Posts Tagged ‘Doc Rivers’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 9




VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Spurs survive close shave | Davis injures back | Brand goal is to teach | Raptors take down Wiz again | Mbah a Moute shines

No. 1: Spurs survive close call against Knicks — Admittedly, the blowout wins the Spurs have been enjoying at home this season are much easier on the nerves. But when Jose Calderon’s last-ditch shot missed and San Antonio survived a nail-biter against the Knicks Friday night, it might have been the kind of game the streaking Spurs needed as they head into the meat of their schedule. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News has the scoop:

That their latest victory took the full 48 minutes to secure was not lost on Spurs players, who in recent games had grown accustomed to playing fourth quarters with their starters’ feet propped up.

“I think we needed it,” David West said. “I think we figured out some execution stuff, some timing stuff you can only do in a tight game.”

Throughout a stellar start to the season that left them at 32-6 on Friday, keeping pace with the best start in club history, the Spurs have been on the lookout for cracks to fill.

Not everything New York threw the Spurs’ way will prepare them for what is to come.

It will be a while, for instance, before they face another 7-foot-3 Latvian who can shoot the 3-pointer.

Rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis, all of 20 years old, scorched the NBA’s top-rated defense for 28 points and 11 rebounds. Porzingis was a thorn in the Spurs’ side on the offensive end, and an easy mark on defense. Aldridge got a batch of his points posting up the slender Porzingis.

The Spurs scored 60 points in the paint Friday, and Popovich thought they could have gotten more.

“It’s a strength that we have,” Popovich said. “And we’re getting better and better at recognizing it.” The Spurs did a better job against Anthony.

Tag-teamed by Leonard and Danny Green, Anthony started 2 for 12. The eight-time All-Star eventually found his way to 20 points and 12 boards, thanks to 10 trips to the foul line, but nothing came easy.

“I think they did a good job,” Popovich said of Green and Leonard. “As good as can be expected against a Hall of Fame player.”

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No. 2: Pelicans lose A.D. to back injury — Another day, another injury for the Pelicans in what has rapidly become a painful and star-crossed season. Star forward Anthony Davis crashed into the seats while chasing a loose ball early in Friday’s loss to the Pacers and suffered a lower back contusion. He was unable to return to the game and according to John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Pelicans are still waiting on an update on Davis’s availability:

Davis initially returned to the game, but shortly afterwards Alvin Gentry was forced to call a 20-second timeout to get Davis out of the game. Davis headed to the locker room for treatment and did not return. He was not made available after the game and his status for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers has not been determined but an update may be issued by the team after Saturday’s practice.
But X-rays were negative, and he is listed as day-to-day.

”I don’t know anything yet,” Gentry said after Friday’s game. ”He was telling me that he had back pains when he left the court. So I’m sure we’ll find out later on.”

Davis has missed three games this season due to injury, which included a right hip contusion injury and sore right left shoulder.

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No. 3: Teaching is the thing for Elton Brand — If 36-year-old Elton Brand drops in a basket or two and chases down a rebound for the 76ers, that’s all just gravy. The veteran forward came out of retirement to join the team this week with one task in mind, says Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer. That’s to show the ropes to Jahlil Okafor and the other young members of the Sixers’ roster:

“He’s here to guide the young guys and anything else is a bonus,” coach Brett Brown said. “I see him at practice pulling Nerlens [Noel] and Jahlil aside and showing them some of [Atlanta forward Paul] Millsap’s tricks, how he scored on him in practice, how can that not just be priceless?”

Brand has put a price on it, and it isn’t monetary. It’s about giving back to the game, about acquiescing to pleas from his college coach and his agent and, maybe a little bit, to the idea that he can get back on the court again for a few minutes at a stretch and show a little something one more time.

“Before practice yesterday, I dropped my son off at school at 8 a.m. I got to practice early, did some cardio, shot with the coaches, lifted, then had a whole long practice,” Brand said. “I ate lunch with the team, shot free throws afterward, and still picked up my son. I was home by 5 o’clock.”

It sounds so reasonable, and perhaps Brand can pull off this balancing act. If it doesn’t work, the season will be over in three months and he can look everyone in the eye and say he tried.

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No. 4: Raptors keep getting back at Wizards — If you think players have short memories and easily forget things that happened last season, think again. That four-game playoff sweep at the hands of the Wizards last spring was a shocking eye opener to the Raptors. Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star says that miserable experience still motivated DeMar DeRozan and his teammates in Friday night’s win:

DeMar DeRozan didn’t blink before the words were out of his mouth.
“We got swept last year,” the Toronto Raptors shooting guard said, after he’d hung a season-high 35 points on the Washington Wizards, the offensive backbone in a defensively-sound 97-88 win. DeRozan’s previous season high was 34 and one of those games came against the Wizards too.

Last year’s playoff sweep at the hands of the Wizards is old news by now, hammered home by 2016’s arrival. But being on the Verizon Center court, hearing a crowd of 17,064 cheering the Wizards on and seeing those painfully familiar red, white and blue jerseys, brings the burn of failure back to DeRozan, at least for one night.

“I was here for the playoffs, and that was a bad feeling to get swept,” he said. “Coming back here just playing against them (gives) the same reminder of what happened.”

The Raptors (now 23-15) know that avenging that loss can’t happen until the playoffs, whoever their opponent would be. Friday’s win was a testament to how different these Raptors look now, getting back to their defensive roots after two embarrassing losses earlier this week to the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers.

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No. 5: Mbah a Moute helps Clippers thriveChris Paul has stepped up his All-Star level game. DeAndre Jordan has shouldered more of the burden. J.J. Reddick, Paul Pierce and others have made big shots. But a big part of the secret to the Clippers’ success in the absence of the injured Blake Griffin has been the below the radar efforts of Luc Mbah a Moute, says Dan Woike of the Orange Country Register:

“Luc is the most under-appreciated person on our team, in all honesty,” Paul said Friday. “We used to talk about DJ all the time, but everyone sees what DJ does on a nightly basis.

“But Luc is the guy. He does everything. He defends. He cuts. He does everything a coach would appreciate but a fan has no idea that he’s doing.”

And, technically, until Thursday his contract wasn’t fully guaranteed for the season.

Ultimately, the decision to keep him wasn’t much of a decision at all.

The Clippers lucked into Mbah a Moute last summer after the Sacramento Kings voided his free-agent deal due to a failed physical – the results of which have been disputed.

Looking for a landing spot, the former UCLA star ended up with the Clippers right before training camp, competing with veteran big man Chuck Hayes for the final roster spot.

Last season, Clippers coach Doc Rivers chose Jared Cunningham over Joe Ingles for the Clippers’ final roster spot. Cunningham was traded to Philadelphia in early January and was waived. Ingles, who was claimed by the Utah Jazz, ended up starting 32 games at small forward, a position where the Clippers could’ve used him.

This season, clearly, Rivers chose right.

Hayes hasn’t played this season, and Mbah a Moute is the Clippers’ starting small forward.

