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Posts Tagged ‘Fred Hoiberg’

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Karl unsure how to fix Kings’ issues | Portland’s Henderson gets bounce back at right time | Magic needed win over Hawks in worst way | Curry’s wild week finishes front and center at Super Bowl 50

No. 1: Kings’ Karl trying to right team’s ship — Sacramento Kings coach George Karl made it through the weekend, surviving the swirl of rumors that he could be fired before the sun came up this morning. But the day is just getting started, the Kings visit the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight at Quicken Loans Arena (7 ET, NBA League Pass). And Karl still doesn’t have any answers for his team’s current slide after Sunday’s 128-119 loss in Boston, the Kings’ third straight and seventh in their last eight games. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee has more:

Boston scored the most points by a Sacramento opponent in a quarter and a half this season. The Celtics’ total also matched the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors for the most points allowed in regulation by the Kings this season. The Nets beat the Kings 128-119 Friday.

Lately, nothing seems to spark the Kings at the game’s outset – neither the possibility of falling further behind in the race for the final Western Conference playoff berth nor speculation coach George Karl’s job is in jeopardy.

Karl isn’t sure how to fix the defense or prevent the team’s slow starts.

“I think we’re all pulling our hair out trying to figure that out,” Karl said of the defensive issues. “But this is not a time of year you get a lot of practice time. Do you want to zone up? Do you want to come up with a gimmick pick-and-roll defense? I think we’ve tried just about every one that I know of. I just think we’ve got to actually simplify and try to find something we can do more efficient.”

In the offseason, the Kings added more veterans to handle predicaments, but no one seems to know how to contain the opposition early in games.

Said Rajon Rondo, known for his dry humor: “Just try to hold the ball? Don’t take a shot? I don’t know what we can do to try to stop teams from scoring 30 (in the first quarter).”

Added DeMarcus Cousins: “I guess we’ve got to find a better energy and effort as a team. Be more engaged.”

The Celtics might have scored more if not for 24 turnovers, the most by a Kings opponent this season. Boston shot 56.0 percent and benefited from Sacramento’s perpetual inability to stop three-point shooters, making 13 of 24 from beyond the arc.

In the first quarter, Boston sank seven three-pointers and scored 12 of its 23 second-chance points.

Until the Kings figure out something, they’ll continue being the team opponents circle on the schedule in anticipation of a big offensive game or an opportunity to get on track.

“If that’s what teams are thinking, we’ve got to find a way to change that,” Cousins said. “That’s a bad a way for a team to be feeling, that a team is coming in and, oh, they can have an easy night. We’ve got to find a solution because right now whatever we’re doing isn’t working.”

Said Karl: “Our focus has got to be better. It’s got to be stronger; it’s got to be more defensive-minded. We just can’t give up the numbers we’re giving up.”

***

No. 2: Portland’s Henderson gets bounce back at right time Gerald Henderson was something of a forgotten man since moving across the country from Charlotte to Portland. But the Trail Blazers’ veteran swingman is hitting his stride at just the right time (ahead of the NBA trade deadline) to assist in his team’s chase for a playoff spot in the Western Conference standings. Joe Freeman of the Oregonian provides the details on Henderson’s rise ahead of the Trail Blazers’ trip to Memphis tonight (8 ET, League Pass):

Has Gerald Henderson been playing better? Yes. Does he finally seem comfortable in a Blazers uniform? Definitely. But the dunks and the blocks and the athletic plays — the bounce — that’s the tell-tell sign Henderson is back to his old self.

“He’s got some bounce,” Damian Lillard said. “He can get up there and hang up there, too. He can jump with the best of them.”

The Blazers (25-27) are playing their best basketball of the season, which coincides, perhaps not coincidentally, with the improved production of Henderson, a seven-year NBA veteran who said he feels as fit and healthy as he has all season. The Blazers won for the sixth time in the last seven games Saturday night at the Toyota Center, trouncing the Houston Rockets 96-79. Henderson scored 16 points — four more than the entire Rockets bench — which just so happened to be the sixth time he’s reached double figures in the last seven games, including a season-high four in a row.

In three February games, Henderson is averaging 13.3 points and 6.0 rebounds, while shooting 60 percent from the field (15 of 25). He’s been more lively and dependable on defense, more assertive in huddles and postgame locker room pow-wows and more of a factor in wins. All of a sudden, after a disappointing three months, Henderson is evolving into the player the Blazers thought they were getting when they acquired him in the Nicolas Batum trade last summer.

“He’s been on a roll,” coach Terry Stotts said.

When asked about that trademark “bounce” — which he revealed multiple times against the Rockets — Henderson grinned.

“I feel good,” he said. “That’s how I’m used to playing.”

But will Henderson endure a different kind of bounce later in the month? Will he be bounced from Portland in a trade?

Henderson’s improved production has come at the same time his playing time has significantly increased. He’s played 20 or more minutes in eight of the last nine games after doing so just nine times the rest of the season. It’s become a sports talk hot take to postulate that the young and rebuilding Blazers are showcasing the veteran to potential trade suitors in the buildup to the Feb. 18 deadline.

While that’s a nice theory, there’s another possibility.

“I think he’s just healthy,” Lillard said. “He was coming off hip surgery, so it took some time for him to get in shape. He missed training camp. He had to get in shape, he had to get his rhythm back, he had to get his feel back, get comfortable with our sets, comfortable being out there with the guys. I think the last couple of weeks, you’re starting to see him get comfortable. He’s finally back.”

