second. New coach Billy Donovan appeared to get caught in his rotations, asking the Thunder to survive too long with neither of its two scoring stars on the floor. Enes Kantner was a liability defensively and two-way mishap Dion Waiters reminded the sellout Q crowd why their team is better off without him.

James and the Cavs are playing chess right now relative to the Thunder’s checkers. He knows what Cleveland needs to win a title because he’s been there and done it so recently. The Thunder went to the Finals in 2012 but in this what-have-you-done-lately league, that’s old news in a rapidly changing game.

***

No. 2: Riley says Heat not looking to trade The Miami Heat are currently 15-9, good for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. But we know team president Pat Riley is always looking to improve the roster, which could involve making a trade somewhere along the way. A recent report had center Hassan Whiteside on the trade block, and yesterday Riley spoke to the media to say he wasn’t ready to make any moves, at least not quite yet, as Manny Navarro writes in the Miami Herald:

“I can guarantee you there have been no discussions about the BS that you have read in the newspapers the last couple of days,” Riley said of rumors Whiteside could be headed to Houston or Sacramento. “I like our team and I want to see where we’re headed.”

Riley said he expects the Heat, which plays the Toronto Raptors at 8 p.m. Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena, will be “one of [the teams] that is going to be for real” when that 40-game mark is complete Jan. 15.

What does he like about this Heat team?

“Well, we’ve got great depth,” Riley said during a five-minute interview with The Miami Herald and a two local TV stations Thursday during a holiday event for veterans at the Miami VA Fisher House. “I think we have a three-tiered team which is we have a group of great veterans, mid-aged veterans, and then we have youth. We have a lot of spirit. There’s a lot of energy with our young guys.

“Probably some of our best defenders are our young players. They’re trying to get their offensive games to match their defensive games.”

He also likes the leadership that team captains Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem have brought.

“They have no idea how proud I am of them and how they conduct themselves every single night, good or bad — to the community, to the media,” Riley said. “It’s not easy. This league is not easy, and when there’s a high-expectation level, then you’ve got to deal with the consequences of winning and the consequences of losing, and I think our guys do it very well.”

He said coach Erik Spoelstra has done “an exemplary job.”

“I think he’s finding his way to the heart of his team and how they’re going to play, how he can adjust and make those adjustments,” Riley said. “Contrary to what a lot of people think, we have a team that can play big. We have a team that can play medium. And we have a team that can play small. You don’t want to get caught up in any one thing. You just want to create your own identity, which is what I think [Spoelstra is] talking about. Whether you’re big or you’re small, that’s how you’re going to play. I think we’re showing that.”

***

No. 3: Howard responds with love in Houston The Houston Rockets got off to a slow start, including firing coach Kevin McHale. Part of their inconsistent play has come from center Dwight Howard, the former All-NBA player who has suffered various injuries in recent years, and has seen his production fluctuate. But recent reports of Howard wanting out in Houston are, at least according to Howard, not true, as Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle:

“The one thing that I don’t want to happen is people to assume that because things are not going quite well for us that I’ve quit on the team and take away from all the positive things we have done, despite the loss, making the city feel like they’re unwanted,” Howard said on Thursday. “There’s a lot of negativity going around. I haven’t caused it. I haven’t said anything negative to anybody about this team or this situation. I’ve just been trying to find ways to make this situation better, trying to grow as a man, as a basketball player.

“You just try to laugh at it. I don’t want to go out and persecute the people that persecute me. That’s the hardest part. The first reaction is to go back at them. You just have to respond with love.”

A report at sheridanhoops.com on Tuesday cited sources saying Howard is “extremely unhappy” with his role with the Rockets and predicted he would be traded to the Miami Heat. Howard called the report “lies.”

Howard can expect to hear plenty from the Lakers fans tonight at Staples Center. He has often laughed at the taunts in Los Angeles, even singing along with chants in his first return to play the Lakers after signing with the Rockets.

“If they boo me, they boo me,” he said. “Just going to say, ‘Hey, I love you guys. If you boo me, I’m going to respond with love, just try to have a good game, not get frustrated with whatever happens on the floor. I don’t want to smile too much because then I’m (said to) not take it serious. I don’t want to not smile too much because then I’m (called) unhappy. Just going to stay positive.”

Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said he has over the years talked to some players when they have been subject of trade rumors or other media reports. With Howard, Bickerstaff said they have talked often throughout the season, but did not consider that necessary with this week’s reports and that neither took them seriously.

“There’s certain guys that need to be talked to more about those situations and other guys, it doesn’t bother them. I try not to bring attention to it. If a guy does have a problem or a question and he brings it to me, then I’ll talk to him. For the most part, I try to ignore it because there’s so much noise out there.

“We’ve joked about it. We’ve laughed about it. I don’t think it needs to be addressed. I don’t know when I’ve seen him ‘extremely unhappy.’ We’ve had plenty of conversations. We’re in a good place.”

***

No. 4: Shumpert delivers One of the Cavs out with an injury last night was forward Iman Shumpert, recovering from a strained groin. Which meant Shumpert happened to be at home on Wednesday when his pregnant fiancé, Teyana Taylor, unexpectedly went into labor and gave birth. As ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, Shumpert ended up having to play doctor and delivered his daughter before the paramedics arrived…

The baby, Iman Tayla Shumpert Jr., was born at 6:42 a.m, according to the post. Taylor nicknamed her “Junie.”

Taylor wrote that she did not realize she was in labor until she could feel her baby’s head. She said Shumpert used the cord from a pair of headphones to tie off the umbilical cord as the couple waited for the ambulance to arrive minutes later.

The birth came about three weeks before the expected due date of Jan. 16, 2016, which Shumpert previously shared on his Facebook account.

Shumpert and Taylor got engaged in November, with Shumpert proposing to her with a ruby engagement ring on the night of her baby shower.

Shumpert was ruled out of the Cavs’ game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night with a right groin strain. According to the Cavs, his playing status is questionable moving forward.

Before the 104-100 win over the Thunder, Cleveland coach David Blatt said Shumpert had yet to be re-evaluated by the Cavs since the team returned from Boston, because he was excused to be with his family.

“Due to the recent events, we’ve allowed Shump to do more important things,” Blatt said. “The doctor will get his hands on him, hopefully, [Thursday] evening. Then we’ll be a little bit smarter [about his status]. But he’ll be down for a few days for sure.”

Then Blatt cracked a joke about Shumpert’s surprise delivery skills.

“Dr. Shumpert now,” Blatt said. “And congratulations to Teyana, as well.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Scary moment in Cleveland last night, as LeBron James dove for a loose ball and slammed into Ellie Day, the wife of professional golfer Jason Day, sitting courtside. She was taken away on a stretcher and, according to Cleveland.com, treated and released from a local hospitalSteve Kerr hopes to be back on the Warriors’ bench in the next “two to three weeks” … Are the Sacramento Kings interested in trading for Kevin Martin? … Mike D’Antoni was spotted in Philadelphia, presumably there to meet with the Sixers about a job as an assistant … The Milwaukee Bucks held an “informal” meeting with Carlos Boozer in Los Angeles … The Bucks also took a team bonding trip to AlcatrazThe Currys and Drake made a postgame trip to In-N-Out …

Back and Forth with Bones: Going beyond Durant and Westbrook


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade scores 28 points as the Heat defeat the Thunder.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Miami Heat got their best win of the season on Thursday, edging the Oklahoma City Thunder 97-95 in a back-and-forth affair.

It was a matchup of the league’s No. 2 offense (Oklahoma City) against the No. 3 defense (Miami). And the No. 3 defense won out, holding the Thunder to barely a point per possession.

Did the Thunder help them out, though? Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the most potent offensive pairing in the league, but the Oklahoma City offense can sometimes rely too much on their talent and get stuck when the primary options aren’t available.

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry went back and forth after the game, discussing the Thunder offense, what works and what doesn’t.

Schuhmann: The Thunder are a team that defies the idea that a great offense has to have great ball movement. They’re No. 2 in offensive efficiency, even though they rank last in passes per game and 25th in assist rate. But it always feels like their inability to move the ball comes back to bite them on critical possessions where their one-on-one stuff results in contested jumpers off the dribble.

Barry: They’re really sporadic in involving players other than Durant and Westbrook. The way that those guys get their offense doesn’t necessarily come out of execution to get them shots in spots where they can be most effective. It’s just that they end up getting shots because … they got shots.