Since inserting him into the starting lineup, the Clippers are 15-5 – the third-best record in the NBA. They have the fifth-best offense in the NBA during that stretch and the sixth-best defense.

“What I love about Luc also is Luc can play a lot of minutes in a game or he can play very little minutes in a game, there’s still no body language change or anything like that,” Rivers said. “He understands there are nights we need offensive guys on the floor, we need floor-spacers. There are nights where we need a stop, and Luc does it.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephen Curry is now wearing soccer style shin guards to keep playing through his injury…One front row fan in Minneapolis got a little too up close and personal with Timofey Mozgov…Lamar Odom has been moved out of hospital as rehabilitation continues…Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t ruling out a return to Phoenix to conclude his NBA career…LeBron James wants to see J.R. Smith the All-Star Weekend 3-point Shootout.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry won’t sit 4 weeks to heal injury | Gentry rips Pelicans’ effort vs. Mavs | Report: McCollum could have played last night | Raptors try to get by while Carroll mends | Lee officially out of Celtics’ rotation

No. 1: Curry unlikely to rest four weeks to heal troublesome shin — Several storylines follow the Golden State Warriors on a near-nightly basis now — whether or not they can surpass the NBA record of 72 wins set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, when coach Steve Kerr will return to the sidelines and whether or not Stephen Curry will suit up each night as he deals with a nagging shin injury. The first two questions remain unclear in terms of an immediate answer, but for the time being, Curry won’t be out of the lineup for weeks on end to heal the injury. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons has more on why Curry isn’t at risk if he keeps playing on the injury:

Warriors point guard Stephen Curry isn’t interested in sitting out four weeks to let the painful contusion on his left shin heal, and a noted orthopedic surgeon with a specialty in treating sports injuries says that’s just fine.

“He’s not risking his career or anything by this,” said Dr. Brian Schulz, who works for the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. “He’s just going to have to deal with pain, which he’s proven in the past is not a big deal for him.

“It’s not a serious thing, but it’s definitely something that could annoy him.”

Curry has been plenty annoyed by the injury, which occurred in the Warriors’ victory over Utah on Dec. 23. He has been kicked three times in the same spot since then, despite sitting out the Warriors’ back-to-back set last week in Dallas and in Houston.

It happened again in the third quarter Tuesday, when Curry’s shin smacked into the leg of Lakers center Roy Hibbert. The Warriors had to call a timeout calm the pain for Curry, who talked his way back onto the court.

“I’m not going to sit out four weeks, so we’ve just got to figure out how to protect it when I’m out there on the floor and keep playing,” said Curry, who is listed as questionable for Friday’s game at Portland on the team’s injury report. “We’ve done a good amount. I’ve just had a couple of unlucky plays. We’ll keep addressing it and keep treating it, I’ll keep playing, and hopefully, over time, I’ll get through it.”

The Warriors have been experimenting with different shin pads to protect Curry, and Schulz says anything that limits the force of the impact on the sensitive area is the correct way to go about it.

“The other option, which I know he’s not going to do, is just sit out until it goes away,” Schulz said. … “It’s not a structural-damage kind of thing. He’s not risking further damage, other than the fact that if he keeps banging it, it may linger around longer.”

Data curated by PointAfter

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Morning Shootaround — Dec. 26


VIDEO: Top plays from Christmas Day games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better | James wants clarity from Cavaliers | Rockets leave coal for Spurs | Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting

No. 1: Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, even the most rabid Warriors fan, who truly thinks the Warriors have underperformed this season. After all, after last night’s 89-83 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the highly anticipated NBA Finals rematch, the Warriors moved to a ridiculous 28-1 on the season, which included a 24-game winning streak. That is, it’s hard to find criticism unless you talk to the actual Warriors players themselves, as our Scott Howard-Cooper did, where you find that the Warriors believe despite all the W’s, they aren’t playing all that great and still have room to grow

“Look,” center Andrew Bogut said, “we haven’t played great the last 10 games. That’s something that we’ve addressed in this locker room.”

“I don’t think we’ve played well,” power forward Draymond Green said. “Even tonight. We did some good things, but I still don’t think we’ve played well.”

“I’m really impressed with our defense the last two games,” interim coach Luke Walton said. “Before that, our defense was struggling.”

Help is on the way, if only the Warriors can hold it together another couple weeks and avoid the all-out panic that will come if they slump all the way to, say, 75-win pace and only break the single-season record by three games as opposed to the current tracking to 79 victories. Good news is on the horizon for a change.

Coach Steve Kerr, out since the early days of training camp while recovering from the effects of two back surgeries in the offseason, is nearing a return. He stepped in for an ill Walton to run practice Tuesday, the interim to the interim, watched the Cleveland game from the coaches’ office in Oracle and plans to accompany the team on the Dallas-Houston back-to-back that begins Wednesday while Walton continues to lead. While the Warriors continue to avoid targeting a return date, the increased activity raises the possibility Kerr could be back as soon as Jan. 2 against the Nuggets in Oakland.

Forward Harrison Barnes, out the last 12 games with a sprained left ankle, was in some of the scrimmage Tuesday and Thursday participated in three-on-three drills with the team. Being listed as doubtful for Friday showed there was at least the thought he could play against the Cavaliers, so Monday against the Kings at Oracle or the two games in Texas are all possibilities.

The next week or two, depending on the actual return dates and how long Barnes will need to work back into game shape, could become an eventful time in the season of a defending champion, and that just doesn’t happen very often in early-January. Golden State will be whole again, assuming no one else gets hurt in the meantime, with Barnes an important piece as the starting small forward and also one of the triggers to the successful small-ball lineup when he moves to power forward.

It would have been impossible on opening night to imagine the Warriors would stand at 28-1 under any circumstances, let alone 28-1 with a coach younger than several players around the league and stepping in with two previous seasons as an assistant, with a concussion costing Bogut six games and Barnes’ absence. Now imagine the Warriors at 28-1 and thinking they will start to play better in the future.

“Maybe a little bit,” Bogut said.

Maybe more than a little bit.

“There’s part of it that [makes me mad] and there’s part of it that makes me very, very happy,” Green said. “I think we’ve got a lot of improving to do, and we will.”

Mad because the Warriors are not happy with how they have played lately. The happy: “Because what are we? Twenty-eight and one? You’re 28-1 and you’re not near playing well, that’s exciting. We know we know how to get to that point and we know we’ll reach that point. And when we do, I think that’s trouble because if we’re 28-1 and we’re not playing well, imagine where we are. That’s why it excites me.

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No. 2: James wants clarity from Cavaliers Meanwhile, the Warriors’ vanquished Christmas Day foe, the Cleveland Cavaliers, drop to 19-8. That’s still good enough for the lead in the Eastern Conference, but with the Cavs getting more players back from injury and healthy, including Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert, the Cavs have more options available than ever before. And after the loss to the Warriors, as Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon writes, LeBron James would like to see the Cavs discover a rhythm going forward

After the Cavs lost 89-83 to the defending champion Warriors on Golden State’s home court, where it’s now won 32 in a row during the regular season, dating back to last year, James repeatedly mentioned the lack of continuity the Cavs had on the court and suggested that at least some of it had to do with David Blatt‘s rotation.

