Posts Tagged ‘Greg Oden’

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rondo to be on minutes limit in debut | Oden happy to make season debut | Cuban wants one last fine from Stern | Noel progressing, can do some on-court workouts | Howard won’t be in Dunk Contest

UPDATE — 11:39 a.m.: Celtics president Danny Ainge says Rondo, barring any setbacks today, will play Friday vs. the Lakers

No. 1: Rondo expected to play Friday vs. Lakers — From yesterday’s trade (which sent de facto point guard Jordan Crawford to Golden State) to an assignment (and recall) to the NBA D-League, things are clearing in Boston for Rajon Rondo to make his season debut. Coach Brad Stevens said Rondo enjoyed his (albeit) brief stint working out with the Maine Red Claws and, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com, Rondo is expected to play between 18 and 20 minutes when he does debut. ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg reports that Rondo was actually active for last night’s game against Toronto, but didn’t log a minute:

Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is still expected to play Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers, although he would be limited to 18-20 minutes according to coach Brad Stevens.

Stevens, who would not say if Rondo was in fact going to play Friday, did have Rondo on the bench dressed in uniform on Wednesday night.

However, Stevens made it clear after Boston’s 88-83 win over Toronto that there was never any plan to play Rondo against the Raptors.

Not even when the game got tight in the fourth quarter and the Celtics were in desperate need for someone to do what Rondo does best – pass the ball.

Up by three points with less than a minute to play, Boston had to call its final time-out because Jeff Green could not in-bound the ball immediately.

Coming out of the timeout, there was never any thought about putting Rondo out on the floor in that situation.

When asked if Rondo would have played if it were an emergency, Stevens quickly shot that down as something considered.

“Well we were up three points with no timeouts trying to get the ball in-bounds and one of the best passers in the world sitting right next to me, so, no,” Stevens said. “He would not have been. I told [assistant coach] Jay Larranaga he was next, and [assistant coach] Walter [McCarty] was right after him, depending on what we needed. So that’s the way we were going to roll tonight.”

And here’s Forsberg’s report on Rondo as well:

Thin on bodies, the Boston Celtics activated Rajon Rondo for Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors, but the point guard did not play and is still targeting Friday’s visit from the Los Angeles Lakers for his 2013-14 season debut.

“[Rondo is] going to go through and do some [pregame] shooting, and there is a chance that he would suit up tonight,” Stevens said before the game. “But I don’t see a chance that he would play tonight, that it would be more about getting back into that rhythm of pregame activity.”

“I think [Rondo] enjoyed it because they kept score. His team usually won,” Stevens said. “But it was more about getting up and down the floor more than anything. I got asked the other day, if and when he comes back, if there would be a minute restriction, and the answer is yes. We’ll cross those bridges with exact numbers when we get there. And go from there. But he looked pretty good.

“[The D-League workout] accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. I have not talked to anybody, including Rondo, since the workout was over. I watched it for a few minutes, and then I left. Because I needed to — obviously, we’ve got a lot going on around here, but we have a game tonight.”


VIDEO: Brad Stevens talks before last night’s game about Rajon Rondo’s D-League work

***

No. 2: Oden happy to get his first NBA minutes — You’re probably already well aware that Greg Oden got his first NBA regular-season minutes since 2009 in the Heat’s blowout loss to the Wizards last night. And, as our own Sekou Smith framed it after the game, this is the first of several big baby steps for the former No. 1 overall pick. But what you might not know is all the details leading up to Oden’s activation and debut last night, which ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh details below:

Greg Oden was smiling about basketball again.

It took him four years to get back to this place. Four years, two microfracture surgeries, a broken knee cap and a battle with alcoholism later, Oden sat at his locker grinning in front of a pack of reporters. The former No. 1 pick in 2007 had played in a regular-season game again, the first time in 1,503 days.

No one really saw this coming. On the morning of Wednesday’s game, the Heat didn’t even know that Oden would make his season debut. They didn’t even think he’d be activated on the roster.

But around noon, a spot opened up for Oden. The Heat traded long-time reserve center Joel Anthony to the Boston Celtics along with two draft picks.

Toney Douglas, the former Golden State Warriors point guard whom the Heat traded for, would not arrive in the nation’s capital in time for the game.