It’s very unpredictable as to how and when they’re going to get involved in the offense, which is a testament to those guys being ready to shoot.

One of the things that was evident is how unsettling some possessions are for their defensive balance. They give up a lot of transition opportunities because the floor isn’t balanced. Even though their offensive numbers are great, the way that they’re scoring is unsettling their defense for 10-15 possessions a game.

Schuhmann: Turnovers is a part of that, but also the way that Westbrook attacks.

Barry: Unpredictable attacks, shots off of actions where guys might be on the weak side doing something and they’re really not noticing that the shot has gone up. And a longer shot often produces a longer rebound, which can give the other team a head start.

Miami exposed that a little, but we know that Miami doesn’t want to play fast. If they can do that, you got to think that against Western Conference teams that can really go – the Clippers, the Warriors – that’s a little bit dangerous.

Note: Miami’s 15 fast break points on Thursday was their fourth highest mark of the season, but just one less than their season high.

Schuhmann: While the Thunder offense is functioning mostly from the talent of two guys, they’re not just giving the ball to Durant and Westbrook and saying “Go to work.” There are some some really devastating plays and actions that they run … a Westbrook/Durant pick-and-roll, a Westbrook/Ibaka pick-and-roll where Durant’s defender is responsible for tagging Serge Ibaka on his roll to the basket.

Barry: Billy Donovan is probably stressing to them to make the extra pass, but there’s not a lot of outlets for them. I wrote down a couple of plays…

Early second quarter, Durant has an offensive possession where he’s posted up. You want KD in iso, but there’s no outlet for him.

20151204_durant_post

The very next possession, you’ll see Dion Waiters moving around in space where there’s nobody to be the release valve for him.

20151204_waiters_pnr

Then on Miami’s side, there’s a play where Bosh scores on a pick-and-roll, because he’s the outlet for Dragic. I’m watching Miami and where it is that they have guys spaced for the ball-handler so, if he gets into trouble, he has parachutes on either side. He can pull the ripcord and he’s got guys to go to.

In OKC’s offense, some of their possessions just leave guys out on islands where they have to take difficult shots. They’re put in positions where there’s nowhere else to go.

Schuhmann: That’s partly on them, though. Durant and Westbrook clearly like to stop the ball and play one-on-one.

Barry: I’m OK with those guys, but if you play deeper into the clock and the ball ends up in the hands of someone else … if it’s Anthony Morrow and he doesn’t have an open three, you have to give him some place to go. If it’s Waiters, instead of inviting for him to take the shot all the time, sometimes you have to provide the option where you can go back and say, “Dion, you got to make that next pass.”

There was a great play later in the second quarter where Enes Kanter sets a pin-down screen for Durant, who comes up and flips the high screen-and-roll. Westbrook blows by his defender, the big has to step up, and he drops it off for Kanter.

20151204_rw_kd_pnr

That kind of possession? Money, because there’s a guy in the corner for Russ and he’s got Durant drawing attention, so there’s less help. That kind of initial thrust is good. It’s just a one-pass possession, but a good one.

The most difficult possessions to guard are when, if you don’t get something off your initial thrust, the ball moves from one side of the floor to the other. Strong side to weak side. This is everything the Warriors predicate their offense on. This is what San Antonio does. This is the way the Triangle worked for years.

You’re asking five guys to defend five guys. If you explore, you’re going to find two guys that are not willing to play defense for 24 seconds. Great teams will do that, but within the first 12 seconds of the shot clock, going side to side, you can expose one or two defenders who aren’t willing to respond. Maybe they don’t want to put in the effort or maybe they’re just out of position because the ball moved and bodies moved, and they’re susceptible to the next action.

Obviously, with Durant and Westbrook, OKC is a dangerous team, and they’re still working on things.

Schuhmann: How do you defend the Westbrook/Durant pick-and-roll?

Barry: The biggest thing you have to do, as Durant’s defender, is get that screen pushed up as high as possible, because your best chance in guarding Westbrook is to slide under that Durant pick.

If I’m Durant’s defender, I want to come up with him and be physical with him up to the screen. And at the point of the screen, I want to give him a push, release and step back. That gives Westbrook’s defender room to slide in between, so that he can catch Russell on the penetration.

