Posts Tagged ‘Enes Kanter’

Numbers preview: Spurs-Thunder

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Neither the San Antonio Spurs nor the Oklahoma City Thunder had much trouble in the first round of the playoffs. They each made quick work of injury-depleted opponents, registering point differentials of 22.0 and 18.2 points per per game, respectively.

Things are going to get a lot more interesting in the conference semifinals, where the Spurs and Thunder will have their third meeting in the last five postseasons. The previous two meetings were in the conference finals, with the Thunder advancing in 2012 and the Spurs advancing in 2014.

This season, we’ve been anticipating a Warriors-Spurs matchup in the conference finals. And the Thunder may be a bigger obstacle than Stephen Curry‘s knee injury for that dream meeting of teams that won 73 and 67 games in the regular season.

The Spurs have home-court advantage and have won six of the last seven meetings in San Antonio. But the Thunder have won 11 of the last 13 in Oklahoma City and, going back to the 2012 conference finals, 14 of the last 21 games that Kevin Durant has played against the Spurs.

Of course, Kawhi Leonard was just a rookie in that 2012 series and has since evolved into the two-time Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year and the league’s best two-way player. His matchup with Durant will be the feature of this series, but there will be a lot more that will help determine the outcome.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Spurs-Thunder, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

San Antonio Spurs (67-15)

First round: Beat Memphis in four games.
Pace: 91.4 (13)
OffRtg: 111.9 (3)
DefRtg: 89.3 (2)
NetRtg: +22.6 (1)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Oklahoma City: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Spurs playoff notes:

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Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)

First round: Beat Dallas in five games.
Pace: 94.8 (7)
OffRtg: 117.7 (1)
DefRtg: 99.3 (6)
NetRtg: +18.4 (3)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160428_okc_offense

20160428_okc_defense

Thunder playoff notes:

20160428_okc_shooting

The matchup

Season series: Tied 2-2 (home team won all four games).
Oct. 28 – Thunder 112, Spurs 106
Mar. 12 – Spurs 93, Thunder 85
Mar. 26 – Thunder 111, Spurs 92
Apr. 12 – Spurs 102, Thunder 98 (OT)

Pace: 96.1
SAS OffRtg: 99.7 (22nd vs. OKC)
OKC OffRtg: 102.9 (6th vs. SAS)

Matchup notes:

Blogtable: Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder?

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


BLOGTABLE: Can Warriors or Clippers better absorb loss of star guard? |
Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder? | Who should be the Lakers’ next coach?


> Game 1 of the Spurs-Thunder conference semifinals series is Saturday. Who or what is the X factor in this series? And which team do you predict will advance?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Danny Green, as another Spurs’ on-ball defender, is my X factor. When an opponent has two explosive scoring stars such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it means some San Antonio player has to step up besides Kawhi Leonard. Green has the size to match up with Westbrook and the fundamentals to make deny or bother Durant while chewing up some shot clock. He also can force OKC’s guys to work at the other end if he’s able to contribute offensively. Green’s 40 percent shooting from the arc against Memphis was a nice start, a bump from his 33 percent of the regular season. Where does it all end? Barring any more of these playoff-convulsing injuries we’ve been getting, I think San Antonio advances in six or seven games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Serge Ibaka is my X factor. When he’s running the floor, guarding the lane and also knocking down jumpers, he’s an athletic force that can be tough for the Spurs to handle. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook demanding so much attention from defenses, Ibaka is the third weapon that can be a difference-maker. But we haven’t seen much of that guy all season. Spurs in 7.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That guy trying to break into the Spurs rotation, Tim Duncan. That’s a little extreme, but Duncan did have a reduced role at just 20.3 minutes per game in the first round because of matchups and San Antonio blowout wins. Now comes the chance to face an opponent with more bigs — Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter — that should mean a larger presence for Duncan. A big contribution will be a step toward the Spurs advancing.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com This sounds weird, but the X-factors are named Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. For over a decade they were the backbone of the franchise. Right now, none are playing efficiently and for the most part are backup singers to Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. That must change ASAP. San Antonio will need more from at least two of those three against a hungry OKC team, or else Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be a series away from returning to the NBA Finals.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Danny Green is the X-factor. The ball will find the open man in the Spurs’ offense and that open man is often Green. He had a rough regular season, shooting 33 percent from 3-point range (27 percent in March and April), but was 6-for-13 in the first round. He’ll also be the primary defender on Russell Westbrook, so his ability to get back in transition, fight through screens, and stay in front of the Thunder point guard will be critical.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The dueling wild cards in this series are salty Kevin Durant and raging Russell Westbrook. The Thunder superstars (sorry Mark Cuban, they’ve got two) are playing with monstrous chips on their shoulders these days and nothing would delight them more than to upset all the conference finals plans we’ve all been talking about for months. That said, I’m picking the Spurs to advance in a knock down, drag out six-game affair.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This one is going to be all about defense. The Spurs are the league’s most cohesive and versatile defensive team. Will the Thunder be able to match San Antonio’s passion and attention to detail? I’m afraid not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHaving seen both of these teams in person over the last two weeks, the one part of the match-up that I can’t reconcile is how will the Spurs stop Russell Westbrook? You haven’t seen elite speed until you’ve watched Westbrook in person — he literally flies down the court, his feet barely touching the floor, like he’s running across the surface of a lake. And i just don’t know how San Antonio matches that speed. I guess you could try Kawhi Leonard against him, although I’d rather save Leonard for Kevin Durant. Either way, the Spurs have a matchup problem waiting to happen.

