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Posts Tagged ‘Greg Monroe’

Morning shootaround — Feb. 28


VIDEO: The Fast Break: February 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Steph Curry is a baaad man! | Durant’s lapses costly to OKC | Pelicans’ Davis sits down again | Carmelo’s dwindling NY days

No. 1: Steph Curry is a baaad man! — Not all late-February, NBA regular-season games are created equal. That was readily apparent to anyone who attended, tuned into, listened to or heard about Golden State’s remarkable comeback overtime victory at Oklahoma City on Saturday night. This was one – from Andre Iguodala‘s too-cool-for-school sinking of two late free throws to force the OT to Steph Curry‘s audacious game-winner from 35 feet – that seared itself into basketball fans’ memories. Some behind-the-scenes Warriors drama was the focal point of the postgame story from ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss. Meanwhile, our man Fran Blinebury of NBA.com painting some vivid imagery of the night that’s worth recalling in the light of day:

Ice water has Steph Curry running through its veins. Penguins look at him and shiver. The other side of the pillow thinks he’s cooler.

This isn’t funny anymore. Because the basketball world is going to pull all of its collective muscles reaching for newer, bigger, grander descriptions.

The official play-by-play sheet called it simply a 32-foot pull-up jump shot.

And Everest is just a mountain.

When Russell Westbrook missed the jumper near the end of overtime, Andre Iguodala grabbed the rebound and shoveled it ahead to Curry, nobody inside Chesapeake Energy Arena or the rest of the TV-watching, tongue-swallowing world could imagine what would happen next.

Curry didn’t run, he walked. More than walked, he strolled. A casual, carefree dribble or two across the mid-court line and then a look, maybe just a glance, a motion as nonchalant as flicking a speck of dust off your shoulder.

From there?

That 3-point rainbow that gave the Warriors a stunning 121-118 win over the Thunder Saturday night was probably the flat-out coolest thing since Shaft. Can’t you hear Isaac Hayes and the theme music?

“He’s one bad …

“Shut your mouth.

“We’re talkin’ ’bout Steph!”

It was his 12th trey of the night and he became the first player in NBA history to make at least 10 from the behind the arc in back-to-back games. It gave him 288 3-pointers on the year, breaking his own league record with six weeks still left in the season. His 46 points gave him a scoring average of 43.6 for the week.

“Obviously what Steph did was — what’s the expression? — from the ridiculous to the sublime,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “That’s where we are at this point.”

The Thunder were just in a scramble to get themselves back down the floor to guard against a last shot, but not that kind. Not one from the Texas border. Andre Roberson was lost in transition and can be seen in the replays for eternity making a desperate and frantic run when he realized it was happening.

“Honestly, I don’t know exactly where I am,” Curry said. “It’s not like I’m calibrating it in my head: ‘All right, 38 feet, 37, 36. … It’s just literally you’ve got a sense that you’ve shot the shot plenty of times. You’re coming across half court and you’re timing up your dribbles and want to shoot before the defense closes in. That was pretty much my only thought.

“When I got the ball, I knew coach had said if we got a stop and a clean rebound, push it. I looked up. … There was about five or six seconds left and the way they had shuffled around in transition, I was kinda just go at my own pace and rise up. I got my feet set and watched it go in.”

The shot went in and allowed the Warriors to become the first NBA team to clinch a playoff berth in February since the 1987-88 Lakers. It was a franchise record 29th road win of the season.

Now, with 17 of Golden State’s last 24 games of the season home at Oracle, the 72-win NBA record of the 1995-96 Bulls is not only possible, but likely. Why not 73? Or 75? Over even running the table to 77?

***

 No. 2: Durant’s lapses costly to OKC — There’s a flip side to every incredible comeback story. Whether it’s a moment of panic, a detail left unattended, an inch too far this way rather than that or a timeout not called by a rookie NBA head coach, there are always several – sometimes dozens – bits of alternate realities that could have dramatically changed the outcome. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman looks at Golden State’s stirring overtime triumph from the perspective of what went wrong for the Thunder:

Minutes before Stephen Curry dropped a 35-foot moonshot dagger straight through the heart of Oklahoma City, the Thunder controlled the clock, the ball and the game. As the final seconds of regulation ticked down, Kevin Durant secured a crucial inbounds pass, up two, and anticipated the foul that would set up potential game-clinching free throws.

But it never came.

The Warriors trapped and waited. Durant seemed to panic. And what resulted was the most crippling play in the Thunder’s heartbreaking 121-118 overtime loss to the Warriors.

Everyone will remember the incredible Curry shot. But what set it up was Durant’s turnover at the end of regulation, the worst of the Thunder’s 23 giveaways.

Down 103-99, Klay Thompson hit a layup to cut OKC’s lead to two with 11 seconds left. Russell Westbrook snared it right out of the hoop, raced to the baseline and immediately inbounded to an open Durant. Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala converged in the corner, right in front of the Thunder bench, and trapped.

OKC still had a timeout. So why didn’t Billy Donovan call it?

“I just basically told the guys, you have one timeout and if you can’t get it in quickly, go ahead and take it,” Donovan explained. “I probably should’ve helped Kevin there when he came inbounds. I think maybe he was waiting for a foul and maybe I could’ve jumped in and helped him.”


WATCH: Curry vs. Durant Duel In Oklahoma City

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No. 3:  Pelicans’ Davis sits down again — The New Orleans Pelicans’ 2015-16 season has been littered with injuries like discarded beads and shattered hurricane glasses strewn about Bourbon Street after a weekend of revelry. The latest was frequent injured-list denizen Anthony Davis – the Pelicans’ brilliant young big man sprained a toe during warmups for Saturday’s game against Minnesota and was held out as a precaution from what became New Orleans’ 112-110 loss to the Timberwolves. John Reid of the New Orleans Times Picayune chronicled the Pelicans’ latest tale of ailment and woe, this one linked to Wolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns‘ and Minnesota’s dominance in the paint (50 points scored from there) owing to Davis’ injury:

While Eric Gordon made his return on Saturday night after missing 16 games with a fractured right ring finger, Pelicans star Anthony Davis returned on the injured list.

Davis sprained his right big toe during pregame warmups and was held out from playing in Saturday night’s 112-110 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Without Davis, the Pelicans gave up 50 points in the paint and couldn’t hold a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.

It was Davis’ seventh game he has missed this season due to injury. In all, 12 players have combined to miss a total of 162 games since opening night loss to Golden State in October.

”It’s crazy,” Gordon said about Pelicans’ persistent problem with injuries. ”You know A.D., he can do different things. He’s a dominant force inside and you definitely need that towards the end of the game.”

Gordon was called for a blocking foul on Andrew Wiggins with 3.6 seconds when the score was tied at 110. Wiggins made both free throws to seal the win for the Timberwolves.

”I tried to make sure my feet was out of the restricted circle, so it’s tough,” Gordon said. ”You definitely don’t want to get to that point where it gets toward the end of the game. Tonight, we mostly beat ourselves.”

In the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves outscored the Pelicans 18-4 on points scored in the paint. Minnesota also made 60 percent of their shots (14 of 23) and guard Zach LaVine, who won the dunk contest during All-Star Weekend earlier this month, scored 11 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter.

