Posts Tagged ‘Dwight Howard’

Blogtable: Fallout in Houston after Kevin McHale’s firing

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

BLOGTABLE: Fallout in Houston after firing? | Best comeback story? | Cousins or Karl in Sacramento?

VIDEOKevin Mchale reportedly fired by Houston

> Kevin McHale was fired by the Rockets today. Right move or wrong move? And what does new coach J.B. Bickerstaff need to do to right this Rocket ship?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Unfortunately, the coach is easier to fire than the players. Unless Kevin got real dumb over the summer, he’s the same coach that got Houston to the Western Conference finals last season. It’s the players who aren’t playing up to par. But, that’s the deal for NBA coaches. The wins are because of the players; the losses are their fault. J.B. Bickerstaff can’t make Dwight Howard healthy or shake Harden out of his funk, but maybe he can get some of the younger guys to contribute more.  He’s a big fan of Clint Capela, and maybe we’ll get even more from him than we’ve seen so far.

Steve Aschburner, Wrong move, so wrong that I’m inclined to refer to them henceforth as the “Wrockets.” If management trots out the tired, old “he lost the locker room” justifications, then Houston, it has a problem. I thought McHale and his staff did wonders to steer that crew through injuries to 54 and 56 victories the past two seasons, reaching the West finals last spring. But talent can only take a team so far for so long unless it’s backed up with leadership and character. I don’t see much of either on the roster, at least not coming from self-absorbed big dogs James Harden and Dwight Howard. Maybe the Wrockets will be able to analytics their way out of this mess but I’m skeptical. Good luck to J.B. Bickerstaff, who has earned a shot and now is stuck with this one. Best thing he has working for him? The big lazy move — firing the coach — has been stripped away, shifting any further blame to the team’s performance and alleged stars.

Fran Blinebury, Wrong move, because McHale didn’t suddenly become incompetent in the six months since he took the Rockets to the Western Conference finals. Only move, because it’s what teams do when they can’t hit the reject button on the roster. First things first for J.B. Bickerstaff and that’s to repair the gaping holes in the Rockets’ defense, which has gone from a level near the top of the league to practically scraping bottom. But none of that will help in the long run if he can’t repair dysfunctional, broken relationships at the core of the lineup.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Wrong move. You get where management is coming from — the team looked terrible in the opening weeks, they can’t let another season slip away. But if McHale was the right guy in the playoffs about seven months ago, when Houston beat the Mavericks in five and had a great comeback against the Clippers before losing to the better team in the Western Conference finals, he was the right guy now. The personality of the roster is the problem, not the coach. Bickerstaff will be a new voice, which sometimes helps, but he won’t be able to right that part of the ship.

Shaun Powell, Right or wrong move? As always, it depends. If the Rockets wake up and get right, then fine. If not, they panicked, because just months ago McHale coached them past the Clippers in an epic playoff rally, took them to the West finals and earned a contract extension. He’s suddenly a crummy coach? Well, either J.B. Bickerstaff or Tom Thibodeau, if they hire him, better be right.

John Schuhmann, If this move gets the Rockets to play like they care about whether or not their opponent puts the ball in the basket, then it was the right move. But there was no excuse for not caring in the first place, and I doubt that McHale was to blame in that regard. Last season, the Rockets ranked sixth in defensive efficiency, even with their three-time Defensive Player of the Year playing only 41 games. This season, they rank 29th, and have been terrible whether Dwight Howard is playing or not. He ranks at the bottom of the league in rim protection, in part because his perimeter teammates can’t contain the ball. The film shows too many examples of Rockets defenders playing downright lazy on defense. There are surely other issues, but they can be addressed once the team collectively wakes up and starts playing defense like it matters, which it does.

Sekou Smith, Wrong in so many ways for McHale, but potentially right for the Rockets and Bickerstaff. McHale’s serving as the fall guy after pushing this crew to 110 regular season wins the past two seasons and last season’s wild playoff ride that ended in the Western Conference finals. He lost his powers after 11 games? Ridiculous. The Rockets have much bigger issues that begin and end inside the locker room (hence Tuesday’s players-only meeting). And that’s where J.B. Bickerstaff‘s opportunity comes into play. If he can find a way to inspire James Harden, Dwight Howard and this crew to commit themselves to improving defensively from the bottom of the NBA pile, there is a chance this ends up being the right and best move the Rockets could have made to salvage this season. But right or wrong, 11 games in … we need time before it becomes clear.

Ian Thomsen, There’s not much that any coach can do until the Rockets get the leadership they need on defense from James Harden and Dwight Howard. The Rockets’ two best players should be dominating that end of the court and thereby establishing the highest and most meaningful standard for their teammates. It should be flattering to Harden and Howard that the responsibility to fix this is on them. Maybe a new voice — or the shock of losing McHale — will get the message through to them, which is a shame.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: If this turns things around and propels the Rockets to the top of the Western Conference, I suppose it will be looked at as the right move. But right now it certainly doesn’t feel like firing the coach who just got a three-year extension and took you to the Western Conference finals is the right move. If Bickerstaff can get them to commit defensively, that’s great, but this isn’t a team built to survive on their defense. To me they should go the other way and commit to their offense … and I’m pretty sure there’s a coach named Mike D’Antoni available out there and known for preaching offense.

McHale takes the fall in Houston

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Just months removed from a trip to the Western Conference finals, Kevin McHale is out in Houston and J.B. Bickerstaff is in as his replacement after the Rockets’ wobbly 4-7 start to this season. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports was the first to report the news of McHale’s firing.

McHale compiled a 193-130 record in four-plus seasons in Houston and signed a three-year extension in December of 2104. But losing streaks of three and four games, longer than anything they endured last season, prompted a players-only team meeting before practice Tuesday.

If James Harden, Dwight Howard and the rest of the players couldn’t come up with a solution for what ails this crew, the Rockets’ front office did it for them. And McHale serves as the fall guy.

Bickerstaff, a longtime assistant and the son of veteran NBA coach and executive Bernie Bickerstaff, certainly provides a new voice, albeit from a familiar face. He is well respected around the league and was destined for a head coaching job that doesn’t include an interim tag.

The Rockets, however, clearly are in need of much more than just a different voice.

They’ve fallen apart since grinding their way to the conference finals. They rank near the bottom of the league in defensive rating (29th), points allowed (29th) and opponent field goal percentage (26th). They have yet to hold a single opponent under 100 points this season.

The addition of veteran point guard Ty Lawson has not produced any tangible benefits either. Plus, the team that led the league in made 3-pointers last season ranks next to last in 3-point percentage this season (29 percent).