Should Kanter be Fifth Man, not Sixth Man, for OKC?

He’s one of the most productive players in his first round series and in the entire NBA playoffs, if you project him over 48 minutes. But there’s no guarantee Enes Kanter will get more than his usual supply of 21 minutes in the next game against the Dallas Mavericks, or for the rest of the playoffs.

On the surface, that’s sheer lunacy. Kanter is averaging 17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes against the Mavericks leading into Game 5. He’s doing more damage against Dallas than Kevin Durant. A big man blessed with a dancer’s footwork and a diamond cutter’s touch, Kanter can score and is a decent rebounder yet is still being punished for his defense which, real or imagined, is shoddy and plants doubt in the head of coach Billy Donovan.

And so the question is this: Is he really that bad a defender that it’s necessary to prevent Durant and Russell Westbrook from having a very solid third wheel for half a game?

In Game 4, while Kanter was doing a number on Dallas once again — he finished by making 12 of 13 shots, one by falling on the floor — Donovan reflexively tried to remove him from the game. It took the intervention of Westbrook, who told the coach to chill out, that kept Kanter on the floor.

“I was going back and forth, whether to keep him on the floor,” Donovan admitted. “But Enes was playing so well.”

Westbrook: “He’s been doing a great job all season and it goes unnoticed.”

If that’s true, then you only have Donovan’s substitution pattern to blame. Kanter averaged only 21.0 minutes during the season, yet averaged 12.7 and 8.1 rebounds anyway. Donovan starts Steven Adams, who’s tougher and sets meaner picks and yes, a notch above Kanter defensively. Crazy thing, though: Kanter’s minutes go unchanged even when Oklahoma City plays teams that lack an opposing big man who can score. And so, the question begs to be asked again: Is Kanter really so bad defensively that he can’t even defend centers who don’t touch the ball?

Donovan’s reasoning is that the two-headed center of Kanter and Adams works best for Oklahoma City, and Adams’ blue collar work is valuable for a finesse team. There’s also the feeling that Kanter doesn’t rotate well and therefore doesn’t offer “help” defense, especially on the pick and roll. Perhaps.

But it’ll be curious to see how Kanter is used should the Thunder eliminate the Mavericks as expected and face the Spurs in the next round.

He had success against the Spurs during the season, averaging 15.8 points and 14.8 rebounds in 27.9 minutes. He’d be matched against Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan, who are older yet very crafty. Duncan has been an afterthought for much of the season and particularly in the Spurs’ sweep of Memphis, but is Timmy showing his age, or merely laying low until the Spurs need him, which will be the case against Oklahoma City? Last season Duncan was tremendous in San Antonio’s seven-game series with the Clippers, and the Spurs can expect a similarly strong challenge from the Thunder.

Kanter finished third in the voting for the Kia Sixth Man of the Year Award and Westbrook thought the wrong guy won.

“All due respects to Jamal Crawford, but I don’t believe it should’ve been close for sixth man with Enes, a guy who shoots 68, 69 percent form the field. He’s been doing it all season.”

