Posts Tagged ‘Draymond Green’

Morning shootaround — March 28


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks clinch Eastern Conference | Mavericks lose Ellis | What’s next for Thunder, Durant? | Shaq would have stayed in Orlando

No. 1: Hawks clinch Eastern Conference — Coming into this season, the Atlanta Hawks were dealing with an underwhelming free agency period, a GM on an indefinite leave of absence, and an ownership group that wanted to sell the franchise. And then the season started, which the Hawks used as a terrific reminder that all the off the court noise ends there, and what really matters is the results on the floor. Friday night, with a win over the Miami Heat, the Hawks moved to 55-17 on the season and clinched the Eastern Conference championship. Yet despite the incredible season and improbable title, as Jeff Schultz writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks acted like it was no big deal …

The Hawks clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs Friday night and they acted as if they had just beaten Milwaukee on a Tuesday in November.

That’s probably a good thing.

“Maybe we’ll do a little, ‘Hip-hip, hooray’ on the plane,” Kyle Korver said.

“I mean, it’s great,” Paul Millsap said. “But we really haven’t been focusing on it. We’ve got bigger goals ahead. We haven’t been looking at the scoreboard or looking at other teams. We’ve been looking at ourselves, trying to get ourselves right.”

The Hawks (55-17), playing the best defense they had in a few weeks, led Miami by 18 points at halftime (55-37) and cruised to a 99-86 win over the remains of the Heat.

Miami isn’t the same team without LeBron James (Cleveland) and Chris Bosh (injured), and with Dwyane Wade seemingly playing on one leg. The Heat’s bandwagon fan base, which used to fill Philips Arena, also appears to have shrunk, or at least morphed into Cleveland fans. Funny how that works.

But the Hawks’ win, combined with Cleveland’s loss to Brooklyn, officially clinched the East, even if it was a bit anti-climactic. It almost seemed fitting that when coach Mike Budenholzer walked into the locker room minutes after the game to tell his players that the Cavaliers had lost, half of the team was in the showers.

“Bud found out, came in and there were only like five guys in here,” Korver said. “He was like, ‘Good accomplishment, we won the East.’”

***

No. 2: Mavericks lose Ellis — The Dallas Mavericks have made several changes this season — trading for Rajon Rondo, signing Amar’e Stoudemire — and despite the growing pains involved they have managed to remain in the playoff picture. But a calf injury last night to Monta Ellis not only got Mark Cuban fired up on Twitter, but without Ellis on the floor, as Tim McMahon writes for ESPNDallas.com, the Mavericks offense was a “hot mess” …

The Dallas offense didn’t exactly look healthy without its leading scorer. The Mavs scored a grand total of 22 points in the final 18:43 without Ellis, finishing with their second-lowest point total of the season.

Of course, the Mavs didn’t quite light it up in the first half with a healthy Ellis, either. Dallas scored only 41 points in the first half, shooting 38.6 percent from the floor. But the Mavs closed the first half with a 10-2 run, capped by Ellis speeding through the Spurs for a coast-to-coast layup, and opened the second half with a 13-4 spurt to slash the Spurs’ lead to four.

Then Ellis limped off the floor with 6:43 remaining in the third quarter, a little bit after he got kneed in the calf while defending Manu Ginobili, and took the life out of the Mavs’ offense with him. Dallas didn’t score for the next 3:03 and managed only 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Forwards Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons failed to pick up the slack with Ellis out. They both failed to score in double figures, combining for only 16 points, none of which came in the fourth quarter.

Was that hot mess a preview of the Mavs’ offense minus Ellis?

“We’ll find out,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said before correcting himself. “Hopefully, we won’t have to find out.”

The Mavs will know more about Ellis’ status on Saturday, but his streak of playing in 237 consecutive games is certainly in jeopardy. The Mavs’ next game is Sunday night in Indiana.

“We just have to wait and see what the doctors say and how he feels tomorrow,” Nowitzki said. “Hopefully, he will be OK. We all know he plays injured and sick and he is always there for his team.”

It could be painful to watch the Mavs without their best creator by far, but it also might be in everyone’s best interest if Ellis misses some time. The Mavs have no hope of making a playoff run if Ellis isn’t at his best.

Ellis’ toughness can’t be questioned. He has proven repeatedly that he’ll fight through pain and play through injuries. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, particularly with the playoffs weeks away.

Ellis refused to even consider missing any games after straining his left hip two games before the All-Star break. The injury bothered Ellis for weeks, a major factor in an extended slump he finally busted out of with his 38-point performance in Tuesday’s home win over the Spurs.

“Our trainers will evaluate the situation, and we’ll communicate with him,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t see us putting him out there if he’s not feeling good. You can’t underestimate his ability to bounce back from things. He’s a fighter, he loves to compete and he hates missing games. That said, we aren’t going to put him in harm’s way.”

***

No. 3: What’s next for Thunder, Durant? — The Oklahoma City Thunder have had bad luck with injuries, but even as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have missed time the last few seasons, Kevin Durant was able to carry the load, logging heavy minutes and scoring hundreds of points. But after winning the MVP a season ago, this season Durant hasn’t been able to shake the injury bug, and after having two surgeries on his right foot since the summer, the Thunder announced yesterday that Durant will need a third surgery on that right foot that will keep him out four to six months. The bone graft procedure Durant is in for should give Durant his best shot yet at fixing his troublesome right foot. And with free agency for Durant looming in the summer of 2016, as Royce Young writes at Daily Thunder, there are plenty of questions left to answer …

The big question I’m seeing a lot is, “Did Durant come back too quickly?”

The answer is, yeah, probably, in hindsight. But also what you have to understand is the team is in constant consultation with specialists about this. And sometimes, things don’t go as anticipated. It’s not like they were just saying, “I don’t care, get Durant back out there before we lose more games.”

In these situations, it makes everyone feel better to assign blame. Point a finger at someone, lash out, yell, gripe, whatever. And in truth, it probably is someone’s fault in there. Maybe it’s Durant’s. Maybe it’s Sam Presti’s. Maybe it’s the medical team. Maybe it’s your fault, ever think of that?

What’s necessary to keep in mind, though, is no one was being irresponsible here. If Durant did return earlier than he should of, it’s only because he was cleared to do so. The team and Durant can only operate off of what they’re being told, and up until literally a week and a half ago, this thing was healing the way it was supposed to. The thought was that the screwhead had created a severe bone bruise from the constant rubbing, and Durant just couldn’t shake it off without significant time off. That’s what everyone thought. I was told by someone that’s pretty close to it all that he was going to play against the Celtics two weeks ago. That’s how unexpected this turn of events became.

Durant practiced on that Saturday before, doing some 3-on-3, then he played 1-on-1 in Dallas on Monday. And after that, he walked out of the arena with a severe limp, and pretty deflated. It wasn’t improving the way it was supposed to with the increased activity and at that point, the writing was really on the wall.

It doesn’t look good that Durant has had three surgeries on his foot. One is plenty. One is supposed to do the job. With what happened last season with Russell Westbrook, there’s good reason to wonder what’s going on. But I’d look at it this way: The Thunder’s conservative approach opens the door for them to get egg on their face. They didn’t mess around with Westbrook, taking a chance to let him play on a swollen knee. They pulled the plug, and made the decision to scope and deal with the consequences and fallout.

And then they did it again. They knew there would be skeptics and critics, questioning what the hell they were doing. But instead of delaying for the offseason to address it, they prioritized the long-term health of Westbrook and made the decision with only that in mind.

I’d say it worked out pretty well for them, and Westbrook.

The Thunder could’ve taken a different measure here with Durant. They could’ve rested him the next few weeks, then put him back on the practice floor and tried to ease him back on the floor for the postseason. That option was absolutely on the table.

But in collaboration with literally three of the top foot and ankle specialists in the world, the consensus was to go ahead and take the steps to end Durant’s season and do the bone graft. Instead of risking anything in his future, they’re going to just take advantage of the coming offseason which should let him completely heal, and then start over next season.

***

No. 4: Shaq would have stayed in OrlandoShaquille O’Neal began his pro career with the Orlando Magic, and he lasted four seasons before leaving Orlando in bitter circumstances and signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. But time heals all wounds, or at least it does in the Magic Kingdom, and last night the Magic welcomed Shaq back and inducted him into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. In his remarks during the festivities, as Josh Robbins writes in the Orlando Sentinel, Shaq said if he could do it over again, he would have played out his seven-year contract in Orlando and handled things differently …

Flanked by Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, the mammoth center led Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals, where the Magic lost to Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston Rockets in four games.

The next year, the Magic fell to Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals in four games.

O’Neal never played for the Magic again.

The Magic initially made him a low offer, and the Lakers swooped in with a $121 million offer and the lure of Hollywood.