So, Oden’s time had come. The Heat players found out about the trade over lunch and shortly after, Oden got word: he’d dress for the game.

“I didn’t know if I was going to play or not,” Oden said. “But I got out there and I did. And I’m happy I got the chance.”

Why bring Oden in then?

“We were down by 30,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.

As if there weren’t enough Heat surprises, Oden came out in the second half with the rest of the starters, subbing in for Shane Battier who watched the third-quarter’s opening minutes from the bench. The aggressive approach ensured that Oden wouldn’t get stiff like he did after four minutes of action in the preseason game in New Orleans. Oden rode a bike during halftime and Spoelstra gave him the nod.

Oden’s final line in eight minutes of action: six points on two dunks and a pair of free throws along with two rebounds. Not captured in the box score were several altered shots and screens.

“It felt good, just being able to be back out on the court,” Oden said. “Honestly, the big thing is, to be able to have now that connection now with my teammates. I’ve been here, I’ve been around, but when you’re not playing, sometimes deep down you don’t really feel part of the team as much. I’m happy I can do that now.”

LeBron James said he didn’t even know that Oden was playing until he saw his fellow No. 1 overall pick lacing up his basketball shoes just before the game.

“Oh, you active?” James recalled asking Oden. “I had no idea.”

James assisted on Oden’s second dunk of the game out of a pick-and-roll, something we’ll probably see many times again if Oden can stay healthy. But it was Oden’s first dunk that James couldn’t believe.

“How is this possible that every time you sit out long periods of time, you decide to come back and you keep getting a dunk on your first attempt?” James said. “That’s pretty cool, man. Hopefully he can continue to stride, getting three minutes a half to five minutes a half to 12. He can be a big plus for us. Obviously in the short amount of minutes tonight, he was pretty good for us.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew talks about Greg Oden’s impact on the Heat

***

No. 3: Cuban wants one last fine from Stern — Since becoming owner of the Dallas Mavericks in 2000, Mark Cuban has racked up plenty of fines from the NBA for his outspoken nature regarding officiating, the league office and, at times, commissioner David Stern. With Stern set to retire from his post in about a month, Cuban told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that he wants to get one last fine from the outgoing league boss if for nothing more than old times’ sake. (Worth noting: Cuban may get his wish sooner than he thinks. He walked on the court to berate the officials after the Mavs’ loss to the Clippers last night … fast-forward to the 2:08 mark to see what we mean.):

In an interview with ESPN.com this week to reflect on David Stern’s 30-year run as NBA commissioner, which ends Feb. 1, Cuban said he has been telling Stern for months that he is determined to get dinged one last time before his longtime foil leaves his post.

“We talk about it all the time,” Cuban said. “I’m going to have one final fine before he leaves.”

The outspoken owner made the comments in a lighthearted manner before the Mavericks went to Los Angeles on Wednesday night and suffered a disappointing 129-127 defeat to the Clippers that prompted a heated Cuban to walk onto the floor after the final buzzer at Staples Center and chastise the referees who worked the game.

As Mavs owner, Cuban has been assessed 19 league fines that were made public, 13 of which were triggered by either criticizing referees or interacting with them in ways the NBA deemed inappropriate.

Cuban has paid in excess of $1.8 million in fines during his 14 years of Mavs ownership. The most expensive of those sanctions was the infamous $500,000 that Cuban was docked in January 2002 for declaring he wouldn’t hire then-NBA head of officiating Ed Rush to manage a Dairy Queen. The most recent was a $50,000 fine assessed in January 2013 after Cuban responded to a home loss to New Orleans by tweeting: “Im sorry NBA fans. Ive tried for 13 years to fix the officiating in this league and I have failed miserably. Any Suggestions ? I need help.”

Yet Cuban has mostly praise for Stern with slightly more than two weeks to go before Stern’s longtime deputy Adam Silver takes over and the longest tenure of any commissioner in North American professional team sports comes to an end.

“One reason that I truly respect David is that he followed the rules,” Cuban said. “He didn’t want to be king. He wanted to be successful and make the NBA successful. He was less concerned with his legacy than with creating results for the NBA. He knows that the results will stand the test of time and define his legacy.”

Cuban said he would give Stern “an 85 to 90″ out of 100 when grading his three decades in charge and said his only bone of contention with the commissioner during his time in the league — besides the state of officiating — was the amount of money invested in China at Stern’s behest in the continued pursuit of globalizing the NBA brand.