***

No. 4: Carmelo’s dwindling NY daysCarmelo Anthony remains out of sync with the New York Knicks and vice versa. When the irrepressible scorer has been at the peak of his powers, the Knicks generally haven’t been ready to win. And by the time they are, frequently enough to contend for a playoff berth, a high seed and more, Anthony will be past his prime. That’s the dilemma Harvey Araton explored in his column for the New York Times Sunday:

… Anthony is as polarizing a figure to Knicks fans as any politician. That smile in Indiana undoubtedly fueled critics’ claim that he cares more about his brand than his much-discussed chances of winning a championship.

Amateur psychological evaluations aside, nobody knows what is in Anthony’s head, or heart.

However relative Anthony’s personal or team aspirations are at any given moment, he can only talk himself into believing he can attain both during his remaining contractual years in New York with the most optimistic of arguments.

Clearly, Anthony wants to stay in New York, but come July, he will be watching to see if [Phil] Jackson can land an impact free agent — not the best bet in a limited class and with impending cap space everywhere.

Miami, the Knicks’ opponent Sunday, could be the kind of team Anthony would consider waiving his no-trade clause for, although Chris Bosh’s health uncertainty could complicate the matter. Either way, Pat Riley — Jackson’s Heat counterpart, fellow septuagenarian and rival — will be more invested in retooling, not rebuilding.

Riley would probably at least be able to promise Anthony a return to the playoffs, something Jackson, in all likelihood, could not. Rebuilding is a process, not a proclamation. Consider teams like Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans — well ahead of the Knicks on the trail of developing talent yet still straining for mediocrity.

If Jackson can procure a young asset and a draft pick in a trade, Anthony will have pardoned himself for the original sin of forcing the Knicks to unload a bundle of resources on Denver when he might have signed as a free agent for the following season and cost the Knicks nothing.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The opportunity to add greybeard Andre Miller will mean the waiver wire for guard Ray McCallum. … Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams will remain on indefinite leave while dealing with the tragic death of his wife Ingrid in a Feb. 10 car accident, OKC head coach Billy Donovan said. … Lot of frustrated Bucks fans will disagree, but a case can be made that big-ticket free agent Greg Monroe has been neither the solution nor the problem for Milwaukee this season. … Golden State is ahead of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ pace for setting the NBA mark for most victories in the regular season. … ICYMI: LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and other NBA stars took to Twitter in the aftermath of Curry’s logic-defying, back-breaking game-winner at OKC. …

Trade deadline rumblings — Feb. 17

We’re a day away from the NBA trade deadline and already we’ve seen two deals take place this week — the Detroit Pistons sending Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova to the Orlando Magic for Tobias Harris and the Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies hooking up on a trade that basically sent Courtney Lee to Charlotte.

As we close in on trade deadline day, we’ll keep track of the latest social media rumblings about deals right here, so check back often!

UPDATE, 2:25 a.m. — Jazz ready to ship Burke for Lawson

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein weighed in late Wednesday night that the Jazz and Rockets are nearing agreement on a deal that would send Ty Lawson to Utah in exchange for Trey Burke.

Of course, they Rockets are also still trying to move their big piece:

UPDATE, 12:15 a.m. — Gasol wants to stay put, but Sacramento pushing hard

The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski weighed in with further details on Pau Gasol’s future late Wednesday night, reporting that the Spanish legend has “significant interest” in staying put with the Bulls. That hasn’t deterred the Kings from lodging a firm offer.

Bulls general manager Gar Forman has been discussing trades on several fronts involving Gasol, although some teams interested in Gasol worry that his love for Chicago could cloud his motivation in fully committing to a short-term stay for the rest of the season, league sources said. Gasol, 35, plans to decline the player option on the $7.7 million owed to him in 2016-17, but has significant interest in signing a new deal to remain with the Bulls, league sources said.

The Bulls have discussed deals with multiple NBA teams on Gasol, but one discussion lingered on Tuesday, league sources told The Vertical’s Wojnarowski and Chris Mannix: Gasol and Tony Snell to the Sacramento Kings for Kosta Koufos, Ben McLemore and a lowering of the lottery protections on the 2016 first-round pick that Sacramento owes the Bulls.

UPDATE, 11:20 p.m. — Clippers like Anderson, but do they have enough assets? 

The Los Angeles TimesBen Bolch added the Clippers to the Ryan Anderson Sweepstakes late Wednesday. But as he notes, Doc Rivers probably doesn’t have the assets necessary to convince the Pelicans to part with their sharpshooting forward.

The Clippers had expressed interest in New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson and Orlando Magic forward Channing Frye leading up to the deadline to move players at noon PST on Thursday, according to an executive close to the situation who was not authorized to discuss possible trades publicly.

It wasn’t clear whether the Clippers could construct a package that would entice the Pelicans to have interest in a deal. The Clippers do not have a first-round draft pick they can trade before their 2019 selection and appear reluctant to part with any of their core players.

Perennial All-Star Blake Griffin, the target of recent trade speculation, is apparently staying put, according to Bolch. One player who might be leaving? Lance Stephenson, whose stock has plummeted dramatically since his breakout 2013-14 season with the Indiana Pacers. Still only 25 years old, he’s averaging just 4.7 points per game this season.

UPDATE, 8:30 p.m. — Do Hawks hold the key to this year’s deadline? 

At 31-24, the Hawks have been good but not great, as was the case last season when they won 60 games and reached the Eastern Conference Finals. Speculation is high that they’re willing to move a high-value piece or two — specifically Al Horford and/or Jeff Teague — to recapture their 2014-15 form. Indeed, the Hawks are apparently so involved in trade talks that The Vertical’s Chris Mannix reports they’re holding up progress for the rest of the league.

Also, Mannix followed up reports from earlier in the day to corroborate that the Bulls are “motivated” to move All-Star power forward/center Pau Gasol.

UPDATE, 8:15 p.m. — Can Celtics finally land Love? 

With an abundance of assets at his disposal, Celtics GM Danny Ainge has made repeated runs at three-time All-Star Kevin Love in the past. Details are sparse, but he’s apparently making yet another one, according to CSN New England’s A. Sherrod Blakely, with a potential three-team deal that would deliver Love to Boston.

The deal is still “very fragile” at this point, but it does provide Boston the best shot it has had in landing a player the Celtics have coveted for some time now. Boston has spent a significant amount of time in recent weeks trying to convince the Cavs to part ways with Love, only to be rebuffed. The Celtics have pursued bringing a third team into the mix as a way of sweetening the deal to Cleveland’s liking.

Blakely cites New Orleans as the most likely third party with stretch four Ryan Anderson, whose shooting skills the Cavaliers covet (see below).

UPDATE, 7 p.m. — Rockets aggressively shopping Howard, Lawson; Jazz make Burke available

Desperate for a jump start, the hugely disappointing Rockets — currently ninth and out of the playoffs in the West at 27-28 — are looking to unload Dwight Howard and Ty Lawson according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. One of their targets for Lawson is Utah’s Trey Burke, who has shown signs of improvement in his third season with the Jazz.

UPDATE, 4:40 p.m. — Cavaliers remain active, eye Pelicans’ Anderson

It’s no secret that the Cavaliers hope to add some talent before Thursday’s deadline. And that help could come in the form of sharpshooter Ryan Anderson, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News and Marc Spears of Yahoo!

UPDATE, 3:48 p.m. — Martin hopes Wolves reward him for professionalism

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin hopes to land on a winning team after two-plus seasons with the young Timberwovles, per Marc Spears of Yahoo!

UPDATE, 2:47 p.m. — Vogel: Hill not being shopped

Indiana Pacers point guard George Hill was in some trade talk the last few weeks, but according to coach Frank Vogel, he’s not being shopped.