***

No. 3: Magic needed win over Hawks in worst way — The Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks will line up and do it again tonight (8 ET, NBA TV), but for that one shining moment Sunday, when Nikola Vucevic‘s buzzer beater lifted the Magic over their Southeast Division rivals, it was all good. And as Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel points out, it was a much-needed confidence boost for a Magic team searching for some light and the end of a dark stretch:

That great move, and even greater shot, arrived at a crucial time for the reeling Magic, who had lost 15 of 17 games heading into Sunday.

The tailspin would’ve worsened if the Magic had lost to the Hawks.

Orlando took a 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter and responded to a subsequent Atlanta surge by going ahead by eight points with 3:41 to go.

“I think the way we won, too, was big — to finally get something kind of going our way,” Payton said. “A lot of times, we’d be on the other end of this.”

For a time, it looked like the Magic (22-28) might rout the Hawks (30-23).

A left-ankle injury prevented Tobias Harris from playing Sunday, prompting Skiles to start Fournier at small forward in Harris’ place. The starting quintet of Payton, Oladipo, Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Vucevic had played a total of just 25 minutes together this season before Sunday.

They brought a level of defensive energy and cohesion their team hasn’t shown in weeks. The Hawks looked flat at the outset, and the Magic capitalized. Orlando held Atlanta to 39 percent shooting for the entire game and also forced 12 first-half turnovers.

Teague scored a game-high 24 points, causing Payton problems on defense.

But on offense, Payton broke out of his slump.

In the fourth quarter, Payton scored seven of his 12 points and delivered five of his game-high 12 assists.

The final last assist came on Vucevic’s game-winner.

“I’m just glad we got the win,” Vucevic said. “After a rough month with a lot of losses it’s good to come out and win against a good team like the Hawks are.”

Vucevic not only managed to escape Al Horford‘s clutches, but he also got the shot off cleanly despite having to shoot over Horford’s outstretched right arm.

“You can’t guard him any better than that,” Millsap said.

The shot was Vucevic’s second game-winner of the season. On Nov. 11, he made a turnaround, fadeaway jumper from 20 feet over Roy Hibbert to lift the Magic to a 101-99 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

That night, Vucevic celebrated by running down the court with his right index finger held high over his head and an ear-to-ear grin on his face.

On Sunday afternoon, Vucevic stood still and allowed his teammates to mob him.

“I thought it was a real man’s celebration,” Fournier said. “I thought he looked like a baby on the other one.”

***

No. 4: Curry’s wild week finishes front and center at Super Bowl 50 — A great week for Stephen Curry that included a trip to the White House to visit with President Barack Obama after a 51-point outing against the Washington Wizards was just the beginning. Saturday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on the night before Super Bowl 50 was the perfect appetizer to Sunday’s game, where Curry’s hometown Panthers took on the Denver Broncos. And Curry was front and center, pounding the drum as Cam Newton and the Panthers took the field. The Bay Area News Group chronicled Curry’s big day (which ended on a sour note as the Panthers fell 24-10 to the Broncos):

https://twitter.com/StephenCurry30/status/696542942656266243

Curry has been on top of the sports world for the last year-plus. But Sunday was a dream come true for the Warriors’ star.

Curry, a Charlotte, N.C. native, has been a die-hard Panthers fan since the franchise was created in 1995. So his team playing in the Bay Area in the Super Bowl is as perfect as it gets.

His day began with his wife, Ayesha, at an exclusive tailgate party at chef Michael Mina‘s restaurant. Donning a Curry No. 30 Panthers jersey, she made porchetta biscuit sandwiches inspired by Carolina: red pepper jam, Crystal’s hot sauce mayo and a fried egg. Curry helped.

Curry then got a special treat before the game. The Panthers tabbed him to pound the drum in advance of the Panthers taking the field. It’s a team tradition — banging a big drum that reads “Keep Pounding” — that Curry got to do at a game in Charlotte back in September. The shirt Curry was planning to wear on Sunday was a custom made Under Armour tee with an illustration of him pounding the drum.

He stood on the sidelines with his wife before the game, both wearing black No. 30 Panthers jerseys with Curry on the back. When the Panthers ran off the field, both running back Mike Tolbert and head coach Ron Rivera stopped by to give Curry a hug.

Curry bought six tickets from Carolina Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson. But his family will sit in those seats and he will be in the Under Armous suite at Levi’s Stadium with brand CEO Kevin Plank.


VIDEO: Go behind the scenes from Saturday’s battle between the Warriors and Thunder

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks will hold Tiago Splitter out until after the All-Star break … The Indiana Pacers are preparing a tribute of some kind for Kobe Bryant as he makes his final visit to Indianapolis tonight … The Chicago Bulls are pointing fingers at themselves (and not coach Fred Hoiberg) for their late-game failuresKevin Durant took in the festivities at Super Bowl 50 as well, but with a media credential … Derek Fisher agrees with Rajon Rondo, the triangle would not be a good fit for the veteran point guard … Heat backup point guard Tyler Johnson might miss the playoffs …

Morning shootaround — Feb. 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gasol: Bulls’ lack discipline | LeBron has high praise for Coach Lue | Middleton plays second fiddle no more | Warriors’ other All-Stars carve up Knicks

No. 1: Gasol: Bulls lack discipline — After more than half a season of struggling to operate consistently on a high level, reality has set in for Pau Gasol and the Chicago Bulls. After Sunday’s listless effort in a loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles, their second worst loss of the season, reality has set in for a team thought to be a legitimate contender this season. The Bulls’ lack of discipline has cost them and will continue to do so, perhaps even tonight in Utah against the Jazz (9 ET, League Pass), writes Nick Friedell of ESPN.com:

Pau Gasol has been in the NBA long enough to be painfully honest.

