SACRAMENTO, Calif. – This was finally the night the Hornets would get encouraging news on the injury front, a positive update in the moment and for the future. Eric Gordon was playing both ends of a back-to-back for the first time in almost exactly one year, he was passing the important test with a good showing, and it was about time New Orleans caught a medical break.
Enter Anthony Davis.
Wednesday night at Sleep Train Arena, one of the team’s centerpieces of the future, Gordon, went 34 minutes with a bounce in his second game in as many nights. But that gave way to the uncertainty of the centerpiece, Davis, limping out of the locker room and headed for the flight back to New Orleans and a likely MRI exam on his left knee.
The initial diagnosis was a sprain, the result of Sacramento’s Marcus Thornton landing hard on Davis’ knee when Davis was on the court after challenging a Thornton drive under the basket in the fourth quarter of the 121-110 Kings victory. Davis, walking under his own power, left the arena with security and was not talking.
“I think he’s OK,” coach Monty Williams said. “I don’t want to jump the gun. I didn’t see the play yet, but he said Marcus landed on his knee. He said he’s a little sore. I’m just glad it wasn’t a buckle or a ligament or anything like that. We don’t know that for sure. But usually when somebody lands on it, it could be a contusion. It’s probably more scary than anything else. We’ve got to let the doctors check him out and make sure. He’s walking around. He’s got ice on it.”
Williams added that “I’m pretty sure we’ll rush him right over to our people” after the team lands in New Orleans to get an MRI.
Gordon supplied the encouraging update of the night. Working his way back from the injured right knee that caused him to miss the first 29 games of the season, he went from the 33 minutes Tuesday against the Lakers in Los Angeles to the 34 in Sacramento while contributing 23 points and seven assists, both team highs.
“It felt fine,” Gordon said after playing on consecutive nights for the first time since April 6-7, 2012. “It felt better, overall. It was good to get a back-to-back in before the end of the year, just to see how it works out for me. It worked out pretty well for me.”
Said Williams: “Eric’s fine. This is what we had planned on. We knew we were going to take a hit this season by keeping him out and the minute restriction with the hopes that he’d be a hundred percent this summer. We plan on him having a great year next year because he’ll be healthy.”
The Hornets close the season with home games Friday against the Clippers and Sunday against the Mavericks and then a trip to Dallas for the finale.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The absence of penetrating point guard Ty Lawson for a third consecutive game finally caught up to the Denver Nuggets and one streak is dead.
While the Miami Heat, surviving now two games without Dwyane Wade thanks to that fella named LeBron James, demolished Orlando for consecutive win No. 27 on Monday, Denver’s franchise-best 15-game win streak came to a miserable end in New Orleans. The Hornets, playing without their two best players, Greivis Vasquez and Eric Gordon, got hot early and rode it to a 110-86 romp.
Hey, it happens. What it reveals is the importance of the Nuggets’ previously sizzling point guard, who is out with a bruised and tender heel.
Denver squeaked past Philadelphia and Sacramento at home to keep the streak alive without Lawson, but at New Orleans, with little ball movement, the Nuggets shot just 37.9 percent and were outscored in the paint (44-38) for the first time since December. Denver averages 57.6 points in the paint per game, a league best by far.
What the loss should in no way diminish is Denver’s dominant play during the streak — eight wins by double-digit points and eight over current playoff teams — and the very real possibility that this supposedly star-less juggernaut could represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
* Not only streak snapped: The Hornets became the first team to dump Denver since Feb. 22, and is also the first West team to beat the Nuggets since Jan. 16, ending the Nuggets’ 15-game roll against conference foes.
Denver’s more modest six-game road winning streak also came to an end, a run that dates back to Feb. 22 at Washington. For a team that exhausts opponents at home (32-3) but has trouble transferring its up-tempo attack on the road (17-20) — and with homecourt advantage in the first round still up for grabs — the six-pack of road victories should serve as a confidence boost.
As for the Nuggets’ snapped West streak, Oklahoma City had been the last to beat them, which makes sense since the Thunder own a conference-best 34-12 record against West teams. However, did you know that the Nuggets are second-best at 32-12? They’ve also handed the Thunder one-fourth of their conference losses, going 3-1 against the reigning West champs, including last week’s 114-104 runaway at OKC.
* Making case against West’s best: Against the West’s other seven current playoff teams, Denver is 18-6, including 9-4 against San Antonio (1-1) — where the Nuggets play Wednesday night — OKC (3-1), the Clippers (2-1) and Memphis (3-1). The Nuggets are 3-0 against Houston with one to go in Denver (April 6) and 6-2 against the Warriors and Lakers.