UPDATE, 2:36 p.m. — Millsap’s moment of levity

The Atlanta Hawks have had some of their star players — such as Jeff Teague and Al Horford — in trade rumors the last few weeks. Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap provides a good simile about how players take trade chatter.

UPDATE, 2:07 p.m. — Report: Conley not on block

The Memphis Grizzlies traded one guard yesterday (Courtney Lee) but don’t seem to be in a big hurry to deal star point guard (and free agent to-be) Mike Conley, per Marc Stein of ESPN.com.

UPDATE, 1:35 p.m. — Some clarity on Gasol chatter?

Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com and ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst say Bulls are open to trading Pau Gasol but doubt they are shopping him.

UPDATE, 1:12 p.m. — Report: Bulls ‘aggressively shopping’ Gasol

The Chicago Bulls entered the All-Star break on a skid, having lost four in a row and nine of their last 12 games. A trade wouldn’t be a total surprise, but dealing away their All-Star big man Pau Gasol might be. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski has more on that and other trade rumors:

The Chicago Bulls are aggressively shopping All-Star forward Pau Gasol, league sources told The Vertical.

Gasol, 35, can opt out of his contract this summer and become an unrestricted free agent, and Bulls general manager Gar Forman seems determined to move him before Thursday’s trade deadline with the hope of bringing back value.

Gasol is expected to decline the player option on the $7.4 million owed him in 2016-17.

UPDATE, 12:46 p.m. — Pistons may still be seeking deals

As mentioned above, the Detroit Pistons pulled off a trade yesterday that netted it forward Tobias Harris. But it seems GM Jeff Bower may not quite be done dealing, per Matt Shepard of WDFN in Detroit:

Pistons General Manager Jeff Bower told Matt Shepard of WDFN in Detroit that his team was still actively looking at deals and would go all the way up to the deadline if necessary after obtaining Tobias Harris from the Orlando Magic yesterday.

“We’d like to find one more move. The Harris trade makes us a higher-level team now and in the future,” Bower said.

The trade involving Harris makes the Pistons a little thin at point guard, however Bower said that would not be the only position the team looks for a talent upgrade

“We’re still looking at every position, but Stan [Van Gundy] has great confidence in Steve Blake at the point guard position.”

UPDATE, 12:39 p.m. — The great guard swap of 2015

If you forgot, last season’s trade deadline was marked by a lot of point guards getting swapped all over the NBA map. SI.com’s Jake Fischer has a great read on what it was like for the players involved.

UPDATE, 12:29 p.m. — Utah may hold tight at deadline

The Jazz have seen their name bandied about in trade talks, but as it their wont, they’ve been tight-lipped about any possible deals. Or, as one writer sees it, there may end up being no deals in Utah at all.

UPDATE, 12:18 p.m. — Best trades since 2000?

Fun little read at lunch time on the best deadline deals since 2000.

And if you missed it, our Fran Blinebury looked back at the 10 best deadline deals ever.

UPDATE, 12:05 p.m. — Report: Monroe staying put in Milwaukee

The Milwaukee Bucks stunned many in the offseason when they added big man Greg Monroe to a squad that reached the 2015 playoffs. The team itself has surprised this season as it has failed to live up to expectations, fueling questions about the roster and, to an extent, Monroe’s place in Wisconsin.

According to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today Sports, Monroe — who had been the topic of trade speculation — won’t be going anywhere:

Milwaukee Bucks forward Greg Monroe won’t be dealt before Thursday’s trade deadline, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.

Teams have placed calls to the Bucks to see if they can acquire Monroe, who is in his first year with the team. But those conversations didn’t advance, and one person said with emphasis there is zero chance Monroe is traded.

Monroe signed a three-year, $50 million contract with Milwaukee during free agency and is averaging 16.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists for the 23-32 Bucks, who have lost six consecutive games.

UPDATE, Noon ET — Pelicans’ Holiday essentially untouchable

Injuries made a mess of the New Orleans Pelicans’ season, but of late they’ve gotten banged up in the backcourt with Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon both out for the season. Those woes are likely what will keep oft-injured point guard Jrue Holiday out of any potential deals …

UPDATE, Noon ET — Report: Magic won’t break up young core

The Orlando Magic may be interested in some smaller moves, but don’t expect them to part with Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic or Elfrid Payton before tomorrow’s deadline …

UPDATE, 9:14 a.m. — Magic, Clippers talking trade

Our David Aldridge reports if the Magic pick up Lance Stephenson in a swap for Channing Frye with the Clippers, Stephenson won’t be in Orlando long …

 

 

Morning shootaround — Feb. 17


VIDEO: Breaking down Tuesday’s three-team trade

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Clippers, Magic talking deal | Report: Wizards pursuing Anderson | Report: Rockets, Hornets had Howard trade talks | Prokhorov pens open letter | Report: Nets offer GM job to MarksFuture unclear for Bucks’ Carter-Williams | Griffin apologizes publicly for incident

No. 1: Report: Magic, Clippers talking deal; Wizards pursuing Anderson — We’re a day away from the trade deadline, which means talk is bubbling up everywhere and anywhere. How much of what is discussed vs. what happens in reality remains an unknown, but the latest from overnight is that several teams are knee-deep in trade discussions. The targets du jour include Channing Frye, Lance Stephenson, Kevin Martin and Ryan Anderson. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski gets us started with the latest from Orlando and some other outposts:

The Los Angeles Clippers are pushing closer on a deal to acquire Orlando Magic forward Channing Frye but want to finish exploring a larger trade scenario before finalizing an agreement, league sources told The Vertical.

Frye is enthusiastic about the chance to join the Clippers, league sources said. Nevertheless, Cleveland also has been discussing a deal for Frye, and could still be aggressive in pursuing him prior to completion of a Clippers trade.

The Clippers need to include Lance Stephenson‘s contract into the package for Frye, and told the Magic they need until Wednesday to finish pursuing what it is a long-shot larger deal, league sources said. As part of the deal for Frye, the Clippers would include Stephenson, C.J. Wilcox and a future second-round pick, league sources said.

The New Orleans Pelicans are pushing hard to find a trade for forward Ryan Anderson, whom they expect to lose in summer free agency, league sources said.

Teams trading for Anderson believe he’ll command a starting salary of $16 million-$18 million a season in free agency.

New Orleans and Detroit had serious talks on an Anderson deal in the past few days, sources said, but the Pistons ultimately reached an agreement with Orlando on a trade for Tobias Harris on Tuesday.

The issue for the Pistons – and several teams around the league interested in Anderson – remains this: How much will it cost to re-sign Anderson this summer in free agency? With Harris, the Pistons have cost-certainty on the three-years, $48 million on his deal through the 2018-’19 season.

Minnesota hasn’t been actively searching for a trade for point guard Ricky Rubio this week, but that is likely to change this summer, league sources told The Vertical.

Minnesota may start canvassing the market for a better shooting point guard to pair with young stars Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. One NBA coach who has long been enamored with Rubio, league sources said: Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd. The New York Knicks’ desire to find a point guard could lead them to Rubio, too.

Minnesota has wanted to move guard Kevin Martin, but a deal is unlikely unless he’s willing to forgo the $7 million player option on the final year of his contract in 2016-2017, league sources said. That is unlikely, given that Martin would be hard-pressed to recoup that money on the market.

BasketballInsiders.com’s Steve Kyler reports the Washington Wizards may also be hot on the trail of Ryan Anderson:

If the Clippers cannot consummate a deal with the Pelicans for Ryan Anderson, expect the Washington Wizards to return to the front of the line for Anderson in trade. The Wizards have made several passes at New Orleans on Anderson but are unwilling to include draft picks in their offer.