The fact is, Howard has been a shell of himself and is not the impact player on defense that he has been throughout his career. Harden’s struggling as well, not playing anything like the player many (including his peers) felt deserved Kia MVP honors last season.

Something had to change. Better yet, someone had to go.

But McHale, the winningest coach in franchise history by percentage, and after just 11 games?

There has to be more to this story, more to come from GM Daryl Morey and the Houston brain trust.

For now, it’s up to Bickerstaff to steady things and reshape this team into the outfit that was expected to contend in the Western Conference this season.

Rockets turn to players-only meeting, await results as schedule turns

VIDEO: James Harden talks after the Rockets’ practice Tuesday

Sometimes the best thing that can come out of a players-only meeting is a newfound appreciation for the team’s schedule.

That’s not to say that the Houston Rockets haven’t been in need of something – anything – to address their turnovers, squandered leads, lethargy and two longer-than-any-last-season losing streaks of three and four games. But players-only meetings often reek of both desperation and window-dressing, with as much potential to make things worse if the wrong people say the wrong things as to make anything better.

Here’s one tangible reason that the Rockets’ closed-door session before practice Tuesday might actually pay off: their schedule gets friendlier. Houston hasn’t exactly run a gauntlet through its first 11 games — no Cleveland, no San Antonio, no Atlanta — but it did face six opponents who currently are over .500. The cumulative record of its foes so far is 61-52 (.540) and even if you factor out the results of their games against the Rockets, it dips only to 54-48 (.529).

In their next 10 games, beginning at home Wednesday against Portland, the Rockets will tackle teams with a combined 43-58 (.387) mark, counting the Grizzlies and the Knicks twice each. Four of those games will be on the road, with three sets of back-to-backs in the 10.

Still, it’s possible that clearing the air or cleaning up some miscommunication could benefit Houston on the court. It’s even possible that James Harden, Dwight Howard and the rest get a placebo effect – if they believe the meeting was helpful, they might actually play in a way that reinforces that.

And if neither of the above apply? Well, there will be plenty of time to hand-wring over that. For now, here is some of Calvin Watkinsreport for

“What happens in the room, stays in the room,” center Dwight Howard said following practice. “It was good for us to sit down and talk but it’s a long season and you can’t get caught up in losing a couple of games and getting upset and so frustrated and feel like it’s the end of the world. It is embarrassing. We hate to lose but at the same time we have a long season and we can’t think negative when we lose. We have to try and find the positive in any situation. You keep thinking negative, then negative things will continue to happen to you. You got to stay positive and fight through it. All this stuff will build our character.”

After the Rockets opened the season 0-3, they went on a four-game winning streak, which included consecutive road wins over the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Clippers.

But the Rockets have lost their last four games and failed to reach 100 points in each. Houston is averaging 20 fewer points in their losses.

Whether or not the meeting will result in ending the losing streak is uncertain. The Rockets need their best player, James Harden, to pick up the scoring load. Harden has seen his scoring average drop from 38.5 points per game in victories to 20.9 in losses. In wins he shoots 46.4 percent from the field but that dips to 30.2 percent in losses.

“It was a good talk for us,” Harden said. “We hadn’t had an opportunity to communicate like that since the season had been going. It was good for us to communicate and each guy basically said what their role was and every single night they’re going to contribute to that role. After the talk we had a really good practice, guys communicated we worked hard and now it’s about carrying it over. It’s about doing it on the floor.”

Jonathan Feigen, longtime Rockets beat writer for the Houston Chronicle, tweeted out guard Ty Lawson‘s take on the meeting:

Morning shootaround — Nov. 17

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 16


Rockets a mess after latest loss | Shumpert could return by mid-December | Durant says hamstring feeling ‘way better’

No. 1: Rockets a mess after latest loss — After reaching the Western Conference finals a season ago, the Houston Rockets entered 2015-16 with hopes of a Finals run. Eleven games into the season, they sit at 4-7 after last night’s home loss to the Boston Celtics and are searching for any kind of answers. Our Fran Blinebury was on the scene in Houston last night and has more on the state of the Rockets:

The Rockets are a team that won 56 games last season without ever losing more than two in a row. Now they’ve already had a three-game losing streak, followed by the current four-game skid and, even worse, they’re making a habit of getting blown out, perhaps giving up. The second half at Miami, the first half at home against Dallas, surrendering a 32-13 third quarter to the Celtics.

“I wouldn’t say full effort all the time, no,” said coach Kevin McHale. “We’re hanging our heads. Things aren’t going our way and we hang our head. We haven’t put together really good basketball all year long.”

Can anybody remember the last time a team that had advanced as far as the conference finals less than six months earlier, fell this far this fast without suffering a major injury to a key player?

Have Josh Smith, Pablo Prigioni and Kostas Papanikolaou ever been missed so much by anyone outside their own families? Should the acclimation to new point guard Ty Lawson be quite so difficult?

The Rockets are not just 4-7 on the season, but 2-5 at home in the Toyota Center, where boos are becoming a regular part of the fan experience. Of those seven losses, five of them have come by margins of 20, 20, 20, 18 and 16.

In case anyone’s wondering, the winless Sixers come to town on Nov. 27.

“There’s negativity all around,” said Dwight Howard. “Out there, in here. We have to stay away from it. We have to be positive. That’s my job.”

It should be the job of Howard and James Harden as co-leaders, yet neither is truly comfortable in the role of fully shouldering the responsibility. Harden is nonpareil in his brilliance at the offensive end, but has fallen back into many of his old defensive shortcomings. Howard plays confidently and aggressively at defense and rebounding, but at no point in his career has he ever been a tall flagpole to rally around.

The criticism and the fingers have already pointed at Kevin McHale for his inability to pull the Rockets out of the ditch, though he’s changed lineups, tried different tactics, done virtually everything but consult a Ouija board. A year ago McHale guided a team that played without Howard for 41 games to the Southwest Division title and the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, then pushed them all the way into June.

Has this team suddenly tuned him out and, if so, why? McHale, who is in the first season of a new three-year contract, is the winningest coach by percentage in franchise history. In his four years in Houston, he’s established a reputation as a players’ coach, one that cajoles, relates, inspires and does not grab at the spotlight to bask. If he is being rolled under the bus by anyone inside the locker room, it would only be to cover up their own deficiencies.

The Rockets have fallen into the habit of letting one or two bad possessions snowball until it starts an avalanche. The Celtics fed off the on-court sniping and squabbling that resulted in a 34-point turnaround from the middle of the second quarter to the end of the third.