Well, that’s a question Westbrook should ask of his coach: If Kanter can do this all season as a sixth man, shouldn’t he start or at least get starter’s minutes? Shouldn’t he fill the role of the “missing” third wheel in OKC, especially in the fourth quarter, when he’s often on the bench?

Two-on-five works well for OKC


VIDEO: Thunder handle Mavs 131-102 in Game 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Analytics Art: Harris, Miles, Canter among week’s best shooters


VIDEO: Nuggets’ Harris as 2015-16 Most Improved Player?

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

Most NBA players – especially older veterans – are worn down by this time of the season. You don’t have to look any further than Golden State’s recent letdowns to realize that.

However, some players’ legs are still fresh enough to keep knocking down shots. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that all three of this week’s hottest shooters (brought to you by PointAfter’s interactive visualizations) are all under age 30.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between April 1-7.

Guard: Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets

After a truly discouraging rookie year that saw Gary Harris shoot 30 percent from the floor (20 percent from deep), the 21-year-old has rebounded rather well while assuming a full-time starting role for Denver this season.

His 3-point percentage jumped more than 15 percent, the third-highest increase in the NBA this season. He’s shooting above league-average in six of PointAfter’s seven shooting zones, with the right corner being the lone exception.

Harris couldn’t lead the Nuggets to victory in either of their two contests this week, but he did average 18 points on 57 percent shooting (7-for-13 on 3s). It’s just as well – at this stage of the season, Harris’ development is more important to Denver than additions to the win column.

Wing: C.J. Miles, Indiana Pacers

After a brief slump put their postseason hopes in doubt, the Pacers ran off three wins in a row this week to cement their place in the top eight of the Eastern Conference. C.J. Miles was a surprisingly huge part of that streak, averaging 18.7 points in 21.7 minutes per game this week to give Indiana a shot in the arm on offense.

Miles wasn’t shy about slinging it from anywhere. He went 13-for-22 (59 percent) from downtown and shot 65 percent overall in the trio of victories, including a 6-for-8 performance from beyond the arc in Indiana’s 123-109 triumph over the LeBron-less Cavaliers.

There’s a decent chance Indiana will rematch Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs. Miles will have to continue playing out of his mind if the Pacers are to pull off a monumental upset.

Forward/Center: Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder

With the Thunder resting their stars on Wednesday against Portland, NBA fans got to see what OKC looks like when Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka aren’t involved. A whole lot of heavy lifting on offense fell on Enes Kanter’s shoulders, and he responded with aplomb.

Kanter notched a career-high in points (33) to go along with 20 rebounds against the Blazers, the first 30-20 game in Thunder history and just the fifth this season. Unsurprisingly, Kanter’s April averages after three games are looking pretty gaudy after he totaled 67 points on 69 percent shooting this week.

Oklahoma City obviously won’t have to rely on Kanter so much during the playoffs. Still, coach Billy Donovan must feel pretty good knowing he has a bona fide offensive force on the bench ready to take on more responsibility should something happen to one of OKC’s stars. It’s not as if that hasn’t happened before, after all.

This story was published by PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Analytics Art: The three hottest shooters in the NBA this week


VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins runs wild in a win over Brooklyn

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

The dog days of the NBA season are upon us. With just over a month remaining in the regular season, the mileage on players’ legs is piling up, and coaches are trying to give their starters a bit more rest as the playoffs near.

Of PointAfter’s three hottest shooters of the week, the two who suit up for teams currently in postseason position come off the bench. Those guys will become more important as the season winds down and playoff rotations tighten up, leaving little time for the indispensable starters to catch their breath.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between March 4-10.

Guard: Evan Turner, Boston Celtics

Evan Turner is slogging through his worst shooting season from 3-point range in 2015-16, which has caused him to rely more heavily on the mid-range game. In fact, Turner has taken more shots from within four feet than he has from beyond the arc, an incredibly rare happening for a guard.

That uncommon strategy means Turner is bound to streaks of sweet shooting and equally poor slumps. This week marked one of the good runs for Boston’s bench guard.

He sank at least half his attempts in all three of the Celtics’ contests, including a 21-point outburst on 10-of-19 shooting in a 105-104 nailbiter over the Knicks. Overall, he was 21-of-38 (55.3 percent) from the floor on the week.