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ballmer: Griffin will face ‘consequences’ for fight | Ainge says no trades imminent | Report: Bucks willing to deal | Johnson fills in nicely for Pistons

No. 1: Ballmer says Griffin will face ‘consequences’ for scuffle — The Los Angeles Clippers are about a week into the four-to-six-week timeframe they’re looking at being without All-Star power forward Blake Griffin. He is out with a broken hand, suffered during an off-the-court fight with a team equipment manager in Toronto a few weeks ago. While the NBA is investigating the incident, team owner Steve Ballmer says there will be repercussions for Griffin, writes Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times:

In his first interview since Blake Griffin punched out the team’s assistant equipment manager, the Clippers owner sounded as if he was prepared to discipline his All-Star forward.

Asked Wednesday night if he felt it necessary for the Clippers to take the kind of action that would represent what they stand for, Ballmer didn’t hesitate.

“There needs to be consequences,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Citing a team investigation into the incident that resulted in a broken right hand for Griffin, Ballmer didn’t offer any details, so it’s not known whether the Clippers might add to whatever punishment the Kia pitchman receives from the NBA. Still, Ballmer made it clear that employee-on-employee violence would not be tolerated.

If his actions back his words, good for him.

Ballmer was measured when speaking of Griffin, condemning the player’s actions without tossing him under the proverbial bus.

“Just remember, Blake is a key part of his team,” Ballmer said.

At this moment, the courtside goofball in Ballmer emerged, as he extended his arms to mimic an embrace.

“We will welcome him back,” he said with a smile as broad as his shoulders.

This is something of a new experience for Ballmer. As the chief executive of Microsoft, he said there were times when key employees under-performed as a result of doing something stupid. However, he conceded, “We didn’t ever have a situation quite like this.”

Ballmer continued, “You know, everyone’s going to heal, and we’re going to have an opportunity to move forward. We’re going to finish our investigation, decide what needs to happen and move forward. Blake’s a key part of our team. There’s no question about that.

“He certainly has been remorseful, which is great, and we’ll find a way to move past it. That’s part of life. An important part of life is learning how to have consequences.”

***

No. 2: Ainge says no trades imminent for Celtics — Yesterday we brought you news that the Houston Rockets were reportedly not going to try and deal center Dwight Howard, who was recently linked to a trade with the Boston Celtics. Does that mean Howard is staying put for sure? Who knows. But according to Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, Boston isn’t looking to make a trade just yet — although he is (as always) in talks with other front offices about possible deals. A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNewEngland.com has more:

Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, spoke about the importance of trust in what was the biggest trade he has pulled off to date – landing Kevin Garnett from Minnesota in 2007.

“The biggest trade we made was with my best friend in the business, Kevin McHale,” Ainge said on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich Show.

At the time, McHale was the General Manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“It wouldn’t have gotten done if not for Kevin and I, because there had to be so much trust going back and forth,” Ainge said.

But when it comes to evaluating players and their potential fit with the Celtics, Ainge leans on himself and his staff.

“The relationship is important but I don’t necessarily listen to their evaluation,” Ainge said.

That becomes quite topical now with the Celtics having had some discussions with the Houston Rockets about Dwight Howard who played for McHale in Houston prior to McHale being fired earlier this season.

While Ainge did not speak specifically about Howard and Boston’s level of interest in the former eight-time all-star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, there’s not a team in the NBA that Ainge hasn’t had a conversation with recently.

But does that means he’s close to making a major deal.

Nope.

“Most of the time, ninety-nine percent of the things talked about and discussed, don’t happen,” Ainge said. “This time of year there’s a lot of discussions. It’s really hard to predict if there’s any deals there. Usually they happen at the very end, the very last day.”

“I do feel like we need to make improvements on our team, but not necessarily at the trade deadline,” Ainge said. “We can’t force anything. Right now, there’s nothing on the table, there’s nothing imminent. We’ve just had a lot of discussions and hope that next week come trade deadline (Feb. 18, 3 p.m. EST) we’re prepared to make the right decisions.”

***

No. 3: Report: Bucks willing to deal Carter-Williams, Monroe — The Milwaukee Bucks have been perhaps the most disappointing team of 2015-16, especially given their offseason splash. The Bucks added one of the biggest free-agent fish in the pond, center Greg Monroe, to a squad that surprised many and made the 2015 playoffs. A young core of Monroe, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and guard Michael Carter-Williams seemed poised for at least a repeat (if not an improvement upon) last season. Yet as the trade deadline nears and the Bucks fall further and further out of the playoff race, Carter-Williams and Monroe could be dealt, writes Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times:

Clearly, Bucks officials are deeply concerned. That’s reflected in their ongoing discussions with other teams about potential trades before the Feb. 18 deadline.

Based on conversations with several NBA execs from the Eastern and Western conferences, the Bucks are more than receptive to playing “Let’s Make a Deal.’’

And that includes possibly moving Michael Carter-Williams, who has been consistently inconsistent since joining the Bucks. Carter-Williams has had some dynamic games this season, like an 18-point, 13-assist outing against Sacramento and a 20-point, 12-assist showing against Chicago.

On the flip side, Carter-Williams had only two assists in 26 minutes against Portland on Wednesday night, one assist in 27 minutes against Memphis last week, and zero assists in 25 minutes against Miami two weeks ago.

But Carter-Williams isn’t the only frontline player the Bucks are apparently willing to move. A much bigger surprise is the Bucks have made it known that center Greg Monroe is available at the right price, according to some NBA officials.

Monroe has been a double-double machine, having recorded 26 this season. That ranks sixth in the league behind Detroit’s Andre Drummond (40), Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (33), Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins (28), the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan (28) and Chicago’s Pau Gasol (27) and just ahead of Washington’s John Wall (25), Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (25) and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (24).

But Monroe’s man-to-man and help-defense remain suspect. And he most definitely isn’t the rim protector the Bucks sorely need. He is averaging a mere 0.9 blocks per game this season, which ties him with L.A. Lakers forward Brandon Bass for 46th in the league.

Justified or not, Monroe is being targeted as one of the primary reasons for the Bucks’ defensive deficiencies this season. After being one of the elite defensive teams in the league last season, the Bucks are now one of the worst, giving up 103.3 points per game compared to 97.4 last season.

Clearly, the pieces to the Bucks’ puzzle aren’t fitting. Several league officials said they would be surprised if the Bucks didn’t make a major trade.

“From what I’m hearing is they (the Bucks) are willing to trade anybody not named Parker, Antetokounmpo or Middleton,’’ an NBA executive said. “I even heard they’d listen (to offers) for Parker and Middleton, but it would have to be some crazy offer.

“They want to do something; they know they have to do something. That group they have isn’t working.’’

***

No. 4: Johnson fills in nicely for Pistons — A great number of folks were predicting big things for Detroit Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson after his solid showing at NBA Summer League. He was tops on our Rookie Ladder after Summer League and was a dominant force in the Orlando Summer League. Once 2015-16 got started, though, Johnson was more or less relegated to a reserve role. But an recent injury to third-year guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope opened the door for Johnson to start last night and he delivered with flying colors, writes Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

Stan Van Gundy said earlier this week he was looking for ways to get more minutes for Stanley Johnson. Losing Caldwell-Pope to a core muscle strain that will keep him out at least until the resumption of play following the All-Star break on Feb. 19 isn’t the desired method, but Johnson at least proved more than capable of shouldering greater responsibility in the 111-105 win over the Knicks.