“I think every game that we’ve lost it’s been something like that where they go on these crazy runs,” Harden said. “It’s kind of hard to get out of them. I don’t know what the case is … but you have to fight through it. It’s pretty bad, but the good thing about it is it’s still early in the season.”

As for Lawson, Calvin Watkins of reports Lawson may soon be out of a starting job

VIDEO: Kevin McHale talks after Houston’s loss to Boston

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Morning Shootaround — Nov. 9

VIDEO: The Fastbreak: Sunday, Nov. 8


Kobe fades in what could be his final call at MSG | Drummond joins giants with another 20-20 night | Thunder embrace their true identity | Grizzlies rotation will tighten during tough times

No. 1: Kobe fades in what could be his final call at MSG — His first points in 1996. The 61 he dropped on the crowd in 2009. Some of Kobe Bryant‘s greatest memories have come on the floor at Madison Square Garden. He added 18 more in what could very well be his final time playing on that floor Sunday in a loss to the New York Knicks. Lakers coach Byron Scott admitted that he and Kobe have spoken about the fact that his 20th season could indeed be his final season in the league. If so, the farewell tour took a decided twist at MSG, where our very own Lang Whitaker was on hand to witness what could very well be Kobe’s final call at the Mecca:

Following Sunday’s game, Kobe reminisced about that first appearance at the Garden — “It was like one of those VHS tapes when someone hit the fast-forward button and the TV was moving really fast.” — as well as that ’98 All-Star game — “In the locker room, I look to my right and there’s Stockton, and I look to my left and there’s Drexler.”

“I don’t think you understand how much I watched this building growing up,” Bryant said. “I mean, Frazier and Monroe and all those teams, DeBusschere and Reed and all those guys. I was like, truly, truly a fan of watching all these games. Then the Bulls, obviously, and the Pacers battles, and all that stuff. To be able to come here and have the performances I’ve had in this building, it feels extremely, extremely fortunate.”

Accordingly, Bryant is still respected like few opponents at MSG. Even Sunday, whenever he pulled up for a jumper, there was roar of anticipation. When Bryant pump-faked on the wing with three minutes left and the game in the balance, several fans sitting behind him leapt to their feet in anticipation of a big bucket, one that never came.

These days, the riddle the Lakers find themselves trying to unravel is exactly what they want and need out of Bryant. Do they need a volume shooter who occasionally flirts with a 40-point game? Or is the best course for the franchise to focus on the future? The Lakers used a lineup in the fourth quarter on Sunday featuring Kobe playing alongside a seven-year vet (Roy Hibbert), a second-year player (Jordan Clarkson), and two guys who, for all intents and purposes, are rookies (D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle).

“I think they’re developing extremely well,” Kobe said of the younger players. “They continue to improve reading on both ends of the floor, actually. My communication with them has been very tactical. The little things.”

“All he has to do is be himself,” said Bryant’s long-time teammate Metta World Peace. “He doesn’t have to do anything extra. He don’t have to be what his fans want him to be. He don’t have to try to prove to the media that he can still jump over the rim, or he don’t have to prove to anybody that he’s not who he was a couple of years ago. All he gotta do is enjoy us, just be a part of us, and we’ll be a part of him. We’ll do it together. It’s not about any individual on the team, it’s about us. As long as we continue to have that mindset, we’ll be fine.


No. 2: Drummond joins giants with another 20-20 night — If you’ve overlooked a struggling Detroit Pistons team in recent years, now might be a good time to end that practice. The Pistons, 5-1 and off to their best start in eight years, look for real. They’ve got a wild card in point guard Reggie Jackson (who led the team with a career-high 40 points, 26 in the fourth quarter, in Sunday’s comeback win in Portland) and an absolute double-double monster in center Andre Drummond (29 points and 27 rebounds in the win). Drummond is averaging 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds, the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1970-71 to do so through the first six games of a season. He joins Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to record three 20-20 performances in the first six games of a season. Drummond is elevating his game, and his name, into the realm of giants with his start to this season, as Rico Beard of the Detroit News explains:

Another night with a double-double — and in the case of Sunday night’s 120-103 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, an almost-absurd 29 points and 27 rebounds. It’s becoming common for the fourth-year center, who boosted his jaw-dropping averages to 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds through the first six games.

He joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players with three games 20-20 games in the first six games of a season.

On the offensive end, he displayed a fluid jump-hook and was a menace on the offensive glass, with nine, fueling the Pistons’ double-digit comeback, for their second win on the six-game West Coast trip.

“Andre’s numbers are phenomenal. I just told somebody if he didn’t get a rebound the rest of the trip, he’d be in the top three or four in the league in rebounding — he’d be averaging over 12 a game,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “What he’s doing on the boards is phenomenal; he was just swallowing the ball down the stretch. It was an incredible turnaround.”

But even as Drummond started to get more comfortable — hitting 14-of-19 from the field, Reggie Jackson started to break out, scoring 26 of his 40 points in the final period. Van Gundy said he wanted to get the ball to Drummond more, but with Jackson on a roll, there wasn’t a need.

All season, Drummond has focused on team success rather than individual stats, but with his All-Star-caliber numbers, it’s hard to ignore.

“Whatever night we win is a great win,” he said. “Individually, I’m just doing my part to help my team win, no matter what the numbers are — 5 rebounds or 20 rebounds. As long as we win the game, it was a good night for me.”

With his third game of 25 points and 25 rebounds, Drummond leads all active players, surpassing Dwight Howard and Al Jefferson, who have two apiece.


No. 3: Thunder embrace their true identity — Playing to your strengths is always the best plan for a team adjusting to a new coach and a new system. And the Oklahoma City Thunder are certainly still adjusting to Billy Donovan and his system. But as long as the strength in Oklahoma City remains Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of the most explosive scorers in the game, and a lineup filled with quality scorers, there’s really no mystery as to what will make the adjustment period tolerable for a team with designs on competing for a championship this season. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman witnessed the Thunder’s offensive burst Sunday in a win over the Phoenix Suns:

Russell Westbrook entered at his customary time, early in the fourth quarter, and joined a unique but increasingly more customary lineup.

At shooting guard: Dion Waiters. At small forward: Kevin Durant. At power forward: Serge Ibaka. At center: Enes Kanter.

“Dangerous, man, dangerous,” Waiters said. “Lotta guys out there that can get buckets.”