“It’s going to take some time to get back into rhythm, and all of us, not just the players, but everyone, to get back in rhythm,” James said.

The lineups and the newness need some context, and what James said about them was nothing like the cool attitude he directed toward Blatt at times last season.

In fact, James didn’t name his coach specifically on Friday, but the bottom line was James called for Blatt and his staff to gain perhaps a clearer sense of who they want to play, and when, now that the entire team is healthy.

“For us to have a full unit, we’ve got to practice, we’ve got to play some games where we know what we want to do, what lineups we want to play out there,” James said.

“It’s an adjustment period, it’s not just going to happen – you plug a guy in there, plug two guys in there and it automatically happens,” he continued. “It’s going to be an adjustment period, but we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine toward February and March.”

This was just the second game this season that the Cavs had all 15 players available, due to season-long injuries to Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert.

That’s not Blatt’s fault, but, it was the head coach who placed James, Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, and Tristan Thompson on the court to start the fourth quarter. It was the first time all season they’d all been on the court at the same time.

When Irving and Kevin Love subbed in for James and Smith with 10:06 left in the quarter, the Cavs still had a lineup that had never played together. Those are just two examples.

Richard Jefferson did not play at all against the Warriors. Mo Williams logged 4:39, and James Jones, a favorite of James, played just 1:34.

James led the Cavs with 25 points and contributed nine rebounds, but shot 10-of-26 and was a brutal 4-of-9 from the foul line. He took the blame for that, saying “I wasn’t very good, inefficient, and it trickled down to everybody else.”

The Cavs’ 83 points, 31.6 percent shooting from the field and 16.7 percent shooting from 3-point range were season lows. Irving (13 points) shot 4-of-15 and Love (10 points, 18 rebounds) was 5-of-16. Cleveland assisted on just 12-of-30 baskets.

“For the first time, for a long period of time we had some different lineups out there,” James explained, talking about the woes on offense. “And against a championship team like this, it’s kind of hard to do that on the fly. We’re not making no excuses, we still got to be a lot better, still got to move the ball, got to share the ball, get it moving from side to side, but offensively we were all out of rhythm.

“You credit to their defense, for sure, and then the lack of detail.”

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No. 3: Rockets leave coal for Spurs While the Warriors have romped through the NBA this season, the San Antonio Spurs have quietly put in work as well, and entered yesterday’s Christmas game against the Houston Rockets with a sparkling 25-5 record. Their opponent, the Houston Rockets, have struggled to find an identity, firing a coach (Kevin McHale) and getting inconsistent play from their superstars, James Harden and Dwight Howard. But on a big stage yesterday, the Rockets turned to their defense to grind out an 88-84 win over the Spurs, and as our Fran Blinebury writes, Houston got a present from their veteran reserve guard, Jason Terry

Jason Terry is long past the days of being the shiny new toy. He has stockings that have hung from chimneys far longer than some of his teammates have hung around the planet.

So even after the Rockets had spent most of the night standing toe-to-toe and going push-to-shove with the Spurs, there came a time to seal the deal and the closer had to come out of the attic.

It wasn’t just Terry’s nine points and three steals in the last 10½ minutes of the bone-jarring 88-84 victory Friday night at the Toyota Center. It was the way he did everything. Like he owned the place.

Ever since the shocking 5-10 start to the season that got coach Kevin McHale fired, the Rockets have been trying to convince everybody, including themselves, that they’re really a very good team, capable of getting back again to the Western Conference finals.

Trouble is, since the opening tip back in October, every time the Rockets have put another stake in the ground with a signature win over the Thunder, at Dallas or sweeping a pair of duels from the Clippers, they have also put a stake or a half dozen into their own foot. A combined 0-5 record against the lowly Nuggets and Nets. A whipping in Sacramento. A comeback that came up just short in Orlando.

You don’t get to call yourself a real contender until you stop pretending to show up consistently and take the job seriously every night. Dwight Howard and James Harden talk the talk.

“The Jet” puts his arms out at his sides and takes flight on the wings of drive and emotion that have carried him into a 17th NBA season.

“That’s what I’ve prided myself on, being ready, always stepping up to the moment,” Terry said. “In big moments like tonight when my team needed me most, I want to show up and be effective.”

He buried a big 3-pointer. He hit a mid-range jumper from the wing. He stepped into the San Antonio passing lanes to snatch away three balls to get the Rockets headed in the other direction.

But now, more than being the fire-starter in a big holiday event — the first time the Rockets hosted a home Christmas Day game since moving to Houston in 1971 — Terry’s task and bigger challenge will be to instill a sense of every day urgency that goes from the locker room out onto the court. Even in too many of their wins this season, the Rockets have started games lazily and had to come scrambling back from double-digit holes. Which is why this latest so-called statement win lifts their record back to just 16-15.

Harden’s pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers were big and it’s good to know that you’ve got that arrow in your quiver, but it can’t be enough to think he’ll be able to bail you out game after game with offensive heroics. And it was Terry’s spark that ignited the flame.

Terry had been inserted into the starting lineup for the first four games after J.B. Bickerstaff took over the team. But as the team kept struggling, the interim coach began to shuffle his guards like a casino dealer until finally he turned Terry back face up in this one. In fact, the veteran has played less than 15 minutes in 11 games this season and also has six DNPs, including the previous game, which the Rockets lost at Orlando. That’s now likely to change.

“I just feel like we need him on the floor,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s times where he needs the rest, obviously. But big moments in big games, he’s one of the guys that I trust the most. I trust not only that he’ll do the right thing, but I trust that he’ll perform and then I trust that he’ll carry his teammates in a positive direction.

“You can’t speak enough about him. He’s a class guy. He’s a winner. He’s a champion. He’s a leader. He’ll sacrifice, whatever it takes to win. That’s what he does. That’s who he is. Every since I’ve known him he’s been that way.”

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No. 4: Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting The first 2016 All-Star voting results are in, and while there are still several more rounds to go, at least for now, Kobe Bryant has a huge lead over everyone else in the NBA, including Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Considering Kobe’s global appeal and previously announced retirement plans, it shouldn’t come a complete surprise that fans want to see him on the NBA’s big stage one final time. But as ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, the numbers apparently shocked at least one person: Kobe Bryant.

Bryant has 719,235 votes — well ahead of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry (510,202), the next-highest vote-getter, and more than twice as many as Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James (357,937).

After the Lakers’ 94-84, Christmas night loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Bryant said he was more than a little surprised he had such a wide lead.

“Listen, I was making a little coffee run this morning, got some gas and decided to just go on Instagram and peruse,” he said, “and [I] saw the damn votes, and I was like, ‘What the hell?’ Shocked doesn’t do it justice.”

He added, “It’s exciting. What can I say? Just thankful.”

