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Posts Tagged ‘George Karl’

Report: Kings to dismiss George Karl

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The season may not be over just yet, but the Sacramento Kings are reportedly already planning for the future. According to a report from The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnorowski, tomorrow the Kings will be part ways with coach George Karl

The Kings will allow Karl to travel back with the team late Wednesday night and will make official what’s been suspected for months: Once again, the Kings are in the market for a new coach.

Karl is aware of the timing of the Thursday dismissal, sources said.

Unlike the firing of coach Michael Malone in December 2015 – a unilateral, solo choice by owner Vivek Ranadive – the dismissal of Karl is a broader decision of ownership and top basketball executive Vlade Divac.

Karl is owed $5 million-plus on the balance of his contract.

Two members of Karl’s coaching staff, Corliss Williamson and Nancy Lieberman, could stay to be a part of the next head coach’s staff, league sources said.

Karl went 11-19 last season after taking the Kings’ coaching position midseason, and despite high hopes coming into this season, the Kings have gone 33-48. Next season the Kings will move into a new arena, the Golden 1 Center.

Blogtable: State of DeMarcus Cousins-George Karl relationship?

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


BLOGTABLE: State of Karl-Cousins relationship? | Knicks’ free-agency plan is ___? |
Agree with Davidson’s decision to not retire Curry’s jersey?



VIDEOIs it time for Kings to trade DeMarcus Cousins?

> The DeMarcus Cousins-George Karl relationship is __________?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Irreconcilable. Or whatever the lawyers say when a marriage of any sort is fractured beyond repair. This has the makings now of a “Lifetime” made-for-cable drama or some “Bickersons” sitcom because it has gone on too long. The Kings had their chance to move on from this before the season, but they’ve got too many problems to let this continue to fester. George is one of the outstanding NBA coaches of all-time but DeMarcus (sad reality-check) is the greater asset to the organization nowadays. Sacramento needs to act accordingly.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Toxic. Irreparable. While acknowledging that Karl is edgy, demanding and confrontational, it’s time Cousins is held responsible for holding the Kings franchise back. I was in favor of their giving him a chance back in 2010 and drafting him. But six seasons and five coaches later, it’s been nothing but one problem and complaint after another. Time to Boogie on out of town.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Not the issue. Karl will be fired after the season and Cousins may be traded, but not because of their broken relationship. Karl just isn’t up for the job physically. While he still has a sharp basketball mind and still has the desire for the job, the grind has become too much and the lack of energy obvious to the front office and players. And on the other side, the issue is as it has always been: DeMarcus Cousins against DeMarcus Cousins. He hasn’t gotten along with a lot of people inside the locker room. It’s not a George Karl thing.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comToxic. And it’s sad, really, because George Karl brings wisdom and from purely that standpoint should be ideal for Cousins. For whatever reason, there’s a disconnect that’s beyond repair and neither party looks good. At least Karl is on the verge of retirement and he could probably care less. The real burden rests with Cousins if only because he leaves a trail of coach corpses and is still trying to shake a reputation for being a diva.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Emblematic of the Kings’ organization as a whole. Both guys are to blame and conflict happens, but it’s the job of management to establish a culture that doesn’t allow problems to fester, and this relationship has obviously decayed beyond the point of no return. Cousins isn’t the leader his team needs him to be and Karl hasn’t done enough to establish a positive relationship with his best player, but the Kings’ problems start at the top. There’s been as much dysfunction in the Sacramento front office as there’s been on the court or in the locker room.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: What relationship? This thing was bound for disaster the moment the Kings fired Mike Malone, the one coach Cousins seemed to vibe with in their brief time together. We’re always quick to point a finger at the player in these instances, and Cousins deserves his fair share of the blame for the mess in Sacramento. But Karl has a history of rubbing certain players the wrong way. And he knew exactly what he was walking into when he took the job. He’s the one who undermined the relationship before it got started and he shouldn’t be allowed to put this one on Cousins.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Hopeless. How can Cousins and his teammates be down on Karl? He gives them more freedom offensively than they would receive from most coaches. At the same time he and his staff fight for their players — the Kings bench has earned a high number of technicals this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The gift that keeps on giving? Interesting? Ill-fated? Star-crossed? All of the above? Whatever it is, it’s clear that it probably isn’t all that great, at least at times, or at least when their contretemps bubble over publicly. The thing is, as we’ve seen in the NBA, not every relationship has to be perfect to be successful (Hey Shaq! Hey Kobe!). You just need to get along long enough to figure out how to win because of, or in spite of, each other. Problem is, the Kings don’t even seem to be able to get that part straightened out.