When the group convened at the 7:56 mark of the fourth quarter, the Thunder led by 12. When the next substitution was made, at the 4:22 mark, the Thunder was up 22. In a spurt of fastbreaks and feathery jumpers, that offense-heavy five-man group sealed a much-needed 124-103 win over the Suns.

Westbrook started it with a layup off a nice Waiters assist. Then the favor was returned, with Waiters nailing a 3 set up by Westbrook.

Then it was Durant’s turn to take over. KD had 21 points at the time. He had 32 before the night was done.

Seven of those came within a 90-second span midway through the fourth, when he sandwiched a 3 and a 13-foot baseline turnaround with one of those patented Dirk Nowitzki one-legged fadeaways, uncontestable for 6-foot-1 Eric Bledsoe, who found himself stuck on Durant in the high post.

As he sauntered back down the court — his team on a 14-3 run, KD on a personal 7-0 run — Durant laughed and chirped at Bledsoe.

“E-Bled talks a lot of (stuff),” Durant said. “And I’m a (stuff)-talker myself.”

Durant followed his mini-spurt by turning from scorer to facilitator. His fourth assist of the night set up Kanter for a 12-foot jumper. Then the next possession down, the 12th of Westbrook’s 13 assists led to a Kanter dunk.

In less than four minutes, that five-man pairing rattled off a dominant 15-5 run, breaking away to a 22-point cushion. During the run, Ibaka, who had 10 himself on this night, was the only one who didn’t score.

“Everyone can score the ball crazy,” Kanter said. “Never played with a lineup like that.”


No. 4: Grizzlies rotation will tighten during tough times — Desperate times in Memphis require desperate measures from Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who is trying to figure out why his team cannot seem to find a rhythm this season. Joerger’s response, at this early stage of the process, will be to tighten the rotation. Something had to give and the first thing is the rotation, despite some insisting that it might be Joerger who was on the hot seat. But the Grizzlies are experiencing an identity crisis that Joerger will solve by tweaking his rotation. Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal details the looming changes:

Suddenly uncomfortable in their own skin, where do they stand?

The grit is all but gone.

The grind seems as fleeting as a gotcha moment.

Memphis (3-4) enters the final outing of a five-game trip perplexed as to how to get its mojo back. The Griz take more than a two-game losing streak into their game Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers in Staples Center.

The Griz still are experiencing an identity crisis as they try to salvage a West Coast swing, having lost three of four. Last week began with an unfathomable 50-point loss to Golden State. Memphis beat Sacramento but dropped its next game to Portland.

That Memphis fell behind Utah by 21 points before an 89-79 loss last Saturday has coach Dave Joerger on the verge of shaking up the lineup because he can no longer stand by and watch his players not compete.

“I’m going to tighten the rotation,” Joerger said without saying which players will have minutes reduced.

However, Joerger did give a clue as to which way he’s leaning, based on his substitution pattern in that Utah game.

Joerger has routinely inserted Jeff Green for Tony Allen with the first substitution. But against Utah, Matt Barnes was the first to spell Allen, and Green later came in for Courtney Lee.

Joerger has increasingly grown fond of a lineup that has Barnes and Green at the wings. In fact, that combination was on the floor most of the fourth quarter. Allen didn’t play at all and Lee played just 94 seconds in the quarter.

“I was pleased with our effort overall,” Joerger said after the Grizzlies’ latest debacle. “We can get better. We know we can get better. We will get better and will keep plugging away.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James offered some constructive criticism to Kevin Love (egos checked at the door) and it worked. … Phil Jackson wanted more emotion from Derek Fisher and got exactly that in Sunday’s win over the Lakers. … Charlotte’s Kemba Walker is a traveling man. … The Miami Heat’s second unit proves to be first rate. … The Washington Wizards have been extremely generous, but vow to end their frivolous ways with the basketball. …


ICYMI: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson helped lift the Pistons to their fifth win in six games with yeoman’s work Sunday in Portland …

VIDEO: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson go off for the Pistons in a comeback win over Portland

Morning shootaround — Nov. 8

VIDEO: The Fastbreak: Saturday, Nov. 7


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. …

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 1

Houston, we have a problem | Rondo and Russell, Louisville’s finest to battle and bond | No worries for the Warriors | Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in Philly

No. 1: Houston, we have a problem — A rough start to the season is one thing. It could happen anywhere, even in a place like Houston, where James Harden and the Rockets were supposed to be ready for prime time after a deep playoff run last season. Well, this might be more than just a rough start. No team in NBA history has lost its first three games of a season by 20 or more points. The Rockets lost to Miami by 109-89 Sunday after leading by as many as 21 earlier in the game. Per Elias, that’s the first time a team has lost a game by 20 or more after leading it by 20 or more since the Los Angeles Clippers did so on March 18, 2000. Three straight 20-plus point beatings is as many as the Rockets had all last season. Houston, we have a problem. A serious problem, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle noted in the aftermath of Sunday’s third straight clunker:

Remember all the times last season that the Rockets, playing with Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones out, argued James Harden’s MVP case by asking to imagine them without Harden to carry them?

There is no need to imagine any longer.

With Howard and Jones unavailable on Sunday, Harden’s spectacular shooting slump to start the season moved to new brick-laying levels that the shorthanded Rockets could not begin to overcome.

The Rockets blew a 21-point second half lead and were blown out by the Miami Heat, 109-89, their third 20-point loss to open the season as Harden scored just a pair of second half points, both from the line.

Harden took 10 3-pointers and missed them all, falling to 2 of 33 from beyond the arc. Yet, despite his shooting problems, five of his seven second-half shots came from beyond the arc, the last easily swatted away by Heat center Hassan Whiteside.

Harden was 2 of 15 overall, scoring 16 points with 12 coming on free throws.

With Howard unavailable to rest in the first game of a back-to-back and Jones out because of a cut on his right eyelid, the Rockets went with a small lineup and got 21 points from Marcus Thornton in his first start. But he had just two in the second half as the Rockets offense crashed and burned.

The Rockets had just 26 second-half points, making 11 of 36 shots with 12 turnovers.


No. 2: Rondo and Russell, Louisville’s finest to battle and bond — Louisville natives Rajon Rondo and D’Angelo Russell share more than just the same position, city roots and high school coach (Doug Bibby). They also share similar hoop dreams for this season, as both hope to help lift their respective teams from the lottery and into the Western Conference playoff mix. As much as the Sacramento Kings’ veteran Rondo will battle against the Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie Russell, and Rondo schooled Russell and the Lakers in their first meeting Friday night, he’s also willing to serve as a mentor for someone who has followed in his footsteps. Baxter Holmes of details the connective tissue shared by Louisville’s finest:

“Their games are definitely different: D’Angelo is a little more methodical; Rajon is cat quick,” Bibby said. “But their passing and their basketball IQ was definitely something that I noticed that was very similar when I first got D’Angelo.