That’s why the 15-year veteran was so blunt in the criticism of his own team after Sunday’s disheartening 120-93 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

“We’re not disciplined,” Gasol said. “Yep. We’re not. That’s it. It’s true. It’s a fact.”

The Chicago Bulls are so unpredictable that they have become predictable. When they play well, as they did in an impressive win against the hapless Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night, they are not able to sustain the solid play. Their six-game winning streak a month ago was the outlier, not the rule.

“It’s been the story of the year,” Bulls guard Derrick Rose said. “The story of the year. If I could put a finger on it, I swear I would. I watch a lot of basketball, and the only thing I can think of is just that effort and sticking with the game plan.”

The Bulls’ single biggest flaw, aside from the fact that players such as Doug McDermott, Tony Snell and Nikola Mirotic have not proven to be as good as advertised this year after being given plenty of opportunities, is that this group just isn’t as mentally tough as it has been in years past. Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg has discussed the issue several times during the season and was again frustrated with the lack of passionate play at times on Sunday. To blame the issues on Hoiberg, the first-year head coach, wouldn’t be fair, because the troubles the Bulls are having with inconsistencies are the same ones that started to creep up last season in Tom Thibodeau‘s final year at the helm.

The Bulls’ problem is they don’t seem to have any clue how to fix the problems. More than halfway through the season, this is who they are: an inconsistent bunch of athletes who still don’t appear to enjoy playing with one another.

“We’re letting guys do whatever they want to do out there,” All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler said. “Not putting bodies on people, not rebounding, letting guys get to their strengths. That’s the will if you want to. Defense is all about toughness. When we’re not guarding anybody, we don’t look very tough.”

Stop me if you’ve heard that before.

Bulls players are sick of talking about the problems, but not enough to create change from within.

“You’ve just got to keep talking about it,” Hoiberg said of trying to build up the mental toughness that hasn’t been there all year. “That’s what you got to do. You’ve got to fight through it. Again, I’ve been saying this all year. I hate to sound like a broken record. We are a really good team when things are going well. We can go out there and play with a swagger and a confidence. But we lose that, we lose that when things aren’t going well. They scored 69 points in the second half. You ain’t beating anybody when that happens.”


VIDEO: Bulls lose to Clippers in L.A.

*** (more…)

Appendectomy latest dip in Mirotic’s up-and-down season for Bulls


Maddeningly inconsistent and longer on potential than production, Nikola Mirotic had been something of a poster boy for the Chicago Bulls this season.

That dubious status only deepened Wednesday when the second-year forward was diagnosed with acute appendicitis and underwent an appendectomy at Rush University Medical Center. Now one of just three Bulls players to have appeared in every game will be out at least through the All-Star break, by team estimate, missing three weeks and at least eight games.

Mirotic joins Joakim Noah as a big man sidelined from Chicago’s rotation. Noah had season-ending surgery Jan. 19 on his dislocated left shoulder and, as an unrestricted free agent this summer whose game didn’t mesh well with new coach Fred Hoiberg‘s system, might have played his final game in a Bulls uniform.

Mirotic’s layoff won’t be nearly that extended and, beyond his contract that runs through 2016-17, he is highly valued by Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson. As with Hoiberg himself, they remain convinced of the 6-foot-10 Mirotic’s value as a “stretch four” in the newly installed space-and-pace system.

Still, his absence up to or through the Feb. 18 league trading deadline takes the Bulls out of any market their once-crowded frontcourt might have provided. And it isn’t likely to serve as a positive for Mirotic in what had been a rocky season NBA season.

“I have to find a way that I can play maybe 10 games good [in a row],” Mirotic told NBA.com earlier this week. “I try to do something every day good.

“Sometimes I have really good feelings before the game. What I should do when I warm up. But after the game [starts], it’s different. I know the first minutes of the game are really important for me. But sometimes when I’m missing those shots, I’m changing my game.That can’t happen. I have to stay focused, you know.”

Mirotic, 24, performed well in his two most recent appearances. He scored 17 points Saturday in the Bulls’ victory at Cleveland, then followed up with 15 points and eight rebounds in the loss to Miami Monday at United Center.

It wasn’t quite the impact the native of Montenegro had last March, when he averaged 20.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.3 free throw attempts, serving as a go-to guy in the fourth quarter for then-coach Tom Thibodeau and basically earning his second-place finish in NBA Rookie of the Year balloting.

But being back on the bench after 31 starts, and being back at power forward after an unsatisfying-all-around run of 13 games at small forward, appeared to suit Mirotic. And give him something to build from, until his unexpected surgery Wednesday.

Now, while his teammates hit the road for a seven-game trip that runs through Feb. 8, Mirotic will be recuperating at home near Chicago’s lakefront with wife Nina and 7-month-old son Alexsej. His return date isn’t known yet, but the Bulls have 30 games after the break in which Mirotic will be trying to find and maintain success, stirring some March echoes.