The Magic eventually offered O’Neal a deal that eclipsed the Lakers’ offer, but it was too late. Restricted free agency didn’t exist in those days, so the Magic were powerless to prevent O’Neal from leaving.

And he left.

“We came back later and beat the Lakers’ offer at the closing minutes,” said Magic co-founder and Magic Hall of Famer Pat Williams. “But, emotionally, Shaq was gone.”

O’Neal was 24-years-old when he spurned the Magic in favor of the Lakers.

“It was all business,” O’Neal said. “Do I regret it? I never fully answered. I regret it sometimes. This is where I started, where I should’ve stayed. I actually wish that they [had] made it a law that whoever drafted you, you’ve got to stay there your whole career. No trades. No nothing. No free agency. No anything like that. Do I regret it? I regret it only because the DeVos family, they deserve a couple [of NBA titles].”

As it turned out, he didn’t finally win a title with the Lakers until 2000 — four years after he left the Magic.

“I just wish I would’ve had more patience,” O’Neal revealed. “It was all about I wanted to be protected from the bashing. What I mean by that [is] I wanted to win then. Even when I got there [to L.A.], I still got bashed and it still took four years to win. But I was very impatient. I was very young, and I thought that if I go there with those guys out there, that I could win right away. And that wasn’t the case.

“So now that I’m older now, I wish as a youngster, I wish I had had more patience.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Jazz player and announcer Hot Rod Hundley has died at 80 … Warriors big man Draymond Green has launched a line of t-shirts poking fun at Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers … The Rockets got Dwight Howard back from injury and now lose big man Donatas Motiejunas for a few weeks with a back injury … The Heat hope to get Hassan Whiteside back by the playoffs … The Nets have signed Earl Clark to a 10-day contract

Morning shootaround — March 9


Video: Highlights from games played March 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook joins historic company | Here come the Spurs | Still no love between Warriors, Clippers | Rajon Rondo is willing to stay in Dallas

No. 1: Westbrook joins historic company — At this point, perhaps we just expect it. The last few weeks, with his teammate Kevin Durant out and the Oklahoma City Thunder fighting for their playoff future, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook just keeps carrying the Thunder. Last night against the Raptors, Westbrook posted his fifth triple-double in the last six games. Luckily for the Thunder, Westbrook, who is averaging a triple-double since the All-Star break, shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. In the meantime, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman, Westbrook is keeping some historic company…

Another short list — make that three lists — of achievement with legends of the game. This time Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan.

“It’s been crazy,” said teammate Anthony Morrow. “I nicknamed him Maniac Russ. He’s incredible. His ceiling is so high.”

Westbrook’s ceiling is so high, his numbers against Toronto didn’t even move the meter: 30 points, 11 rebounds, a career-high-matching 17 assists, four steals.

Eyebrows rose only when you learned that only Magic has posted those minimum numbers in an NBA game. And when you learned that Westbrook joins Robertson as the only players ever with at least 200 points, 50 rebounds and 50 assists over a five-game span. And Westbrook joined Jordan as the only players in the last 50 years to average 33 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists over a 10-game span.

It’s not crazy to ask if anyone has ever played basketball like Russell Westbrook is playing it.

This is a national phenomenon. Nightly must-see NBA TV. Forget the playoff race. Forget even the MVP debate. Who needs a trophy? America has spoken. Basketball can’t take its eyes off Russell Westbrook.

“If you find somebody who has slowed him down, let me know,” said the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan.

***

No. 2: Here come the Spurs — They’ve spent most of the season dealing with injuries and trying to keep above water. While other teams have made headlines, the San Antonio Spurs finally have everyone healthy and — talk about good timing — according to Gregg Popovich, are finally playing their best basketball of the season. Yesterday against the Bulls, the Spurs were able to withstand Tim Duncan‘s first-ever zero field goal performance thanks to a big game from Tony Parker. Don’t look now, but with five straight wins under their belt, the Spurs are looking strong, writes Jeff MacDonald in the San Antonio Express-News

Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard are joined by Finals MVP awards, and for a large chunk of December shared space on the injured list.

After the Spurs claimed their fifth consecutive victory Sunday, this one a 116-105 handling of admittedly short-handed Chicago at the AT&T Center, no two players have been as vital in the champs suddenly looking like the champs again.

“When the ball is moving and we’re making shots, everything is easier,” said Parker, who poured in a season-high 32 points. “The energy is good and we’re playing defense. We’re pushing the ball. Everybody is playing better.”

Sunday’s victory, combined with the L.A. Clippers’ loss at Golden State, moved the Spurs (39-23) into a virtual tie for fifth in the Western Conference.

It doesn’t take a basketball savant to pinpoint the pair whose revival has sparked the Spurs’ recovery.

Asked before the game to diagnose the Spurs’ resurrection after a rough February, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau began his answer this way:

“It looks like Parker’s getting back to being Parker.”

Backing up Thibodeau’s point, Parker had everything working for a national television audience on ABC.

Parker buried a jumper on the Spurs’ first possession, albeit after dribbling off his foot. He had his spin move working. He wiggled for tough shots and — most importantly of all — knocked down the open ones.

Parker finished 13 of 19, putting further distance between himself and a ragged rodeo trip. When he was done, Parker had his highest-scoring outing since Game 1 of last season’s Western Conference semifinals against Portland.

“He’s been in that mode for the last two or three games, and feeling very confident about his health,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I think he is where we’d like him to be.”

***

No. 3: Still no love between Warriors, Clippers — The Clippers are still waiting for the return of Blake Griffin, which seems to still be uncertain, but in the meantime, the Clippers ran into their longtime Western Conference foe the Warriors yesterday. And while the Clips gave them a good run, the Warriors won, 106-98. But, as usually happens when these teams square off, these teams once again almost squared off. During the postgame interview with Golden State’s Draymond Green, Clippers forward Dahntay Jones delivered a bump to Green. Later, Green told reporters he was taking the high road, writes ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss

During the segment, Clippers guard Dahntay Jones walked into view of the camera, bumping Green as he went past. Green did not take the gesture kindly, and told reporters as much in the locker room.

“I think he wanted a reaction from me, but he don’t play,” Green said, taking note that Jones is averaging a career-low 4.6 minutes per game this season.

He explained his lack of reaction, saying, “Me getting suspended and him getting suspended, it’s different.”

He added, “If [Dahntay Jones] gets suspended they may not even notice.”

Green expressed that the bump should warrant scrutiny, saying, “I definitely expect that to be reviewed by the NBA. For him to look at me, look at me again, and bump me when I’m doing a postgame interview; that’s really smart, too, when it’s on ABC. The postgame interview is the highlight of that segment and you bump somebody.”

Green wasn’t finished with Jones. In explaining the shooting guard’s behavior, he said: “He got some camera time, which he needed because there wasn’t much celebration from their bench today, so you didn’t see him much. He got the camera time he was looking for.”

Jones denied that the bump was intentional, telling reporters, “That’s not how you bump somebody if you purposely want to bump them.”

***

No. 4: Rajon Rondo is willing to stay in Dallas — The Dallas Mavericks made a splash a few weeks ago when they traded for Rajon Rondo, with the idea that Rondo would re-sign with the Mavs this summer and give the Mavs an All-Star level point guard. But it hasn’t been that simple. While the Mavs have remained above-average with Rondo, their offense has had growing pains, some of which have bubbled over into the public consciousness, including an on-court showdown between Rondo and coach Rick Carlisle that resulted in a Rondo suspension. Still, as Rondo told Yahoo’s Marc Spears, he’s still open to staying in Dallas beyond this season…

Q: What do you think about the perception that you want to depart from Dallas?

Rondo: “First of all, I’m misunderstood in general. I don’t mind because I’m very quiet and I stay to myself. People are going to say what they want to say. I don’t talk, so I don’t know why they would say that. I don’t think I play as if I don’t want to be here. I give it all when I’m out there on the court.

“I’m always in communication trying to learn and get better and learn what’s better for the team. All I care about is winning. I made a lot of sacrifices, I believe, coming here. I try to give up the ball and move without the ball a lot more. It’s hard to adjust. But for the sake of the team to win that’s what I’m trying to.”

Q: So you are open-minded to re-signing with Dallas?

Rondo: “Why would I not be? There are a lot of things that I really love. Even the practices, we listen to music, my type of music. It’s the little things. Say we are going to California, we will play Too $hort and West Coast music. If we are going to Houston we might play chop and screw, Bun B or something like that. If we are going to New Orleans we might play Lil Wayne at practice, during shooting 30 minutes before practice. It’s a cool way they run it. We get our work in.