Note: You can hover over each shooting zone to see Turner’s stats compared to the league average.

Turner might not adhere to the preferred style of contemporary NBA offenses that favor long-distance shots, but he’s mostly making it work for the Celtics.

Wing: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell criticized his starters after Friday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, with one statement that seemed pointed in Andrew Wiggins‘ direction: “Every single night you’ve got to earn it, you don’t get to sleepwalk your way through 20, 25 minutes of the game and then decide you’ve got to play.”

(Wiggins was held to 21 minutes that night, a season low.)

The former No. 1 overall pick showed his mettle the next night against Brooklyn by logging his most efficient shooting performance of the season. Wiggins canned 10-of-14 shots, including both of his 3-point attempts, to total 26 points and six assists, which tied a season high and helped Minnesota score a season-best 132 points in the reassuring triumph.

The Wolves couldn’t nab victories in the team’s other two contests against Charlotte and San Antonio this week, but Wiggins was 20-for-38 overall to complete an encouraging seven-day stretch that didn’t start off that way.

Forward/Center: Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder

Enes Kanter did his part on offense this week, acting as a center who can spread the floor and open up the lane for Oklahoma City’s stars. He knocked down the shots that needed to be made in wins over the Bucks and Clippers, posting a hyper-efficient conversion rate of 70.8 percent on 14-of-19 shooting.

This is his role, and everyone knows it — he just fulfilled it better this week.

Problem is, his infamous defensive shortcomings negate whatever spacing he provides Oklahoma City on offense. The Thunder’s defensive rating worsens by more than six points per 100 possessions with Kanter on the floor, which explains why Steven Adams has taken over the lion’s share of court time in their center platoon. Kanter played just 37 minutes in OKC’s two games this week, and has averaged 16.3 minutes in four March matchups.

The Thunder have uncharacteristically struggled in the fourth quarter this season, often blowing leads when Kanter’s out there ole’ing big men like a matador. He’ll have to keep shooting the lights out to justify more minutes in crunch time.

This story was published by PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

 

Morning shootaround — Dec. 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

What does he like about this Heat team?

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Morning shootaround — Nov. 28


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors just keep winning | Jackson returns to OKC | Heat embracing life after LeBron | Davis goes down

No. 1: Warriors just keep winning The Golden State Warriors went into Phoenix Friday night with their historic season-opening winning streak on the line. Seventeen wins in a row? No problem, apparently, as the Warriors cruised to a 19-point win, 135-116, and keeping their streak alive. This included a typically impressive 41-point effort from Stephen Curry, who didn’t even get off the bench in the fourth quarter. What made this win even more outrageous, writes ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss, is that the Warriors didn’t even play particularly well, and yet they still won easily …

Here’s an illustration of what’s terrifying about the 17-0 Warriors, aside from the fact they’re 17-0. On Friday night, Golden State was torched on defense, ceding 116 points on 92 shots to the host Phoenix Suns. The Warriors were sloppy on offense, lousy with unforced errors, coughing it up 23 times. A bad game for them, in a few respects.

Still, they won by 19, 135-116. Also, they didn’t even need to play Stephen Curry in the fourth quarter. As in, the game ceased being competitive after three stanzas. The Suns were done. An unholy torrent of 3-point shooting had snuffed them. In his three quarters, Curry delivered 41 points and nine 3-pointers. The team set a record, splashing 22 from deep.

The Suns went small, attempting to best Golden State at its preferred style. What resulted was an aesthetically pleasing, fast-forwarded look at basketball. Phoenix already had dug a hole by then and couldn’t keep pace with Golden State in rhythm, hitting so many 3s. The Suns had a great night beyond the arc, draining 10 3-pointers on 26 attempts. Other teams just aren’t supposed to top that figure by 12.

Golden State, despite all the “streak” questions, continues to focus on process. Interim coach Luke Walton said, “We turned the ball over too much, we still have to get better at that.” Breakout All-Star candidate Draymond Green, who claimed a triple-double Friday, said, “I don’t think our performance was great tonight. You can’t let fool’s gold fool you.” It makes sense. The Warriors hit some 3s they won’t usually hit. They need to tighten up, fix certain things that might hurt them later.