* Homing in on homecourt: With 10 games to go, the Nuggets are fourth in the West, essentially tied with the No. 3 Clippers in the standings, but one game back in the loss column. They’re one game ahead off No. 5 Memphis but tied in the loss column. Of their 10 games left, six are at home and five are against current playoff teams. However, Denver must travel to desperate No. 9 Utah (April 3) and has two left against surging No. 10 Dallas — one at home (April 4) and one on the road (April 12).
If Thursday’s NBA trade deadline was a movie, the audience would have walked out in the middle from boredom. This freeze came straight from the script that is the league’s new collective bargaining agreement — with its harsher luxury tax penalties and diminished roster flexibility for tax offenders — it put the clamps on a stunningly uneventful deadline day.
The big names were on the opening credits: Josh Smith, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
Yet, when the curtain closed at 3 p.m. ET, Orlando Magic sharpshooter J.J. Redick stole the show as the lone player of significance to switch teams. The Milwaukee Bucks acquired the career 39.8 percent 3-point shooter in a six-player deal that involved five other relatively anonymous NBA names.
Only one potential blockbuster deal percolated, but ultimately died on the vine with the Atlanta Hawks going the distance in an attempt to strike a deal with the Bucks for Smith before pulling back. One reason so few big deals were discussed was simply because there wasn’t much talent realistically in play, a point that goes beyond any ramifications of the CBA.
The CBA that took effect in December 2011, and begins to smack tax-paying teams with stiffer fines next season, has clearly put franchises on the defensive. Teams that were once willing to add salary to consummate a deal no longer are. Teams that once didn’t think twice about sweetening a deal with a first-round pick, suddenly guard them with their lives.
“Cap room and draft picks, which are usually the currency of how these [big] deals get done, were at a huge premium and are something that everyone wants to have,” said Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who steered the most active club at the deadline with a couple of lower-tier deals.
There’s really no greater example of the effect of these changes than the Dallas Mavericks and their braintrust, owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson. Chronic and strategic over-spenders and tax payers under the old CBA, Cuban, who took on salary in deadline deals for Jason Kidd in 2008 and Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson in 2010, analyzed the new rules and reversed field last year.
He dismantled the 2011 championship team, choosing to covet cap space and the roster flexibility granted to teams that remain under the tax threshold, as well as newfound valuing of first-round draft picks as low-priced labor and trade assets.
It’s a strategy that no longer has the Mavs on speed dial of teams looking to make a deal and dump salary.
“It’s definitely a factor,” Nelson said of the CBA’s chilling effect Thursday after the deadline expired. “There’s no question that folks have their eye on the inevitable, and there’s no question that people are getting their collective houses in order.
“There’s some teams that see that on the horizon and act early, and other teams that will procrastinate and pay a dear price. But I think we’re right in the middle of that. It’s not brand-new news and so, yeah, I think you’re going to see a lot of teams try to correct themselves financially.”
The so-called “repeater” tax really has teams scared. Several clubs tried to deal away lost-cost players to avoid the repeater tax, which will whack franchises with an additional fine if they go over the tax line in three of four seasons. Golden State was successful in this venture. Chicago was not and will pay a luxury tax for the first time since its implementation.
This “repeater” penalty deterred teams from making deals that would have pushed payroll even slightly over the tax line, deals they might have normally green-lighted in the old days. So, is this the way of the future under the current rules?
“I can’t predict the future,” Morey said, “but I think the trend is more this way.”
Rockets: Morey’s stockpiling of assets the last couple years has been questioned, but he’s turned it into quite a haul starting with James Harden prior to the start of the season. The day before the deadline, Morey acquired the No. 5 overall pick, Thomas Robinson, from Sacramento. Morey’s dealing didn’t damage an abundance of cap space next summer that will be used to pursue a top free agent such as Dwight Howard and Josh Smith.
Bucks: GM John Hammond didn’t get his big fish in Smith, but he pulled off the deal for Redick, who should really help a club that’s been skidding down the East standings and needs a boost. Hammond held onto Jennings and Ellis and will have room to maneuver in the summer to add more pieces.
Thunder: GM Sam Presti continues to make shrewd moves. The acquisition of Ronnie Brewer from the New York Knicks for a second-round pick gives OKC another strong perimeter defender to help Thabo Sefolosha.
Celtics:Jordan Crawford might not be Jamal Crawford, but he can score in bunches and Boston was desperate to bolster its injury-ravaged guard backcourt. Boston fans are the winners here, too, with the team’s heart and soul, Garnett and Pierce, staying put.
Mavericks: Sure, on the surface, picking up 3-point specialist Anthony Morrow for defensive-minded guard Dahntay Jones doesn’t sound like much. But then SheridanHoops.com reminded us of this Dwight Howard interview in Russia when he named Morrow as one of a handful of players he’d like to have as a teammate.
Blazers: The team with the leanest bench in the NBA finally got some help in a minor deal that netted OKC guard Eric Maynor, who lost his job early on to Reggie Jackson. Maynor will help Rookie of the Year frontrunner Damian Lillard reduce his 38.5 mpg workload.