“It’s a player’s organization. Players first, from our plane, the way we travel. I don’t take that for granted. We eat good. We stay at the best hotels. Of course, it’s the NBA. But this organization has the best. They have PlayStation in the lockers. I don’t play games, but it’s nice to know I got a PlayStation. TVs in your own locker. I heard about it – [Brandon Bass] and J-Terry [Jason Terry] told me – but seeing it and experiencing it.

“I love it here. I don’t dislike anything. I’m not uncomfortable. Of course, the system is different, but I’ve been here for two months. It’s going to take time. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.”

Q: Are you excited about being an unrestricted free agent for the first time next offseason?

Rondo: “Not really. I never had it, but I want to live for today. When it’s going to come is when it’s going to come. One thing that will help me is that when I tore my ACL that made me realize to live in the moment. Don’t think about next month or think about two months from now. Life isn’t guaranteed. Enjoy the situation you are in now. We’re blessed and what is going to happen is going to happen.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Would the Knicks trade their first-round pick? … Erik Spoelstra says George Karl is already having an impact on the Sacramento Kings … The Heat have signed Michael Beasley to a second ten-day contract … Danny Ainge says Ray Allen still has basketball left in him … Swaggy P is going to be out for at least a few more games

Morning shootaround — March 8


Video: Highlights of the games played Saturday, March 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron ties club passing mark | Warriors, Clippers resume “friendly” rivalry today | Blazers in recovery mode after Matthews injury | Jazz finally getting more from Exum

No. 1: LeBron ties Cavs passing mark — It’s pretty impressive, when you really think about it: A 6-8 forward has as many assists for the Cavaliers as Mark Price. Such is the essence of LeBron James, whose eight assists in a victory over the Suns pulled him even with Price, the main point guard on those Lenny Wilkens teams that won a lot of games but couldn’t beat Michael Jordan in the postseason. LeBron’s court awareness has always been one of his strengths, and some might say a weakness, like when he passes up a big shot instead of taking it. Anyway, to be tied with Price, one of the best point guards of the last 25 years, is a compliment. Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group breaks it down, and how LeBron played without a headband:

James scored 18 points and eight assists and tied – but didn’t surpass – Mark Price (4,206) for the franchise’s record in career assists, even though James had those extra opportunities in a fourth quarter he was supposed to watch from the bench.

He added six rebounds and shot 6-of-16, with just three points at halftime. A three-pointer at 7:05 game him 10 points for the game, extending his streak of consecutive games in double figures to 626 games – third longest in NBA history.

So if you really want to reach, you could make a (flimsy) argument that James’ streak was saved by the headband. He only had two points before he tore it off.

James buried another three with 2:04 left in the fourth quarter that sealed the win for the Cavs by pushing their lead to 15. But it was a game that should’ve been sealed long ago.

It was the Cavs’ fourth game in five nights. A rugged four-game road trip lies ahead. A time for a light moment was needed. So Blatt was asked early in his postgame conference if he had noticed James ditched the headband.

“I did and I was wondering myself what happened,” David Blatt said. “But I did not venture to ask him because it seemed to be inappropriate at the time. But I hope you guys do, I’m going to read about it. I did notice that, actually. Kind of weird.”

***

No. 2: Warriors, Clippers resume “friendly” rivalry today — The referees, as well as fans, are always on alert when these two teams play. So much bad blood, as well as memorable contests, have happened when the Clippers and Warriors suit up and today shouldn’t be any different. While both teams are virtually set for the playoffs, the intensity should manage to rise anyway. Here’s Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle, who spoke with Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green (Blake Griffin‘s favorite opponents) setting it up…

“It’s going to be a good game,” Bogut said of ABC’s feature game Sunday against the Clippers. “We don’t like each other, and it’s kind of one of those throwback games from back in the day, when there were flagrants and technicals and all of that type of stuff. Hopefully, there isn’t any of that (Sunday), but it usually goes that way at one point of the game.”

Green said: “This is two teams that over the past few years have come into their own and are fighting for something. When you’re fighting for something, (chippy) stuff tends to happen. When you’ve got two talented teams, the more physical team will probably win the game. That’s the way you have to approach it.”

As sexy as the point guard matchup is between Stephen Curry and Chris Paul, games between the Warriors and Clippers — once dormant franchises, now consistently competing for the top spot in the Pacific Division — are almost always decided by the teams’ big men.

The Clippers won last season’s first-round playoff series, when Bogut was sidelined with a broken rib. When he missed the matchup this Christmas, the Clippers’ starting big men beat the Warriors’ starting posts by 11 points and 16 rebounds in a 100-86 victory. When Bogut was in the lineup in the teams’ first meeting this season, the Warriors’ bigs won the night by eight rebounds, by a plus-21 to a minus-31 plus-minus rating and by a 121-104 final score.

***

No. 3: Blazers in recovery mode — One of the trickiest things to do is adjust after a key injury, and do it in the final weeks of the season. For the Blazers, life will be different without Wesley Matthews, gone for the season with a torn Achilles. Matthews was a dogged defender and one of the team’s more reliable 3-point shooters. Coach Terry Stotts will be challenged to make the adjustments and weave Arron Afflalo into the mix quicker than he expected. How will this get done? Mike Richman of the Oregonian offers some clues …

For all the uncertainty surrounding the Trail Blazers in the wake of Wesley Matthews’ season-ending Achilles tear, the situation isn’t wholly uncharted territory for head coach Terry Stotts.

When Stotts was an assistant coach with Dallas during the 2010-11 season, the Mavericks lost a key starter to a season-ending injury and regrouped to win the NBA title.

On Jan. 1 2011, Mavericks starting small forward Caron Butler ruptured his right patellar tendon. He missed the remainder of the season and Dallas’ title run.

“We’re a team of good individual players, but we’re a team first,” coach Rick Carlisle said told reporters in Jan. 2011. “We’ve got to pick up the slack as a group.”

“We will ask other guys to step up,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told NBA.com days after Butler’s injury.

Sound familiar?

A similar sentiment has emanated from the Blazers in the last few days following Matthews’ injury.

“We can have multiple guys come in to still help the team play at a high level,” Blazers point guard Damian Lillard told reporters on Thursday night.

Butler was 30 when he was injured. He was two years removed from two All-Star seasons in Washington, but still an important part of the Mavericks veteran group that had serious title hopes.

“He was a starter, a big part of what we were,” Stotts recalled of Butler at the time of his injury on Saturday before the Blazers faced the Timberwolves. “We struggled a little bit, but obviously we won a championship.”

The Mavericks were 25-8 when Butler was injured, but lost seven of their next ten games, including a six-game winless streak.

After the the losing skid, which dropped Dallas to 28-15, the Mavericks found a groove. They won 29 of their final 39 games and earned the third seed in the West playoffs.

Much like the Mavericks of four years ago, the Blazers in 2015 struggled immediately following a major injury. In its first game without Matthews, Portland lost to the worst team in the Western Conference on Saturday night.

Like Portland, the 2011 Mavericks had a veteran solution to fill the injury void.

***

No. 4: Jazz finally getting more from Exum — These are somewhat important days for teams that are either out of the playoffs or headed that way. It’s a good time to take stock in the players on the roster, find out who might stick and who might not, and also get a better read on rookies. That’s what the Jazz are doing, and they’re thrilled to report that Dante Exum is starting to come around. It’s been a mostly lost year for Exum; he was one of the more heralded rookies in the class of 2014 who never managed to get significant playing time or a role in the rotation. At least now, he’s starting to turn the corner and can use the final 20 or so games as a launching pad into next season. Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune reports about Exum’s defense, which is getting rave reviews …

Before Dante Exum heard his name called and walked across the stage at the Barclays Center on draft night, the Utah Jazz front office had questions.

Would he defend?

Could he defend?

“When we watched Dante’s tape before the draft, one of the questions we all had was ‘Can he defend at all?’ ” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said this week. “Because he didn’t. He just kind of hung out.”

Late in Exum’s rookie year, as he returns to the place where he was picked fifth overall last June, the Aussie point guard has done his best to quell those concerns.

“That’s one of his strengths right now,” Snyder said.

The 19-year-old Exum has had plenty of ups and downs in his first season as a pro. He’s not in any Rookie of the Year discussions. And when you scour most rookie rankings, Exum’s name rarely sneaks into the top 10. Exum is only averaging 4.5 points and 2.3 assists in about 20 minutes per game.

“It’s not like he’s putting up great numbers statistically,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “But he’s solid. You can see he’s moving in the right direction. … I think with his length, you watch him over the years, he’s going to be something special.”

And there’s a reason the teenager has started 19 straight games for the Jazz, with his 20th likely a matchup against Brooklyn’s Deron Williams on Sunday evening.