The 2016 NBA All-Star Game, to be held in Toronto, would be Bryant’s last, as he has announced his plans to retire after this season, his 20th in the NBA. His 17 All-Star selections are second all-time behind former Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had 19. Bryant, 37, is the leading scorer in NBA All-Star history (280 points).

This year marks the first time that the 6-foot-6 Bryant is being listed as a member of the frontcourt in All-Star voting. In previous years, he has been listed as a guard. The second-highest vote-getter among Western Conference frontcourt players is Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (349,473).

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Friday’s game that Bryant deserves a spot on the All-Star team.

“A lot of people disagree with me on that. That’s fine. I have my opinion. I think Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I don’t care if he’s a starter of if they figure out a 13th spot for him. [With] what he’s done in his career, he should be on the All-Star team, and I don’t see any debate in that. You can have one, but I’m not hearing it.”

But what if someone else were left off, such as one of Rivers’ players?

“It would be awful, but Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I think they should have a special exception and put 13 guys on if that’s the case if he wasn’t in one of the top 12 as far as voting or whatever. But I just believe he should be on it. Magic [Johnson] was on, Michael [Jordan] was on with the Wizards. I think certain guys earn that right, and unfortunately for other guys who can’t make it, they have to earn that right too.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Chicago Bulls may have turned a corner with their win over the Oklahoma City Thunder yesterday … Steph Curry doesn’t think he’s “hurting” basketball, regardless of what his former coach Mark Jackson says … Chris Bosh punctuated Miami’s win over New Orleans yesterday by talking trash to Anthony Davis down the stretchEvan Fournier has broken out of his slump in Orlando … You can ask him questions, but doesn’t have to answer them …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 6


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Nov. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Steph Curry, the biggest entertainer of this generation? | Jerry Colangelo not ready to hand Kobe a Team USA spot | Paul Pierce speaks on the struggling Clippers

No. 1: Steph Curry, the biggest entertainer of this generation? Steph Curry is on the verge of winning back-to-back MVPs (and maybe championships) if this keeps up, as the Warriors rolled into Brooklyn for Sunday’s game riding a 21-game winning streak to start the season. And Steph is the league’s leading scorer — he had 44 against the Raptors on Saturday — and doing plenty to keep the Warriors in the win column. Question: Would you put him into the Hall of Fame right now if he suddenly retired? I had that discussion with a few writers the other day. Another question: Where does he rank, right now, in this generation? From an entertaining standpoint, Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News is ready to elevate Curry at or near the top:

That’s the unique power of what Curry is doing these days with the 20-0 Warriors — it’s far beyond his team affiliation or the normal demographics of this sport.

He’s NBA Elvis. Today’s Jesse Owens. He’s the new thing that blows away all existing limits and boundaries.

So yes, the victories are important. Last season’s championship and Curry’s MVP award were crowning milestones, no doubt.

And Curry’s poise and grace throughout it all — his connection to his teammates, coaches and fans — serve as the largest exclamation points to his ascension.

But as a cultural barometer, the specific Curry Moments — most recently, his incredible 28-point third-quarter performance Wednesday in Charlotte — are essentially stand-alone landmarks.

We watch. He plays. The night turns electric.

Brent Barry, a 14-year NBA veteran and now a national TV analyst, says his 9-year-old son asks him one thing every afternoon: “Is Steph playing tonight?” And on Wednesday they were another witness for Curry.

“He won’t miss games,” Barry said of his son, “just like Steph won’t miss shots.”

The NBA, of course, is not lacking for immense, compelling talents — starting with LeBron James and continuing through Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Russell Westbrook, Draymond Green and James Harden, among others.

But there is something different about Curry right now, in his prime (27, in his seventh NBA season) and accelerating his game well past even last season’s MVP dominance.

As future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett suggested a few weeks ago, Curry is treading upon sacred NBA territory — where only Michael Jordan recently has tread.

With Curry and the Warriors at the forefront, lethal long-distance shooting has become basketball’s most potent force, and Curry proves it every game. “Like Michael Jordan was a whole other thing, this guy is his own thing,” Garnett told reporters Nov. 12. “It’s beautiful for basketball.”

Curry, who scored 40 points in only 30 minutes on Wednesday, now has six games of 40 points or more this season. The last player to do that in his team’s first 20 games: Jordan in 1986.

But this is not close to the same thing, because Jordan and Curry represent different levels of NBA invincibility.

In his prime, Jordan attacked the rim and defied gravity; Curry seems to exist in a dimension without it.

He just calmly places himself and the basketball wherever he wants while all other players whirl and tumble haphazardly around him.

NBA legend Jerry West, a Warriors executive, said the most notable part of Curry’s career track is that he works so hard in the off-season and keeps taking enormous strides.

“I think he’s going to create a new kind of player to be honest with you,” West said. “I think before it’s all said and done, here’s a guy that’s going to make his own place in history in a completely different manner than these other players have done.”

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No. 2:   Team USA boss Jerry Colangelo not ready to hand Kobe a spot — You would think there would be lots of sentiment to put Kobe Bryant on Team USA in Rio next year purely because, from an accomplishment standpoint, Kobe has earned the right to be seriously considered. Call it a career achievement award, and also, as an American, Kobe has been at the forefront of international basketball from an active player’s standpoint. Anyway, not so fast. Jerry Colangelo said Kobe must earn a spot, which is hard to imagine Kobe doing at this stage of his career. Sam Amick of USA Today sat down with Colangelo about Kobe:

Colangelo, who barely missed his chance to take Bryant in the 1996 draft when he was running the Phoenix Suns, certainly has a soft spot for the future Hall of Famer. He discusses not only the Olympic decision here, but their relationship and a few memories inspired by Bryant’s retirement announcement.

Colangelo on Bryant’s interest …

“When I was approached originally about Kobe’s interest in potentially playing in the Olympics — this goes back early last summer, I guess, or spring — and the concept being that it would be great to end a career, win a gold medal and ride off into the sunset. That was just thrown my way by his agent, Rob Pelinka. I just took it in and I said, ‘Rob, I don’t rule anyone out, but it has got to be based on performance because there’s so many people who want (to be on the team) — everyone wants to be on the roster.’ So he says, ‘Well, absolutely, and that’s how Kobe feels. He wants to earn it.’ Well then a month later, the two of us were in New York at an NBA function, and Kobe and I had a chance to visit, and we talked about the same thing. He reiterated his interest, but also the fact that he didn’t want any gifts, that he wanted to — if he wasn’t capable of earning it, by his performance, then that was that.

“So just recently, with his announcement of retirement, some people have come back to me (on the topic). Nothing has changed for me. Again, the same criteria exists, which is (a player’s performance) this season. So we’ll just look at this season. And I know where he has struggled, and it’s not the same…but there are some people having really outstanding years.”