“If I did this in my rookie season, of course I can do it again,” Mirotic told NBA.com. “But I don’t want to make any more pressure on my head. I need a little more to enjoy the game. Sometimes I’m a little hard on myself, but that’s just normal. You know you can do things better.”

Morning shootaround — Jan. 23


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Unraveling of Cavs, James, Blatt began early | Warriors’ Kerr grateful in return | Bulls earning ‘soft’ label | Winning gives edge to All-Star reserves

No. 1: Unraveling of Cavs, James, Blatt began early — It was a hair-on-fire day for news in the NBA Friday, starting with the Josh Smith trade back to Houston and continuing through the pre-emptive weather postponement of NBA games from Saturday’s schedule in Philadelphia and Washington, right on to coach Steve Kerr’s return after a 43-game health absence to Golden State’s bench. But the whopper was Cleveland’s abrupt firing of head coach David Blatt. Not only had Blatt helped the Cavaliers reach the Finals last June, he had them atop the Eastern Conference with a 30-11 record and was in line to coach the East All-Stars in three weeks up in Toronto. Both local and national coverage blanketed the story, with ESPN.com providing the most exhaustive report courtesy of Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin. Here are notable excerpts:

At the very heart of the matter, this is why the Cavs fired Blatt on Friday, despite a record of 83-40 and a Finals appearance. Blatt viewed himself as a coach with numerous championships in Europe, an Olympic medal and 20-plus years on the sideline, a career that made him one of the most experienced coaches in the world.

The Cavs players, especially the veterans, saw him as a rookie.

The issues started before [LeBron] James returned to the franchise in July 2014. The Cavs were all over the place in their coaching search that summer. They offered the job to numerous big names, from John Calipari and Bill Self in the college ranks to Steve Kerr from the broadcast booth. [Cleveland GM David] Griffin also interviewed Alvin Gentry, whom he had worked alongside with the Phoenix Suns, and Tyronn Lue, a rising assistant who learned under Doc Rivers.

But team owner Dan Gilbert wanted to make a different kind of hire. He didn’t want a retread or an inexperienced coach, which is why he chased the veteran college coaches. It’s why he loved Blatt, who was a legend in Israel, something that appealed to Gilbert.

To complicate matters, the Cavs hired the runner-up for the job, Lue, to be Blatt’s assistant. To keep him away from the Clippers, the Cavs gave him a record four-year, $6.5 million deal — for an assistant. Gilbert would later call the coaching staff the best he had assembled in his time as owner.

Blatt endorsed the Lue move, which many in the league saw as an immediate undercutting of the head coach. Never before could anyone remember the runner-up for a job being hired as the lead assistant, and it was taken as an example of Blatt’s NBA inexperience. Blatt also didn’t understand that he would have to earn players’ respect; it would not be instantly given.

“It was like an 800-pound gorilla as the season moved on,” one person involved with the team said. “You could just see LeBron connecting to [Lue] and turning his back on David.”
That didn’t stay a secret. James’ and other players’ complaints about Blatt’s style got out quickly. During games, Cavs players complained about the coach to opposing players. Once, while on the road, an injured Cavs player used the home team’s therapy pool and complained about Blatt, with his thoughts literally echoing throughout the home locker room.

Those who knew Blatt from Europe, where he was known as a fire-breather with players during games, were stunned at how he had changed. When Blatt was the coach of the Russian national team, he famously once kicked two of his best players off the bench because they were talking over him in a timeout. Now, spectators watched in awe as players barked at Blatt in timeouts. That was just one of many adjustments he made to try to make this unwieldy job work.

Blatt, meanwhile, retrofitted the Cavs’ defensive system with his new players, and that helped launch the team’s midseason turnaround. He melded in the new players effectively. He showed his experience as he found a way to give James space while looking for other ways to make a positive difference. At the same time, his yielding to the players — James especially — only further reinforced that Blatt wasn’t a coach who demanded respect.

***

No. 2: Warriors’ Kerr grateful in return— While one NBA coach’s relationship with his team was getting blown up Friday, another was reuniting. Steve Kerr, after nearly four months and 43 regular-season games, was back on the Golden State bench for its game against Indiana. Kerr had taken a leave of absence on Oct. 1 to recover and rehab from two back surgeries, and while his physical health demanded and benefited from the layoff, his mental health definitely craved his return to everything Warriors. Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury-News was at Oracle Arena to chronicle Kerr’s first game back:

But on this night, one of the biggest adrenaline-rushes of the game actually came before the game, because Kerr had been gone so long after taking a leave of absence due to complications after back surgery.

And despite the Warriors’ amazing 39-4 run under interim coach Luke Walton–who happily moved aside one seat for Kerr’s re-arrival–the Warriors missed their coach.

More than that, he missed them. And was thankful to return to them.

“I felt great,” Kerr said afterwards. “Really nice reception at the beginning of the game. Our fans are amazing. Just felt good to be back in Oracle with all the energy from the crowd.

“Wasn’t our best stuff but we got the job done.”

Kerr has been at team practices for several weeks and on the last several road trips, but he’s the Warriors coach, he won a championship with them last season, and a coach needs to coach.

During the game, Kerr sat quietly through the first quarter as the Warriors got out to a big lead–what was he supposed to fret over?