You’re trying to avoid the switch, so you don’t have Westbrook isolated against your three man or Durant in the post against a smaller guard.

Now other question is, if Russell are Kevin are involved on the strong side, who are you fearing on the weak side? If you do end up switching, you can front KD in the post and bring help from the back side, especially if Andre Roberson is in the game. He’s not an offensive threat.

They’re still learning how to execute this play to be very effective at it. And it changes on a nightly basis, depending on who’s defending them.

Morning shootaround — July 16


VIDEO: Karl-Anthony Towns joins The Starters on Wednesday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bucks take a step toward new arena | Karl hoping to mend fences with Cousins | Cavs, Delly not close to deal | Knicks may use less Triangle

No. 1: Bucks take a step toward new arena — Las Vegas and Seattle may have to keep waiting for NBA teams, because the Bucks look to be staying in Milwaukee. On Wednesday, the Wisconsin state senate approved public funding for a new arena in downtown Milwaukee. The $500 million project still has some hurdles to jump, but this was a big step. Jason Stein and Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have the story

After two days of backroom talks, state senators struck a bipartisan deal Wednesday and approved $250 million in public subsidies for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

The measure passed 21-10 and goes to the Assembly, which like the Senate is controlled by Republicans. No date has been set for an Assembly vote, but for the first time in months, the proposal has momentum.

The plan would preserve Milwaukee’s stake in professional basketball but at a cost to state, city and county residents, who ultimately would pay $400 million, when accounting for interest over 20 years.

“This deal has taken a lot of work, but the Bucks are big bucks for Wisconsin,” said Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), who voted for the plan. “It’s not been easy. It’s not been pretty. But finally, we’ve all been at the table.”

***

No. 2: Karl hoping to mend fences with Cousins — The Sacramento Kings have had some interesting twists and turns over the last several months. Earlier this offseason, the drama centered around star DeMarcus Cousins and head coach George Karl, who reportedly wanted Cousins traded. The two were both in Las Vegas for Summer League, but haven’t had much of a pow wow. Karl hopes to make peace with Cousins soon, though, as CBS Sports’ Ken Berger writes

What’s real is the ongoing rift between Karl and Cousins, who barely crossed paths this week as the All-Star made his way to Vegas. During one game, Cousins sat courtside with Divac while Karl remained in the corner of the stands where many NBA coaches, scouts and execs watch the action. Afterward, they exchanged a limp handshake and barely a word.

“I think Cuz and I have got to figure out how to come together and how to commit to each other,” Karl said.

All the while, Divac has taken full responsibility for mending the relationship between Karl and Cousins, and is working to get the two men in the same room for an airing of grievances before training camp.

“I want to talk to Cuz,” Karl said. “But the situation, because of how it got, I think we’ve got to be patient to get to that point. … I trust Vlade. I don’t know when it will be or how it will be, but I think [the meeting with Cousins] will happen.”

***

No. 3: Cavs, Delly not close to dealMatthew Dellavedova started in The Finals and made huge plays down the stretch of each of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ two wins. The Cavs already have re-signed four of the six free agents from last year’s rotation, but J.R. Smith seems to be on the outside looking in, and there’s a difference between what Dellavedova (a restricted free agent) is looking for and what his team would be willing to pay. In a roundup of news around the league, Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Mannix breaks down the Delly situation …

Not much movement between the Cavaliers and Matthew Dellavedova on a new contract. A restricted free agent, Dellavedova is seeking a multiyear deal starting at $4 million per season, per a source, and the Cavs have balked, largely due to the enormous luxury tax implications that come with that type of contract. The market has largely dried up—Jeremy Lin’s deal with Charlotte closed a potential door—so it will be interesting to see how long this stalemate continues. Paging LeBron James.

***

No. 4: Knicks may use less Triangle — The Knicks had a multitude of issues last season and their defense was worse than their offense. But it didn’t help that there was a steep learning curve in regard to Phil Jackson‘s and Derek Fisher‘s Triangle offense, which produced the wrong kind of shots. No team shot a greater percentage of its shots from mid-range than the Knicks (36 percent), and that was with Carmelo Anthony (who took 46 percent of his shots from mid-range) missing half the season. The Knicks have upgraded Anthony’s supporting cast, and may be changing up the offense as well, as Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal writes

The Knicks haven’t scrapped the triangle, which is still their base offense, even here in summer-league games. But from last year to now, there’s been a considerable difference concerning how and when the players rely on the system to score.