Hawks: They didn’t get the deal done to ship out Smith and now it seems they will lose him for nothing in free agency. On one level, however, it’s hard to say that this is a definitive loss. They’ll keep Smith (who might or might not come away from this experience deflated) for the rest of the season, and, with any luck, try to keep him while recruiting friend and fellow Atlantan Howard next summer. If GM Danny Ferry wasn’t pleased with the deals presented, it doesn’t always pay to take something, anything just because in the end you could be left with nothing. If Smith leaves, the Hawks will take the cap space and look to spin it in their favor.
Magic: They deal away a useful player and one they drafted in Redick and hand over his Bird Rights to the Bucks. There was no guarantee that Redick would re-sign with Orlando, but he at least had said the door was open to a return. The Magic’s Josh McRoberts to Charlotte deal for Hakim Warrick is a head-scratcher.
Knicks: They didn’t upgrade at any position and gave away a solid defender in Brewer, who was starting for the club during their hot start out of the gates, but had slipped out of the rotation. New York did use the roster vacancy to sign veteran power forward Kenyon Martin.
Nets: They failed to land another high-priced player in Smith and failed to unload one of their own, Kris Humphries.
Spurs miss out on Redick? – As of trade deadline day, the Spurs were one of several teams hot on the trail of Magic guard J.J. Redick. But despite a push to acquire him, it looks like San Antonio can forget about adding another shooter to the league’s best team, writes Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News.
Small move — or no move at all — likely for Grizz –Unless someone pulls off a major blockbuster between now and the 3 p.m. finish line, the Memphis Grizzlies will be the team on record in 2012-13 for pulling off the biggest trade after they shipped out Rudy Gay on Jan. 30. That said, it doesn’t look likely that Memphis will pull off another big deal, but a minor one may be in the cards. Ronald Tillery of the The Commercial-Appeal has more on what the Grizz may do:
The reality is that Griz brass is trying to be opportunistic today in hopes of getting something for nothing at the 11th hour (Orlando has made it clear J.J. Redick can’t be had for anything less than a first-round pick). As of this morning, the Griz were looking at their exceptions one of three ways: 1) acquiring a guard/swingman they like from the end of another team’s bench 2) grabbing an established big man only if he’s accompanied by a second-round pick 3) not using the exception at all.
The Griz need more size and could always use more shooting. However, they don’t want to acquire a guard who has no shot at cracking the rotation. It’s been difficult enough for Austin Daye to get minutes now that Quincy Pondexter is healthy.
So don’t be too surprised if the Griz did something minor today or nothing at all. But as is the case at the trade deadline, you can always expect the unexpected. Doing nothing would mean the team would likely pick up a D-League player they like to occupy the 13th roster spot. (more…)
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: The NBA got back to regular-season work after All-Star weekend in Houston and there were plenty of choice matchups to pick from. Bucks vs. Nets was a nice way to get things rolling, especially given Joe Johnson‘s display of clutch-itude in both the fourth quarter and OT. There was a great East vs. West matchup in the Mile High City as the Nuggets took on the Celtics, with Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson powering Denver to the win. But we’ll go with a good matchup between two teams scrambling to solidify their playoff footing: the Warriors visiting the Jazz. Multi-faceted forward Gordon Hawyard was back in the action after a 10-game absence due to a shoulder injury while Utah’s big men combo of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson shook off the trade rumors surrounding them to lead the Jazz to a win and move them into a tie with the Warriors for No. 6 in the West.
Celtics expected to make some kind of deal — Celtics boss Danny Ainge has steadfastly denied that he’s looking to tinker with Boston’s makeup or trade franchise stalwarts like Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo or Paul Pierce. But rival GMs are saying just the opposite (in what may be a smokescreen act) and think the Celtics are priming themselves for a deal of some kind. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald has more:
As Danny Ainge downplayed the possibility the Celtics will be involved in a transaction before tomorrow’s NBA trade deadline, general managers and personnel people around the league are saying quite the opposite.
They’ll be stunned if the Celts don’t make a deal of some sort.
“They’re too active,” said one. “They’ve been putting a lot of different things out there, and you’d have to think at least one of them is going to come through.”
If the Celtics do pull off a trade, it’s likely something beyond what’s already in the public domain, and many of those talks were dead on arrival.
For example, the Celts did have a brief discussion with the Lakers, but word is Mitch Kupchak said flatly they are not going to deal Dwight Howard, stating that he is part of their future. It’s possible that outlook could change, but with Rajon Rondo rehabbing from ACL surgery, the Celts wouldn’t have enough to get in on such talks.
The Clippers remain a good target, with Eric Bledsoe an intriguing talent.
“An awesome athlete, but not really a pure point guard,” said one personnel guy. “He could be a Russell Westbrook type if he keeps developing.”