On sacrificing a spot for Bryant based largely on the sentimental component and the fact that a) the 12th man won’t play much and b) Team USA will be heavily favored to win gold regardless of who fills that spot …

“Let’s just put it this way: on one hand, you have what you just proposed. On the other hand, if someone is left off the team, like Kawhi Leonard or Paul George — and I’m just using names — for that purpose, then you have to weigh that fairness, to some degree. That’s all. So it’s not an easy call, and it’s one that I don’t have to make for quite some time. And I’m going to stick to that. I’ve got plenty of time. With out further ado …

****

No. 3: Paul Pierce says the Clippers need time — We’re all surprised by the Clippers struggling in the West. This is a veteran team, one with a dynamic duo in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, one coached by Doc Rivers. And yet, Paul Pierce, the championship-tested forward who was brought in to add a killer mentality to the locker room, says the Clippers need time to get it right. Um, OK. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has more from The Truth:

The Clippers were 10-9 through Friday, 9½ games behind the undefeated Warriors. What’s more troubling is that the Clippers’ struggles have occurred despite a home-heavy schedule. Los Angeles has played the most home games in the NBA, yet it can’t gain any consistency, getting drubbed by Indiana on Wednesday after a three-game winning streak.

Pierce has seen this before. The 2009-10 Celtics were the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference before making a run to the NBA Finals. He is hardly one to panic, but there appears to be so much pressure on Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan (none of whom have played in an NBA Finals) to carry the Clippers to unprecedented heights.

“I know we got the talent in here, we got all the pieces to put it together,” Pierce said. “People don’t understand we put together eight, nine new players. So it’s not always going to be easy like the team we put together where the chemistry is there right away. We’re still trying to find our chemistry but we know that the talent is here and what we’re capable of.

“I think everybody understands that we’ve got the talent that could do something special.”

Pierce has been a team leader and voice of reason, attempting to hammer home the message that championships aren’t won in November and December, and slow starts are sometimes indicative of a team that needs more time to develop cohesion.

“We’re experiencing [tough times] but the key is not getting frustrated,” he said. “Not getting bored, not getting tired of one another. Just keeping everybody’s spirits up. It’s a long season. We’re going to be a different team in another month or two months from now and a different team once playoffs come. Understand that it’s a process.

“These guys are who they are but I’m still going to be me, get to practice early, get my shots up, get my weights in, that’s going to be me until I’m done.”

As in his previous two stops after 15 years in Boston — Brooklyn and Washington — Pierce is off to a slow start. He is shooting 31.8 percent from the field and averaging a career-low 4.8 points. Murmurs that Pierce was done could be heard last year with the Wizards before he warmed up in the second half of the season and became their best clutch shooter.

“Physically I feel great,” Pierce said. “Doc does a really good job; I haven’t played a lot of minutes. I haven’t had to really deal with the physical grind of the practices. My body feels good. I just want to be able to leave this game on two feet, walking straight.”

****

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards center Marcin Gortat will miss some time due to his mother’s illness … The Blazers are doing something bold and going with Noah Vonleh, who once was a lottery pick, as the starting power forward … Here’s a name to remember for Sixth Man of the Year candidate: Will Barton, who is turning heads in Denver … Meanwhile, the guy who might be the best at coming off the bench, Isaiah Thomas, has a big fan in Celtics coach Brad Stevens

Morning shootaround — Nov. 23


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kobe, Lakers stand in way of Warriors and history | Clippers in disarray after third straight loss | Forget Bradley comparison, Porzingis more like Pau and could be better | Warriors more than just 15-0, better than ever

No. 1: Kobe, Lakers stand in way of Warriors and history — The only thing standing in the way of the Golden State Warriors and a history-making triumph is Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers. The Warriors are hunting a 16-0 start, which would rank as the best season-opening sprint in NBA history, and need to whip the Lakers Tuesday at Oracle Arena to accomplish that feat. The Lakers’ dreadful 2-11 start would suggest that they are probably not the team capable of slowing down Stephen Curry and the machine that is the Warriors, but don’t tell Kobe, who suggested otherwise to Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com:

“I’ve seen stranger things happen,” Bryant said Sunday after his team’s 107-93 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center here. “We’ve been playing like s—. We might go up there and we might play like gangbusters up there. You never know. ”

Lakers coach Byron Scott was asked for his thought on the matchup. He laughed.

“That’s my thought right now,” Scott said. “They’re the best team I’ve seen in the league and it’s not close … . They’re the best team I’ve seen in a while.”

With the Warriors chasing history, Scott said he expects the Warriors to be ready.

“They haven’t had a whole lot of lulls in any of the games that they’ve played,” Scott added. “When they do [have a lull], they’ve got so much confidence in the way they play and how they play that they don’t panic.

“You can be up by 23 [against the Warriors] and it doesn’t matter, especially if they’ve got two quarters left. It’s a difference if you’re up 23 with five or six minutes left; then you’ve probably got a great chance of winning that game. But if you give them 24 minutes left in the game, there’s not a whole lot of leads that are too big for them [to overcome].”

Scott admires the way the Warriors play, but he isn’t exactly looking forward to facing them.

“Basically I look at them as a fan, when I watch them play,” Scott said. “Unfortunately I don’t have that luxury Tuesday. I love watching them play because they do all the things we talk about. They share the ball. They play for one another. They play as a team.”

***

No. 2: Clippers in disarray after third straight loss — Losers of three games in a row and seven of their last nine, it’s easy to see why the Los Angeles Clippers are reeling right now. But things bottomed out after Sunday’s loss to Toronto at Staples Center, a game that saw the Clippers trail by as season-high 29 points and commit season-highs in turnovers (20) and personal fouls (30). And all of this came before Josh Smith‘s locker room meltdown and shouting match with an unspecified Clippers assistant coach. Simply put, the Clippers are in disarray right now and as Kevin Baxter of The Los Angeles Times points out, there no easy solutions in sight:

Just who yelled at whom and about what, no one would say.

“That’s for us in our locker room,” point guard Chris Paul said.

What’s obvious, though, is that when the shouting finished, the Clippers were right back where they had been when it started: in a deep funk for which they can’t find a solution.

“If we had pinpointed it, then it would be resolved,” said forward Blake Griffin, whose nine points were the fewest he has scored in a full game since 2013. “So I think we need to find that. Whether it’s playing harder, whether it’s having a sense of urgency, whatever the case may be, we need to find it.”

It wasn’t hard to identify the Clippers’ problem Sunday: It was a first half in which they fell behind by 29 points, their biggest deficit of the season. Griffin, the team’s leading scorer, had more fouls and turnovers (three of each) than he did points (zero) in the opening 24 minutes before the Clippers, who looked disorganized and bewildered, left the floor to a chorus of boos trailing, 63-34.

It was the team’s lowest-scoring half of the season, something for which Paul and Rivers shared blame.

“It starts with me,” said Paul, who saw his team outscored by 21 points during his 18 minutes on the court.

“This is on me,” countered Rivers. “Players, we have to put them in a better spot to perform better. And that’s my job.”