Morning shootaround — March 14


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cousins, Kings at odds againCavs all business in L.A. | Gap between Thunder and elite growsRaptors want Lowry handling ball more at crunch time | Iggy-less Warriors face test

No. 1: Cousins, Kings at odds as season winds down — Tensions between All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and the team and front office with the Sacramento Kings have been a constant topic of discussion during Cousins’ six-season tenure there. As has been the case with Cousins throughout his time in Sacramento, he continues to deliver solid numbers on a pure stats basis — and last night was no different as he had a game-high 31 points to go along with 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks in a home loss to the Utah Jazz. Afterward, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee, Cousins didn’t hide his frustration with the team and his coach, George Karl, saying he was the one who suspended him last week:

There’s no hiding DeMarcus Cousins’ frustration.

The season that was supposed to be different from his first five, the season in which he had a real chance to make the playoffs, is unraveling just like the others.

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Morning shootaround — March 11


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cousins’ in-game rant led to suspension | LeBron, Kobe entertain in final showdown | Spurs happy Martin is aboard | Sanders opens up on why he left NBA

No. 1: Report: Cousins’ in-game rant led to one-game suspension — The relationship between Sacramento Kings All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and his coach, George Karl, has been well documented as at times icy. The pair have had their run ins over the years and such was the case on Wednesday night in an eventual home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. According to The Vertical’s Chris Mannix, Cousins blasted Karl during the game for not sticking up to the officials more for him:

The reason for DeMarcus Cousins’ tirade on coach George Karl was the Sacramento Kings star’s belief that his coach hadn’t done enough to defend him to referees in a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night, league sources told The Vertical.

The Kings suspended the All-Star center for Friday’s game against the Orlando Magic for conduct detrimental to the team.

Cousins was seen unloading on Karl during a timeout in the 120-111 loss to the Cavaliers at Sleep Train Arena. Kings guard Rajon Rondo tried to calm Cousins down as he screamed and motioned at Karl.

Cousins continued to vent at Karl in the locker room after the game and later got into a heated discussion with vice president of basketball operations and general manager Vlade Divac, sources told The Vertical.

The disconnect between Karl and Cousins has been consistent over their almost two-season partnership, and Karl’s job security is bleak heading into the offseason. Early in November, Cousins ranted at Karl in a locker-room incident after a loss to the San Antonio Spurs that led to a series of meetings throughout the organization.

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Butler, Mayo and Cousins in NBA’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ matinee


Since it’s Throwback Thursday on social media, we might as well throw it all the way back to that iconic 1966 “spaghetti Western” starring a young Clint Eastwood and directed by Italy’s Sergio Leone that has become a favorite of headline writers and those trading in triplets of all sorts.

In fairly rapid succession Thursday afternoon, the NBA produced news that broke down along the lines of “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly.”

First “the Good:”

This is good news in a macro sense because anytime an All-Star player learns that an injury is less severe than initially feared, fans across the NBA should feel relieved, if not rejoice. It’s good news for the Chicago Bulls at the micro level, though, because any hope that team has of righting itself in time for a serious playoff run in the East bracket requires the services of Jimmy Butler. Here is more detail from Mike McGraw, Bulls beat guy for the suburban Chicago Daily Herald:

Butler, who missed 11 games with a left knee strain, made a successful return last Saturday in a win over Houston, but experienced swelling in the knee after the game. He sat out Monday’s victory over Milwaukee and will not be with the team when the Bulls play tonight at San Antonio. It’s not yet clear whether Butler might play in Friday’s home game against Miami.

Butler has had two MRI exams on his left knee, so structural damage wasn’t the concern when the all-star shooting guard chose to get an opinion from Dr. [James] Andrews. The Bulls have 20 games left to secure a playoff spot. As of Thursday morning, they were in eighth place in the East, a few percentage points ahead of Detroit.

 

Next came “the Bad,” lousy news that even ruthless Lee Van Cleef would Tweet “SMH” over:

The Bucks issues a release quoting general manager John Hammond and stating that Mayo suffered the fracture when he tripped down some stairs at his home. Milwaukee’s backcourt situation already was injury-riddled, with Michael Carter-Williams shut down for hip surgery and Greivis Vasquez sidelined by ankle surgery. Reporter Shams Charnia of Yahoo! Sports’ The Vertical fleshed out Mayo’s predicament:

Mayo, 28, sustained the injury this week and surgery is a possibility, sources said.
Mayo … has averaged 7.8 points, 2.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 41 games (24 starts).

He is in the final season of a three-year contract he signed with Milwaukee in 2013.