“I thought he was tremendous,” Van Gundy said after Johnson logged 44 minutes and led the Pistons with 22 points plus nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and a blocked shot. “Second start of his career. Thought he played real well. We were even going to him down the stretch before Reggie hit the threes. We were running plays for him. Fearless. Getting better all the time. Not afraid to make plays.”

As impressive as it is for a rookie to shoulder 44 minutes and still have enough left to make a handful of the game’s biggest plays in the fourth quarter, Johnson’s play doesn’t really come as a surprise to his teammates. They’ve seen his readiness and his confidence since the early days of training camp.

“It’s awesome. He’s a really good player,” Tolliver said. “We’ve known it the whole season. He’s getting a great opportunity now with KCP out. He’s just really still learning the game. That’s a good thing for him because he’s going to have a bright future, as long as he keeps his head on straight and continues to work hard and play hard like he does.”

Jackson said he and Reggie Johnson discussed strategy on the plane ride back from Boston. What was it? Johnson wouldn’t say, but figures that when Caldwell-Pope comes back, the Pistons now have another tool in their belt to throw at teams.

“What me and Reggie did tonight was different,” Johnson said. “I think it helped a little bit, so I think when (Caldwell-Pope) gets back, having ways for guys who can do stuff like that is going to make it tough for (opponents) to play.”

“Amazing,” Jackson said of Johnson’s contributions. “We talked about it on the plane, the game plan coming in between us two, how we were going to approach this game. He did everything that he told me he was going to do. He’s definitely somebody who has the utmost confidence in himself and he’s one of those, he says he’s going to do it then he’s going to go out and compete. He came up tremendously big.”

Van Gundy sensed some of his veterans feeling the heat as the Knicks took big chunks out of the lead, but not his youngest player.

“We were struggling. I decided to start going to him,” Van Gundy said. “I thought some of our other guys maybe tightened up a little bit and that’s not him. Pretty amazing for a 19-year-old kid.”

Somebody said to Van Gundy, “He relishes the moment.”

“Yeah, he does. He and Reggie both. It’s good to have a couple of guys like that. … I think Stanley’s going to be a really good player. And he handled huge minutes tonight on the fifth game in seven nights, played (44) minutes and played real well. Nine rebounds, made some really good passes. Just played extremely well.”

“I knew I was going to walk into heavy minutes,” Johnson said. “For me going into the game, I was like, ‘How do I keep up (Caldwell-Pope’s) defensive intensity and offensively – we don’t play the same, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it in his way, but I thought I could help out on both sides.”

Yeah, you could say he helped out. Just a little.


VIDEO: Balanced Pistons hold off Knicks in Detroit

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Indiana Pacers executive and Hall of Famer Larry Bird has some pointed thoughts on the lifespan of NBA big men … ICYMI, a quick rundown of everyone who will be participating in the State Farm All-Star Saturday events, which includes the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest and the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest … NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the ‘Hack-A-‘ rule will soon be changing … The San Antonio Spurs will be without Manu Ginobili after he underwent testicular surgery … President Barack Obama had a lot of fun with the Golden State Warriors yesterday … Kind of a cool photo gallery — re-drafting the 2007 NBA Draft

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 13


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors finally lose | Gentry, Pelicans look to move up | NBPA offers heart help | Harden remains a Kobe fan

No. 1: Warriors finally lose Turns out the Golden State Warriors are human after all. Sure, they managed to win 24 in a row to start the season, but on the seventh game of a road trip, less than 24 hours after a double-OT win in Boston, it all caught up with the Warriors, as they lost in Milwaukee, 108-95. And now, as our own Steve Aschburner writes, the Warriors begin the real work of trying to improve and expand on that historic start…

The Warriors’ streak ended at 24 victories as their long road trip, a succession of opponents’ best efforts and their own human frailties (mostly fatigue) reared up in a 108-95 loss to Milwaukee.

The Bucks did so much right. Center Greg Monroe (28 points, 11 rebounds, five assists) asserted his bigness against the NBA’s most dangerous band of smalls. Giannis Antetokounmpo (11 points, 12 boards, 10 assists) picked the best possible time to post the first triple-double of his young, versatile career. O.J. Mayo put starch in the home team’s shorts early, while Jabari Parker and Michael Carter-Williams saved their best for later. And Milwaukee’s lanky, reaching defense held the previously perfect defending champions under 100 points for the first time this season, limiting them to just six 3-point field goals in 26 attempts.

What did the Warriors do wrong? Nothing, really, beyond succumbing to the wear and tear of their record-setting start to the season. Stephen Curry scored 28 with seven rebounds and five assists but backcourt mate Klay Thompson was off after missing Friday’s double-overtime game in Boston with a sprained ankle. The bench, other than Festus Ezeli, brought little offensively.

Still, to pick at them any more would seem out of line. Only one team in league history — or two, depending on how you’re counting — ever strung together more victories: the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers won 33 in a row, and the 2012-13 Miami Heat got to 27. Golden State made it to 28, if you count the four victories in April at the end of last season, or 24 if you don’t.

Just in terms of this season, the Warriors went 47 days deep into 2015-16 before they lost for the first time. None of the NBA’s other teams lasted more than 10.

“Y’all thought we were gonna be sad, huh?” Draymond Green said to reporters milling about, long after the final horn and the green confetti preloaded by the Bucks’ operations crew in hopes of precisely what happened.

While the Bucks were thrilled — their 10-15 start largely had been a disappointment until Saturday — and their sellout crowd of 18,717 was giddy, the Warriors were a long ways from sad.

Green even made sure of that, speaking up immediately afterward to the crew that had accomplished so much. The streak is dead? Long live the season.

“I just told the guys that now we can have a regular season,” the all-purpose Warriors forward said. “It’s been kind of a playoff feel to this, with the streak and all the media and attention around. But our goal was always to get better each and every time we get on the floor. … I think that, probably the last seven or eight games, we’ve stopped getting better and we’ve just tried to win games.”

Interim head coach Luke Walton had talked longingly for several days of teachable moments, the “issues that get swept under the rug” when a team keeps winning. It’s hard to be hyper-critical, and to get players’ attention, when small flaws don’t undermine the big picture.

Now the Warriors can exhale. And clean a few things up.

“We didn’t have our shots falling and we were a little slow on our defensive rotations,” said Walton, filling in while head coach Steve Kerr recovers from back issues. “It happens. It takes nothing away from what they’ve done to start the season.”

***

No. 2: Gentry, Pelicans look to move up — After a playoff appearance last season, the New Orleans Pelicans hired a new coach, Alvin Gentry, away from Golden State and embraced higher expectations for this season. Only, it hasn’t worked out that way. Sure, the Warriors have been rolling, but the Pelicans have been beset by injuries, making it hard to implement Gentry’s system. And as Jeff Duncan writes for Nola.com, for now the Pelicans are just focused on getting out of the Western Conference basement.

Where Gentry finds himself today isn’t where he expected to be six months ago when he accepted the head coaching job here. After Friday night’s 107-105 victory against Washington, the Pelicans are 6-16 and holding company with the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference cellar.

Gentry already has lost more games with the Pelicans than he did all of last season as an assistant with the Warriors (67-15).

“It’s difficult,” Gentry said. “I didn’t anticipate having a record like this. I’m sure the guys didn’t anticipate having a record like this.”