“He’s always been receptive [to me]. We kind of have two relationships. There’s the public relationship about the officiating. And then there’s the business side. On the business side, we get along great.

“On the officiating side, that’s probably the one thing I’d say he’s failed miserably on, but I understand where he’s coming from, because he doesn’t have a horse in the race. Win, lose or draw, as long as the business of the NBA is good, he’s happy. I obviously have a completely different perspective, and that’s where we clash. He doesn’t care who wins. That’s the difference, because I do.

“But on the business side, we’ve agreed far more than we’ve disagreed.”

***

No. 4: Sixers’ Noel OK’d for ‘limited on-court work’The last thing we told you in this space about Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel, it was that Philly’s coaching staff was working on a ‘total rebuild’ of his shot. In addition, Sixers coaches were warning fans that Noel may not even take the court this season. Some of that news has changed, however, as ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman reports that Noel has been cleared by the team for some on-court work and he could play within 4-6 weeks:

The Philadelphia 76ers have cleared rookie center Nerlens Noel for “limited on-court work,” but several benchmarks remain before he can return to game action, the team announced Wednesday night.

“After careful consideration and numerous discussions with our medical and performance teams, the consulting physician and rehabilitation staff, and Nerlens’ representatives, some of the restrictions on Nerlens have been lifted and he is now able to participate in limited on-court work,” 76ers president and general manager Sam Hinkie said in a statement.

“There are several benchmarks Nerlens still must meet, and during that time we will closely monitor his progress and regularly evaluate his status. Our goal remains the same, which is to give Nerlens every opportunity to ensure a long, productive NBA career.”

Noel, who suffered a torn ACL in February while playing for Kentucky, visited Dr. James Andrews in Florida last week.

“He is doing excellent, and the team is taking good care of him,” Andrews told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Andrews said he was unable to provide more information because of privacy laws, but sources told ESPN.com that Noel, the No. 6 pick in this past June’s NBA draft, could return to game action within the next four to six weeks barring a setback.

“He tested really well, and his knee looks great,” one source said. “Dr. Andrews suggested he be cleared to do on-court drills, but the team still has to clear him.”

CSNPhilly.com reported that Noel was seen playing one-on-one against assistant coach and former NBA big man Greg Foster on Tuesday.

***

No. 5: Howard won’t participate in Dunk Contest — Back in 2008, a young Dwight Howard — then with the Orlando Magic — burst onto the national scene with his performance in the Dunk Contest during All-Star weekend in New Orleans. Since then, Howard’s star has risen and fallen, and with the All-Star weekend being back in the Big Easy, there was some thought that Howard might give the Dunk Contest another try. That’s not going to happen, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Howard, who won the 2008 dunk contest at New Orleans Arena, said the NBA invited him to dunk again this season in New Orleans, but he declined.“Couldn’t do it,” Howard said.

Howard, 28, said he would participate again, “If I wasn’t so old. I’m getting up there in age, man, I tell you. I got a lot of years.”

Howard, however, said he had thought about that night just because with the return to New Orleans.

“It was a night to remember,” Howard said. “It was probably one of the best memories of me being in the NBA being in the dunk contest here in New Orleans. The fans were amazing here. Every time I come in this building, I get chills thinking about it.”

“I remember that whole experience,” Howard said. “Being here, the fans were amazing. I saw in past years, nobody tried to really engage the crowd. I like to entertain. I tried to really engage the fans, give them something they’ll remember.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Veteran guard Keith Bogans has been ‘excused’ from team activities with the Celtics … In an interview with an Italian media outlet, Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari isn’t sure when or if he’ll return this season … Fantastic read about Blazers guard Wesley Matthews and the strained relationship he has with his dad … Clippers coach Doc Rivers can’t help but marvel at Dirk Nowitzki‘s career … Ex-Spurs forward Richard Jefferson sounds a little bitter about all the hype Kawhi Leonard is getting in San Antonio

ICYMI(s) of The Night: On a 12-game night, it’s tough to find the best plays because so many of them stand out. But today, we’re going with a pair of nice backdoor alley-oops — one from Nicolas Batum to Damian Lillard and another one from Giannis Antetokounmpo to Larry Sanders:


VIDEO: Damian Lillard skies high on the baseline to finish off Nicolas Batum’s alley-oop


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo finds Larry Sanders for the reverse alley-oop

Baby Steps For Heat’s Oden




VIDEO: The Game Time crew discuss Greg Oden’s long awaited return to the court

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Baby steps.