 

That left – cue the mournful harmonica music of maestro Ennio Morricone – “the Ugly,” provided not surprisingly by the Sacramento Kings and chief migraine-inducer DeMarcus Cousins:

As if Cousins picking up his 15th technical foul of the season wasn’t disruptive enough in Sacramento’s home loss to Cleveland Thursday, the big man appeared to berate head coach George Karl during a timeout in the fourth quarter. Witnesses said Cousins was upset that Karl hadn’t argued foul calls on his behalf.

James Ham, Kings Insider for CSNBayArea.com, offered some context to Cousin’s one-game rip for conduct detrimental to the team:

[Kings GM] Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings have put their foot down. … Video was captured of Cousins yelling at the 64-year-old Karl during a timeout.

At one point Rudy Gay and assistant coach Corliss Williamson tried to intervene, and finally point guard Rajon Rondo stepped in between the two as they both sat in a team huddle on the sidelines.

The Kings are mired in a tough stretch over which the team has gone just 1-7 and watch their playoff hopes fade. Tension has been high as the Kings head towards their 10th straight lottery season. Cousins picked up his 15th technical foul during the game for arguing a call and he was in no mood to talk after the game.

This suspension comes on the heels of Karl informing the media late Wednesday that he will miss Thursday’s practice due to a cancer related procedure.

 

Before we leave this film classic, let’s give it the credit it deserves for Eli Wallach‘s character, Tuco, offering a bit of invaluable basketball advice: “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.”

 

Morning shootaround — March 10


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Karl to have procedure on cancer in throat | LeBron was willing to move to PF for Johnson | Colangelo to announce Team USA roster in June | Carlisle: D-Will baited into tech by ref

No. 1: Karl to have cancer-related prodedure — Twice already in his life, Sacramento Kings coach George Karl has stared down cancer and come out victorious over it. The coach has a third round of the disease to deal with, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee, after Karl revealed after last night’s home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers that he is due to have a procedure on his throat today:

Karl, a two-time cancer survivor, addressed his health in an interview with The Bee after Wednesday’s 120-111 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Sleep Train Arena. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2005 and with treatable neck and throat cancer in 2010.

“I’m having a procedure for a cancer in my throat,” Karl said.

When asked if the procedure was serious, Karl said “no” twice.

When Kings general manager Vlade Divac was asked if he was concerned about Karl, he said “of course, of course.”

“Coach told me the other day,” Divac said. “I told him to take as much time as he needs. … We probably won’t know the results for a couple days.”

Divac had told Karl before the season if he ever needed to take time to rest that would be OK; that discussion was not related to cancer.

Divac reiterated the team would not rush Karl back.

“He doesn’t know how long (the procedure is) going to take, whether it’s one hour, two hours, three hours,” Divac said. “We have practice, and I told him, ‘I’ll be there. You have to just do your thing, and if you need more time, don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it.’ 

Karl has missed just one game this season. He did not coach the Kings’ loss at New Orleans on Jan. 28 due to food poisoning.

The Kings host the Orlando Magic on Friday night and the Utah Jazz on Sunday.

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 10


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Karl staying in Sacramento after all | Report: Evans done for season | Anthony sticking by Jackson, Knicks

No. 1: Divac keeping Karl around after all — Overnight on Monday, news broke that the Sacramento Kings were preparing to fire coach George Karl sometime before the All-Star break. It seemed a near certainty as national media and local media had similar reports on the goings on. But then yesterday afternoon, the Kings decided to reverse field and keep Karl around. Why the sudden change of heart? Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee has the explanation:

Instead of firing his coach as had been reportedly imminent, Kings general manager Vlade Divac began discussions with George Karl on Tuesday about how to pull the team out of its slide.

“We are not firing George,” Divac told The Sacramento Bee. “We have to sit down, work together and figure out how to turn this around.”

The Kings (21-31) have lost four consecutive games and eight of nine. They are in 10th place in the Western Conference and end a four-game trip Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers in their last game before the All-Star break.

Before this slump, the Kings won a season-best five consecutive games and moved into the West’s eighth and final playoff spot. Entering Tuesday, they were five games behind the eighth-place Utah Jazz.

Tuesday’s conversation between Divac and Karl focused on the Kings’ three-point and transition defenses and overall lack of defensive energy – three areas that have plagued the team all season.

Divac does not believe firing Karl is the solution.

“We have some issues, but it’s not that we can’t win,” Divac said. “This is how we are now. It can be painful to watch. I can only imagine what it’s like for the fans.”

The Kings are giving up a league-high 10.7 three-pointers per game and 14.6 fast-break points per game, 23rd in the league.