***

No. 3:Forget Bradley comparison; Porzingis more like Pau and could be better — The Kristaps Porzingis show takes its talents to South Beach tonight to face the Miami Heat (7:30 ET, NBA TV) and the New York Knicks’ prized rookie shows up with momentum on his side. He’s had a stellar start to his season and has quickly changed the narrative surrounding who and what he could become in the future. Knicks boss Phil Jackson uttered the name Shawn Bradley in comparison to Porzingis over the summer, a name that “KP” balked at immediately. After seeing the big fella in action this season, the chatter has shifted to a different international big man, Pau Gasol, who thrived in the triangle offense. Frank Isola of The New York Daily News explains:

Long before Phil Jackson compared Kristaps Porzingis to Shawn Bradley — which in retrospect may have been Phil playing one of his notorious mind games — the Knicks president admitted that Porzingis reminded him of Pau Gasol.

Of course, by the time Gasol helped the Lakers and Jackson win their last two NBA championships, the Spanish forward had already established himself as one of the league’s top players. Jackson coached a finished product. Jose Calderon, however, remembers Gasol as a skinny teenager when they first played together with Spain’s national team. Calderon also sees similarities but admits that right now, “Kristaps is better.”

“If I’m not mistaken it took Pau a little bit longer to get those big numbers,” Calderon added. “But also remember, Pau was the Rookie of the Year. Let’s see where we are at the end of the year. But this is a good start.”

Porzingis has been nothing short of a revelation. And it didn’t take long for him to produce one of the best all-around games for any rookie. In fact, it happened in Game 14 as the 7-foot-3 forward scored 24 points with 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots in Saturday’s win over the Houston Rockets. The last 20-year-old to put up comparable numbers was Shaquille O’Neal during the 1992-93 season.

Gasol was 21 when he broke into the NBA with the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2001-02 season. By the fourth game of Gasol’s career, he scored 27 points against Phoenix and in his next game he scored 24 against the Clippers. Memphis, though, started that season by losing its first eight games. In his first 20 games, Gasol recorded four double-doubles.

Porzingis has six double-doubles through 14 games, including Tuesday’s 29-point, 11-rebound performance against Charlotte. Moreover, the Knicks have already won eight games.

“The surprise is he’s doing it right away,” Calderon said of Porzingis. “He’s been pretty consistent. That’s what surprises me the most; he’s putting up big numbers now. Nobody expected that.”

***

No. 4:Warriors more than just 15-0, better than ever — Chasing history is one thing. But doing so the way the Golden State Warriors are doing it, well it’s something more, much more. And their critics called their championship run last season “lucky.” It seems foolish to suggest anything of the sort given the way the Warriors are waxing the competition so far this season. The Warriors handled their business in Denver Sunday, showing off perhaps the greatest trait any defending champion can display in pursuit of an encore: they’ve simply forgotten how to lose. Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group makes the case for a Warriors team that is better than ever:

The Warriors are too good — even better than last season.

Sounds crazy, huh? The champs taking a step forward. But it’s only a shocker to those who believe last season was some kind of miracle.

It wasn’t luck, but a prelude. The Warriors didn’t max out, they took the next step in a steady progression.

Why are the Warriors’ better? Because Stephen Curry is better, because Draymond Green is better, because Festus Ezeli is better, because the team’s chemistry and execution are better.

The reigning MVP doesn’t usually improve his game. But with Curry, it makes perfect sense.

He has made a habit of turning his game up a notch after the all-star break. The next step was to turn it up from the start of the season. And that’s what he’s done.

Curry averaged 23.8 points per game last season. This season, he’s up to 32.7 points per game — and that’s despite defenses focusing on him more than ever.

He has sculpted his body, honed his skills and developed his strengths. But there’s a cerebral part of the game Curry has been developing. His enhanced understanding of the game has him playing more to his unique strength: long-range shooting. Curry is taking 11.3 shots per game from behind the arc, up from 8.1 last season. Oh, and he’s making more of them: 4.9 per game, up from 3.6. Overall, his shooting has improved to 51.5 percent — absurd for someone who doesn’t stand under the basket.

And here’s a scary thought: “I can still get better,” Curry said last week.

Draymond Green is better. Getting a fat contract — $82 million for five years — didn’t make him fat. Not that anybody thought it would. Like Curry, Green has a work ethic that is off the charts.

Last year was Green’s first as a full-time starter. This year, he’s clearly more comfortable in his role and better at using his skill set, a benefit of experience.

Green improved his 3-point shooting. He’s making 43.9 percent from deep, making opponents really pay for double-teaming Curry. Green’s ball-handling is much improved, too. He pushes the tempo and regularly leads the fast break. He also leads the team in assists at 6.7 per game.

And he’s the key to one of the Warriors’ lesser-known lethal weapons: the small lineup. With the 6-foot-7 Green at center, and four perimeter players around him, the Warriors have five players on the court who can score and still defend.

The Warriors play together better.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Philadelphia 76ers are chasing a little history of their own, but not the good kind … Why in the world did LeBron James remove the Cleveland Cavaliers from participating in the pregame introductions? … Avery Bradley is coming off of the bench for the Boston Celtics and thriving in that rolePatrick Beverley is on the way back to the lineup for the Houston Rockets, who need all hands on deck if they want to turn things around under J.B. Bickerstaff … It hasn’t been easy, of course, but Alvin Gentry is trying to make the best of a great opportunity in New Orleans

Clippers’ frustration boils over


VIDEO: Danny Granger, Rick Fox and Brent Barry discuss the Clippers’ locker-room issues.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Midway through the second quarter on Thursday, the Los Angeles Clippers had a 23-point lead on the 12-0 Golden State Warriors. Chris Paul hadn’t missed a shot and the champs were on the ropes.

A lot has changed since then. The Clips were outscored 92-62 over the final 30 minutes on Thursday, 25-8 when the Warriors went to their devastating small-ball lineup in the final six minutes. They went to Portland on Friday and got outscored 16-6 in the final 3:30 of what was a one-point game. And then they came back home and got thumped by the Toronto Raptors, trailing by 29 points at halftime.

As you might expect, that sequence of events has led to some frustration in Clipperland. As Dan Woike of the Orange County Register reports, there were some raised voices in the Staples Center locker room in the moments after Sunday’s embarrassing loss

Josh Smith and an unspecified Clipper coach were involved in a frustration-fueled argument following the Clippers’ 91-80 loss to Toronto Sunday.

Profanities and yelling made their way through the cement walls separating the Clipper locker room from an adjacent room where the media was waiting to speak to head coach Doc Rivers.

Rivers and Clipper players didn’t offer details on the incident.

“It’s (like any) locker room after you lose and play like that. Guys are upset,” Rivers said. “That’s about it.”

The Clippers are supposed to be contending for a championship again this year. But they’re 6-7, having lost seven of their last nine games, with issues on both ends of the floor. Summer additions Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson have all shot less than 40 percent, the Clips rank near the bottom of the league in 3-point percentage, and they’ve been the league’s worst defensive team over the last 2 1/2 weeks.