This wasn’t what Gentry signed up for last May. At age 61, New Orleans was likely Gentry’s final chance as a head coach. After struggling in previous stints with the Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns, the Pelicans represented a shot at redemption, a chance to resurrect his head coaching career and move his career won-loss record from red to black. Here, he had Anthony Davis, one of the best young players in the world, and a talented young core in place around him. All systems were go — until they weren’t.

Injuries beset the roster before the Pelicans took their first dribbles. Gentry’s team opened the regular season against Golden State with projected starters Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Omer Asik and key reserve Quincy Pondexter sidelined. Gentry took the court one night without six of his top eight players because of various maladies.

He’s fielded 13 different starting lineups in 22 games and is still defining roles and playing time as key regulars work their way back into the mix.

“Really we’re going through a training camp right now,” Gentry said. “The injury bug has bit us, and we didn’t anticipate that. We have to commit ourselves to make a conscious effort to get ourselves back in the race.”

To get there, the Pelicans must start playing more consistently, with better effort and execution nightly. Gentry is as confounded as anyone as to how the Pelicans can beat Cleveland one night then turn around and get blown out at home by Boston three nights later.

Gentry lit into his troops for what he thought was their half-hearted effort in a 111-93 loss to Boston on Monday night at the Smoothie King Center.

While he arrived in New Orleans with the reputation as a genial players’ coach, Gentry has shown he’s not afraid to bust out the “over-18 lecture” when necessary.

“He’s liable to cuss us out if we don’t compete or execute the plays,” Holiday said.

***

No. 3: NBPA offers heart help After several former NBA players passed away this summer from heart-related issues, the National Basketball Player’s Association announced plans to offer free heart- and health-care screenings for retired players. The first of those cardiac screenings happened this weekend in Houston, writes ESPN’s J.A. Adande…

About 25 retired NBA players showed up for the screenings, which included heart testing. The NBPA initiated talks on the screenings at their July meetings, and the effort was given added urgency with the heart-related deaths of Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins.

In a conference room provided by the Houston Rockets, physicians met with the retired players to discuss their medical history, test blood pressure, administer EKGs to check the heart’s electrical activity, perform an echocardiogram to check the structure of the heart, scan carotids to look for plaque buildup in the arteries, check for sleep apnea and draw blood. The retired players also received attachments for their cellphones that can perform EKGs and send the results to cardiologists.

“Even in this small sample of patients that we’ve done, we’ve been able to get some abnormalities,” said Dr. Manuel Reyes, a cardiologist with Houston Cardiovascular Associates at the Houston Medical Center. “A couple of incidents with decreased heart function, weakened left ventricle, which is the main chamber of the heart.”

Since 2000, more than 50 former NBA players have died of complications related to heart disease, according to the Philadelphia-based news site Billy Penn. It is unclear if basketball players are more susceptible to heart disease, which was one of the secondary aspects of screening former players.

“That’s one of the things that we’re looking to benefit is the research component,” said Joe Rogowski, the players’ union director of sports medicine and research. “We’re looking for trends. There’s never been a real study that looks at this population and looks for norms and trends. They’re bigger. They carry more weight, which leads to other factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Union executive director Michele Roberts and NBA commissioner Adam Silver both said earlier this year that cardiac testing was a high priority. Silver said the NBA was prepared to provide the union with both financial support and a vast array of medical resources.

Union representatives presented their vision of comprehensive screening for retirees to current players at their annual Las Vegas meeting in July. Sources said players voted to set aside funds to implement screenings. The larger — and more costly — issue of supplementing health insurance is slated to be addressed at their February meetings, when a more comprehensive blueprint would be available.

The ages of the deceased players are alarming. Malone was 60. Dawkins was 58. Caldwell Jones, who died last year, was 64. Other recent deaths of former players include Jack Haley, 51, and Anthony Mason, 48.

“Something’s got to be done,” said Rogowski, who was an athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach for 10 years in the NBA. “The NFL is dealing with their issues with retired players. This may be our issue that we’re dealing with retired players on.”

***

No. 4: Harden remains a Kobe fan Greatness attracts greatness, and as Rockets guard James Harden explains, after growing up in California, he had been a Kobe Bryant fan for years. But later, he was able to become a Kobe friend. And as Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle, Harden is looking forward to squaring off against Bryant this week in a Houston stop on his farewell tour…

James Harden had long known what he wanted in life. Before the shoe deals and stardom, before the first stubble on his chin, he had watched Kobe Bryant in his prime, young and gifted, hungry for greatness and a place in NBA history. That was, Harden decided, what he wanted.

“Kobe was my guy,” Harden said. “I was a Laker fan. And I was a Kobe fan. Always.”

Eventually, when Harden finally had his first chance to face his hero, Bryant might have seen something in Harden, too. They will face one another again Saturday night in Toyota Center as Bryant’s farewell tour rolls through Houston. But their first meeting came far removed from the NBA, far from the media circus that follows Bryant through his final season.

They met in a summer pickup game at Loyola-Marymount. Harden was not in awe, he said, but remembered the day as more special than all the summer sessions to come.

“I wanted to go at him,” Harden said, indicating he learned his lessons well.

“I remember he came in the gym, took off his shirt and was like, ‘OK, let’s go,’ ” said Harden’s agent, Rob Pelinka, who also represents Bryant. “Kobe was (Harden’s favorite) because he works so hard.”

Years later, Harden considers Bryant a friend. He received texts from Bryant before last season’s playoffs encouraging him, as if welcoming Harden to that highest echelon of stardom.

“He’s my guy,” Harden said. “We talk. He’s a pretty cool guy. Obviously, on the court, he’s a beast. He does whatever it takes to win games. He’s a winner. He’s passionate about it. But obviously off the court, he’s so savvy. He’s business-minded.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Is Dave Joerger‘s seat getting warmer in Memphis? … The Wizards will be without Bradley Beal for a few more weeks … Gregg Popovich said Kobe’s retirement will mean “a great personality gone” … Dwyane Wade would like to own an NBA team someday … LeBron James made good after losing a friendly wager against Draymond Green …

Back and Forth with Bones: Some Growing Pains in Milwaukee


VIDEO: LeBron James’ 27 points lead the Cavs over the Bucks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers ended a two-game losing streak, avenged a weekend loss, and improved to 9-3 with a 115-100 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

The Cavs shot 56 percent and scored 115 points on just 86 possessions, which says a lot about both their offense and Milwaukee’s defense. The Bucks (5-7) went from 29th in defensive efficiency in 2013-14 to second in Jason Kidd‘s first season, but are right back where they started after 11 games.

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent “Bones” Barry, who called the game for TNT, went back and forth afterward, discussing the Bucks’ issues on both ends of the floor and where they are in their development.

Schuhmann: So what’s the difference between last season’s Milwaukee defense and this season’s Milwaukee defense?

Barry: Some tell-tale signs have to do with some basic fundamentals of a very good NBA defense. And that’s one, communication and, two, trust in one another that guys are going to be in the right spots at the right times.

Talking to Jason Kidd, in the early part of this season, the Bucks are doing A decently and doing B decently, but when they get to C, there’s nobody home. There’s missing the last step to finish off a possession.

Some of that has to do with a variety of lineups. They’ve had seven different starting lineups to start the season. They’ve had key pieces out of games. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams, Jabari Parker, John Henson and O.J. Mayo have all missed games. Greg Monroe is a new addition.

So there’s so much disconnect in terms of who’s playing that it’s affected how much they trust one another to begin the year. They’re not playing as hard on that end as they’re capable of, and they know it.