Players have been unhappy with many of the defensive schemes and what they see as a lack of adjustments to address the problems.

“We’ve just got to take pride in defense,” guard Rajon Rondo said after Monday’s loss at Cleveland.

Rondo noted the Kings have allowed at least 120 points in five of their past eight losses.

“We’re giving up 30 a quarter a night; we’re giving out career highs, season highs, first of whatever. It’s frustrating,” he said. “We just can’t keep laying down. We’ve got to have some kind of fight and find a way.”

The ease with which opponents score has caused many to question the pride of the players and their commitment to defense.

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 9


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Karl to be fired before All-Star break | James ’emotional’ over Kobe’s farewell tour | Communication issues dogging Bulls

No. 1:UPDATE, 1:37 p.m.

With the earlier news passing as an almost foregone conclusion all day long regarding coach George Karl‘s future, the Sacramento Kings reversed field Tuesday afternoon and decided they will not be firing Karl anytime soon, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

Reports: Karl to be fired soon — On Jan. 23, the Sacramento Kings beat the Indiana Pacers behind a monstrous 48-point night from All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins. That victory was the Kings’ fifth in a row and had them solidly in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. But, oh, how things have changed since then. Sacramento has lost eight of its last nine games and is on a four-game slump, all of which has turned those good feelings a few weeks ago back into turmoil for the Kings. And in the wake of coach Derek Fisher surprisingly being fired by the New York Knicks on Monday, it seems Kings coach George Karl is next in line to be fired. Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee has more, as does ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

League sources said the Kings will fire coach George Karl in the coming days amid the team’s worst stretch this season.

The sources said Karl will not keep his job beyond the All-Star break. The Kings’ final game before the break is Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers.

A season that looked to be on the upswing last month has gone awry, leaving the players to wonder if they have the fortitude to turn things around.

“I hope that’s the case,” guard Rajon Rondo said after Monday night’s 120-100 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. “But with optional shootarounds, it’s tough. We’ve lost eight of nine. When three or four guys show up for shootaround (Monday) morning, how can you expect to win?”

Optional workouts are nothing new for the Kings under Karl. But with the team in a tailspin and its defense faltering, players questioned the logic behind making anything optional.

After firing Michael Malone and Tyrone Corbin last season, the Kings hired Karl at the All-Star break to provide stability. But that hasn’t been the case, dating to Karl’s feud with center DeMarcus Cousins last summer. Several players also have been unhappy with Karl’s coaching style.

Assistant coach Corliss Williamson, a former teammate of Kings general manager Vlade Divac and the lone holdover from Malone’s staff, is a logical choice to be interim coach.

Players’ rumblings over the lack of defensive adjustments have grown louder during the current rut as offensively challenged teams like the Brooklyn Nets post multiple season and career highs against Sacramento.

The Kings often look unprepared defensively, leaving shooters open and watching as opponents execute the most obvious game plans against them. They’ve given up 120.8 points per game during their current four-game losing streak.

“We go into the game knowing that we’ve got to protect the (three-point) line, knowing that LeBron (James’) favorite target is J.R. (Smith),” Rondo said. “And what do we do? We come in and let LeBron find J.R. We’ve got to stop making excuses; that’s the bottom line. We make too many excuses as a team.”

A separation between Karl and the players has existed at various levels throughout the season. But it is at its greatest when the Kings are playing at their worst.

As the point guard, Rondo was supposed to be a bridge between Karl and the players. Rondo has even said he believes he and Karl should speak more to each other.

Asked if his talks with Karl still are productive, Rondo said, “After every meeting on a game-day shootaround, we talk. He asks me questions, and sometimes I give him my feedback and sometimes I don’t say anything.”

After Monday’s loss, Karl acknowledged a lot of “mental frustration” was surrounding the Kings.

And here’s Stein’s breakdown of the situation in Sacramento:

The Sacramento Kings are going ahead with a coaching change and plan to fire George Karl in the coming days, league sources told ESPN.

NBA coaching sources told ESPN that the Kings have decided internally that a change on the bench is needed and is likely to happen after Sacramento plays its final game before the All-Star break Wednesday in Philadelphia.

Within the organization, according to sources, concerns have been mounting for weeks that Karl was not providing the stewardship Sacramento expected when it hired the 64-year-old from ESPN during the 2015 All-Star break to replace then-interim coach Tyrone Corbin.

Sources said rising dismay, both within the front office and among players, with Karl’s defensive schemes, practice policies and general leadership have had a demoralizing effect on the players, who have slumped into a 1-8 funk in the wake of a recent five-game win streak that briefly had Sacramento in the West’s eighth playoff spot.