“Dante is trying to contribute any way he can,” Snyder said. “He’s figured it out. He knows right now [defense is] something I can do that’s going to get me on the court and is going to help my team.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tyler Johnson, diamond in the rough, is strong again for the Heat, helping Miami to a comeback win over Sacramento … The Pacers really have more wins than anyone since Feb. 1? … Gary Neal is starting to come through for the Timberwolves …

Morning Shootaround — March 7



VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Hawks close the door | Harden strikes back | Parker sparks Spurs | Mavs slide continues | Shaw eyes Magic

No. 1: Hawks clinch series over Cavaliers — Is there anybody left that still thinks the Hawks are not for real? Is there anybody out there that thinks an Eastern Conference finals showdown between Atlanta and Cleveland wouldn’t be a classic showdown? DeMarre Carroll and Kent Bazemore suffocated LeBron James all night long and the Hawks wrapped up the season series over the Cavs 3-1 with a victory that stretched their latest winning streak to six games. Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the details:

Carroll and Kent Bazemore harassed and frustrated James much of the night. The two defenders got plenty of weakside help on James. The Cavaliers star even exchanged words with Schroder as his frustration built.

“We just played Hawks defense,” Carroll said. “I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates because they were meeting him at the rim. They were helping me out. Like I said before, I just want to be a gnat. When you are outside in the summer and you just can’t get that gnat away from you, that’s all I wanted to be tonight.”

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer credited the team approach to limiting James.

“It always starts with taking individual pride, but it takes five guys, the whole team, working together and doing everything in unison,” Budenholzer said. “I think at the point of the ball, DeMarre and Kent were very good and the weakside was active and aware, and we were able to try to get out to shooters because he’s such a great passer and he sees the court so well. I think it’s like anything. It takes a group effort. It’s great to be tested and challenged like we were tonight.”

***

No. 2: Harden takes out frustrations on Pistons — Even for a guy who is leading the NBA in scoring and is considered a frontrunner for the Kia MVP award, it was a tough week for James Harden. After he kicked Lebron James, Harden was suspended for one game in Atlanta and then was fouled on what the league office admitted was a missed call in the final seconds of another loss to Memphis. So Harden was ready to bounce back and did it with his third triple-double of the season against the Pistons. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tells how good it felt for The Beard:

“Yeah, it’s all about having fun, especially when … you just lose two in a row, two tough games and you have get a win,” Harden said. “We go out there, have fun, execute and play together.”

There was a good deal of that to go around, from Terrence Jones returning from a first-half scare when he hobbled off with a strained right rip to score 11 of his 17 points in the second half to Joey Dorsey coming off the bench to snare 10 much-needed rebounds. Rookie KJ McDaniels even knocked down a shot for the first time since joining the Rockets, saying, “It felt really good; a big relief.”

Harden especially seemed to need the release. He began the game as if in a mad rush to leave the one-game suspension and last-minute missed call behind him, getting six turnovers and missing a handful of layups in the first half. Once he settled down, however, he seemed to control any part of the game he chose.

By the time Harden found Corey Brewer on a cut for a layup, he had 12 assists for his fourth game in the past five with at least 10, and the Rockets began clearing their bench with a 22-point lead.

“He’s going to find you when you’re open,” said Brewer, who made 7-for-12 shots for his 15 points off the bench. “Everybody is going to (defend) him and leave guys open and he’s making the right pass. We just have to make the right shots because we’re so wide open.”

Harden’s triple-double was his third of the season, the most for a Rockets player since Clyde Drexler had three in the 1996-97 season. Though the Rockets led by as much as 24 and never trailed by more than one point, the Rockets needed Harden to dominate when Pistons big men Andre Drummond (who had 21 rebounds) and Greg Monroe (who had 19 points) took over inside in the second half.

***

No. 3: Parker continues his comeback — The Spurs have been waiting months for Tony Parker to regain his form and provide the kind of offensive spark they’ll need to defend their NBA championship in the playoffs. Lately the shots have started to fall. Then Friday night there was his signature spin move on the fastbreak. Parker isn’t ready to jump the gun and say all of his troubles are in the past just yet. But according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News, it certainly looked like old times in a win over the Nuggets:

His teammates call the signature sequence “circle to the square.”

Tony Parker will be out on the break. He will make a 360-degree spin move to separate from his defender (“the circle”) then lay the ball off the middle of the backboard (“the square”).

His Spurs teammates have been waiting for Parker to break out that geometry lesson for quite some time.

Midway through a tougher-than-expected 120-111 victory over Denver on Friday at the AT&T Center, Parker at last obliged.

After Parker spun past Will Barton en route to his best scoring night in more than two months, guard Danny Green made the declaration Spurs fans have been pining to hear.

“Yep,” Green said, “he’s back.”

There are others in the Spurs’ locker room who would call rumors of Parker’s resurrection premature.

One of them is Parker.

“I don’t want to jinx it,” the 32-year-old point guard said. “Every time I think I’m back, I get something else wrong.”

Still, Parker was a catalyst for the Spurs’ fourth consecutive victory Friday, which equaled their second-longest streak of the season.

He busted out his entire arsenal on his way to 24 points and seven assists — teardrops, rim runs, jumpers, all of it.

***

No. 4: Mavericks out of class against Warriors — They were a couple of weeks late to be part of the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary celebration. But the Mavericks certainly looked like the “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” in back-to-back national TV losses at Portland and Golden State. Dirk Nowitzki tells Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News that all teams go through slumps. But seven losses in their last nine games, the playoff picture is starting to look daunting for Dallas:

The Warriors are the best team in the Western Conference for a reason and they showed their strength throughout with a balanced attack and strong defense anchored by Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green. The Mavericks were shooting under 35 percent through three quarters, after which they were down 82-64. It didn’t get much better in the fourth.

The Mavericks? They look lost right now and it’s clear they need to regroup.

“I’ve been in this league 17 years,” Nowitzki said. “Even in our great years, the championship year, it’s not all smiles. There were some times we went through some rough stretches. I remember we went 2-7 over one time in the championship year. You just got to stick with it. You never know what can happen in a month or month and a half.

One thing for sure is if we want to make a run at this, we got to get healthy. That’s obvious.”

In their banged-up state, the Mavericks were rolled on back-to-back nights by Portland and Golden State.

“You never want to lose like that twice on national TV,” Nowitzki said. “That’s a tough pill to swallow. It’s not good. I can’t say anything great about these two losses. We got to get some of our mojo back.”

The Warriors now have won six in a row against the Mavericks dating to last season. The last time Golden State had six consecutive wins against the Mavericks was from Dec. 26, 1996 to Dec. 16, 1997.

***

No. 5: Shaw would like to coach Magic — It’s only been a matter of days since Brian Shaw was dumped by the Nuggets. But the veteran who played part of his NBA career in Orlando reportedly would like a chance to resumer his coaching career with the Magic, according to Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel:

A person close to Shaw told the Orlando Sentinel that the former Magic guard would “absolutely” be “very interested” if or when the job opens.
Shaw, 48, is coming off a bitter breakup with the Denver Nuggets, fired in just his second season as head coach on Tuesday.

He had replaced venerable George Karl, landing his first opportunity after years as an assistant. But he and the underachieving Nuggets didn’t mesh. They lost 19 of 21 in one stretch this season, and a Denver columnist wrote that players lacked professionalism and essentially quit on Shaw.

Shaw played three seasons with the Magic (1994-95 and 1996-97) before retiring after the 2002-03 season.

He served as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Indiana Pacers.

The Magic fired Jacque Vaughn on Feb. 5 after he coached for two-plus seasons. Vaughn’s lead assistant, James Borrego, took over as interim coach.

General Manager Rob Hennigan said that Borrego could be considered a candidate to be hired on a permanent basis.

The Magic are 5-6 under Borrego.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hassan Whiteside had a conversation with Erik Spoelstra, then a good seat on the bench to watch the Heat in a near-miss against the Wizards…Cavs coach David Blatt isn’t happy that his main man LeBron James has been taking so many hits lately…The Clippers will honor long-time play-by-play man and one of the all-time greats Ralph Lawler on Monday night at Staples Center…Michael Beasley says he’s playing “with desperation” in what he sees as his last NBA chance…Mickey Arison imagines John Lennon singing in Miami at a Heat game.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Morning shootaround — Feb. 21


VIDEO: Highlights of Friday’s 26-team extravaganza around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors whip the champs | Atlanta’s kryptonite … the Raptors | Statement game for Cavs | Kupchak: Kobe not the Lakers’ problem

No. 1:  Warriors whip the champs — Watching the craziness of the trade deadline and refraining from diving in might have been the right call for the Golden State Warriors. The best team in the league didn’t feel the pressure to get involved on the busiest deadline day in NBA history. If Friday night’s whipping of the San Antonio Spurs is any indication, we know why. They are rock solid up and down the roster and continue to play like a team destined for big things in the postseason. Beating the champs was just business as usual for a team that has soared this season. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains:

After the 110-99 victory Friday, the Warriors collectively shrugged at the significance of defeating their nemesis in a season during which they’ve sustained excellence and focused on fine-tuning for the playoffs.