The Hawks’ Josh Smith talk seems a bit of a mystery from the Celtics’ standpoint. To begin with, it would be hard to put together the right package to get him. And it’s even more doubtful they would be willing to part with the kind of things Atlanta is looking for.
Start with the fact Smith almost certainly won’t be signing a three-year extension right after a trade when he can wait until summer and get a longer deal as a free agent. So there’s no guarantee a team trading for him has him beyond the next few months. Then there are the questions of just how much Smith is worth relative to what he can contribute.
“If you could get him to just do the things he does really well and stick to that, I think he’d be one of the best players in this league,” said one ranking team official. “But you get the whole package with Josh. You can probably absorb most of that on a really good team, but is he the kind of guy you’re going to go to in your halfcourt offense in the fourth quarter of a Game 7? For the kind of money you’re going to be paying him, you have to think about that.”
Jennings ‘untouchable’ for now — Just six days ago, Bucks guard Brandon Jennings reportedly had expressed frustration with the front office and had “irreconcilable differences” with team brass. But Jennings quickly reversed field on that story and, although he didn’t commit to a long-term future with the Bucks, seemingly patched things up. Maybe that has led to the news reported by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that Jennings has become ‘untouchable’. More details here:
The Milwaukee Bucks continue to discuss Josh Smith trade scenarios with the Atlanta Hawks in advance of Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, according to sources with knowledge of the talks.
But those discussions, sources say, also serve as a strong indication of the rising likelihood that Brandon Jennings will not be moved this week.
ESPN.com reported Tuesday that Monta Ellis is the primary player Atlanta is targeting in its discussion with Milwaukee. Sources say that the Hawks, furthermore, want Milwaukee to add at least one expiring contract to the equation with Ellis and possibly take on some salary.
ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard, meanwhile, reported Wednesday morning on “SportsCenter” that Smith would be interested in playing with both Jennings and Ellis if he wound up in Milwaukee, leading the Bucks to try Wednesday to make the deal without surrendering Ellis.
Yet amid all of those talks, sources say, Jennings has moved alongside Larry Sanders and John Henson on the Bucks’ list of near-untouchables.
The Dallas Mavericks were at the forefront of the list of teams hoping that the Bucks would make Jennings available this week, but Milwaukee appears intent on taking its chances in the offseason, knowing that Jennings will be a restricted free agent and thus unable to leave town unless the Bucks decline to match an offer sheet he receives.
Millsap, Jefferson shrug off trade chatter — As our own Fran Blinebury pointed out yesterday in this space, Jazz GM Dennis Lindsay could end up being active on trade deadline day … especially considering Utah’s bevy of big men. Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are the names most teams would want to acquire and that duo is used to hearing their names bandied about in trade talks over the years. While no solid suitor has emerged (we’ve seen talk of Jefferson-to-San Antonio here and there), the Jazz’s veteran big man duo isn’t letting the talk affect their game. Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News has more:
When asked about trade rumors after returning from the All-Star break, Jazz players and coach Tyrone Corbin all shrugged off any talk about the subject.
“I’ve been in this league a long time. This is my ninth year and Paul’s seventh. We’re used to this,’’ said Jefferson.
“You don’t react. You just let it go,’’ added Millsap. “You can’t do anything about it because you don’t really know for sure. If it don’t come from (the Jazz’s) mouths it’s probably not true.’’
Millsap’s name has come up in trade rumors for years, and the Jazz forward says he’s used to it by now, saying he takes it as a compliment that he’s a wanted player. One of the latest rumors has him going to the L.A. Clippers for point guard Eric Bledsoe and others.That trade would potentially affect Mo Williams, the team’s current starting point guard, who has been sitting out with an injured thumb for more than a month.
Corbin was blunt in talking about trade speculation.
“It’s rumors and we don’t deal with rumors,’’ he said. “We are who we are and everybody here is part of our family. We’ll continue progressing in the way that we have and we expect everybody to respond accordingly.’’
Jefferson has been traded twice in his career, but he knows if the Jazz are involved, it’s unlikely anyone will know about it in advance.
“The one thing about the Utah Jazz is they’re a very professional team,’’ he said. “When a trade comes nobody’s going to know until it actually happens. They’ve been consistent with that. They’re just rumors.’’
Colangelo downplaying Bargnani deal — Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo already pulled off one significant remodel of his team this season by sending Ed Davis to Memphis and Jose Calderon to Detroit as part of the three-team trade that put Rudy Gay in Raptors red. The next name expected to be on the trade block is former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, but Colangelo may be cooling on the prospect of trading the outside-shooting big man. Sam Amick of USA Today caught up with Colangelo and talked with him about Bargnani, Colangelo’s future in Toronto and more:
Colangelo, who came to Toronto from Phoenix in 2006 and has been attempting a massive rebuilding effort ever since Chris Bosh left for Miami in the summer of 2010, is in the final year of his contract. In an interview with USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday, Colangelo said he has no discussions with ownership about his updated status and remains hopeful that he’ll be around past this summer. The Raptors – who are 5-2 since Gay came on board and 21-32 overall after their horrific 4-19 start – play at Washington Tuesday and have a reunion game with the Grizzlies in Toronto on Wednesday night.