If it’s fool’s gold though, what glitters still has to make other teams shiver with woe. Curry was brilliant, which would seem redundant, possibly even boring, if not for his propensity to unveil a new trick every game. This time, with Ronnie Price attempting to pressure him, Curry evoked three gasps on one play from the “away” crowd. First, with a behind-the-back dribble that left Price grasping. Then, with a pump fake that sent Price flying. And finally, the punctuating swish. Gasp. Gasp. Gasp. Cheer.

“Afterward, it felt like a neutral site game at that point,” Curry said of what his play did to the crowd.

So when will the Warriors lose? It could be sooner rather than later because of an injury to Harrison Barnes. While subbing at center, Barnes’ ankle gave way when he landed on Markieff Morris. The team says it’s a sprain and that X-rays are negative. Still, the expectation is he will miss some time, and Golden State will be without its dominant “death lineup” of Green-Barnes-Andre IguodalaKlay Thompson-Curry. That could end the streak, as could the basic law of averages. No team goes undefeated, no matter how great.

***

No. 2: Jackson returns to OKC It may not have been on the level of, say, LeBron James returning to Cleveland with Miami for the first time, but Friday night saw a significant homecoming nonetheless. Last season, former Thunder guard Reggie Jackson made his displeasure at his back-up role known, and was traded to Detroit, where he signed a long-term deal and has become an integral part of their core. With the Pistons in Oklahoma City last night, the Thunder seemed happy to get the big win, 103-87, and make something of a statement along the way, writes The Oklahoman‘s Erick Thorne

Former Thunder guard Reggie Jackson didn’t leave Oklahoma City on the best of terms.

Kevin Durant wasn’t afraid to say it.

“It was tough. I didn’t like some of the stuff he said in the media and how he went about it,” Durant said Friday before the Thunder’s 103-87 win over Jackson’s Detroit Pistons. “… But at the end of the day you’ve got to respect a guy who wants that opportunity and I can appreciate a guy who wants that opportunity.”

The Pistons were able to offer Jackson the opportunity he wanted to become a starting point guard, and rewarded him with a five-year, $80 million contract in July. Jackson was dealt to the Detroit in February after not being able to agree with the Thunder on a contract extension and following a report that his agent requested a trade out of OKC. The trade landed the Thunder Enes Kanter, as well as Steve Novak, Kyle Singler and D.J. Augustin.

Jackson, who called Friday night’s tilt against the Thunder “just another game,” was asked if he had any regrets about how his tenure in Oklahoma City ended.

“I don’t look back to last year,” Jackson said. When asked if there was regret that the Thunder didn’t get over the top, the one thing Jackson said he does look back on is “four years and I don’t have a ring.

“But like I said, I’m focused on the season so I can reflect in the summer,” Jackson said.

When asked if the trade was beneficial for both Jackson and the Thunder, Durant said he never really thought about it that way.

“We’ve got a really great team, we’ve got some great guys back. Reggie’s doing well in Detroit,” Durant said. “We had a rough ending last year with Reggie, but I can just think about when he first got here how hard he worked, how great of a teammate he is, and every guy wants an opportunity.”

***

No. 3: Heat embracing life after LeBron — It’s going on two seasons now since LeBron James left South Beach to return to his native Ohio. And while last season the Heat battled injuries and a major mid-season trade, this year the expectations are higher for the Heat, including from the Heat themselves. As Michael Lee writes for Yahoo, the Heat are actively looking at their legacy in the post-James era …

“I expect to be in the playoffs every year from now on,” Chris Bosh told Yahoo Sports. “We want it. After my ordeal last year, it’s a lot easier grinding it out, having a good time, playing out your dreams. It’s tough, but it’s a lot of glory in it. That’s what we’re about. People remember your name. And for me personally, it’s a chance to write our legacy without Bron, to be honest.”

LeBron James was better off without Miami than the other way around in their first season apart. While James flourished in his return to Cleveland, making his fifth consecutive NBA Finals run, the Heat floundered through an injury-plagued campaign in which trouble lurked around nearly every corner. Despite unearthing a rebounding and shot-blocking gem in Hassan Whiteside and trading for Goran Dragic, a third-team all-NBA guard two years ago in Phoenix, the Heat were doomed to the lottery once Bosh’s season came to an end. But the playoff reprieve had a surprise on the other side as Miami landed a seemingly ready-made contributor in promising rookie Justise Winslow, a defensive menace who won a national title at Duke and was available with the 10th overall selection in the draft.