“Their ability to see two plays ahead and their passing ability to see things that a very few percentage of ball players and point guards can see — it was very, very similar.”

Bibby wanted to guide Russell along Rondo’s path, but he didn’t need to show Russell much film of Rondo, since all Russell needed to do was turn on the television and watch Rondo star in nationally-televised games with the Boston Celtics alongside Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

“It was great, just knowing that he was so successful from the same city, the same high school,” Russell said.

Rondo feels the same way, and he’s intrigued. He recently picked Bryant’s brain about Russell, and Rondo and Russell have now exchanged numbers. A potential mentorship appears to be underway.

“He’s a great young kid,” Rondo said. “I’m happy for him. I’m happy another kid from my city made it.”

Russell mentioned Rondo as a player that he wants to model his game after, but things are a bit different now that he will face Rondo in head-to-head matchups.

“It’s hard to say that at this level now when you’re competing, because I’m looking at it like, that’s a weakness,” Russell said. “Like [Rondo could say], ‘This kid looked up to me, I’ve got him.’”


No. 3: No worries for the Warriors — Lucky, huh? The Golden State Warriors don’t need luck when they have the reigning KIA MVP, Stephen Curry, shredding the opposition. Any worries about how this team would handle success, the adversity of losing coach Steve Kerr or big man Andrew Bogut have been answered emphatically by the reigning champs hardly any anyone picked to do it again. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains why those in the know in the Bay Area were never worried about this team:

Rather than showing signs of a championship hangover, MVP Stephen Curry and the Warriors appear to be better than ever.

No Steve Kerr? No Andrew Bogut? No problem.

The Warriors are 3-0, winning by almost 17 points per game as they return home to face Memphis on Monday night for a fourth straight game against a 2014-15 playoff team.

“People think we weren’t supposed to be the champs last year,” Curry said Saturday night after scoring 53 points at New Orleans. “I wasn’t supposed to be MVP, whatever. But I want to go out and play well and be better than I was last year.”

Curry has scored 118 points in the three games (39.3 average) and is shooting 58.8 percent. His 53 points Saturday night — one short of his career high — came in 36 minutes. Nobody since Kobe Bryant in 2005 has scored so many points in so few minutes; Kobe had 62 in 36.

“I’m feeling pretty energetic, pretty strong out there on the floor,” Curry said. “I’m playing free, just having fun. Usually good things happen when all that comes together.

“I’m in a good spot right now.”


No. 4: Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in Philly — The Cleveland Cavaliers will face plenty of trap games and sticky situations this season, such is the case for a team nearly every pundit is picking to win it all this season. And they’ll face one of those instances today in Philadelphia, where a 76ers team that has issues of its own wouldn’t appear to present much of a challenge to the visiting Cavaliers. That’s exactly why the Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in the City of Brotherly Love. Chris Haynes of provides some context:

It’s been hard for players to get up for games in Philly.

Instead of putting their players through such an uninspiring contest, opposing teams typically sit their best players against the Sixers. Why risk an injury?

Philadelphia presents a challenge some coaches believe isn’t worth the hassle, but the Cavaliers will accept.

“Everybody will play,” Cavs coach David Blatt said after Sunday’s practice. “…”We know that we have an opponent to play and a job to do.”

If the Cavaliers are a legitimate title contender, games like these are what a championship mentality and culture. The objective is to dominate your opposition early and make it an easy night.

“It’s something that we addressed,” Cavs power forward Kevin Love said of staying focused. “We know that we’re going to get everybody’s best shot so in that regard, we know they’re going to come out and fight. But we have to be in the right mindset every single game. And I think it helps that we’re on the road as well because we’ll have that us-against-the-world mentality.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Move over everyone else, the Spurs Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are now the winningest trio in the NBA history … It’s early, of course, but the Milwaukee Bucks did not script the opening stages of this season this way. … Jeremy Lamb is close to locking up an extension with the Charlotte Hornets, a reported 3-year, $21 million dealDeMarcus Cousins has even more reason to hate the Los Angeles Clippers now that he’s listed as day-to-day after suffering an Achilles injury against Blake Griffin and Co. … The Toronto Raptors are perfect, so far this season, but Raptors coach Dwane Casey insists that he doesn’t really know where his team is right now in the grand scheme of things. …

Morning shootaround — Nov. 1


VIDEO: The Fast Break, Oct. 31

Curry re-inventing NBA highlights | Failure to launch in Houston | Melo owes Dudley thank-you note | No holdout hangover for Cavs’ Thompson

No. 1: Curry re-inventing NBA highlights — Perhaps the second biggest knock against the NBA among casual and non-fans – the first being the fallacious need to only see the final five minutes of any game to know what happened – is that the highlight reel of any given night’s action is merely a montage of dunk after dunk after dunk. It’s never been all that accurate, but Golden State’s Stephen Curry has been putting the lie to it like never before. The Warriors point guard can and regularly does dazzle in a dozen ways without ever getting above the rim, from his long-distance splashes to ridiculous blind passes that can turn a series of quick-cut throw-downs into a CSPAN snooze-fest. After Curry lit up the New Orleans Pelicans for 53 points Saturday, our own Fran Blinebury wrote about Curry’s continued ascendancy. And Ethan Sherwood Strauss’ recapped Curry’s early-season domination:

“How far was I off?” Curry, now done with his phone, wanted to know how his 118 points through the first three games stacked up next to Wilt Chamberlain’s record through three. When told it was 156 points, Curry recoiled, “Oh God!” So yes, there are limits to what this guy can do. It’s just not clear we’ve found those limits yet. This is true maybe for the third season in a row. Curry is the rare NBA player who wasn’t expected to become a superstar until the day he became one. [Anthony] Davis? LeBron James? Kevin Durant? They were anointed prior to greatness. Curry has rudely jumped the line. And as he embraces the new reality, he’s only improving, it seems.

“He’s getting to the hole a lot better,” [teammate Draymond] Green assessed. “He can choose the spots when to go, he’s turning the corner like crazy, getting to the hole.” With each game, Curry develops a keener sense of how defenses react to his 3-pointer. The headline after this particular outing might be “53 points” or “28 points in the quarter.”

For much of the second half, Curry also devastated the Pelicans with his passing. If you require attention from half court forward, that attention can be leveraged in many ways. Curry is finding the ways.