Then, as the Warriors went through a flat period or two, or when Kerr protested a call or two, he got up, yelled a few things, and called a few timeouts.

He was back.
“Honestly, I didn’t think one bit about who we were playing and when,” Kerr said about the Spurs game ahead. “It was strictly about when I felt ready.

“I wanted to come back a couple weeks ago and I sort of had a target date in mind–and we got to the date and it was, ‘I’m not ready.’ I knew I wasn’t ready.

“But the last 10 days or so have been great; I’ve really felt good physically. Felt like I turned a corner. Feel like I’m ready to go, regardless of who was on the schedule.”

***

No. 3: Bulls earning ‘soft’ label — As of Friday, there wasn’t a coach in the Central Division who was happy with his team – and maybe not a fan base all that happy with its coach. Tyronn Lue is undefeated for the moment in Cleveland but the Pacers, Bucks and Pistons all have had their issues lately. And then there are the Bulls, where new head coach Fred Hoiberg is frustrated with his team’s poor starts and inconsistent efforts, while many Chicago fans are wondering if management’s designated replacement for Tom Thibodeau is the right guy for the job. Beat writer Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times suggested after Friday’s loss in Boston that the Bulls are “soft,” a four-letter word equal to any profanity around pro athletes and teams:

The first-year coach was asked if he was tired of his team looking soft in too many moments this season, and without hesitation responded, “Yeah, I am.’’

He wasn’t alone.

“Soft’’ is always a dangerous word to use about a team on any level, but also a very fitting description of what this Bulls team has become on a night-to-night basis. And they can try and dress it up with buzzwords like “communication’’ and “energy,’’ but it seems to come back to one common theme with this team: Too soft in too many key moments.

Jimmy Butler definitely wasn’t going to hide from that label.

“Yeah, especially coming out of the gates, and that’s on us starters, man,’’ Butler said, when asked about the marshmallow moments from this team. “We’re digging ourselves a huge hole a lot of these games because we know how talented we are, how well we can score the ball, but defense is all about grit. The will and the want to do-so. I don’t feel like we do-so right now.’’

Even more troubling was Butler pointing out that the coaches stress it, the players talk about it and practice it in shootaround, but once those lights turn on, well, as Butler put it, “when we get out there it’s kind of like we do what we want to do. We’re not on the same page, we’re not communicating, and then on top of everything else we don’t get to the loose ball like the other team does.

“It’s time to stop talking about it. We’ve been talking about this all year long now.’’

***

No. 4: Winning gives edge to All-Star reserves — If Charles Barkley felt confounded by the fan balloting for the 2016 All-Star starters, he probably will again find plenty with which to quibble when the conference coaches make their selections for the East and West All-Star reserves. The seven players added to each roster – to be announced Thursday as part of TNT’s doubleheader telecast – presumably represent the next-best players through the first 45-50 games of the season. But of course, there are other factors involved. Some coaches apply arbitrary filters to thin the herd of candidates. Others might indulge shameless biases or personal grudges, or game the voting so one of their guys benefits. A couple of East coaches – Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Boston’s Brad Stevensgave some insight on their criteria to Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe:

“Probably the biggest criteria is looking at the team’s record,” Casey said, “because you can score 50 a game and have a losing record, and you’re not going to [be an] All-Star. That’s not only for me, but for all coaches.”

Casey was probably exaggerating just a bit, because a 50-point scorer on any team would be a lock, but you get his point. Wins matter. Stevens echoed that sentiment, saying he uses team success as an easy tiebreaker among players who otherwise appear to be equals.

“Probably a differentiating factor will be who scares me the most,” Stevens said. “That’s just kind of the way I’d look at it. Obviously, who do you have to prepare for differently? Who makes you tweak what you normally do?”

When Stevens analyzes numbers and figures, he does find some advanced statistics quite helpful.

“I look more at efficiency than anything else,” he said. “I don’t get too caught up in points per game or rebounds per game or those types of things. You get caught up in efficiency and those types of things. You get caught up in efficiency from a points standpoint. You get caught up in rebound percentages. I think that, again, you have to also factor in fourth quarter and crunch-time performance.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: One of the most popular topics related to David Blatt‘s firing Friday was speculation over the degree to which Cavaliers susperstar LeBron James was involved. Should James be thought of as a “coach killer” after his experiences with Mike Brown and now Blatt? Or does he draw that sort of criticism unfairly? … The Brooklyn Nets might find plenty to like in Blatt as they cope with a real freefall. … The Nets needed a shooting doctor, so they hired a Nurse. … Former Marquette teammates Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder battled in Boston. … Former NBA referees are mentoring their profession’s next generation. … Re-think whatever your definition might be of a “high basketball IQ.” Introducing the smart ball. …

Larrañaga steps in as Celtics’ Stevens visits ailing Butler player

CHICAGO – Asked about his rare and unexpected stint as Boston’s interim head coach, working the sideline in Brad Stevens‘ absence from the Celtics’ game against the Bulls at United Center Thursday night, assistant Jay Larrañaga said yes, it was difficult.

“Difficult situation for Coach Stevens and people close to him obviously,” Larrañaga told reporters about 90 minutes before tipoff and six hours after learning he would be stepping into Stevens’ role. “So we told him, ‘Don’t worry about what’s going on here. We’ll try to keep the ship going straight.’ ”

Stevens, 39, in his third season with Boston after a successful run at Butler University, reportedly traveled back to Indiana to visit Andrew Smith, a former player in his program who has been battling cancer for two years.