The Cavaliers at full strength don’t appear to have a capable challenger to supplant James’ reign, but the Heat are certainly one of the more intriguing candidates in a much-improved Eastern Conference. Miami usually finds a way to avoid the recidivist rate of most non-playoff teams, making repeat trips to the lottery once in Pat Riley’s 20 years with the franchise and winning a championship within four years of its past two lottery appearances.

“If you’re not going to win a championship, that whole run through June sucks anyway,” Dwyane Wade said earlier this season. “We weren’t going to win a championship last year, so it wouldn’t matter if we went out in the first round or April 17, when our last game was. That’s kind of what I think at this point in my career. I don’t play to get into the first round of the playoffs. We’re still a young team, together trying to grow. We have a lot of potential and we see that.”

The Heat have the sort of talent that has the potential to be sensational or go sideways.

Wade and Bosh, neighbors and partners on two championship teams, are still capable of special nights but both are north of 30 and can no longer consistently carry teams as they have in the past. Dragic, whom Miami awarded with a five-year, $90 million extension last summer, is still navigating how to be aggressive while serving as the point guard on a team with multiple offensive options. Veteran Luol Deng, 30, has a résumé that includes two all-star appearances, but Tom Thibodeau may have squeezed out the best years of his career in Chicago. Amaré Stoudemire, 33, signed with the Heat believing they gave him the best chance to grab that elusive title, but he is being used sparingly to save him for the postseason.

“If we would’ve been together in our 20s, it would’ve been a real problem,” Stoudemire told Yahoo about teaming with Wade and Bosh, “but as we’ve gotten older, we’ve found ways to still be successful.”

***

No. 4: Davis goes down The New Orleans Pelicans may have gotten off to a slow start under new coach Alvin Gentry, as they’ve suffered through injuries to nearly everyone, but they got their biggest scare yet last night, when young franchise player Anthony Davis went down with a knee injury following a collision with Chris Paul and had to be carried from the floor. Davis eventually returned to the bench, though not the game, and the Pelicans weren’t thrilled with the injury itself, writes John Reid of NOLA.com …

Davis did not return to play after he was taken to the locker room to be treated. The Pelicans were assessed three technicals following the play in which they apparently thought Paul took a cheap shot to cause the injury.

Pelicans officials said Davis suffered a right knee contusion and he initially was listed as questionable to return. Late in the fourth quarter, Davis returned to the bench, but did not get back in the game.

Davis was in obvious pain after it appeared Paul knocked knees with Davis, who was trying to defend him in transition.Davis fell holding his right knee in pain.

”I wouldn’t had put him back in, it’s not worth the risk,” Alvin Gentry told reporters after the game.

It appeared Paul didn’t avoid trying to collide into Davis near the midcourt lane after Clippers forward Josh Smith blocked Ish Smith‘s layup attempt with 2:48 remaining in the third quarter.

When Gentry was asked what he thought about the play, he said he didn’t have anything to say about it.

”You saw it, so make your own judgement,” Gentry said. ”When you are a great player, they are going to come at you. We just have to match the physicality and find a way to stay off the injured list.”

After the game, Paul admitted that he drew the foul on the play.

”We (Davis and I) knocked knees and I hope he is alright,” Paul said.

Davis’ status for Saturday night’s game against the Utah Jazz has not been determined. Before the injury occurred, Davis played 28 minutes, scored 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting and grabbed six rebounds.

Gentry said they will know more about Davis’ status after he gets evaluated by the Pelicans’ training staff on Saturday. It is the third injury Davis has suffered after the first 16 games.

Davis missed two games earlier this month with a right hip contusion. On Nov. 18, Davis missed the Oklahoma City Thunder game because of a left shoulder injury.

”It’s part of the NBA, he’s hurt and we’ll see where he goes,” Gentry said. ”If he doesn’t play, then we’ll put somebody else in and they’ll have to step up. That’s what it is.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: According to a report, Jahlil Okafor‘s recent incident in Boston wasn’t his late-night altercation … Luke Walton might get credit for the Warriors winning streak after all … No better how bad things get for the Lakers this season, Kobe Bryant won’t be getting benched … If O.J. Mayo and DeMarcus Cousins had a verbal spat earlier this week, Mayo isn’t talking about itJ.R. Smith was thinking of Shaquille O’Neal when he went one-on-one against Frank Kaminsky.