“For us, we’ve been playing so well this season that we can’t really get distracted by the opponent as much as what we’re trying to do,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said.

“It wasn’t just, ‘We’re beating the Spurs.’ It was, ‘We’re back to how we’re playing.’ ”

Curry, in an MVP-caliber performance, dazzled with 25 points and 11 assists. Klay Thompson added 20 points, and Andre Iguodala scored 14 off the bench as the Warriors improved to 43-9.

The league-leading Warriors showed deference in pregame comments about the Spurs. Coach Steve Kerr, who has borrowed elements of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich‘s offense, called them “the gold standard.” Iguodala said San Antonio was Golden State’s “big brother.”

The Spurs cruised to a win at Oracle Arena in November, but the Warriors exacted a measure of revenge in dominating them this time.

The Warriors shot 17 for 33 from 3-point range. Curry and Thompson combined to hit seven 3-pointers, but the barrage didn’t end there as Iguodala was 4 for 6 from long distance and Draymond Green 3 for 6.

“We’re not going to make it like that (win) is a big deal,” Green said. “It’s not like we really made a statement to anyone that no one else didn’t know.”

On defense, the Warriors clamped down as the Spurs committed 16 turnovers playing in their second game of a back-to-back. San Antonio needed more than four minutes to score its first field goal in the second half as the Warriors added to their halftime advantage to take a 14-point lead.

By the end of the quarter, it became clear that a rout was in store for the Spurs as the Warriors bench came alive. David Lee then had a stretch where he threw down a dunk, came up with a steal and dished off an assist to Iguodala for a 3-pointer that gave the Warriors an 83-68 lead. Curry and Iguodala followed with back-to-back 3-pointers that sent the Warriors sideline and crowd into a frenzy.

“It’s pretty simple for us,” Kerr said. “Defend like crazy, take care of the ball, move the ball. When we do that, we have enough weapons where we’re going to score enough points.”

***

No. 2: Atlanta’s kryptonite … the Raptors — No one has toppled the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks more than once this season, until Friday night. The Toronto Raptors popped them for the third time, this one an ugly home loss coming out of the All-Star break, a 1-2 matchup that made the challenger look like the kryptonite that could potentially derail the hawks’ postseason dreams. Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains just how ugly it was Friday night at Philips Arena as the Hawks laid a royal egg in their stretch run opener:

Say this for the Atlanta Hawks: They don’t stink often, but when they do, they reek to high heaven. They lost Friday to Toronto by 25 points — the final was 105-80 — after trailing by 35, and full credit to the Raptors. They were primed. They became the first team to beat the Hawks three times. (Toronto was also the first to do it twice.)

And now you ask: Should Hawks fans be concerned? And the answer is: Nah.

This was almost a set-up game. The Hawks had spent the All-Star break living the All-Star life, to which few of them were accustomed. They had eight days to lose the rhythm that had carried them to 19 consecutive victories and 35 of 37, and they didn’t just lose it: They buried it at the bottom of the deepest ocean.

Speaking of oceans: As the saying goes, the Hawks couldn’t throw the ball in one. They missed 59 of 88 shots, 30 of 38 3-pointers. (It was their worst shooting night of the season.) Kyle Korver, on pace to have one of the greatest shooting seasons ever, had one of the worst games — and not only at shooting; he also had two egregious turnovers — in the history of the sport. When last did you see an All-Star actually throw up his hands in self-disgust?

They also missed seven of 21 free throws, including a Paul Millsap air ball. Holy moley.

The third quarter was comic. The Hawks missed 16 of 19 shots, including all eight of their treys, and made nine turnovers, off which the Raptors scored half of their 28 points. Five Hawks shots were blocked. Five Toronto shots were, too. In one screwball stretch, the visitors had three layups blocked — and still they stretched a four-point halftime lead to 19.

“They gave it to us good tonight,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said, and here we note that his team had done something similar in Toronto last month, winning 110-89 on Jan. 16. That loss sat poorly with the Raptors.

“They were really ready to play,” Al Horford said. And his team? “Some of it has to be rust,” he said. “We threw the ball all over the place.”

Budenholzer: “I don’t think we played with the energy and activity we’ve gotten accustomed to night after night.”

When last the Hawks looked this awful, it was on the night after Christmas. They lost 107-77 here to Milwaukee after a two-day break. Then they won the next 19, going undefeated in January. That streak began, as fate would have it, in Milwaukee. And where do the Hawks play Sunday?

In Milwaukee. Just sayin’.

***


VIDEO: Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel provides a Chris Bosh/Heat update

***

No. 3: Statement game for Cavs — Don’t let the record or their place in the Eastern Conference standings fool you, the (LeBron James-led) Cleveland Cavaliers are a legitimate championship contender. Everyone knows that by now. Don’t believe it? Just watch a few minutes from their demolition of the Washington Wizards from Friday night. It was all Jason Reid of The Washington Post needed to see to be convinced that the Cavs truly are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference:

History tells us it takes star power to win championships, and no one possesses more than the game’s best player. With the long all-star break over, James is back at work and focused on playing in the NBA Finals for the fifth consecutive season. It appears the Cleveland Cavaliers can help him get there.

Their slow start a distant memory, the surging Cavaliers rolled again Friday night, dismantling the listless Wizards, 127-89.

While dominating Washington and moving ahead of it in the conference standings, Cleveland won for the 15th time in 17 games. It was a familiar story, James shining as the catalyst and producing 28 points, five rebounds and six assists. The Cavaliers led by as many as 40 points, overwhelming the Wizards in another sharp performance.

Although Washington still was without injured guard Bradley Beal, you got the sense that Cleveland, which only would be seeded fourth if the playoffs began today, is the team to beat in the East. There’s much to like about the Cavaliers.

Everything revolves around James, who, in his 12th season, is as great as ever. But the four-time NBA most valuable player also was outstanding while the team struggled early in his return to Cleveland after a four-year run with the Miami Heat. What’s different now? A lot.

Increasingly, guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love — the other members of the Cavaliers’ Big Three — have become more comfortable playing alongside James. It was silly to think that the all-stars would immediately click after James and Love arrived in the offseason. This isn’t fantasy basketball. The awkwardness apparently behind them, though, the high-profile co-workers are getting it figured out.

On Friday, Irving supported James with a 25-point, seven-assist effort. Love contributed eight points, six rebounds and toughness. The Wizards could have used some of that.

“We’ve lost that edge of nastiness that we played with,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “We came out and felt, again, we’re going to warm our way into this game. They had other ideas. They hit us in the mouth right from the jump ball, and we couldn’t recover from it.”

Yep. That pretty much sums it up.

For Cleveland, James, Irving and Love, as expected, have provided the foundation to potentially build something great this season. Cleveland’s in-season remodeling has paid off, too.

***

No. 4: Kupchak: Lakers will begin anew, with Kobe — Even if it is for just one more season, perhaps Kobe Bryant‘s final season, the Los Angeles Lakers will start over again next season with their biggest star in the middle of the mix. So says Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, who made it clear that the plan is to build for the long-term future after this dismal season ends. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times explains:

As bad as the Lakers are this season, Kupchak said they aren’t going to tank the last 28 regular-season games just to be ensured of getting that top-five pick.

“I just don’t know how you send that message to a coaching staff or players,” Kupchak said. “That’s not just something that we want people to think that we would do.”

The Lakers will get Bryant, who had season-ending rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder, and rookie Randle, who is recovering from a broken right leg, back next season.

But Kupchak is not sure how much longer Bryant, 36, will play. Bryant is due to make $25 million next season.

Kupchak acknowledged the All-Star, who will be embarking on his 20th season in the NBA, is nearing the end of his career.

That means at some point the Lakers will have to start preparing for the future without Bryant.