Smith, a 6-foot-11 center, played for the Bulldogs in the 2010 and 2011 Final Fours and averaged 8.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 22.1 minutes in 134 games. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in January 2014.

Larrañaga, also in his third season in Boston, coached the Erie BayHawks in the NBA Development League for two seasons and previously had served as an assistant coach at Cornell University. He played at Bowling Green for his father, Jim Larrañaga, currently the head coach at the University of Miami.

Larrañaga had coached the Celtics entry in summer league but only once before stepped in for Stevens, taking over after his boss was ejected from a game last season against Sacramento.

He had breakfast Thursday with Stevens and was preparing to attend a coaches meeting at noon at the Celtics’ hotel when Stevens called, alerting him to his absence.

“Not a lot of time to stop and think about it once Coach called,” Larrañaga said. “I’m not going to be like Brad, he’s a very special person. I’m going to be my own person. But in terms of just their routine and what they’re used to, I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible.”

Larrañaga said he texted his father about his role. “He told me, ‘Don’t talk to the refs.’ ”

As for any Red Auerbach-type pregame or halftime speeches he’d been saving for just such an occasion, the Celtics assistant said: “I think it’ll be very brief.”

Celtics wing Evan Turner said Stevens’ decision to see Smith might provide added incentive for Boston, which had dropped three of its previous four games. It also told them something about their coach.

“That’s unreal. I think that speaks volumes in general,” Turner said. “Guys are lucky to be able to play for a coach like that. That says a lot about his character.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg spent five years at his alma mater, Iowa State, before being hired by Chicago last summer. So he knows about the relationships that college coaches develop with their players, even in the best of circumstances. Smith’s condition, obviously, takes that to another level.

“You do develop such a strong bond with your players,” Hoiberg said. “It’s not just the four years they’re in school with you – it really lasts a lifetime. You continue to have relationships with the guys. They become family members. You’re always going to do everything you can to look out for former players.”

Morning shootaround — Jan. 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dragic: Suns ‘always changing something’ | Curry annoyed by shin injury | Hoiberg, Bulls praise Butler’s play | McCollum’s star turn | Davis doesn’t mind criticism from Gentry

No. 1: Dragic questions loyalty of Suns’ front office — Goran Dragic has been in the NBA for eight seasons and spent roughly half of that time as a member of the Phoenix Suns. Although he’s currently on the Miami Heat and spearheading the attack of one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, he can look back at his most recent stint in Arizona (2012-15) and see how Phoenix has gone from potential upstart team to one of the league’s worst squads. In an interview with Yahoo Sports’ Michael Lee, Dragic claims that the Suns were too willing to tinker with a core that seemed primed for success:

Dragic is too concerned with his own adjustments in helping Miami regain a spot among the Eastern Conference elite to be overly consumed with the situation in Phoenix. But he has his own theory for why a franchise that seemed so promising is suddenly foundering, based on his own experience with the Suns.

“It feels like they’re always changing something,” Dragic told Yahoo Sports. “They’re not like Miami, San Antonio, those teams that are really loyal when they find something.”

Dragic still has fond memories of his time in Phoenix – six seasons spread out over two stints – and is especially grateful for the opportunity the Suns provided after he chose to return for his second run with the team. They put the ball in his hands and allowed him to use his jet-ski speed and creative improvisations to earn third-team All-NBA honors during a surprising 48-win season in 2013-14 that now looks more like a mirage with the passing of time.

While claiming “no regrets” about his Suns tenure, Dragic remains disappointed by the ending, which he claims was the result of too much tinkering – primarily at point guard, a position the 6-foot-3 Slovenian had already proven he could handle. Dragic made it work after the team traded for point guard Eric Bledsoe in July 2013 and helped the Suns emerge as that overachieving darling. But Dragic was pushed away further from the ball – and inevitably, the team – the following season, when the Suns added another ball-dominant guard, Isaiah Thomas, in July.

“Me and Bledsoe, we built really great chemistry together, we played well and the whole team did. Everybody expected that we’re going to get some big guys that we thought we needed, but they did another move, they bring in a point guard and it was tough,” Dragic told Yahoo. “I was a little bit frustrated. It was tough, especially for me, because I was playing off the ball all the time, and I was guarding [small forwards]. That was tough for me, but they did what they did.”

The Suns don’t have the NBA’s worst record this season, but they have arguably been the worst team in the league over the past two weeks. Phoenix has lost nine straight games, including a home defeat to Philadelphia and an embarrassing road loss to the Kobe-less Los Angeles Lakers. During the free fall, Markieff Morris was suspended two games for throwing a towel at coach Jeff Hornacek; two of Hornacek’s top assistants were dismissed; and Bledsoe – the team’s best player – sustained a season-ending knee injury.

And on Friday, amid all of that turmoil, the Suns will welcome back Dragic, who noticed the fissures in the structure and got out before the unseemly collapse.

“I always believe when you find some pieces that you leave those pieces [alone]. But then you upgrade the other positions. Like San Antonio is doing. They always have the Big Three, but then it’s a good team. They always find another player at another position, so they’re always good. But that’s not my call,” Dragic told Yahoo, with an uncomfortable chuckle. “I was just there to play basketball. I tried to do my job.”