It could be argued, though, that the best indication of this shift took place in a war room rather than on the hardwood.

New York’s decision to take not one, but two first-rounders—power forward Kristaps Porzingis and point guard Jerian Grant—who specialize in the pick-and-roll was telling. Given that pick-and-roll sets have traditionally been limited in the triangle offense, the draft selections suggested the Knicks were more prepared to begin building around their talent instead of letting their system fully dictate what sorts of players are on the roster.

“The offense is going to be designed around the guys that we have,” Fisher said after the team drafted Porzingis and Grant. “The screen and roll is going to be a part of what we do, but it’s not necessarily going to become something we rely on to get good shots at all times.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mikhail Prokhorov may be buying the remaining shares of the NetsMatt Bonner is back in (silver and) blackDoug McDermott needs a fresh start after a rough rookie seasonJohn Henson could have a bigger role with the Bucks this season … and Dion Waiters thinks the Thunder are championship material.

ICYMI: Pierre Jackson and J.P. Tokoto hooked up for a monster alley-oop in the Sixers’ Summer League loss to Brooklyn on Wednesday:


VIDEO: Jackson to Tokoto

Morning Shootaround — March 16


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron questionable for second return to Miami | Thunder get big win vs. Bulls | Garnett hosts his Brooklyn friends

No. 1: LeBron questionable for second return to Miami — That emotional return to Miami the first time around for LeBron James might not have a second act. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ superstar is questionable for tonight’s game after taking an awkward fall on his right leg in Sunday’s win over Orlando. The Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving to carry the load if LeBron cannot go. But as NBA.com’s John Schuhmann points out, the Cavs are just 2-9 without LeBron this season and have been outscored by 7.9 points per 100 possessions with him off the floor. But missing another game in this particular season wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for James. Joe Vardon of the Plain Dealer explains:

James has already missed a career-high 11 games this season due to injury. Additionally, both he and the Cavaliers have expressed a desire to rest James for some games leading up to the playoffs in April.

But a rematch with the Heat in Miami, where James won two titles in four years and where he was received warmly when the Cavs played there Christmas Day, was not one James planned to skip.

James’ first game in Miami this season was emotional for him and included a video tribute and standing ovation from the home fans.

He cut a video testimonial for Bleacher Report about the emotions of playing against former teammates Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, and others.

On Sunday night, James agreed the next South Beach visit would have a much different feel.

It’d be really different if he didn’t play.

“For me to be able to just finish the game, you know, the way I fell, the way I took that fall, it just goes to my training, the way I approach the game off the floor,” James said. “That time I was able to stay on the floor with my teammates.”

James scored four points and dished out three assists while playing 10 of 12 minutes in the fourth quarter.

It’s also worth noting that James’ best, most athletic dunk was in the final period, when he reached the ball high above the rim as he glided past defenders and crushed it with his right hand with 5:31 left.


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about how he’s feeling after the Cavs’ win in Orlando

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 | Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings | Waiters believes he has grown | Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly?

No. 1: Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 — Black was going to be the color of the night heading toward the Portland Trail Blazers’ home game against Washington Saturday, the proper attire for the sort of mourning already going on over forward LaMarcus Aldridge‘s injured left thumb and the six-to-eight weeks Aldridge likely was going to miss recuperating and rehabbing. But then Aldridge surprised Blazers fans by announcing that he would postpone surgery and try to play with the torn ligament. And he did just that in Portland’s 103-96 victory, putting the “triumphant” into his return with 26 points, nine rebounds and one splint. Here’s some of the quotage from the Blazers’ locker room:

Head coach Terry Stotts: “Well it was a win that we needed to get. Understatement: it was good to have LA back. I’m glad he had a good game with the thumb and the splint. It was very encouraging.”