The main thing that Jason kept talking about was “We’re young. We miss Zaza [Pachulia] and we miss Jared Dudley and we miss Ersan [Ilyasova], because those guys have experience. We have no veteran players.”

So there’s nobody but the coaching staff to talk about what it’s like to come in every day to work and what your role is.

Schuhmann: Going back to their defense, their scheme puts so much pressure on those second and third rotations. They load up the strong side and when the ball is swung, the pressure is on the weak-side guys to close out, contest and contain.

Barry: They have to close out properly. Great defenses close out on shooters to direct the ball to a certain area of the floor, because you trust that the next guy in the rotation is there.

Last night, there were glaring examples of how ineffective and how inactive the Bucks’ hands are, in terms of deflections and denials. I’ve looked at some numbers on their pressure rate, and it’s way down.

They had so many miscommunications on switches. That’s something that they absolutely can do, but they don’t communicate well. When they give space, they’re going to get beat. Especially in the first half against Cleveland, they had no awareness of where shooters were. They were much better in the second half, but that cost them and gave them such a deficit that their offense is incapable of having bursts to catch up to teams, especially Cleveland.

Schuhmann: That Milwaukee offense is very slow and deliberate. The Bucks rank 30th in pace and they’ve attempted just 10.8 percent of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock, the sixth lowest rate in the league.

Barry: They run corner series. They don’t run a lot of pick-and-rolls. Maybe other than Jerryd Bayless, they don’t have effective pick-and-roll players. And they don’t go in transition.

They’re trying to get better ball movement, but better slashing. But when you have combinations of players who haven’t played with one another, it’s very difficult to read your teammates if you don’t know what they like to do and when they like to do it. And that’s costing them a lot of possessions on offense, where they just aren’t in synch.

Schuhmann: They did have a relatively efficient offensive game on Thursday and had some success in the third quarter with Greivis Vasquez and Khris Middleton running side pick-and-roll to get a switch against Middleton in the post.

Barry: The 1-2. But that was against Matthew Dellavedova and Richard Jefferson. I don’t know if it’s that effective against a quicker, better defensive backcourt.

Jason went to that several times and it helped them get some shots, but that’s a single-option thing. If you score a couple of times and then they double you, what’s next? Right now, there’s no next on the offensive end of the floor.

Schuhmann: A similar thing that they do is set a back-screen to get the opposing point guard switching onto Middleton in the post. It gets them some good looks, but like you said, opponents are going to adjust to it pretty quickly.

Barry: I don’t know how much more effective that is late in the shot clock. It’s probably better to get side-to-side movement and then that action late, rather than broadcast it with the post-up on the first pass, where the defense can load up and be in good rebounding position.

One thing that bothered me is that they’re getting pushed up so high on the initial catch in the corner series. When Monroe sets up at the elbow and a guy like Tristan Thompson pushes him from the elbow to the 3-point line, the corner series doesn’t work.

20151120_monroe_elbow

You can’t make passes to back-door cutters from the 3-point line. A dribble hand-off is too far away to create a good angle for the offense.

Schuhmann: When Kidd was coaching in Brooklyn, I covered a Knicks-Nets game where the Nets didn’t run pick-and-roll for most of the first half against an opponent that was just dreadful at defending pick-and-rolls (and coincidentally employed Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire).

That Nets team did have some good pick-and-roll guards, but just kept running the offense through the bigs at the elbow, which was often a struggle. You have to have a pick-and-roll game to take advantage of the Bargnanis and Enes Kanters of the world.

Barry: Now, there was some signs tonight. Giannis was spectacular. He showed so much versatility in his game and did a decent job on LeBron James.


VIDEO: Giannis’ 33 points

When you play Giannis and Parker together, you can pick and choose weaker defenders at the three and four spots to take advantage of their quickness and what they can do handling the ball. Jason explored that in the second half to the Bucks’ advantage. They picked on Kevin Love a little bit, on Thompson a little bit, with those guys playing off the elbow to create some offense.

But until they’re complete and until they do some growing up… It just sounds like where they want to go is three or four years down the road.

Schuhmann: It was kind of fun to see the Bucks’ elicit some Spurs-esque ball movement (Example 1, Example 2) from Cleveland last night.

Barry: The Cavs did do a nice job. And with Mo Williams out, Dellavedova had 13 assists, doing a nice job of taking what the defense was going to give him. He penetrated and drew two guys…

And that’s part of the learning process for the Bucks. What’s the point in going over to double-team Dellavedova? Why would you step over the median line and commit to the strong side, when that’s the guy you’d rather have try and score on you?

But yeah, that was encouraging for the Cavs to move the ball like they did and not have LeBron need to take over multiple possessions in a row to make things happen. They had other guys making things happen.

Schuhmann: I can’t remember a single possession where LeBron stopped the ball, backed out to the 3-point line and killed clock with his isolation dance.

Barry: We flashed a graphic with a little over a minute to go in the fourth quarter that LeBron had 19 passes and zero field goal attempts in the period. That was probably the least amount of energy he’s had to expend in the fourth quarter to help the Cavs secure a win.

Schuhmann: And their shot chart – minimal mid-range shots, mostly layups and threes – was what you’d want.

20151119_cle_shot_chart

You mentioned in the broadcast how they also took advantage of the Bucks’ weak-side guards having to defend duck-ins from the Cleveland bigs.

Barry: When the ball was on the wing, the Bucks’ brought a second defender over, where they weren’t coming to double-team, but just coming over and squatting on the box. I understand the strategy, but you’re committing a guy to space and not to double the ball, which is [expletive].

20151120_monroe_space

So they got caught on that a lot.

Schuhmann: The Bucks’ defense, even when it’s playing well, is banking on the fact that they can recover to the weak side before you get the ball there. But there’s no skip-passer in the league better than LeBron.

Barry: J-Kidd said before the game, “We can not allow fastballs.” I hadn’t heard that term before, but I knew what he was talking about. He said, “You let LeBron throw fastballs for threes, we’re never going to get to the shooters.”

If you don’t get into his body, you’re going to get killed.

Numbers notes: Cavaliers and Warriors among most improved


VIDEO: Curry’s big night vs. the Clippers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The two teams that reached The Finals in June aren’t just off to strong starts. No, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are two of the most improved teams in the league, statistically.

We’re just 10 days into the 2015-16 season, with only 74 (six percent) of 1,230 games in the books. So far, there have been some surprising results, some disappointments, and a lot of teams playing much faster than they did last season.

It’s still too early to draw any real conclusions from what we’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean that we should ignore it. If everything is put in context, it’s certainly worth looking into the numbers this early.

We’ll spare the Grizzlies, Pelicans and Rockets this week, and focus on the positive. Here are some notes on the league’s most improved teams and players through 10 days …

Most improved offenses

20151106_impr_offrtg

  • Charlotte has turned some mid-range shots into 3-pointers, which will help long term. But their top-5 ranking is a result of two good offensive games this week after scoring less than a point per possession in their first three. They ranked last in both field goal percentage in the restricted area and in 3-point percentage last season, so they had nowhere to go but up.
  • If Golden State remains one of the league’s most improved offensive teams, they will challenge the ’96 Bulls record of 72 wins. You’ll see the MVP in the most improved shooters list below, but where the Warriors have improved most is in turnover rate and free throw rate. Those two numbers are more likely (than shooting or rebounding) to stay consistent from a team’s first five games through the full season. So that’s kind of scary.
  • New York was looking to run in its first three games, and more shots early in the clock gave their offense a boost. But here are their fast break points, by game: 19, 17, 10, 0, 0. They need to get back in the open floor.