The Suns used dealing Dragic as a chance to again remake the roster as they got rid of Thomas and used a valuable trade chip – a top-three-protected pick from the Los Angeles Lakers – to acquire Brandon Knight at the deadline. They later split up the Morris twins, dealing Marcus to Detroit to clear cap space in a failed attempt to land LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency. And the addition of Tyson Chandler has not yielded much. Dragic is sympathetic to the plight of his former teammates.

“I wish them all the best,” Dragic told Yahoo. “I already went through the season with only [25] wins … and it’s not pretty. Most of the guys, we’re really competitive and you want to win a lot of games. And when you get to that mix where you don’t win [in] like 10 games in a row, that’s really tough. That’s really tough. Everything is worse. In your personal life. Everything. I always say I’m hurting sometimes, have a lot of injuries. But if you win a game, I feel great. But if you lose the game, those injuries, they come up. I don’t know how to explain it, winning is such a unique thing.”

Dragic sought that “unique thing” in Miami, where Pat Riley has built a franchise that has been stable and consistently good over the past two decades, with only four non-playoff seasons during his reign with the organization.

“That’s why I didn’t hesitate to sign in free agency, because they are always on top,” Dragic told Yahoo. “They are always looking at that big picture to win a championship. I still remember that year with the Suns, when we made the [conference finals in 2010]. That was one of the best moments in my career and I want to feel that again, to be in the playoffs and to be a contender.”

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Morning Shootaround — Jan. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry questionable for Warriors next game, Green is a go | Butler wants nothing to do with Jordan comparisons | Heat starters finally in positive territory | Z-Bo remains a bright spot for Grizzlies | Kupchak knows Lakers can’t move on until Kobe does

No. 1:Curry questionable for Warriors’ next game, Green is a go — The Golden State Warriors are justified in their concern for reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry, who is battling a shin injury that could allowed him to play all of 14 minutes in the team’s past three games. Curry is questionable for the Warriors’ game against Charlotte tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). It’s a good thing the Warriors have Draymond Green healthy and fully engaged. He’s doing everything humanly possible to compensate for Curry’s absence, doing his “Dray-Magic” routine on the regular. As Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group suggests, Green’s heroics know no bounds:

In the wake of the latest and most monstrous triple-double of his career — 29 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists against the Denver Nuggets — Draymond Green seemed more delighted by the little challenge he won with coach Luke Walton.

It came in the first quarter of the Warriors’ early blitz. Green already had buried his first three 3-point shots as the Warriors raced out to an 11-2 lead in the first 2:18. During a Nuggets timeout, the Warriors huddled at the bench and, well, here’s Draymond to tell the rest:

“I was able to get it going and my teammates started to look for me. Then Luke drew up a play for me (during the timeout) and told me I wasn’t going to make it on the fourth one. So I had to knock that one down.”

And of course, he did. Nailed it. Nuttin’ but net, followed by a smile and a knowing smirk at the guy striding in front of the bench. Drain-mond. Trey-mond. Call him what you will, but make sure you call him unique and oh-so special, a man you can dare to do something and he’ll damn near kill himself trying.

If you want to know why Walton has been such a wonder as Steve Kerr‘s interim replacement, it’s stuff like this. He’s not so far removed from his playing days that he hasn’t forgotten how to play the game within a game, the mind game that gently goads a player to a new level of greatness.

Whatever competitive buttons he’s pushing with Green, he’s hitting all the gobble holes in the pinball machine. Draymond is lighting up everywhere and giving multiple replays. It makes you wonder what Walton might do next to keep his most versatile player at this astonishing level of play.

Hey, Luke, how about this one? Tell Green he’s played OK so far this season, but add that he’s probably reached his ceiling, and that there’s no chance he could ever become the NBA’s MVP. Yep, that might touch off a fresh bell or whistle.

One could argue fairly convincingly that through 33 games, Green has been the best all-around player in the league — and the most valuable — even over teammate and defending MVP Stephen Curry. True, he’s not off the charts in any one statistical category. He’s averaging 15.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.4 assists. But as a composite, those numbers are pretty untouchable. And he’s shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc, up eight percentage points from his career best last year (33.7) .


VIDEO: Draymond Green racks up his league-leading 6th triple-double

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Bulls’ Rose set for MRI on right knee


VIDEO: Derrick Rose injury update

NBA.com staff report

Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose, who has missed three straight games with a right hamstring injury, will undergo an MRI on Monday because of soreness in his right knee.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said Rose’s hamstring “is definitely getting better,” and Rose told reporters before Sunday’s game against the Raptors in Toronto that he felt good and expected to be playing soon, perhaps as early as Tuesday against Milwaukee.

ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell reported that Rose initially thought he would be able to play Sunday but woke up with some “discomfort,” so the Bulls medical staff decided to play it safe.

“I’m getting better every day,” Rose said. “It’s improving every day. I had a little bit of swelling. That’s gone. I just have to figure out my schedule a little bit better. I’d rather have this problem of overworking myself than actually being out there in a game and something happening during the game and something serious. If anything, I just have to cut back a little bit more.”