“So at some point we have to start a new run,” Kupchak said. “That’s definitely going to include Kobe next year. Beyond that…. So to jeopardize the next five or seven years and bring in old veterans that make a lot of money just to win one more year because that’s Kobe’s last year or could be his last year, I’m not sure that fits into doing things the right way.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mavericks swingman Chandler Parsons injured his ankle Friday night … Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose apologized for the “travel issues” that dogged him after the All-Star break … Miami Heat star Chris Bosh is in “great spirits” but his season could be over due to blood clots in his lungs

ICYMI: Who says DeMarcus Cousins can’t thrive under George Karl? He looked just fine Friday night


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins goes to work in George Karl’s debut as head coach in Sacramento

Morning shootaround — Feb. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bosh hospitalized for lung tests | Bucks add more wingspan | Buyer’s remorse on Rondo? | Wolves: Not buying buyouts

No. 1: Bosh hospitalized for lung tests — The genuine surprise and excitement over the Miami Heat’s acquisition of Phoenix guard Goran Dragic had fans in South Florida focused on what might be some renewed postseason ambitions. But those good vibes got undercut later Thursday with the news that veteran forward Chris Bosh had been admitted to a local hospital to underdog testing of his lungs. Here are details from the Miami Herald:

Bosh was “under the weather” on Wednesday when he reported to practice, according to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, and team trainers sent Bosh to see a doctor. He did not attend practice Thursday and was instead admitted to the hospital.

Initial tests on Bosh, 30, were inconclusive, according to a team spokesman. An independent source confirmed for the Miami Herald that the initial tests were on Bosh’s lungs.

While in New York over the weekend for the All-Star Game, Bosh complained of pain in his side near his rib cage. He then traveled to Haiti during Carnival with his wife, Adrienne, and Dwyane Wade and Wade’s wife, actress Gabrielle Union.

Asked on Thursday after practice whether Bosh was sick in Haiti, Wade said, “I don’t know if he was sick. I’m not a doctor. I just know he wasn’t feeling good. He wasn’t coughing or throwing up, but he just wasn’t feeling good. So I don’t know when it happened. It could have happened in New York.”

Although Bosh noted discomfort in his side last Friday, he appeared healthy. On Saturday, he won the All-Star Shooting Stars competition at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, and on Sunday, Bosh played 11 minutes in the All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden.

*** (more…)

All-Star reserves to be announced tonight on TNT


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew picks their East All-Star reserves

HANG TIME BIG CITY — For the Atlanta Hawks and the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, it’s not a question of if a Hawk will make it, but rather, how many of them will be there?

TNT will exclusively televise the announcement of the 2015 NBA All-Star reserves tonight during a special one-hour edition of “TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by AutoTrader.com” at 7 p.m. ET.

The Hawks lead the Eastern Conference by 7 games with a 38-8 record, but had no players finish among the Eastern Conference leaders in fan voting. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer has already been tapped to coach the East, and with the League’s coaches choosing his reserves, the New York-hosted All-Star Game could have a distinctly Southern flavor. A couple of Hawks are in contention for roster room, like former All-Stars Paul Millsap and Al Horford, as well as guards Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver. The last time the Hawks had more than two All-Stars was in 1980, when they sent John Drew, Eddie Johnson and Dan Roundfield.

If four Hawks make the roster, which Eastern Conference players will be squeezed out? Chicago’s Jimmy Butler is probably as close to a lock as there is in the East. The Bulls shooting guard, who was named Eastern Conference player of the month for November, is averaging a career-high 20.1 points per game while leading the NBA in minutes per game, at 39.5 a night.

Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving finished fourth among Eastern guards in fan voting, after winning the All-Star Game MVP last season, but with his 55-point effort last night against Portland, Irving seemed to send a message that he belongs in this season’s game. Miami’s Dwyane Wade was among voting leaders in early returns before being passed late for a starting spot by Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. Wade, who is averaging 21.4 ppg this season, has made 10 consecutive All-Star Games. Wade has missed 10 of Miami’s games this season, and a hamstring injury may affect his availability for the All-Star Game.

In the frontcourt for the East, the coaches have some tough choices to make. Kevin Love was a starter last season in the Western Conference, but the move to Cleveland to take a supporting role has dropped his ppg from 26.1 a season ago to 17.1 as a Cavalier. Miami’s Chris Bosh has made nine consecutive All-Star appearances, and his chances this season should be bolstered by his 21.3 ppg average, his highest rate since 2009-10 when he was a member of the Toronto Raptors.

Orlando center Nikola Vucevic has put up terrific numbers — 19.5 ppg and 11.2 rpg — but for a team that is 15-33 and near the bottom of the conference. Detroit’s Greg Monroe is averaging a double-double — 15.2 ppg and 10.3 rpg — for the first time in his career and has been an integral part of the Pistons turning things around midway through the season.

Houston’s James Harden merits serious MVP consideration, and should headline the Western Conference reserves. The only question involving Harden, who leads the NBA at 27.3 ppg, is if he will be selected by Western Conference coach Steve Kerr to replace the injured Kobe Bryant in the starting lineup. Kerr’s choice is complicated by the stellar first half of Golden State shooting guard Klay Thompson, who staked his claim to an All-Star (and possible starting) spot last week with a 52-point night against Sacramento.

Also out West, will the coaches select Oklahoma City star (and reigning NBA MVP) Kevin Durant? He has battled injuries and played in just 21 of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season, but he’s been terrific (25.6 ppg) when he has played. Likewise, teammate Russell Westbrook, a three-time former All-Star, is among the league leaders in points (25.2 ppg) and steals (2.3 spg), but has missed 14 games.

Besides Westbrook, there are several point guards who have built strong cases for their inclusion. Memphis’ Mike Conley has never been an All-Star, but his Grizzlies have had a sparkling first half of the season and, at 33-12, are No. 2 in the Western Conference. Portland’s Damian Lillard made his first All-Star Game a year ago, and this year has improved his numbers across the board, averaging 21.8 ppg and 6.2 apg. And don’t forget about Clippers guard Chris Paul. The sheen may have worn off Lob City, but the seven-time All-Star is still averaging 17.5 ppg and 9.7 apg for a 32-14 Los Angeles squad.

In the frontcourt, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins is averaging 23.8 ppg and 12.3 rpg, both career highs. He’s also shown emotional growth, collecting just four technical fouls this season after totaling 16 last season.He also played a key role in Team USA’s gold-winning performance at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Despite a torn ligament in his thumb, Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge has postponed surgery and is averaging a double-double for the Blazers. Or, could coaches reward Golden State forward Draymond Green, perhaps their most versatile player and a key cog in the Warriors’ early run?

Finally, might 38-year-old San Antonio Spurs big man Tim Duncan make his 15th All-Star appearance? Duncan, who last played in the 2013 All-Star Game, is currently averaging 14.7 ppg and 10.1 rpg for the defending-champion Spurs, who are in sixth place in the West.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT live from New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden on Sunday, February 15, 2015.


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew picks their West All-Star reserves

Morning shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Amazing Klay | Hawks soaring | Here come the Cavs? | Teletovic out for the season

No. 1: Amazing Klay — Last night against the Sacramento Kings, Golden State’s Klay Thompson did something last night nobody in the history of the NBA had ever managed to do: He scored 37 points in one quarter. He was so hot that nothing slowed him down, not double-teams, not timeouts. Thompson didn’t miss a shot in the period and scored 37 of Golden State’s 41 in the third, effectively ending the Kings’ chances with each increasingly improbable three. Diamond Leung, the Warriors’ beat writer from the Bay Area Media Group, writes that after the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr even compared Thompson to another wing player who was known to get buckets

He delivered the most electrifying game of his career, going 16-for-25 from the field and 11-for-15 from 3-point range in 33 minutes to lift the Warriors to their 35th win of the season at the midway point and a franchise-record 18th straight victory at home.

Thompson was 9-for-9 from 3-point range in the third as the rest of the Warriors kept passing him the ball in a quarter when he scored 37 of their 41 points.

“As many spectacular things as Michael (Jordan) did, which he did nightly, I never saw him do that,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who won three NBA championships playing with Jordan.

“It was reminiscent of Michael because it’s sort of otherworldly.”

The Kings as a team scored 22 in the third, and their hopes for an upset were dashed after Thompson began flicking his wrist.

Thompson made a steal, stepped back and made a 3-pointer to put the Warriors ahead 63-60 before hitting another to make it 66-64.

Stephen Curry fed him on a one-handed alley-oop after which Thompson continued his barrage. He even got a shooter’s roll on one of the 3-pointers.

Thompson brought down the house going it alone against the Kings defense with a jumper that gave the Warriors an 89-70 lead. Another 3-pointer made it 95-71.

“I was taking a lot of bad shots out there, but I was taking one until I missed, and I just got lucky,” Thompson said.

With 4.9 seconds in the third, Thompson hit two free throws that gave him 50 points for the game to become the 12th player in franchise history to score at least that number. His previous career highs were 41 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in November and eight 3-pointers at Sacramento last season.

Thompson hit two free throws in the fourth before checking out of the game to an ovation with 9:28 left.

“He was typical Klay,” Draymond Green said of Thompson on the sideline. “Just sitting there. His favorite line: ‘It’s crazy.’ That’s all he said.”

His third quarter had set the NBA record for points, and falling with it was a significant franchise mark. Wilt Chamberlain in his 100-point game in 1962 held the previous record with 31 points in a quarter.