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive has made no secret of his hope to see his team reach the postseason and bring a halt to the franchise’s nine-season playoff drought in its final season at Sleep Train Arena before moving into a new building in Sacramento.

Divac, sources said, is seeking only an interim coach for now and wants to take his time with a proper coaching search, in hopes of bringing some much-needed stability to the position and the organization.

The Kings’ next coach will be their league-most ninth since 2006-07, the season that began the postseason drought.

Sources said Ranadive, who took ownership of the Kings in May 2013, has left the decision of whether to fire Karl fully with Divac. The owner twice bucked NBA convention by hiring a coach — first Mike Malone, then Karl — before hiring his GM.

Former Kings guard Bobby Jackson, who played alongside Divac on Sacramento’s best teams in the early 2000s, essentially called for Karl’s dismissal on the team’s local postgame show after the Brooklyn defeat.

Karl has an estimated $10 million in guaranteed money left on his original four-year, $15 million contract with the Kings. His ouster would be the sixth coaching change of this NBA season, which is two shy of the league’s record of eight before the All-Star break, set during the 2008-09 season.


VIDEO: Cavaliers dominate to keep Kings reeling

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It’s open season on coaches in NBA


VIDEO: Derek Fisher got ejected for arguing a call earlier this season. The Knicks fired him today.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Technically, the New York Knicks “relieved” Derek Fisher of his duties as coach today, which is a fancy way of saying they fired Phil Jackson‘s hand-picked choice to lead the franchise.

Kurt Rambis has been elevated to the top job in Fisher’s place, leaving yet another franchise with an interim (or replacement) in place of the coach they started with this season. It’s the latest in a somewhat shocking run of coaching decisions around the league.

And it just goes to show that no matter if you’re winning or losing, when it’s open season on coaches in the NBA, anybody could be on the firing line — just ask George Karl, who is reportedly on the hot seat in Sacramento.

Kevin McHale was the first to go this season, lasting just 11 games in Houston before being shoved out and replaced by J.B. Bickerstaff. Lionel Hollins got the boot in Brooklyn after a dreadful start and was replaced by Tony Brown. David Blatt, fresh off of a trip to The Finals and his team sitting at 30-11 and first place in the Eastern Conference, was next. Tyronn Lue was tabbed as his successor and is 6-3 since making that 18-inch move over to the big chair. And just last week Jeff Hornacek was tossed out in Phoenix and replaced by Earl Watson.

And now comes the news that Fisher, a Phil Jackson disciple but a coaching novice, is out after a season and a half and just 136 games (with a woeful 40-96 record).

With the Knicks mired in a 1-9 slide, including five straight losses, and seemingly no relief in sight, Jackson apparently decided that enough was enough. We’ll find out what the final straw was late today when Jackson addresses the media after practice.

But it’s clear that in New York and everywhere else, if ownership and the front office believe that there is a disconnect (real or simply perceived) between the talent on the roster and the coach responsible for getting the most out of that talent, the coach is expendable.

The five coaching changes prior to All-Star Weekend is the most since the eight coaching changes prior to the break during the 2008-09 season.

The term “crazy season” is usually reserved for the rumors and drama surrounding this month’s trade deadline. It seems a more appropriate title for all of the coaching changes going on this season.

Blatt’s contemporaries, notably Rick Carlisle in Dallas and Stan Van Gundy in Detroit, expressed their outrage when he was fired and Cavaliers GM David Griffin did his best to explain why a coach with a sterling record was out of his league, and ultimately out of a job, trying to coach a star-studded roster.

Carlisle and Van Gundy should know better than anyone how this works, since they were both fired from previous jobs in the league where they were wildly successful.

There is no real rhyme or reason to these things. Sometimes it’s a gut feeling, sometimes it’s the things we can’t see from the outside and sometimes it’s just clash of personalities or philosophies that lead to a coaching divorce.

Fisher had no coaching experience prior to being selected to coach the Knicks. And he wasn’t even Jackson’s first choice, that would have been Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who in hindsight obviously made the right choice.

The most important choice for Jackson going forward is getting it right this time. He’ll have his pick of out-of-work coaches, like Tom Thibodeau, or he can wait on an up and coming assistant like Luke Walton. Whatever his choice, it has to be someone that can get the most out of the Carmelo AnthonyKristaps Porzingis combination and perhaps more importantly, someone with the toughness and resolve to survive the “crazy season” expectations that all of these franchises are caught up in.

Data curated by PointAfter

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.”

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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 …


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