To hear him tell it, the recent explosion isn’t about being ranked fifth among MVP candidates by NBA GMs, or what Ty Lawson said, or what Kyrie Irving said, or even what Alvin Gentry said when the current Pelicans coach and former Warriors assistant called Davis and James the league’s two best players.

When asked about his motivation, Curry, ever the optimist, says, “Take advantage of the opportunity.” He continues, “People think we weren’t supposed to be the champs last year, I wasn’t supposed to be MVP, whatever. But I want to go out and play well and be better than I was last year.”

The improvement is somehow starting to perpetuate. Rhetorical savant Green, between pregnant pauses, says it best: “You know it’s one thing to play like it. It’s one thing to score like it. It’s one thing to have a season like he had last year. But you get that mindset and everybody know? And see it?” His face contorts, as though moved by sympathy for the victims. “It’s tough. And I tell him, ‘You acting like it.’ That’s dangerous.”


No. 2: Failure to launch in Houston — Missing key pieces through the preseason was a strong indicator that the Houston Rockets might not get the sort of lift-off their talents and past experiences suggested for this 2015-16 season. But getting pummeled the way they did by the Nuggets and the Warriors went beyond even tamped-down expectations, and had Houston’s players and coaches working hard and thinking harder in practice Saturday to find solutions before their game Sunday at Miami, as reported by Jonathan Feigen:

The Rockets would not make excuses, or even cite reasons for their stumbling start to the season. With the bulk of their rotation out for the majority of the preseason, they were not ready for the start of the regular season. But why they have crashed no longer was the point.

Instead, Dwight Howard said the Rockets needed to be humbled and have been. James Harden said he needed more work and then worked overtime. Ty Lawson cited pace and pushed it through a practice that even Kevin McHale called “great.”

The problems, and probably their cause, had been obvious. The search for solutions had them pointing to attitude and execution.

“We got to lock in and get to business,” Harden said. “No more cooling around. We’re too cool, walking around cool. Even myself, as a leader. I just have to pick up my mojo a little bit.”

Whether attitude adjustment, extra work or mojo elevation will be enough to turn things around, with a back-to-back beginning Sunday in Miami, is less clear. But if the Rockets needed to learn the hard way, as Howard, contends, they have gotten hard lessons part out of the way quickly.

“There’s only one way, that’s up,” Howard said after the Rockets opened the season with consecutive 20-point losses. “We got to keep fighting, trust each other and things will change. The two losses are something we needed. We needed a wake-up call. We needed to humble ourselves, come in every day at practice, forget what happened last season, any accolades that we won in the past. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is this moment.”

The formula to turn things around is not complicated. The Rockets have done too many things badly to correct them all in one practice, but focused on playing with more pace, spacing and ball movement offensively and on closing off the paint defensively.

“We had a great practice,” McHale said. “We watched film. Guys moved the ball, moved their bodies. But we’ve had some good practices. We haven’t had any carry over to the games. At a certain point, you are either going to get it and play up to your potential or we’re going to get waxed by 20 again.

“This is a no-mercy league. Nobody cares if you’re hurt or whatever. You didn’t have enough guys for training camp. No one cares about that stuff. They care about trying to kick your tail that night. We had (ours) handed to us the last two games.”


VIDEO: Anthony dominates Wizards on Saturday

No. 3: Melo owes Dudley thank-you note — There was talk of payback and revenge in the New York Knicks’ post-victory locker room in Washington Saturday, with Carmelo Anthony‘s big game against the Wizards seemingly motivated by some barbs tossed his way by Washington’s newly added forward Jared Dudley. “Overrated” was the one-word summary of Dudley’s comments, yet Anthony was anything but that in lighting up the Wizards for 37 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Of course that’s what Dudley had been talking about – Anthony’s inconsistency not at getting buckets but in boosting the play of his teammates by using his overall game. Key boards and dimes were part of the veteran New York forward’s repertoire in this one, reported Newsday’s Al Iannazzone, basically validating what Dudley had said:

Carmelo Anthony rediscovered the shooting rhythm he had been looking for, and the sight of Jared Dudley helped him find it.

Over the summer, the Wizards forward called Anthony the most overrated player in the NBA. He later retracted it and apologized, but Anthony heard about it and said he circled this game on the calendar.

Anthony played brilliantly and scored 37 points to lead the Knicks to a hard-fought 117-110 road win Saturday night, spoiling the Wizards’ home opener at Verizon Center.

“It becomes competitive at that point. You just want to go out there and show what you are made out of,” Anthony said. “[This] is one of those nights. It had nothing really to do with him, but this was a game that I circled on my calendar. I’ll see him three more times.”

At the morning shootaround, Anthony made it sound as if it would be a little while before he got his stroke back. He entered the game 14-for-43 from the field and missed his first two shots Saturday night.

But he made his next eight attempts and finished 11-for-18 from the field and 4-for-5 from three-point range. He hit a huge jumper over Dudley with 1:35 to go that gave the Knicks (2-1) the lead for good.

Anthony, who had seven rebounds and four assists, iced the game with four free throws in the last 20.4 seconds.

“There was a composure and a poise to everything that he did,” Derek Fisher said. “He got the shots that he wanted when he wanted them. He also made plays to make other people better.”


No. 4: No holdout hangover for Cavs’ Thompson — Even though Tristan Thompson got his business done in time to preserve the consecutive-games-played streak of which he is justifiably proud, it seemed almost certain that his contract holdout through much of the preseason would lead to a slow start off the Cleveland Cavaliers’ bench. That has not, however, been the case. In fact, through Cleveland’s first three games, Thompson not only was doing the same things – rebounding, defending, hustling – he did so well in The Finals to boost his offseason price tag to $82 million, he arrived late but in shape and had added a new wrinkle in rim protection. Folks at The Q vividly saw that Friday against Miami, as Marla Ridenour of chronicled:

In the fourth quarter of the Cavaliers’ 102-92 victory in Friday’s home opener at Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs’ sixth man was incensed that the Heat’s Dwyane Wade had just “crammed it” on him. Thompson said he was determined to get even and didn’t care who would pay.

So when [Chris] Bosh took a pass from Goran Dragic and drove the lane for what looked to be a left-handed slam, Thompson launched and blocked the shot with his right hand. The post-play celebration of the monstrous rejection included a mini-salute from LeBron James.

Those who wondered how long it would take Thompson to get back in the flow after his training camp holdout ended on Oct. 22, just five days before the season opener, might have been saluting as well.