Blazers guard Wesley Matthews: “He was big time. Even if he didn’t have the monster game that he did, I think just his presence and his sacrifice of his own body and for him to recognize how special this season is and can be and continue to be, for him to give that up to be out there with us in the trenches, it speaks volumes. … He can’t sit out. He doesn’t want to sit out. He loves this game and figures if he’s got something to give, he’s going to give. I can relate to that.”

Aldridge: “I felt okay. There was a few moments where I got it hit or whatever, and it was kind of tender. But for the most part, it was okay. … I was just trying to work with it. I kind of figured it out as the game went on, how to use it or whatever, and I kind of played with it.”

More Aldridge, on the Moda Center crowd reaction: “It was humbling. I thought they definitely showed me love and they respected what I was doing at that moment, trying to play through it, so that was humbling.”

 

Not all was sweetness and light on the injury front in Portland, however. Wing Nicolas Batum sat out Saturday’s game after aggravating a right wrist injury Thursday against Boston. He initially hurt it when he took a spill in Milwaukee Dec. 17. Here is an update from The Oregonian:

Batum missed the next game, Dec. 19 at San Antonio, then played in the next two games before sitting out the Dec. 23 game at Oklahoma City. He said he has aggravated the injury several times – usually when he falls to the court. On Thursday against Boston, it was a third quarter fall that took him out of the game and ultimately led to him missing Saturday’s 103-96 victory over Washington.

Batum, who is wearing an immobilizing brace, said he is unsure whether he will rest and let the wrist heal, or continue playing through discomfort during the Blazers upcoming trip at Brooklyn, Cleveland, Atlanta and Milwaukee.

He is averaging 9.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 38 games. He is shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from three-point range, figures he largely attributes to his ailing wrist.

“It’s my shooting wrist,” Batum said.

***

No. 2: Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings — The pain in which Brandon Jennings writhed on the court at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee Saturday night — you could almost feel it. The way the Detroit Pistons’ point guard grimaced and banged the floor with one hand, while grabbing at his left ankle with the other, was palpable. Jennings, who had been rejuvenated along with the Detroit Pistons since they reconfigured their attack in a post-Josh Smith world, suffered a serious injury when he took a defensive step back on an inbounds play, and most who saw the replay and its aftermath immediately began to think of a torn Achilles tendon. That included teammate Caron Butler, as chronicled by the Detroit News:

“I saw him in pain, just the way he was. It was the second time I’ve seen something like that,” Butler said after Saturday’s game.

If Jennings didn’t know exactly what it was at the time, Butler had a good enough idea, remembering a former teammate Pistons fans should be familiar with.

Chauncey Billups,” Butler said, his face cringing at the memory of Billups’ Achilles tear in 2012 when both were members of the L.A. Clippers.

“It happened in Orlando. We were playing good basketball, Chauncey was playing great. I was right next to him. He asked, ‘Did you kick me?’ I said, ‘Nah, I didn’t touch you.’ He was on the ground grimacing so he got up and went back down because he couldn’t move. He just started hopping.”

The Pistons know how important Jennings has been, averaging 19.8 points since Smith was released. They were expecting a medical update Sunday, with backup D.J. Augustin poised to step into a bigger role again this season the way he did in Chicago when Derrick Rose got hurt early last season.

Like a quarterback, Jennings touched the ball every single play he was on the floor, the most improved player in the last 15 games. Averaging 21.3 points and 7.5 assists on 44-percent shooting tells only part of the story.

“He’s tapped into a part of his DNA that says he’s a star and he’s got to that place,” Butler said. “And we were riding him out. Greg and Andre and everybody’s gonna have to raise the bar.”

“He’s been the guy who’s been our catalyst offensively,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s been averaging 20 a game, high-assist, low-turnover, playing at the highest level of his career. Was a huge factor in the previous 15 games so, it’s a major, major loss.”

A Pistons teammate who suffered a shared his experience with the Detroit Free Press:

Jonas Jerebko, who tore his Achilles in 2010 in the first preseason game of his second season, said he had a chance to talk to Jennings.

He wouldn’t say what was discussed, but recalled his injury.

“It was like learning to walk again,” Jerebko said with a slight chuckle. “You really started off there, but you know we have the best in the business with [physical therapist] Arnie Kander.”