While Colangelo could make more moves before the Thursday trade deadline to help his team and improve his case even more, he downplayed the once-widely-held notion that center Andrea Bargnani would be traded before then. He called that situation “fluid” and said “there just may not have been enough runway prior to the deadline to get something” because Bargnani recently came back from injury.
On Bargnani, how he’s fitting in better now with Gay and the likelihood that he could be traded…
“We began this year with Bargnani as our No. 1 scoring option. He’s now No. 3 because Rudy has arrived and DeMar (DeRozan) has emerged. Now Bargnani is No. 3. There’s talk about possibly moving him – and again we’ve talked about it, not for talent reasons but because maybe sometimes a change of scenery is the best thing for somebody. But sometimes a change of scenery can happen just by redecorating the room.
“All of a sudden the outlook and the presence of a guy like Andrea is entirely different now. He’s not relied on as a No. 1 guy. He has never been paid like a No. 1 option, but people wanted to criticize that he couldn’t handle that role. I’ve always felt like he’s been slotted in salary-wise as a No. 2 or No. 3. Maybe he’s kind of fitting in nicely now.
“If a trade doesn’t occur before the deadline, or even this summer, maybe it’s because we figured out that with the evolution of the team he is the right guy to be a part of this team. He’s been through the hard part. This may be the easiest part ahead of him.
On his future in Toronto …
“There’s been no discussion (about his future since the trade). I certainly haven’t brought it up. I think that we’re, right now, transitioning with an ownership change of our own.
“I’ve proven that, despite all the things that have been happening with the rebuilding of this team simultaneous to the uncertainty with my contract, I always made the right long-term strategic decision with respect to the transactions that were being made or draft picks that were being made. Case in point was drafting (Jonas) Valanciunas (fifth overall in 2011) knowing that he was not going to be here for a year, and that when he did arrive that he’d be 20 and would still be considered a project. But you have to carry out your job with integrity and do the right thing for the organization. That’s what I’ve been hired to do and that’s what I’m doing. Whether or not that pays off for me long-term, with an extension or just even my option year being picked up (for the 2013-14 season), time will tell. But you can’t lose sight of what the job is.” (more…)
The time is now to trade for Hornets’ rookie Anthony Davis, who is averaging only 9.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, and 25.3 minutes in seven games this month.
Has Davis hit the rookie wall?
Davis hasn’t admitted to that cliché and he probably never will, but the stats say otherwise. His points have declined from 15.0 to 14.0 to 9.4 in November, December, and January, respectively. And his blocks have declined from 2.4 to 1.8 to 1.3 in the same months.
Also contributing to Davis’ decline is the return of Eric Gordon, who made his season debut on Dec. 29, perfectly coinciding with Davis’ drop in numbers this January. Gordon, as expected, is taking 15.3 field goal attempts per game, causing Davis’ FGA’s to dip from 11.6 in November and December down to 8.6 in January.
I trust Hornets’ head coach Monty Williams to figure out a way to make it work, such that Gordon gets his, while Davis gets his. Also, I trust in the incredible talents of Davis, who is simply too gifted to average 9 and 6 for the rest of the season.
Davis’ best month was November, when he averaged 15 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks in 28.2 minutes, and he should return to that level once he gets a second wind.
Sunday’s game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden was a start, as Davis had 13 points and eight rebounds in 33 minutes.
You have to give to get in fantasy hoops, so here are a few big men you might want to dangle as trade bait for Davis: Kevin Garnett (14.8 points, 7.0 rebounds), Marcin Gortat (11.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocks); Paul Millsap (14.9 points, 7.7 rebounds).
I realize the holidays are over and you’re all shopped out, but you don’t have to leave the house to go fantasy shopping. So what are you waiting for?
Rick Kamla is an anchor on NBA TV. You can follow him on Twitter at @NBATVRick.
DALLAS – As far as the New Orleans Hornets are concerned, the season started Saturday night, Jan. 5, with a 99-96 overtime victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
“It kind of is,” said Hornets guard Eric Gordon after his first start of the season and after he scored eight of his 14 points — and the Hornets’ final eight points — in the OT. “We’re still a little bit banged up health-wise and we’re still trying to get there, but I would say this is the type of win that kind of does something for us.”
Hey, 1-0 looks a whole lot better than the 8-and-20-whatever that the official standings will have you believe. But forget the standings when it comes to this scrappy, intruiging group of young kids trying to make it work in NOLA. Even before Saturday night’s big road win, as players dressed and stretched in the visiting locker room, a freshness and exuberance could be sensed.