Big, giant baby steps.

That’s all the Miami Heat can and should expect from Greg Oden now that he’s made his long-awaited return to NBA action as a reserve for the two-time defending champions.

Oden’s dream became a reality Wednesday night in Washington, when the former No. 1 overall pick played his first minutes since 2009. As they say, you cannot coach size. And Oden leaves a huge footprint on the court, even in limited minutes. Oden recorded an offensive rebound, a dunk and personal foul in his first 30 seconds of action. He played 8 minutes and 24 seconds altogether, finishing with six points on 2-for-3 shooting from the floor, 2-for-2 from the free throw line, and grabbed two rebounds in the Heat’s 114-97 blowout loss.

It’s been a long time coming for Oden, who missed what should have been his rookie season with a knee injury and then endured three more microfracture surgeries on his knees.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game that Oden’s appearance was in the master plan and based on months of hard work by the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 Draft. Plus, the Heat need a bruiser now that former starting center Joel Anthony has been traded away.

“He’s been working very diligently,” Spoelstra said of Oden. “It’s been all part of the plan. He’s made great progress. He’s getting stronger. He’s getting healthier. He’s getting his core right. Everything without skipping steps. We’re very patient with him.”

Like I said, baby steps … big, giant baby steps!


VIDEO: Greg Oden talks about his regular-season debut with the Heat

Hang Time One-On-One … With Al Horford

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Al Horford‘s season came to an abrupt end on Dec. 26 when he reached for the ball and tore his right pectoral muscle, the second such injury in three seasons for the Atlanta Hawks’ two-time All-Star center.

Horford tore his left pectoral muscle in 2012 and missed four months recovering from that injury, coming back in the playoffs that season but missing all but 11 regular season games during the 2011-12 season. But the heat and soul of the Hawks’ franchise will not let this latest injury setback deter him. He’s vowed to return better than ever while continuing to serve as an influential voice and presence for his team during his recovery.

Just so we’re clear on the impact Horford had on the Hawks this season, his first playing alongside someone other than Josh Smith (now in Detroit) in the frontcourt, you need to consider what sort of company he was in as the Hawks’ leading scorer and rebounder.

At the time of his injury Horford was one of just six players — LeBron James of the Miami Heat, Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers and DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings were the others — leading his team in points and rebounds.

Now Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and guys like Elton Brand and Pero Antic are left to help fill the massive void left by Horford’s absence for a Hawks team that has overachieved this season.

Interestingly enough, those are the same guys Horford expressed extreme confidence in when I sat down with him before his injury for the latest installment of our Hang Time One-On-One series …



VIDEO: Al Horford opens up about his Hawks, his city, his journey and much more in this HT One-On-One

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 21


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Granger returns | Kobe-less Lakers beat Wolves | Deng off trade block? | Oden still a ways away? | Hotel New York

No. 1: Pacers crowd welcomes back GrangerDanny Granger played just five games last season due to a knee injury and a calf strain has kept him out all of this season — until Friday night. The small forward made a triumphant return in front of a home crowd that serenaded him with chants of “Danny! Danny!” as he headed to the scorer’s table to check in with about 4 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter. Granger played 22 minutes, scoring five points on a rusty 1-for-7 shooting with two assists and five turnovers. But for an already loaded Pacers team, the return of Granger provides just one more weapon.

From Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star:

He got a standing ovation when he officially checked in with 4:05 remaining. He made his presence felt on the defensive end, coming from the weak side to block a shot by Houston’s Dwight Howard.

“It felt good,” said Granger, who played in just five games last season because of a knee injury. “When you haven’t played in a long time, you want to do something defensively to get into the flow of the game. The crowd went crazy. It was exciting. And we got the win by 33 points (Granger’s uniform number). Kind of ironic.”

The love continued throughout the night for Granger, who played 22 minutes — two more than coach Frank Vogel estimated he would — and scored five points on just 1-for-7 shooting. The numbers weren’t great. He had two assists while committing five turnovers.