“It’s that number 37 in a quarter that’s unbelievable. I thought I’d never see that,” Curry said after using his phone to watch video of Thompson’s performance again.

Up until Thompson began hoisting shots into history, the Warriors were struggling to put away Sacramento, which entered the game having lost five in a row.

Kerr was angry at halftime, telling his players he wouldn’t be calling plays in order to let them figure things out themselves. The Warriors had led by 18 points in the first quarter, but the Kings grabbed the lead after halftime.

“Get the ball to Klay, and Klay get the ball,” Kerr said. “Those are the two plays they ran.”

Said Thompson: “They just kept wanting to see the show. That’s what they kept telling me. When your teammates have confidence in you like that, you can do extraordinary things.”

***

No. 2: Hawks Soaring — Meanwhile, on the other coast, the Atlanta Hawks just keep winning. They entered last night’s game against Oklahoma City with a gaudy 35-8 record, winners of 14 in a row and 27 or their last 29. But that streak got put to a serious test last night as they hosted a potent Oklahoma City Thunder team hungry for a win. And through one half, after a dozen turnovers, the Hawks looked like they didn’t mind if their win streak came to an end. But that turned around in the second half, and the Hawks won going away, 103-93, for a franchise-record 15th win in a row

The Atlanta Hawks romped to their 15th straight victory, the longest streak in franchise history.

Don’t expect them to savor it for long.

This team is focused firmly on what’s in front of them.

Paul Millsap scored 22 points, Jeff Teague added 17 and the Hawks broke the record with a 103-93 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

“It’s a good accomplishment,” Millsap said, sitting in a rather somber locker room. “But it’s just another win.”

The wins keep piling up for a team that no one expected to be a title contender at the beginning of the season. Before a raucous sellout crowd, the Hawks came out on top for the 29th time in 31 games to extend their Eastern-best record to 36-8.

As usual, pretty much everyone chipped in.

Four starters were in double figures and backup point guard Dennis Schröder led a spurt at the start of the fourth quarter that helped the Hawks pull away. He finished with 13 points and five assists, igniting the arena with a towering finger roll that dropped gently through the net.

“Give me five really good guys,” Millsap said, “and I’ll go out there and win with ‘em.”

Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 22 points, but it wasn’t enough to extend their four-game winning streak.

Kevin Durant added 21 points, while Serge Ibaka with 13 was the only other Thunder player in double figures.

The Hawks were much more balanced. Al Horford had 14 points and 12 rebounds, while DeMarre Carroll chipped in with 13 points. Kyle Korver was the only starter who didn’t reach double figures, but even he chipped in with a play that had everyone talking: another dunk in the waning seconds of the first half that sent the Hawks to the locker room with a 48-47 lead.

They never trailed again, strolling off the court at the end with the public-address announcer screaming “15 in a row!”

“It’s cool to get your name in the record book,” Carroll said. “At the same time, we’ve got bigger tasks at hand. That’s making it to the playoffs and bringing an NBA championship to Atlanta.”

The crowd of 19,203 marked the third sellout in Atlanta’s last four games. In a sign that the attendance-challenged city is really getting behind its team, most of the crowd came to cheer for the home team rather than to see an out-of-town star.

“They’ve jumped on the bandwagon now,” Durant said. “The crowd was great tonight and really helped them out.”

He’s also impressed with what Atlanta is putting on the court.

“They’re a really good team,” he said – over and over again.

***

No. 3: Here come the Cavs? — It’s been a rough start for the Cleveland Cavaliers, marked by losing streaks, coaching questions, trades and injuries. But last night, with all the principles healthy and on the court together, the Cavaliers swatted the Charlotte Hornets, 129-90. It was Cleveland’s fifth straight win, and exactly the kind of dominant performance LeBron James and the Cavs were looking for when they constructed this team, writes the Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Joe Vardon

That’s five wins in a row for the Cavs after losing six straight. They limited the Hornets to 40 percent shooting and caused 12 turnovers.

“Right now, I feel like this is the team that I envisioned,” James said.

In the middle of a long season, there really isn’t anything more important James could say than that.

It’s been a turbulent return campaign for James in Cleveland, and even with these last five victories the Cavs are only 24-20 and in fifth place in the East.

James admitted his team is just one losing streak from all the progress, all the good feeling, unraveling again. He sounded, and looks, like he plans to guard against that.

A three-minute, 20-second stretch in the second quarter said it all.

Cleveland was already up by 22 when James came charging into the lane before pulling up for a short floater. Thirty-seven seconds later, he drove in for a finger roll and was fouled.

Then, a steal. After that, another layup. Next possession, two free throws.

Oh, there’s more.

James stole the ball again, this time dribbling down for a left-handed windmill dunk that sounds easier than it looked. [Kyrie] Irving drained a three and then he stole the ball. Four seconds later, [J.R.] Smith tossed a half-court alley-oop to James that he might not have even tried to catch a few weeks ago.

Still not done. James stole the ball, again, and the Cavs scored on a lob, again. James passed (from halfcourt, no less) and Kevin Love caught it for a layup.

At the end of that sequence, it was 62-27 with 5:48 to play in the half.

“This is the style of basketball I envisioned,” James said. “Obviously the points we put up I don’t envision that every night, but how we share the ball, how we defend, that should be our staple.”

Charlotte coach Steve Clifford was asked before the game if James looked different on film recently than when the Hornets last played him on Dec. 15. The reason for the question – James’ obvious progress athletically since his two-week rest from nagging injury.

“He always looks pretty good,” Clifford said. “So yesterday when I started, he’s always fun to watch. And then as you get closer to the game time and making decisions about how you’re going to try to stop him, it’s not nearly as much fun.”

***

No. 4: Teletovic out for the season — It hasn’t been a great season for the Brooklyn Nets, who’ve had to deal with injuries to Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, trade rumors, and talk that their owner wants to sell the franchise. And now they’re out another player, as forward Mirza Teletovic has been diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs, ending his season as he seeks treatment, writes Andrew Keh of the New York Times

Teletovic, a 29-year-old forward from Bosnia and Herzegovina, left Thursday’s game in Los Angeles after experiencing a shortness of breath and was transported to the California Medical Center.

The Nets on Friday morning said Teletovic would remain hospitalized to undergo further examination and begin treatment with blood thinners.

“Our first thoughts are with Mirza and his family,” General Manager Billy King said in a statement, praising the team’s medical staff and the emergency room doctors for their work. “I have visited with Mirza this morning and he is in good spirits as he begins his treatment and recovery.”

Blood clots can form for a variety of reasons, with long travel and surgical procedures among the most common risk factors. Blood clots near the lungs carry an increased risk of sudden death, said Dr. Alexis C. Colvin, a sports medicine specialist at Mt. Sinai Hospital, who was speaking generally and not about Teletovic’s specific case.

Teletovic posted a message on Twitter late Thursday night that read, “I had a small problem, but now everything is ok… Thx all fans from Bosnia, Spain and USA for support.”

The struggling Nets will miss Teletovic, who was averaging a career-high 22.3 minutes per game this season. They lost by 39 points to the Clippers, and their record dropped to 18-25. They had already been missing point guard Deron Williams, who fractured a left rib earlier this month.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Lakers and Kobe Bryant should get some clarity regarding the options for his injured shoulder after a meeting with doctors on Monday … Dallas’s Rajon Rondo sat down the stretch last night against Chicago, but Rondo and coach Rick Carlisle say it’s no big dealMark Cuban says the All-Star voting process is “absolutely, positively broken” … The Brandon Jennings/Brandon Knight trade is one of those rare deals that worked out well for both teams … Could the Clippers be free agent Nate Robinson‘s destination? …

Morning shootaround — Jan. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo done for the season? | Curry, Dubs on fire | Hawks on top, new No. 1 in East

No. 1: Melo done for the season? — Carmelo Anthony’s season could be over. Finished before he or the New York Knicks could even get started basically. At 5-30 and staring at one of the worst seasons in franchise history, word has surfaced that a lingering knee injury could require surgery and that Melo could be potentially be done for the season. That’s brutal news for a Knicks team that has yet to acclimate  itself to coach Derek Fisher‘s system. But as Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News suggests, perhaps it’s time to do the right thing and shut ‘Melo down:

The Knicks fell again for the 10th straight time, serenaded by jeers, slaughtered this time by the lowly Pistons, 97-81. They demonstrated the sort of hopeless defensive performance that surely made Phil Jackson and Jim Dolan change the channel, wherever they happened to be watching.