For one, the 6-foot-3 Gordon was returning to the lineup for just his third game and his first start of the season. He was given the previous game off to rest after playing two games in his long-awaited comeback from a knee injury that followed him to New Orleans from the Los Angeles Clippers in the Chris Paul trade.
And whatever happened with Gordon after the trade, his lingering injury and his Phoenix-or-bust ambitions during the offseason mean nothing now to his growing teammates.
Second, Hornets coach Monty Williams, for the first time this season, trotted out the starting five he envisioned from the start: Emerging point guard sensation Greivis Vasquez, Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Robin Lopez and No. 1 pick Anthony Davis. That quintet’s average age is 22.8 and allows Williams to utilize the 20-year-old Austin Rivers from his rightful spot off the bench.
Vasquez, remarkably the old man of the group in just his third season at age 25, and the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, could barely control his enthusiasm to finally start — and finish — a game next to Gordon, a man of considerable scoring ability.
“What Eric is going to bring to the table is we have been in games without him and now he can close those games out for us,” Vasquez said prior to the game. “He can be our closer. That’s what he does for us.”
Cue the Gordon highlight reel.
After struggling through a rocky shooting night, Gordon rode the coattails of Vasquez’s monster, 15-point fourth quarter that rallied the Hornets to an 89-89 tie after regulation. The underrated Vasquez, stuffing the stat sheet again with 25 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and a lone turnover in 41 minutes, had a chance to win in it regulation, but a screen failed to set him free and he never got a clean look as the clock expired.
“He’s for sure underrated and he’s going to be a big-time playmaker,” Gordon said. “He’s definitely underrated and he’s just getting better and better with every game.”
Gordon, unfazed by a 1-for-9 shooting night in regulation, turned the final 1:49 into a clinic of late-game execution. His driving layup cut Dallas’ lead to 94-93. Then he drained a 3-pointer to put the Hornets up 96-94 with 1:18 to go. Mavs forward Shawn Marion tied it at 96-96.
After missing a 3-pointer for the lead with 39.9 seconds to go, Gordon got a reprieve when O.J. Mayo, cold all night, missed a pull-up jumper (plus two earlier open corner 3s in overtime). Gordon went to work on undersized Mavs point guard Darren Collison.
Gordon pump-faked at the top of the circle and Collison bit. Gordon leaned forward, drew contact and heaved a shot that hit the backboard square and dropped in with 4.7 seconds to play. He completed the 3-point play to close it out just as Vasquez envisioned.
“Our record really doesn’t identify who we are,” Vasquez said. “We have been in games and because our inexperience really gets to us, teams have been able to beat us the last two minutes of the game. But it is a learning process. I tell you, we have this vision that we are going to be a great team, and that takes some time. In the NBA, it’s too cruel, it’s cold-blooded. You’ve got to understand that you have to have really a strong mindset because it’s not going to be easy. We’re going through that.”
And on this night they persevered when they could have folded multiple times. After leading 25-19, Dallas bridged the first and second quarters with a 13-0 run. The Mavs led by 11 in the third quarter and with Dirk Nowitzki having made his debut in the starting lineup in his seventh game back, they looked to be salting away a game they desperately needed before embarking on a three-game road trip.
But Nowitzki, who finished with 20 points, would be held to three points on 1-for-5 shooting in the fourth quarter and overtime. Instead it was Vasquez and the 24-year-old Gordon taking charge.
Asked before the game what he hoped to get from his first-time starting five, Williams, the Hornets’ impressive 41-year-old coach said, “Wins.”
He got one. More importantly his young, clawing team finally got rewarded for their effort and got a glimpse for once of what a closer looks like on their own squad. For the first time in the 20th game this season that New Orleans trailed after three quarters, they pulled one out.
“Eric is a player that most people on the East Coast and even here don’t get to see because the Clippers didn’t play on TV as much, or at all when he was there,” Williams said. “But he’s a guy that can score the ball. He can shoot 3s, he can attack the basket, he can get to the free-throw line.”
Gordon did all three in the final 1:49 Saturday night, the first night of the rest of the Hornets’ season.
HOUSTON – More than an hour before tipoff, Eric Gordon was out on the Toyota Center court with his teammates, spinning left, moving right, pulling up on the dribble and firing jumpers. Some hit the rim and bounced away, but most found the bottom of the net, just the way you’d hope for one of the main guns in an offense that needs all the help it can get.
Except that when the game started Gordon was in street clothes, back on the bench, where he has spent far too much time over the past two seasons.
The Hornets are taking the very cautious approach this time around, holding their 6-foot-3 guard out of back-to-back games as he continues his comeback from a patella tendon disorder and a bone bruise in his right knee.