One Team, One Stat: A New Defense in Utah


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Utah Jazz

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Utah Jazz, who were a brand new team after the All-Star break.

The stat

20151018_uta_improvement

The context

20151018_uta_basicsAt 19-34, the Jazz were about even with the Kings before the break. At 19-10, they were about even with the Rockets after it.

The Jazz actually regressed offensively after the break, with an increase in turnovers being their biggest issue. But after ranking 27th in defensive efficiency before the break, they ranked first, by a wide margin, after it.

After All-Star, the difference between the No. 1 Jazz and the No. 2 Milwaukee Bucks (99.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) was greater than the difference between the Bucks and the 18th-ranked New Orleans Pelicans (102.8).

20151018_uta_before-after

The impetus for the improvement was one of the best examples of an addition-by-subtraction trade that we’ve seen in a long time. The Jazz didn’t receive any useful players in a three-team, deadline trade with Detroit and Oklahoma City. But they rid themselves of Enes Kanter, one of the league’s worst defenders.

The Jazz allowed 108 points per 100 possessions with Kanter on the floor before he was traded. For the season, opponents scored 111 points per 100 possessions when Kanter defended a pick-and-roll, according to SportVU. That was the worst mark among starting centers.

After the trade, Kanter was replaced in the Utah starting lineup by Rudy Gobert, the league’s best rim protector. Opponents shot 40.4 percent at the rim when Gobert was there to defend it, according to SportVU. That was the best mark among 100 players who defended at least four shots at the rim per game over 40 games.

Not only did the Jazz protect the rim better after the break, they defended the 3-point line better, rebounded better, and forced more turnovers.

20151018_uta_defense

The question now is how well the Jazz can sustain their post-break success over 82 games. If they’re the team this year that they were after the break last season, the Western Conference is even better than we thought.

Utah will miss the length of Dante Exum (out for the season with a torn ACL) on the perimeter. The defense was much better with Exum on the floor than with Trey Burke on the floor last season.

But Gobert will be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and if the last two months of last season weren’t a fluke, the Jazz will be competing for a playoff spot in the West.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 1


VIDEO: Bucks Training Camp: Kidd on Bucks

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lawson wants to make Curry work | A bigger role for Kevin Love | Erman in charge of improving Pels’ defense | Clips hoping to make use of Stephenson | Wade relationship with Heat still strong

No. 1: Lawson wants to make Curry work — The Houston Rockets traded for Ty Lawson to give them an upgrade at point guard and someone to take some of the playmaking duties away from James Harden. But Lawson has a more specific role in mind as he tries to help the Rockets compete for a championship. He wants to make Stephen Curry work, as Yahoo‘s Adrian Wojnarowski writes…

Before Ty Lawson texted James Harden with a plea – “Man, get me over there” – he had studied the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in the Western Conference Finals and come to a conclusion: Half the time, Steph Curry was coasting.

“Steph Curry needed someone to go back at him,” Lawson told Yahoo Sports. “I thought Steph was just chillin’ on defense – and then going crazy on offense. He looked like he was just putting shots up and not working so much on the defensive end. He would just come down and hit three or four 3s. He can shoot when he’s got his legs under him.”

Now, Ty Lawson is sitting at a table in a room in the Toyota Center. He’s wearing a Houston Rockets practice top and a smile that keeps coming, and feeling so, so sure of himself again. “I’m not saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to stop Steph,’ but just make him work harder at the other end. I saw that in the Cavs series too.

“He wasn’t really working at the other end.”

***

No. 2: A bigger role for Kevin Love — When the Big Three came together in Cleveland last season, Kevin Love took a back seat to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in the Cavs’ offense. Then he separated his shoulder in Game 4 of the first round and wasn’t a part of his team’s run to The Finals. In year two, both James and Cavs coach David Blatt pledge to make Love a more integral part of the offense. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin has the story…

James was expounding upon his statement at Monday’s media day that Love’s increased presence will allow James to sit back and rest more than he has in years past.

“He will do some of the things he did prior to last year,” James continued.