Rose tore the ACL in his left knee in April 2012. Eighteen months later, he tore the medial meniscus in his right knee and had a meniscectomy on the same knee in February 2015.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry’s absence could be brief | Butler: Hoiberg ‘holding me accountable’ | Kobe relishes final Boston trip

No. 1: Curry’s injury absence may be brief — The Golden State Warriors are 29-1 this season with reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry in the lineup … and 0-1 without him. Last night, the Warriors suffered a 114-91 throttling on the road in Dallas as J.J. Barea carved up the Golden State defense time and again. The good news for Golden State fans, though, according to Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle, is that Curry isn’t going to miss much more time:

The Warriors seemingly got good news Wednesday when the results of the MRI exam on StephenCurry’s lower left leg showed only a bruise, possibly costing him just one game.

Interim head coach Luke Walton, who is saddled with filling the gaping hole left by the league’s MVP — as seen in the Warriors’ 114-91 loss to Dallas on Wednesday — said the only real relief would have been a medical report declaring Curry healthy and available to play right away.

“We told the guys that we need everyone else to step up, but not with an individual attitude: ‘I’m going to go get these points for us.’ It’s got to be: ‘We are going to do this, we’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to look for our shots, we’re going to attack, and we’re going to create for our teammates,’” Walton said. “It’s got to be a team effort to fill that type of void.…

“It’s always interesting to see how guys will rise to that challenge and still get after it and compete. I think we have guys who will try to do that.”

Curry headed to the team bus after the game, wearing a Chewbacca backpack and electing not to talk to reporters about his injury.

The MVP is considered day-to-day, with the Warriors even leaving open the chance of him playing at Houston on Thursday. Walton said being without Curry for a brief time won’t change the way the Warriors approach games.

Shaun Livingston started Wednesday, and Andre Iguodala also logged point-guard minutes, but the Warriors like to monitor the minutes of the players in their 30s with injury histories. So Ian Clark, who scored a personal-high 21 points Wednesday, could receive extended playing time until Curry returns.

“Knowing Steph, he’ll want to get back on the court as soon as possible,” Walton said. “Having the record that we do is definitely a luxury, as far as it not being necessary for him to come back too soon.…

“But he’s one of those guys who wants to be out there. He wants to be with his team, and he wants to be competing. A lot of that will be decided between the medical staff and Steph.”


VIDEO: Dallas drops Golden State in Texas

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Stats preview: Bulls at Thunder


VIDEO: Dennis Scott and Greg Anthony preview the Bulls-Thunder matchup.

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the league’s five-game Christmas Day slate with a key stat for each team, along with an explanation of what it means. Here’s a look at the day’s second game, Chicago at Oklahoma City (2:30 p.m. ET, ABC), the only Christmas matchup of a top-three offense vs. a top-three defense.

Chicago Bulls (15-11)

The stat: No team has regressed more offensively than the Bulls, who have scored 6.3 points per 100 possessions fewer than they did last season.

20151224_chi_regression

20151224_chi_basicsThe Bulls were the league’s best defensive team over the five years that Tom Thibodeau was on their bench. But over the same timeframe, they ranked 17th in offensive efficiency. Thibodeau was fired this summer and new coach Fred Hoiberg was brought in to improve the offense.

But the offense has gone in the wrong direction. The Bulls have taken a lower percentage of their shots from the restricted area, where they rank last in field goal percentage. They’ve also taken a lower percentage of their shots from 3-point range than they did last season.

The four Bulls who have taken the most shots are all below the league average in effective field goal percentage. Derrick Rose ranks 206th in effective field goal percentage among 209 players who have attempted at least 150 shots. Nobody in the league who has shot as much as Rose has shot worse.

The Bulls have also suffered big drop-offs in offensive rebounding percentage (with Joakim Noah playing fewer minutes) and free throw rate (with Rose registering a career low in that category).

Chicago has scored 102.8 points per 100 possessions over the last six games. That’s its best six-game stretch of offense this season, but it ranks only 17th over that time. And entering Friday’s game in Oklahoma City, the Bulls have lost three straight games to teams below them in the Eastern Conference standings.

More Bulls notes from NBA.com/stats

Oklahoma City Thunder (20-9)

The stat: Kevin Durant has shot 46.4 percent from outside the paint, the best mark among players who have taken at least 200 shots from there.

20151224_okc_outside

20151224_okc_basicsIf you wanted to make the argument that Stephen Curry isn’t the best shooter playing on Christmas Day, you have at least one data point to help your cause.

Durant is one of only three players who has shot 50 percent or better on at least 100 mid-range shots. And he ranks eighth in 3-point percentage among players who have attempted at least 100 threes. He ranks fifth in field goal percentage among players who have attempted at least 100 pull-up jumpers and 10th among players who have attempted at least 100 catch-and-shoot jumpers.

Though he missed a six-game stretch in November with a strained hamstring, the Thunder star has played almost as many games (23) as he did last season (27), so it should be no surprise that OKC is one of the league’s most improved teams. The Thunder are actually the only team that’s at least four points per 100 possessions better than they were last season in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

The Thunder have scored 113.4 points per 100 possessions with Durant on the floor and just 101.9 with him on the bench (in part because they don’t stagger the minutes of Durant and Russell Westbrook much). It’s amazing how much a 6-foot-11 guy who’s been the league’s best shooter from outside the paint can help your offense.

Durant needs to put together a bit of a free throw streak to be on pace to become the third player in NBA history to have multiple 50-40-90 seasons (50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line). But he’s already having the best jump-shooting season of his career.

More Thunder notes from NBA.com/stats

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

Data curated by PointAfter

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