After missing the first 29 games of the season, Gordon finally made his debut on Saturday night at Charlotte, scoring a team-high 24 points in 25 minutes of a win. Then he played another 25 minutes and shot just 5-for-17 in a loss at home to Atlanta on Tuesday night.
“It’s not so much rest, but just being smart with his knee,” said Hornets coach Monty Williams. “It’s what the doctors had recommended … Obviously, as a coach, you want him out there, but you’ve got to err on the side of caution.”
Especially with the memories of a year ago still fresh in their minds. That’s when Gordon suffered what was originally thought to be a bone bruise in his knee in the Dec. 26 season opener, sat out four games and then came back and played 39 minutes of a loss to Philadelphia.
That turned out to be the last game Gordon would play until April, following arthroscopic surgery Feb. 14 when rehabbing the knee with rest and therapy was unsuccessful.
“I’ve got to be more careful this time,” Gordon said. “The last thing I want to do is push too hard too fast and find myself right back in a position where I’ve got to sit out again. That’s not something that I want to go through again.”
After coming to New Orleans as part of the controversial Chris Paul trade just before the start of last season, Gordon has played in just 11 games for the Hornets. He became a restricted free agent last summer and signed a four-year, $58 million offer sheet with the Suns and caused a stir in New Orleans by saying he hoped the Hornets wouldn’t match it.
“That was just part of getting the contract and me doing what was best for me,” Gordon said. “I think everyone is past that now and the reception I got in my first home game in New Orleans the other night was what I expected. It was good.”
What Gordon had also expected was to be able to team up with No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis before now and to start putting the pieces back together for the Hornets.
“It can be very positive for us going forward,” Gordon said. “Now it’s all about the growing process. When you see young guys being consistent, that’s when you’re growing. Of course, to do that we’ve all got to be out there playing together.”
To be able to stay out there together for the long run, Gordon is willing to have the reins held tight for now. His minutes will continue to be limited in the near future, but Williams said they could be increased by 4-10 minutes by the next game at Dallas on Saturday.
“When you’re like me and you haven’t played much basketball for 1 1/2 years, it can be mentally draining,” Gordon said. “You want to push. You want to hurry. You get so eager. But then you have to sit down and remember all those long, hard days when all you could do was rehab and rehab and couldn’t be with your team.
“My passion and love is this game. These limited minutes right now are tough to swallow. But last year I came back and played full-out right from the start and look where it got me. It’s a lot harder mentally to do it this way. But I’m pretty sure it’s a lot smarter.”
Deron Williams isn’t living up to his big contract yet? Who else has to show you some more for the money in 2013?
Steve Aschburner: Let’s assume Carlos Boozer is too old an answer here, that JaVale McGee is too early an answer here and that Andrew Bynum is too obvious an answer here. Ersan Ilyasova is too below-the-radar for most folks, and I’m assuming that Rudy Gay soon demonstrates his true value either on the court for Memphis or in a trade package when the Grizzlies face some hard economic reality. So I’m going with New Orleans guard Eric Gordon, a player who has missed 112 of a possible 179 regular-season games over the past two-plus seasons. Gordon was handed a $58 million contract last summer despite his knee problems and has been accorded “franchise guy” treatment by two organizations and a suitor or two. He remains a potential star and, remember, in the NBA staying healthy isn’t just luck, it’s a skill.
Fran Blinebury: Roy Hibbert. After getting his big money, he’s down across the board in points, rebounds, field-goal percentage and even free-throw shooting. He gets a run for his money from Dwight Howard, who for all the noise, the drama and the diva tendencies, has just not played like a guy who will be offered the keys to the Lakers’ franchise. But he’ll get them anyway.
Jeff Caplan: Michael Beasley is tremendously under-performing his contract, but the Suns should have known better. So, hellooooo, Roy Hibbert. With Danny Granger down, Hibbert’s numbers are have taken a hit across the board. He’s not even shooting 40 percent from the field — inexcusable for a traditional big man, after being near 50 percent last season. Maybe expectations were too high simply from Hibbert being offered the max by other teams. The Pacers had to match, but they need more than Hibbert’s bringing.
Scott Howard-Cooper: If you are going strictly on contract, and rightly take Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bynum out of the mix because of injury, it’s Pau Gasol. But if this is about regressing in urgent ways, say hello to DeMarcus Cousins. His behavior is worse than before, his play is backsliding, and the Kings are going down with him. Cousins is the most important player on the team. That’s a measure of value beyond salary.
John Schuhmann:Amar’e Stoudemire is too obvious an answer, right? Jeff Green is probably an obvious answer too, but he’s my answer. Green deserves a ton of credit for coming back from heart surgery, but that doesn’t mean he deserved $36 million guaranteed. The Celtics need Green to keep their vets fresh and to keep things from falling apart when they go to the bench, but that hasn’t happened. He’s shooting 41 percent and he’s got the worst per-possession plus-minus in Boston’s rotation. Green has the physical tools to be a great player, but he’s never really been able to put it together. Now would be a good time.