Thompson finished with a season-high 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting with nine rebounds and one assist in 26 minutes.

That was his only blocked shot, but it showed the emphasis Thompson is putting on that part of his game, especially when center Timofey Mozgov is not on the court.

“Going into the playoffs last year they were saying we don’t have rim protectors outside of Moz,” Thompson said after the game. “I took that challenge upon myself going into this season, if Moz isn’t in I’m still rim-protecting. Let the guards know it’s OK if they get beat off the dribble because I’ll meet them at the rim.”

Thompson ended his holdout by signing a five-year, $82 million contract and he didn’t need long to shake off the rust. But the Cavs expected that from Thompson, who ran his string of consecutive games played to 291, second-longest in the league behind the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan (324).

“He’s one guy that never gets out of shape. We know how durable he is,” James said, knocking on the blond wood of his locker. “It’s like counting, counting, counting how many games continuous he’s played.

“When you have someone who knows the system … he’s learned the offense really fast. He’s one of our best defenders and he plays above the rim. We love it.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In two games and a little more than 24 hours, Phoenix’s backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight got the better of Portland guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, boding well overall for the Suns. … Josh Smith didn’t have any problem when DeMarcus Cousins recently said he hated the L.A. Clippers. Smith hates all his opponents. … Speaking of Cousins, the Sacramento big man is listed as day-to-day while dealing with a sore right Achilles tendon. But that might not adversely affect his newfound knack for launching 3-pointers, a trend our Scott Howard-Cooper noted. … As his former running mate LeBron James copes with some physical nods to Father Time, Miami’s Dwyane Wade spoke about aging and adaption in a piece by our Steve Aschburner. … In one more staff ICYMI,’s Shaun Powell looks at Kent Bazemore and the shoes of DeMarre Carroll that the Atlanta Hawks would like to see him fill. … Many from the NBA’s coaching fraternity – Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle, Doc Rivers, George Karl, Mike Malone, Fred Hoiberg, Tom Thibodeau and others – paid their respects Saturday at a funeral service for Minnesota’s Flip Saunders. Earlier in the week,’s Britt Robson shared personal thoughts on Saunders that you might have missed in the outpouring of grief and memories. … You can’t exactly clip-and-save digital content, but you might want to print out the 2015 D League draft board that featured Jeff Ayres and Jimmer Fredette. Then again, you might not. … James put Halloween to extra-good use, partying like it was “Nineteen-ninety-nine.” …

Morning shootaround — Oct. 15

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 14


Okafor may not be ready for opening night | Scott in favor of a 4-point line | Rose ‘most likely’ to miss all of preseason | Report: Harden, Howard out tonight vs. Warriors

No. 1: Okafor may not be ready to go on opening night — Over the last few seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers and their fans are well-versed in having a franchise big man not be ready to go come the season opener. This trend started back in 2012 with Andrew Bynum (who never played a game in Philly), continued the next season with rookie Nerlens Noel (who missed all of 2013-14) and happened last season with rookie Joel Embiid (who has yet to suit up for the 76ers). This year’s top draft pick, center Jahlil Okafor, may continue the trend, but at least his missing the opener is due more to conditioning than injury. Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News has more:

… While Okafor isn’t sidelined with a serious injury as the three big men before him were, it doesn’t appear that he’ll enter the season at 100 percent.

The hope all along for coach Brett Brown was to have the third overall pick in good enough shape to be ready for the season-opener on Oct. 28 in Boston. Recently, Brown said he’d like to have Okafor playing about 32 minutes a game. But a sore right knee has sidelined him for close to a week, thus putting him behind as far as on-court fitness is concerned and definitely delaying the 32-minute runs his coach was hoping for.

Okafor did work out on his own yesterday during the team’s practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, but that didn’t include any full-court activity. It is unknown whether the center will be ready for Friday’s preseason home game against the Washington Wizards, or when he could be at full strength.

“It’s not fair to him, it’s not fair to put him in that situation (to be fully ready by opening night),” said Brown. “The end game, I hope, will be about 32 minutes, maybe even more. But it’s really based on his fitness. He has no right to come out and be fit right from this injury. So I have to be smart with the minutes I give him. That is the end game that I hope to get to, 32 minutes. It’s going to be based on if you can go hard for four eight-minute stretches. If you can go for four eights, then that’s a good thing.”

The Sixers seem committed to not pushing their big men into a hasty return from injury, no matter how minor, and Okafor insisted on Tuesday that his knee problem was minor.

“I think he arrived good. He arrived good,” said Brown of Okafor’s fitness for training camp. “I feel like the knowledge of what great is going to be is the education that we have to help him and teach him. He’s been tremendously set back now. … I think that his fitness is not that far away in regards of we know how to do it, but because he hasn’t played, it’s just not at a stage right now where we can talk about that volume of minutes.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Oct. 2


Tristan Thompson and Cavs sweat out deadline | Dwight Howard feels silence is better this time | Back in the coaching chair, Sam Mitchell is ready | Big man pairing has Okafor and Sixers excited |

No. 1: Tristan Thompson officially a holdout — The midnight deadline came and went and nothing changed in the Tristan Thompson negotiations, or lack thereof. Thompson had until midnight to sign the Cavs’ qualifying offer, which he refused to do. And the sides are still apart on a new deal. Thompson can either sign a new deal or accept an offer from another team until March 1, which the Cavs would then be free to match. The Cavs expected Thompson to report to training camp Friday, although that’s uncertain now. Here’s Jason Lloyd of the Beacon Journal with a recap

The two sides remained separated this week on a long-term deal. If Thompson accepts the qualifying offer, he will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Contracts are fairly rigid under the collective bargaining agreement, making holdouts rare in the NBA — although they do happen. Anderson Varejao’s bitter contract dispute spilled into December in 2007 before he finally signed a three-year, $17 million offer sheet with the Charlotte Bobcats that was quickly matched by the Cavs.

“It wasn’t easy for me. I missed the first 21 games if I remember,” Varejao said Thursday. “But I had to do it back then because I felt like I was disrespected with the offer they offered me. I don’t really know what’s going on with Tristan right now, numbers and stuff, I’m not sure. But I’m pretty confident he will be here soon.”

LeBron James twice in recent days also said he was optimistic the two sides would reach agreement on a long-term deal sooner than later.

James Jones is the secretary/treasurer of the players union and held the role when the current collective bargaining agreement was ratified. Players typically always stick together on financial issues, yet Jones is a veteran trying to win another championship and understands Thompson is a vital piece the Cavs need.