It’s still early in the season, but Thursday’s collapse seems to have been a powerful blow to the Clippers’ psyche.

Report: Chris Paul out against Suns

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Los Angeles Clippers will work without their starting backcourt in tonight’s game against the Phoenix Suns on TNT. Both Chris Paul (groin) and J.J. Redick (back) will be out of the lineup against the Suns.

Redick has also been ruled out for Saturday’s game against the Detroit Pistons in Los Angeles after suffering back spasms in Wednesday’s loss in Dallas and not returning to the game after playing just 14 minutes.

Paul has been battling the groin injury, suffered in a loss to the Golden State Warriors last week.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers will have to turn to his backups, Austin Rivers, Pablo Prigioni and Jamal Crawford, to fill in the starting lineup against the Suns.

 

Redick out for Clippers’ next 2 games

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Back spasms will keep Los Angeles Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick out of the lineup for the team’s next two games, including tonight’s TNT matchup against the Phoenix Suns.

Redick suffered back spasms after playing just 14 minutes in the Clippers loss in Dallas Wednesday night and did not return.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers has options to fill in for Redick in both Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford for tonight’s game and for Saturday’s home game against the Detroit Pistons.

 

Rivers needs to stagger his Clippers stars


VIDEO: Inside Stuff: Diming and Dining

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — A funny thing happened in the third quarter of the Clippers-Warriors game last Wednesday. L.A., down eight when Chris Paul picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, came back and took the lead with its starting point guard on the bench.

Last season, the Clippers outscored their opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions when Paul was on the floor and were outscored by 7.6 when he was off it. That on-off-court NetRtg differential of 19.8 points per 100 possessions was the biggest among players who logged at least 1,000 minutes.

When Paul was on the bench, the Clippers’ offense scored just 95.6 points per 100 possessions, a number that would have ranked 29th — ahead of only the historically bad Sixers — last season.

20151025_lac_on-off_diff

DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes are also on the list above, and Blake Griffin (11.7) was 12th in on-off-court NetRtg differential. Essentially, the Clippers’ starting lineup was great and their bench was bad.

But the Clips’ best players basically played together and sat together. Their starting lineup played 300 more minutes than any other lineup in the league.

Paul was off the floor for 13.3 minutes per game, but Jordan was on the floor for just 3.2 of those minutes, while Griffin was on the floor for only 2.8 of those minutes. Some of those minutes with no stars on the floor was garbage time, but much of it came while the game still hung in the balance.

The Griffin number is the more important number, because he has the ability to keep the offense afloat with Paul on the bench. Two seasons ago, Paul missed an 18-game stretch in January and early February. The Clippers went 12-6 with the league’s second best offense in that stretch, with Griffin averaging 27.5 points and 4.4 assists.

The Clips had a more competent back-up point guard — Darren Collison — at that point. But even now, it stands to reason that if Griffin is on the floor, the Clippers aren’t going to be as bad as the Sixers offensively.

They scored 19 points in the final 8:00 of that third quarter against the Warriors last week. And they had a solid offensive game against the Rockets on Saturday, with Paul sitting out with a sore groin.

Before Paul’s injury, Clippers coach Doc Rivers basically played and sat Paul and Griffin together, much like last season. Here’s their substitution pattern from their Nov. 2 game against Phoenix, with minutes with neither on the floor highlighted in blue…

20151111_lac_phx

The Clippers played the first 6:35 of the second quarter with neither Paul nor Griffin, and did the same for another 7:28 spanning the third and fourth quarters. That’s a lot of time to trust the offense to Austin Rivers, Lance Stephenson or Jamal Crawford.

The additions that Doc Rivers made this summer were praised by some, but we can’t forget that two not-so-great teams were more than happy to get rid of Stephenson and Josh Smith (and are better since they did). This bench still has big questions, and Paul’s on-off-court numbers this season look eerily familiar.

But on Monday against Memphis, Paul came out of the game earlier than he did last week. So his minutes were more staggered with those of Griffin…

20151111_lac_mem

The change was likely due to Paul playing his first game back from injury, but it kept at least one of the team’s two best players on the floor for all but three minutes.

The Clippers were a minus-6 in those 12 minutes where Griffin was on the floor without Paul, but if Doc Rivers kept that substitution pattern throughout the season, his team wouldn’t lose so many leads with his bench on the floor. And that might ultimately allow his best players to get more rest in fourth quarters and be fresher for the postseason.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 8


VIDEO: The Fastbreak: Saturday, Nov. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No call means no Clippers’ comeback | George eager to challenge James | Timberwolves throw OT shutout at Bulls | No holdout hangover for Cavs’ Thompson

No. 1: No call means no Clippers’ comeback — We’re not going to take seriously that old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words. If we did, this Morning Shootaround would wind up unacceptably short and fail to provide the minimum daily nutrients for hungry NBA fans. Still, if you sought out one thing to capture what happened to the Clippers in their game against Houston at Staples Center Saturday night, this shot of L.A coach Doc Rivers would pretty much cover it:

The trigger for that anguished, incredulous look was Dwight Howard‘s defense of the rim in the final half minute that wasn’t ruled a goaltending. Blake Griffin missed a layup and a tip-in, either of which would have tied the game at 107-107, but his tip never fully got a chance when Howard batted at the ball to send it across the rim and eventually squirting out of bounds. A review of the possession – reviewing Howard’s maneuver isn’t permitted per NBA rules – determined it was Rockets’ ball and Ty Lawson‘s free throws sealed it for Houston. There were other factors in the outcome, certainly – Chris Paul (groin) did not play for the Clippers, while Patrick Beverley (concussion), Terrence Jones (eye) and Donatas Motiejunas (back) were out for Houston – and James Harden‘s 46 points had a little something to do with it. Still, as reported by the L.A. Times’ Ben Bolch:

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said the play involving Howard should have been called goaltending.

“I just thought it was a very clear one to call, but that’s not why we lost the game,” Rivers said. “I didn’t think we played very well and I didn’t think we had a great sense of urgency.”

And the Associated Press chipped in:

Paul, dressed in street clothes, came on the court during a timeout to make a case with one of the referees.

“That’s textbook goaltending,” Griffin said

***

No. 2: George eager to challenge James — When Paul George and LeBron James clash Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) in one of the day’s two matinee games, it will be more than just a meeting of two guys with first-name-worthy surnames. It will be George’s first time on the court in opposition to James in more than 17 months. And if it doesn’t yet rekindle the same rivalry that existed between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat during James’ time in South Florida, facing the Cavaliers star in his second tour with Cleveland still packs significance for the Pacers’ young cornerstone guy. George’s eagerness for the matchup was reported by the Indianapolis Star:

The NBA’s landscape, for years, has shifted on James’ play, his dominance and his free-agent decisions. Now back with the Cleveland Cavaliers, James has built his hometown team into the clear favorite to advance through the Eastern Conference and return to the NBA Finals.