Sekou Smith: If we go around identifying guys who aren’t “living up to their contracts,” the line around headquarters here could get pretty long. Williams isn’t even the highest paid player on the Nets’ roster — that distinguished honor belongs to shooting guard Joe Johnson. But neither member of the Nets’ starting backcourt, easy targets in light of what’s gone on in Brooklyn the past 10 days, can touch Philadelphia’s Andrew Bynum in this category. The former Los Angeles Lakers big man has yet to grace us with his presence this season, due to injury, of course. At least Williams, and Johnson for that matter, are in uniform most every night.
HANG TIME, Texas — Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.
In the NBA that familiar line from the holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” has a different twist.
Every time the bell rings a head coach gets his walking papers and a handful of others start looking over their shoulders.
It’s a tenuous life.
Of course, this season has already been quite unusual with Mike Brown fired by the Lakers after just five games. But now that the schedule has reached the one-third mark and claimed Avery Johnson, it’s time to look at some others down around the bottom of the standings.
Randy Wittman, Wizards (3-23) – No, he hasn’t had John Wall all season. Yes, he’s had to play at times without Nene and Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal. But the Wizards are the only group in Washington that makes Congress look competent by comparison. After a recent 100-68 thumping by the almost-as-hapless Pistons, even Wittman seemed to have enough. “That was an embarrassment, and I apologize to our ownership and to our fans,” he said. “I especially apologize to anyone who watched that entire game. I would have turned it off after the first five minutes.” It would seem to be a matter of when, not if.
Monty Williams, Hornets (6-22) – It’s hard to see the Hornets turning right around and cutting Williams loose just months after giving him a four-year contract extension. There has been the matter of Eric Gordon’s injury and the fact that No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis was on the shelf for 13 games. But there are rumblings in New Orleans about his constantly changing rotations and collapse of his defense, which ranks 29th.
Byron Scott, Cavaliers (7-23) — The Cavs are likely headed to their third straight trip to the lottery under Scott, but that doesn’t mean that he’s headed to the exit. The key to his previous success at New Jersey and New Orleans was having a top-notch point guard and Scott has an excellent relationship with maybe the next great thing in Kyrie Irving. This was always a long, heavy lift from the moment LeBron James bolted and that has not changed.
Mike Dunlap, Bobcats (7-21) – What a difference a month makes. After beating the Wizards on Nov. 24, the Bobcats were 7-5, had matched their win total from last season and their rookie coach was getting praised. Now 16 straight losses later, Dunlap is preaching patience with his young core of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Byron Mullens and Jeffery Taylor. He has earned that. A dozen of Charlotte’s 21 losses have come by 10 points or less, a dramatic change from the historically horrible last season when the Bobcats were rolled in one-third of their games by 20 points or more.
Lawrence Frank, Pistons (9-22) — Frank insists that his Pistons are a better team than they were a year ago. The record — identical then and now — does not back that up. He says that his club now is more competitive, but just doesn’t know how to finish games. Some of the players have grumbled that there is also a failure of coach to make the right calls and adjustments when games get late. When push comes to shove, it’s the coach that gets nudged out the door.
Dwane Casey, Raptors (9-20)– Another one of those seasons when the Raptors were supposed to turn things around and make a push for the playoffs in the lesser Eastern Conference has gone south. Injuries to Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry and Linas Kleiza. Amir Johnson gets suspended for throwing his mouthguard at a referee. G.M. Bryan Colangelo says the talent is there, but the Raptors lack focus and attention to detail. The Raps’ offense is mediocre (ranked 17th) and their defense just bad (27th). Even in Canada during the winter, that all puts Casey on thin ice.
Keith Smart, Kings (9-19) – Smart got the job to replace Paul Westphal specifically because of what was perceived as an ability to work with the mercurial DeMarcus Cousins. So he turned Cousins loose last season, let him do just about anything he pleased and got enough results to earn a contract extension. Now that Cousins has abused his free-rein relationship with his coach and another season is sinking fast, it would be easy to just blame Smart, which the Kings eventually will do. But this is a bad team with a knucklehead as its centerpiece and ownership that can’t tell you where they’ll be playing in two years.
Alvin Gentry, Suns (11-18) — It was at the end of a seven-game losing streak when Suns owner Robert Sarver told ESPN.com that Gentry’s job was safe. “We’ve got confidence in our coaching staff and we’re not considering making changes,” he said. Of course, that usually means start packing your bags. It was all about starting over in this first season post-Nash in the desert. He’s changed lineups more than his ties and the result is usually the same. Gentry is a good bet to last out the season, but it’s probably going to take a big finishing kick to return next year.