“First thing’s first. We understand that this is a business, and once the business is taken care of we can come in and work on the floor,” Jones said. “Until that’s resolved, he’s handling his business and we support him 100 percent. At the same time, the guys that are here are working, and we have a goal and a mission and we’re not going to let anything stop us from focusing. We’re staying on course.”


No. 2: Dwight Howard feels silence is better this time — When the summer arrives and if he becomes a free agent, there won’t be a big fuss made about Dwight Howard. For one, he perhaps isn’t the franchise player now than he was then. And he isn’t going to make the process a dramatic presentation, unlike a few years ago when he made a messy exit from Orlando. Older and wiser and certainly stung by the criticism, Howard has adopted a new approach this time: He’d rather leave well enough alone. Ken Berger of CBS Sports had a take on Dwight and what the future may hold…

Given that each of Howard’s pre-free agency go-rounds with the Magic and the Lakers turned into a full-on circus, this was a step in the right direction for the soon-to-be 30-year-old All-Star.

“There’s no need for me to focus on anything next summer,” Howard said. “My job is to focus on how I can get this team to be the best team in the NBA and win a championship.”

The Rockets didn’t get LaMarcus Aldridge, as there is only one LaMarcus Aldridge and he signed with the Spurs. But with a worthwhile gamble on Ty Lawson — who will take some of the play-making pressure and defensive attention away from James Harden — the Rockets will be among the better teams in a loaded Western Conference. According to Las Vegas oddsmaker Bovada, the Rockets’ championship odds are 16-1 — sixth in the NBA.

Though the team revolves around Harden, the Rockets need a healthy, committed and engaged Howard to be in the hunt to come out of the West. Healthy, committed and engaged, however, are not words that have been synonymous with Howard in recent years.

With the Lakers, he was hindered by after-effects of back surgery and an uneasy partnership with Kobe Bryant. Last season, he played only 41 games due to persistent issues with his right knee.

In many ways, Howard is a cautionary tale for marquee free agents who are thinking about leaving their teams when the TV revenue windfall hits the market over the next two summers. After forcing his way to the Lakers from Orlando in a 2012 trade, Howard spent one miserable season in LA before bolting to the Rockets. Howard, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony are just a few examples of superstars who left for supposedly greener pastures (either through free agency or via trade) and still have yet to advance as far in the postseason as they’d been with their former teams.

Are you paying attention, Kevin Durant?


No. 3: Back in the coaching chair, Sam Mitchell is ready — The guy in charge of the Wolves at the moment never thought he’d be in this position so soon. But a year after joining the staff as the top assistant to Flip Saunders, Sam Mitchell is now coaching the Wolves while Saunders recovers from cancer treatment. Mitchell was a former Coach of the Year with the Raptors but flamed out shortly thereafter and found himself out of work until his old buddy Saunders reached out. Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune recently did a question and answer with Mitchell…

Q. It has been seven years since you were a head coach. These obviously aren’t the circumstances you wanted, but did you always want to do this again?

A. Yeah, once I made the decision to come back into coaching, to prove myself and show people I want to be a head coach again. I enjoyed my time in the media. I learned a lot, got to watch a lot of basketball. It still tugs at me a little bit with the circumstances, but we all have a job to do and we’ve got to be professional and do our jobs.

Q. How did being away from coaching change the way you look at the game?

A. When you’re coaching, you just watch your team and the opponent. When you’re doing TV and radio, you’re watching everybody. I got a chance to talk to different coaches. Why do you do this or do that? It was a great learning experience and it proved to me I can do something else if I needed to. A lot of guys panic if they’re not in coaching, like that’s all I know, what am I going to do? It gave me confidence in myself that I can do other things.

Q. You said it at the news conference yourself and Glen Taylor said he has seen you mature. How will people who watched those Raptors teams see it now?

A. That’s not for me to say. I think every day you try to get a little better. That’s what I try to do. I’m probably not as hard on myself and not as hard on people as I used to be. I’ll probably still have my moments. But I appreciate life in different ways now. I can appreciate what these guys do, I can appreciate what assistant coaches do, I can appreciate what the media does now because I was there. Hopefully with that experience I have more patience and I look at things a little differently. But I’m not going to sit here and try to list how I’m different. I guess if you’re around me enough, you’ll see it.

Q. Were you too hard, too intense the first time around?

A. Well, I’m not going to lose my intensity. I was talking to my minister recently and he reminded me don’t lose what got you here. You’re an intense person, but you can do it a little bit different. I can communicate a little differently. Hopefully my language is better.


No. 4: Big man pairing has Okafor and Sixers excitedJahlil Okafor was a high lottery pick and so was Nerlens Noel and now these two found themselves playing next to each other for the team that drafted them. When that team is the Sixers, you can see what they’d be in position to score a pair of bigs in two years. Now many teams have the luxury of putting two promising young bigs on the floor and watching them develop, yet that will be one of the main themes of the Sixers this season while they use yet another 82-game season to search for a star from within. Marcus Hayes of the Daily News thinks Philly is on to something …

With skillful tanking and blind luck, the Sixers today find themselves in a nearly unprecedented position. Noel and Okafor were the two most coveted post players of their respected draft classes; each nearly 7 feet tall with wonderful athletic gifts, though slightly different; each hungry to prove he was more valuable than the slot in which he was drafted.

Ralph Sampson, the Virginia gentleman, and Hakeem Olajuwon, the Nigerian project, were drafted first overall a year apart by the Rockets, but they played only two full seasons together. Both No. 1 overall picks, they never had the extra incentive of being snubbed.

Charismatic Midshipman David Robinson had cemented his Hall of Fame berth by the time the Spurs added dour islander Tim Duncan in 1997.

“They were very different people,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown, who worked with Duncan and Robinson briefly as a Spurs assistant.

Those pedigreed pairs had less in common than Noel and Okafor.

Both Noel (Boston) and Okafor (Chicago) are products of big American cities; AAU-groomed, highly touted, one-and-done products of elite college programs expected to lead their drafts.

Both also are still upset that other teams passed on them. Each was projected as the No. 1 overall pick but slipped; Noel, injured, to fifth two years ago; Okafor, his unmatched skill set out of vogue, to third this year.

So, they are angry.

So much common ground.

So much time to grow.

It shouldn’t take long.

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Warriors will wear special jerseys in the opener … Mike Conley is sticking with the mask for now Serge Ibaka is coming back from an injury too, remember … Dorell Wright wrote a letter to his younger brother and NBA rookie Delon …