George, after missing almost the entire season last year, is eager to once again face James.
“I’m excited. I’m very excited,” he said after a brief practice Saturday. “I’m one of LeBron’s biggest supporters. I look up to him, and he’s always been great to me. It’ll be exciting to have that matchup again. I’m one person in this league that really enjoys big matchups and enjoys competition.”

Their last meeting was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. James wore a Miami Heat uniform, and the Pacers were anchored by Roy Hibbert and David West. George scored a game-high 29 points. James finished with 25 and led the Heat to a 117-92 win that clinched their spot in the NBA Finals.

Two months later, James returned to Cleveland. A month later, George suffered an open fracture of the tibia and fibula bones in his lower right leg during an intrasquad scrimmage of the USA Men’s Basketball team.

This season, James and Kevin Love have led the Cavaliers to a five-game winning streak entering Sunday’s game. George, after struggling to score in the Pacers’ 0-3 start, has found his rhythm and has led the team to three consecutive wins.

George said the Cavaliers are the ideal opponent for the Pacers to gauge themselves against this early in the season.

“That’s exactly what it’ll be,” he said. “Just finding our way, seeing where we’re at, where we compete, where we match up against the team that went to the championship last year. That’s where this team is wanting to go late in this year, so to be the best, you have to beat the best.”

***

No. 3: Timberwolves throw OT shutout at Bulls — It’s still early enough in the season to attribute the Chicago Bulls’ offensive inconsistency to the new style they’re playing under a new coaching staff headed by Fred Hoiberg. Nonetheless, when a team is celebrating its 50th season as an NBA franchise and manages to do something it never had done before in all that time, it is worth noting: the Bulls went scoreless in the extra five-minute overtime period in losing at home Saturday night to the visiting, and apparently underestimated, Minnesota Timberwolves. Chicago was outscored 9-0 in OT while suffering through a 1-for-20 shooting freeze that began midway through the fourth quarter. Mike McGraw of the suburban Daily Herald provided details of what bore little resemblance to the Bulls’ spirited victory Thursday over OKC:

“I just don’t understand it, how you can play with as much energy as we did two nights ago and then just to expect to show up, I guess, and win the game,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I don’t know. It’s tough to even fathom how that can happen.

“You get 82 opportunities to put your uniform and go out and get up for the game, play for your teammates and do everything you can to win. We didn’t do that tonight.”

Hoiberg is a first-year coach, but basing effort on the quality of the opponent has been a Bulls problem for a few years. Last season especially the Bulls made a habit of losing to subpar teams at home. Maybe Minnesota will end up having a good season, but for now this counts as a bad loss.

Derrick Rose did most of the fourth-quarter scoring against Oklahoma City. He didn’t score at all down the stretch against Minnesota, finishing with 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting.

“It’s all about effort. We’ll get tired of getting our butt whupped one day,” Rose said. “It’s all about just bringing out that championship-caliber effort every night. We’ve got to stay more consistent. We have to stay together while we’re out there.”

Rose wasn’t the only one who struggled. Jimmy Butler went 4-for-15 from the field. Nikola Mirotic was 1-for-8. Pau Gasol led the Bulls with 21 points and 14 rebounds.

Gasol, who won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, had some pointed words in the locker room.

“There are certain things you have to bring every night in the NBA in order to win games, and we didn’t bring that tonight,” Gasol said. “We allowed them to hang around all game long and at the end we paid the price.

“We’ve got to make up our minds on what we want to do going forward, what kind of team we want to be. Do we want to be an up-and-down team and a team that does OK but doesn’t really have a chance to win a title?

“So far, that’s what we’re showing.”

***

No. 4: Bucks reach back to own the future — Some NBA teams drip with history. Others have to grab it where they can. The Celtics and the Lakers never are going to lack for impressive alumni clubs and legacies that date back 50 and 60 years ago to some of the league’s most revered names and moments. Then there are the Milwaukee Bucks, who have known some really good times with the likes of Don Nelson, Sidney Moncrief and Ray Allen, but only one stretch of greatness. That run included the franchise’s only NBA title in 1971 and another trip to The Finals in 1974, and it was all made possible by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. The two Hall of Famers were in Milwaukee Saturday as part of new Bucks ownership’s ongoing, multi-faceted push to revive the NBA market. Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was there:

The Big O might be a few pounds over his playing weight and the Big Fella is looking a bit fragile physically after battling heart problems and leukemia, but if you squinted hard enough it was 1971 again and the Bucks were running roughshod over the NBA en route to a 66-16 record and the franchise’s only championship.

“Milwaukee was a great NBA town when I played here,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “We won the title once and vied for it a couple other years. People didn’t like coming here to play. They got whipped, pretty much.”

Can Milwaukee be that town again?

You wouldn’t have bet on it a few years ago, but unless we’re being sold a slickly marketed bill of goods — and that certainly doesn’t appear to be the case — it almost seems inevitable.

The franchise has been infused with energy, and even though the team hasn’t won a thing yet there’s an unmistakable swagger that starts at the top and permeates the organization. On opening night, co-owner Wes Edens introduced the Bucks as the “2016 champions” — a joke, perhaps, but one with a serious undertone of “Just watch us.”

“In talking with the new ownership, I’m really impressed with their vision and the fact that they’re looking to go all the way to the top,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “That’s their focus. They’re not going to wait for it to happen. They’re going to be proactive about it.”

The vibe seems to be catching on in a city that had been largely apathetic about its NBA franchise for far too long. Even Mayor Tom Barrett was emboldened at the tailgate party, shouting into a microphone, “The Bucks are back! The Bucks are back! Milwaukee is back!”

Of course, the most important piece of the puzzle is putting a good product on the court. Time will tell, but even Abdul-Jabbar thinks the Bucks are close to being a contender.

“I’ve seen them play a couple times this season,” he said. “I think they’ve got good players. They may be one or two players away from winning it all.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Coach Byron Scott said the Lakers, when evaluating Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis prior to the Draft, felt it would take the lanky young man a while to develop. Turns out the Lakers got that wrong. … Sometimes the most telling column on a score sheet is a fellow’s minutes played. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker logged 24 Saturday, just 24 hours after playing 17 Friday, and that quick turnaround meant something in the Bucks forward’s recovery from ACL surgery. … Meanwhile, Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll might have to yield to the plantar fasciitis foot pain that has hobbled him lately. … And if we’re talking foot pain, it’s a good bet we’re talking Brooklyn center Brook Lopez at some point. The Nets big man with the history of right-foot issues had one again that forced him off the floor Saturday. Nothing broken, it turns out, but his status still is to be determined. … Deron Williams and the Dallas Mavericks got some positive reinforcement in beating New Orleans that they hope nudges the former All-Star point guard to bigger, more satisfying performances. … It might not seem fair to focus the burden of a team’s luxury-tax liability on the last player or two on a roster, but that’s how it goes for the players whose salaries aren’t guaranteed. Consider Jared Cunningham, whose $980,00 contract could end up costing the Cavaliers about $5 million by the time it and the taxes it triggers are lumped onto Cleveland’s massive payroll. …