***

No. 3: Waiters believes he has grownDion Waiters was back in Cleveland with his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in anticipation of Sunday’s clash with the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. He’s the shooting guard traded a couple of weeks back in the deal that delivered New York’s J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland, part of a roster makeover credited – along with LeBron James‘ spa-shutdown of two weeks to heal and invigorate – for the Cavs’ boost in play. Waiters didn’t sound like an eager participant but he did submit to and answer questions from the media, including ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, on topics such as being scapegoated and his rapport with star teammates past and present.

“I ain’t really care what nobody say. It ain’t affect me. I slept good every night. I slept good every night. So, I mean, that’s what comes with the territory. That’s what comes with it when you got somebody like LeBron who brings all that attention around the team when we wasn’t used to having that. So the littlest things that you do, they be like the biggest. It’s so crazy. But it is what it is. I’m not in that situation anymore. Over here it’s still the same situation, but it’s different. I’m happy, I’m comfortable already two weeks in and I feel like I’ve grown. I’ve grown in a short period of time as a player and off the court.”

Waiters is averaging 11.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.8 steals on 39.8 percent shooting from the floor and 25 percent shooting from 3-point range in eight games with the Thunder. His production is nearly identical to the 10.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals on 40.4 percent from the field and 25.6 percent from 3 that he averaged for Cleveland this season before the trade.

The difference is in the win-loss column. The Thunder are 5-3 since acquiring Waiters. The Cavs are on an upswing as well, winners of five in a row.

“Both teams are doing great — winning,” Waiters said. “Everybody seems at ease now and that’s what it’s about, just being happy, being comfortable and having fun, getting an opportunity. That’s what it’s about.”

While his relationship with James has apparently ended, Waiters explained why reigning MVP Kevin Durant has embraced him.

“From the outside looking in, he probably saw how things were looking or how I’m always the odd man out and things like that. How it was going, how my name was always in something and half the time it probably never was me,” Waiters said. “I was that guy who you point the finger at, but I was fine with it. I could take it. I didn’t have no pressure on me. I didn’t have no pressure on me. My job is to go out there and play basketball, get as many wins as we can as a unit and unfortunately, it didn’t work out. And I think the organizations made great decisions on the moves and it’s helping both teams.”

***

No. 4: Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly? — We return now to our regularly scheduled injury news – notice a trend in these daily reports? – and to the suggestion by ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes that the Lakers, and specifically coach Byron Scott, could have handled the early days of Kobe Bryant‘s shoulder injury better. Instead, by letting Bryant continue to play after an overload of early-season minutes, Scott’s decision might have contributed to the torn rotator cuff on which they’ll all be updated Monday.

In hindsight, these issues appear greatly troubling, because just as Bryant must treat every aspect of his health, training and diet so seriously at this age just so he can perform, so too must the Lakers, and especially Scott, be ever so cautious with him.

That’s all the more true because Bryant is the Lakers’ sole attraction during an awful season, the lone reason for fans to tune in or attend games, all they really have to look forward to until the draft lottery. From a business sense, Bryant is their cash cow — their extremely well-paid cash cow — and thus missteps are extremely costly.

Where does blame lie? Certainly some falls on Bryant. He’s as powerful as any figure within the Lakers’ organization and as powerful as any player within any NBA franchise. If he wanted to play fewer minutes, he could have. If he wanted to get his shoulder examined earlier, he could have. The only person who could’ve stopped Kobe was Kobe, but he didn’t, because Kobe is Kobe. He believes he will overcome.

So the blame truly falls on Scott, who hasn’t been shy about admitting his fault in the issue. And, to a greater degree, the blame truly falls on the entire organization for not stepping in at some point earlier on when Bryant was playing all those minutes.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Washington’s John Wall wants Ray Allen to join the Wizards, but the All-Star point guard is busy enough without adding recruiting duties. … Brooklyn’s players and coaches admit they were shocked to learn of forward Mirza Teletovic’s season-ending condition … Houston’s Jason Terry still intends to play until he’s 40, and he’s surprised Shawn Marion won’t. … The photographer who first snapped Michael Jordan in that iconic, soaring pose is suing Nike over its use of the Jumpman logo. … Charlotte’s Marvin Williams did suffer a concussion when he took that elbow from New York’s Jason Smith.

 


Advertisement