Most improved defenses

20151106_impr_defrtg

Most improved shooters

20151106_impr_efg

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo improved his mid-range shooting in the second half of last season, but this improvement isn’t a continuation of that. He’s taken only three shots from mid-range this season, with 40 of his 54 shots coming in the restricted area. More layups = better shooting.
  • It’s not fair that Stephen Curry ranks as the third most improved shooter this season. But shooting 58 percent (19-for-33) on pull-up threes isn’t sustainable … maybe. Curry shot 42 percent on pull-up threes last season.
  • Blake Griffin is a mean 24-for-28 (86 percent) in the restricted area and an improved 21-for-45 (47 percent) from mid-range. The mid-range number is the more important one. Griffin has worked a ton on his jumper, but 47 percent (Dirk Nowitzki‘s career mark) is about as good as it gets from mid-range, where Griffin is still taking almost half of his shots.

Milwaukee Bucks anticipate return of Jabari Parker


VIDEO: The Bucks are off to a slow start, but reinforcements are on the way

BROOKLYN — Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd invoked one of the most threadbare (yet accurate) maxims in the NBA on Monday, when he noted “the NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint.” He said this without any apparent sarcasm, perhaps forgetting that just one day earlier 50,000 people jogged past Barclays Center as part of the New York City Marathon.

But perhaps the Bucks can be forgiven if it seems like they are happening at full speed thus far this season. The offseason saw a logo and uniform reboot, as well as plans coalescing for a new downtown Milwaukee arena. After the offseason signing of center Greg Monroe and the continued growth of young players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Michael Carter-Williams, the Bucks figured to be improved from the group that won 41 games and made the playoffs a season ago.

Yet the 2015-16 season has, at least thus far, been more of a letdown than a come up, as the Bucks skidded out of the gate to an 0-3 start. They managed to notch their first victory of the season on Monday night, finishing with a 7-0 run for a 103-96 win over the Nets.

The good news is that reinforcements are imminent. Along with reserve point guard Tyler Ennis, the Bucks announced on Monday that last year’s promising rookie Jabari Parker had been cleared to return to action, and would see time on Wednesday night in Milwaukee against the Sixers.

After being selected second overall in the 2014 Draft, Parker got off to a fast start last season, and was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for December while averaging 11.9 ppg and 6.1 rpg. But his rookie season ended not long after, stopped short 25 games into the season when Parker tore his left ACL on Dec. 15, 2014, during a game against Phoenix.

In Brooklyn on Monday, Parker said he is trying to manage his own expectations for his long-await return: “It feels pretty good but it’s a long ways to go. It’s about maintaining, how I got here so far. But I’m blessed.”

According to Kidd, Parker has been working out with the Bucks rotation players, which should ease his assimilation into the lineup. But they still plan to pump the brakes, Kidd said, initially limiting his minutes to 15-20 per game and perhaps holding him out of the second half of back-to-backs.

“I just stick with the plan,” said Parker. “You know, they always have a schedule for me, but they don’t want me to rush into it, and to just go from there.

“I will just go with what I’m given.”

Parker thinks he can play multiple positions along the Bucks front line, which would seem to make him a perfect fit on Kidd’s roster stacked with long and lean versatile players.

“I look forward to playing the 3, 4, 5, depends on which guys are there,” Parker said. “I’ve gotten to learn philosophies and concepts at each position. Watched other guys, looked at the games and put myself in their positions, got reps at practice.

“I worked on pretty much just being an overall player, to fill a void for the team no matter any position they want me to go. Really been studying the game, to where I’ve been able to just get better and more comfortable now, a lot less nervous than I was a year ago at this time.”

The Bucks’ start may have been bumpy, but it is only a start — remember all that stuff about marathon versus sprint. And with Milwaukee’s first win in the book, maybe the renewed excitement and expectations that surrounded this team all summer can take hold, particularly as Parker gets ready to suit up for the first time in almost a year.

“I think [Parker is] excited,” said Kidd. “He’s 20 years old, he was hurt doing something that he loved and wants to get back out and help his team win.”

One Team, One Stat: A Historical Jump


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Milwaukee Bucks

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Milwaukee Bucks, who made a jump not seen in 17 years.

The stat

20151022_mil_def_impr

The context

20151022_mil_basicsThe only team in the last 38 years that improved as much defensively as last season’s Bucks was the Spurs when they drafted Tim Duncan and got David Robinson back from injury.

The Bucks didn’t add any impact defenders like that. Two-thirds of their minutes were played by guys that were on the roster the season before, with Jerryd Bayless and Jared Dudley being the newcomers that played the most.

But they did change their coach. Jason Kidd and assistant Sean Sweeney introduced a scheme that was aggressive on the perimeter and on the strong side of the floor, knowing the Bucks had the quickness and length to recover to opponents left open on the weak side.

The Bucks’ defensive improvement actually started in transition, where they allowed the fewest points in the league. According to SportVU, Milwaukee allowed the fewest shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock and the most in the last six seconds.

20151022_mil_shot_clock

The Bucks now need a decent offense to go along with their top-5 defense. Free agent addition Greg Monroe is a good fit and will give them a boost inside.

But they need to complement him with better outside shooting. Michael Carter-Williams and Giannis Antetokounmpo were two of the 10 worst shooters from outside the paint last season.

20151022_mil_outside_paint

Antetokounmpo has started three of his four preseason games at the four, with Jabari Parker still working his way back from ACL surgery. Antetokounmpo at the four allows the Bucks to put another shooter on the floor, while also making them quicker defensively.

Last year’s numbers like him there too.

20151022_mil_ga_3-4-5

If Monroe, Parker and John Henson are all healthy, Antetokounmpo probably won’t see as much playing time at the four this season. But it’s a look that Kidd can go to when he wants to get super athletic on defense.

Even with the addition of Monroe, that’s still the end of the floor where the Bucks will win games.

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

One Team, One Stat: Reggie, Andre and Space to Operate


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Detroit Pistons

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Detroit Pistons, who found something that works late in the season.

The stat

20151018_det_rj_ad

The context

20151018_det_basicsThe Pistons had the numbers of the league’s best offense and a top-10 defense when Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond were on the floor together without Greg Monroe.

Less than 500 minutes isn’t a big sample, but it likely influenced the Pistons’ decisions this summer. Monroe left for Milwaukee without a fight from Detroit and Stan Van Gundy put together a roster that probably won’t ever have two non-floor-spacing bigs on the floor at the same time.

Defensively, the Pistons were more mobile and active with just one true big man on the floor last season, forcing a lot more turnovers while not giving up anything on the glass.

20151018_det_defense

Offensively, with a floor-spacer at power forward, the court was more open for Jackson to attack. After averaging 8.3 drives per 36 minutes with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Jackson drove almost twice as often with just one big man on the floor in Detroit.

20151018_det_rj_drives

Jackson’s teams scored 1.23 points per possession when he drove. That mark was even with that of LeBron James and ranked 15th among 65 players with at least 300 drives last season.

This summer, the Pistons replaced Monroe with Ersan Ilyasova, a floor-spacing power forward who has shot 40 percent from 3-point range over the last four years. Ilyasova will be a better complement to Jackson/Drummond pick-and-rolls than Monroe was.

Again, we’re looking at only 409 minutes of data and the Pistons obviously won’t be as good over a full season. But last year’s numbers are an indication that Jackson and Drummond operate better with more space and that Detroit could be one of the most improved teams in the league this season.

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


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