Once Love committed to the Cavs long-term, Blatt spent the offseason trying to figure out a way to get more out of his stretch 4.

“No question, this summer we looked for and identified ways that we can take advantage of Kev’s unique skill set, and hopefully we’ll see that on the floor,” Blatt said.

***

No. 3: Erman in charge of improving Pels’ defense — The New Orleans Pelicans traded for Omer Asik last year with the goal of improving defensively. But even with a starting frontline of Asik and Anthony Davis, the Pels ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency, allowing more shots in the restricted area than any other team. New head coach Alvin Gentry will open up the New Orleans offense, but the more important job may belong to assistant coach Darren Erman, who is in charge of the defense. John Reid of the New Orleans Times Picayune spoke with Erman and Davis about the work they’re putting in at the start of camp…

”Our schemes are a lot different than last year,” Davis said. ”Everything is a little more simplified. Guys are working on defense individually with slides and close outs. Not saying it’s going to be better because we don’t know yet, but the way everyone is feeling right now about our defense, we feel like we can be a top five defensive team.”

Since he was hired in early June, Erman has been working non-stop. Gentry joked earlier this week that Erman works 23 hours a day breaking down film and working on defensive schemes. Even during summer league in July in Las Vegas, Erman worked non-stop implementing his defensive principles.

Davis said he has received text messages from Erman at 7 in the morning about defensive plays.

”He’s always like energized,” Davis said. ”He just brings that energy. When you bring that much energy as a coach, especially on defense, you know it makes the people around you the players want to play defense. He has a lot of great defensive schemes, so we’re excited.”

***

No. 4: Clips hoping to make use of StephensonLance Stephenson was pretty awful last season. But hey, so was the Clippers’ bench. So if Stephenson can avoid shooting 17 percent from 3-point range again, he could maybe help Doc Rivers preserve his starting lineup, which played 300 more minutes than any other five-man unit in the league last season. Ben Bolch of the L.A. Times writes about how Rivers wants to use the sixth-year wing…

Coach Doc Rivers called the dynamic, multi-positional Stephenson “the poster child” for the kind of interchangeable player he wanted as part of his roster overhaul this summer. Stephenson showed his new teammates a glimpse of his potential during training camp at UC Irvine, which ended Tuesday.

“He’s been amazing,” point guard Chris Paul said. “He’s been hooping first and foremost.”

Rivers envisions Stephenson as the lockdown perimeter defender the Clippers have lacked in recent years as well as one of the primary ballhandlers on a small-ball second unit that almost seems to be without defined positions.

“He’s a special player on both ends of the court and we’re going to be leaning on him,” forward-center Josh Smith said.

***

No. 5: Wade relationship with Heat still strongDwyane Wade‘s contract negotiations with the Miami Heat this summer could have gotten ugly, with the Heat looking to maintain payroll flexibility for next year. But as it turned out, Wade was OK with accepting a one-year deal for $20 million and the Heat got what they wanted. Wade explained to Ira Winderman of the South-Florida Sun Sentinel that it was just a matter of cutting out the middle man and talking directly with Micky and Nick Arison

What mattered wasn’t how long it took or how short the agreement wound up. What mattered to Dwyane Wade was that ownership more than met him halfway, that Micky Arison and Nick Arison came to his home this summer to make sure their bond would endure.

Wednesday, as he unwound after the first of two Miami Heat training-camp sessions at Florida Atlantic University, Wade said it was easy to be at peace with his offseason contract negotiations because of the embrace he received from the highest level of management.

“Sometimes, when you get into contact situations, sometimes it’s always middle people involved, your agents and this person and this person,” Wade said. “We kind of just said, ‘We have the relationship where you can just take that out. So let’s sit down and talk about everything, the past, the present, the future and figure it out.’ “

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The deadline for Tristan Thompson to sign a one-year qualifying offer from the Cavs is 11:59 p.m. ET on ThursdayMarkieff Morris is “happy” to still be in PhoenixDwight Howard isn’t thinking about (potentially) being a free agent next summerCarmelo Anthony says that a championship is the “big-picture” goal in New YorkMike Malone wants to unleash the ManimalEnes Kanter knows his defense has to improve … and the Lakers are “being smart” about how much Kobe Bryant practices.

ICYMI: An all-access look at Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins:


VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins highlights of the ’14-15 season