But there was a difference Friday, an important one at the Garden. For the first time, really, Derek Fisher faced reality, sounded ready to shut down Carmelo Anthony and throw away this brutal 5-30 season once and for all. It’s not that Fisher was tanking, although that probably would be the best thing right now for the Knicks. It’s just that the coach admitted, finally, that there needs to be some discussions about long-term treatment of Anthony’s lingering injuries — about putting him on ice, along with his knee.

There is a growing feeling among people close to the Knicks that Anthony will require minor surgery on his joint after his season, whenever that ends. Fisher suggested there will likely be some good arguments made to Anthony soon about embarking on a sabbatical of some length. Eventually, Fisher implied, Anthony might see the light and accept a personal blackout.

“There’s a balance between a player and his health and the part that he plays in the decision-making process and then where we are as a team and giving our thoughts and our opinion to it,” Fisher said. “We can’t unilaterally just say, ‘Hey, you know, you can’t play for the rest of the season because of A, B and C.’ I think our medical staff, our training staff, continue to have conversations with him about where he is.”


VIDEO: Rajon Rondo returned to Boston in style and dazzled the old fans in the Dallas win

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Dec. 26


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe is growing old before our eyes | LeBron has bittersweet return | Warriors have a ‘jolly’ Christmas?

No. 1: Lakers move on without Kobe for nowKobe Bryant did what many did on Christmas Day: He sat around and watched a basketball game. The Lakers played the Bulls without their leader and leading scorer and it was what you would have expected: Not much of a contest. And the biggest news of the game was on the Laker bench. Kobe complained about “old age” and sat for another game, and at this point, this pattern could repeat itself throughout the season. Kobe said “my knees are sore, my Achilles are sore, both of them. Metatarsals are tight, back’s tight. I just need to kind of hit the reset button.” Oh,  if only the Lakers could do the same. They’re now 9-20 after losing by 20 to the Bulls and ex-Laker Pau Gasol. Kobe is a very old 36 and in his 19th season, and given how the Lakers are losing even when he’s in the lineup, you must seriously wonder about the wisdom of playing him heavy minutes, anyway.

Here’s Mark Bresnahan‘s report from the Los Angeles Times:

Most of the talk centered around Bryant, who said there was only a “slim” chance he would return Friday against Dallas. He worked with a team physical therapist for an hour and a half Thursday morning, “taking care of every part of my body,” he said.

“It’s tough with our health team here, trying to find new ways of doing it because there’s really no blueprint for playing this long, at this position at least, in the NBA. We’re really trying to figure new things out, trying to see what’s out there, trying to see what works, what doesn’t work. It’s constantly experimenting.” On the court, Bryant said he would try to find areas that were best for him efficiency-wise.

“It’s habit for me to move around and be active offensively all over the place from different spots on the floor,” he said. ” I don’t think my body can hold up to that anymore.” He seemed especially disappointed to sit out a Christmas Day game, let alone in Chicago against Gasol, his former teammate and still good friend. He did have a pledge, though.

“I’ll get back to being healthy, like I was at the start of the season,” Bryant said. “We’ll probably cut down the minutes.” Bryant is averaging 35.5 minutes per game, only one below his career average.

His scoring has been solid — 24.6 points per game — but he’s only 8% below his career accuracy before the season.

***

No. 2: LeBron has a bittersweet trip down memory lane – Well, that was interesting. The Cavaliers-Heat game was all about one man’s trip to his second home and the reception he would get. LeBron James heard the good and the not so good when he was honored with a video tribute and a standing ovation, and then treated like any other visitor to American Airlines Arena, where he hoisted a pair of trophies as a member of the Heat. Now, of course, he’s back with the Cavaliers and emotions tugged at him on Christmas Day. He was with his pal Dwyane Wade although on the other bench, and his current team never really had much of a chance to straighten their disappointing season out, losing 101-91. It must be weird being LeBron right now. He’s back in Ohio and with the team he broke in with. He has rejoined the hearts of Cavaliers fans. He has a ton of money, his good health and soon a newborn girl. He has a pair of championship trophies. But he cares deeply about his place in the game, from a historical perspective, and knows that he’ll never be considered the greatest to ever play unless he multiplies his trophy collection. That might not happen this season because the Cavaliers are 16-11 and showing no signs of turning it around anytime soon. Anderson Varejao is out for the season with a torn Achilles and Kevin Love remains in a fog. LeBron’s dreamy return home is laced with issues, writes Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:

It’s tempting to read too much into this, and maybe we shouldn’t. OK, we should. And we will. Did anyone think it was odd that LeBron James had more camaraderie, more genuine interactions with the former teammates that were all around him Thursday than his current ones? Think about that for a minute … when you’re the most prominent player in the game and you spend for years with people and make four trips to the NBA Finals with them and win two championships, those bonds “last forever” as James said before his return to Miami on Christmas Day. This is especially true when one of those players, Dwyane Wade, has been your friend and rival — like a brother to you — for virtually your entire basketball career.

Those bonds can’t be formed in your new city (not even if it’s your old city, and not even if it’s your hometown) over the course of 28 regular season games. But man, oh man, James and his new teammates in burgundy and gold uniforms look more like strangers than teammates. They’re all lost, and nobody has directions.

That’s a problem.

It’s a problem that cuts much deeper than the inconsequential 101-91 loss that James and the Cavs suffered at the hands of Wade and the Heat on Thursday. And it speaks to something very interesting about the dynamic that James left behind in Miami and the one that he voluntarily rejoined in Cleveland.

The NBA always has been, and always will be, a player’s league. The best coaches are the best coaches because they usually have the best players. Carmelo Anthony isn’t so great and has virtually no chance to win on any given night because he is surrounded by bad players. That part of the game is easy to figure out.

But there’s something else that gets often overlooked, something that we shouldn’t need help recognizing after witnessing the championship blueprint set forth by San Antonio Spurs all these many years. While it may be true that you cannot win without good players, it’s equally true that you can’t win without a strong, winning culture and foundation.

That was the fundamental reason James left Cleveland in the first place and decided that he needed to be a part of what Pat Riley had built in Miami. More than anything — more than teaming up with Wade and Chris Bosh, more than flexing his free agent muscle — it was about immersing himself in an organization with strong leadership, an unconditional partnership between the coach and the GM and an owner who let people do their jobs. Four Finals trips and two championships later, it worked — for all parties involved.

Now the Heat are below .500 and just trying to tread water in the woeful Eastern Conference. But if you thought that James was going to leave behind a steaming pile of rubble — a team lacking discipline and any discernible style or direction — think again.

That’s James’ new team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Every game for us is a learning experience,” James said. “We’re not that good right now.”

They’re 17-11 and once they figure out how to replace the injured Anderson Varejao, chances are they’ll walk backwards into the Eastern Conference finals by accident. James is right about not being very good right now, but he missed something.

They don’t even seem to know what they’re trying to be.

***

No. 3: Maybe the Warriors should take their angry pills — Understand that nobody should ever promote violence in the NBA or anywhere for that matter. We strive to be a peaceful band of citizens, loving our fellow man and promoting a sense of brotherhood whenever given the chance. Especially on Christmas Day; what evil person would ever stoop to doing anything dastardly? Well, whenever the Warriors and Clippers play, it’s usually a contest that takes on a bit of an edge. They have a history, let’s just say. And they’re both very, very good here in the early going, and want the same thing: The Western Conference championship. There’s a decent chance that the road through the West will wind through one either LA or Oakland, and maybe both, with all due respect to San Antonio and OKC and Portland and Houston. The Warriors are the hottest team in the NBA while the Clippers, after a brutal schedule and a stumbling start, are starting to gather themselves and play in a manner that satisfies coach Doc Rivers. So when they met on Christmas Day, a pair of forces colliding at the Staples Center, something had to give. Blake Griffin, as he usually does against the Warriors, refused to shake hands or even offer a fist bump with any Warrior before the tip. And the pro-Clippers crowd was loud from the jump. The Clippers were in full message-sending mode and it showed when they clobbered the Warriors, which annoyed one Golden State player in particular. Draymond Green, who’s having a fine season, thought the Warriors were simply too soft and nice.

Here’s Rusty Strauss of the San Francisco Chronicle on the state of mind of Green and the Warriors:

“I don’t think we were intense as far as having that fire, but I don’t think they were, either,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “I don’t know what the cause of it was. Maybe everybody was a little too jolly. But it was too nice. It was too boring. I’m sure it wasn’t the prime time game everybody expected.”.

More Green: “There was no, ‘I don’t like you’ and ‘You don’t like me,’ ” Green said. “There are some guys on that team that I really respect, but there was no fire, no dog. It’s no secret that we don’t like them. They don’t like us. I don’t know why the game was that nice, trying to act like we like each other when we don’t. It was a boring game.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall and Quincy Acy exchanged Christmas Day pleasantriesJosh Smith excited to join the RocketsNBA Christmas ratings are friendly …