But with his teammates playing so well around him, that hardly mattered. It was a rousing success.

“It’s exactly what I thought we would see,” Vogel said. “I think he’s going to have an adjustment period, and it’s going to be a process with his shot-making and his ability to finish plays.

“But what I liked about it is the way he impacted the game on the defensive end. For all the questions about if he was going to fit in, he shared the basketball every time he had an opportunity to. He shot the open shots in the rhythm of the offense, which we asked him to do. And he went out and he guarded. He played a strong defensive game.”

Granger led the Pacers in scoring for five consecutive years before the knee injury virtually wiped out his entire 2012-13 campaign. Hibbert and Paul George have emerged as team leaders in his absence. He was heartened by the response he got from the crowd, which also chanted “Danny, Danny” when Vogel removed him from the game for the final time with 2:28 left in regulation.

“It was awesome,” he said. “Couple of standing ovations when I was out there. Just to play in front of the home crowd again was kind of a breath of fresh air. … Just got to keep building up my legs and my wind.”

***

No. 2: Lakers can smile againXavier Henry, Nick Young and Pau Gasol didn’t let the bummer news of Kobe Bryant‘s fractured knee get in the way of the team stringing together consecutive wins for just the third time this season. Back at home after a 2-2 road trip, L.A. tripped up the disappointing Minnesota Timberwolves, 104-91. With Bryant out for six weeks and the point guard crew of Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all still out with injury, Henry, a shooting guard, assumed those duties and merely poured in 21 points with four assists. Gasol continued his resurgence with a near triple-double: 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Young jumped off the bench for 25 points, including a long 3-pointer with 1:59 to go that put the Lakers up by nine. The Lakers were 10-9 without Kobe as he recovered from the Achilles injury, went 2-4 with him back and now will look for their first three-game win streak of the season Saturday night at struggling Golden State.

From Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

Something funny happened on the way to the memorial service for the Lakers’ 2013-14 season.

They won a game.

The Lakers, finished for the season? Not yet.

“We’re not done,” Gasol said. “This team is ready to continue to compete and continue to have fun and is not going to fold just because we’re facing some injuries and adversity.”

This being the Western Conference, where 10 teams are .500 or better — exactly seven more than the East — it will be very difficult for the Lakers (13-13) to make the playoffs.

If the Lakers wanted any inspiration, they knew they went 10-9 without Bryant until his return from a torn Achilles’ tendon. It’s not quite rallying-cry material, but they again face a long chunk of time without him because of his fractured knee.

“I think they’re excited about disproving people like they did the first time and we’ll do it again,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said earlier Friday.

***

No. 3: Bulls pull Deng off market? — The Chicago Bulls, despite their season falling apart since Derrick Rose suffered a second knee injury, want to hold on to small forward Luol Deng, who is averaging 19.6 ppg and 7.0 rpg. That’s what sources have told ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst. Deng will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The two-time All-Star is currently out until at least next week nursing an Achilles injury:

Teams are inquiring about Deng’s status with the Bulls, who continue to sink in the standings in the wake of the knee injury that wrecked another season for Derrick Rose.

Deng told the Chicago Sun-Times this week that he’s been preparing for the possibility of being traded, but sources said that’s not in the team’s plans.

Despite failing to come to terms on a contract extension before the season, the Bulls remain optimistic they will re-sign Deng next summer.

Having spent his entire 10-year career with Chicago, Deng has consistently said he wants to stay with the Bulls, though the sides were far apart on contract talks before they were tabled.

Deng is in the final year of a contact that will pay him $14 million this season, and the Bulls are facing a luxury-tax bill that could exceed $13 million. Some league executives believe that the Bulls, who’d never incurred a luxury tax until last year, may have an interest in offloading payroll ahead of the trade deadline. For now, though, that will not include Deng.

The Bulls (9-16) lost their fourth consecutive game Thursday night and have dropped eight of their last 10 in falling to 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

***

No. 4: Oden getting antsy to play? — Miami center Greg Oden hasn’t played an NBA game in more than four years and the big man from Ohio State who continues to work himself back from multiple knee injuries appears to have the playing itch. He was inactive for the 26th consecutive game during the Heat’s breezy home victory over the Sacramento Kings Friday night. Miami Herald beat reporter Joseph Goodman reports that Oden could be getting frustrated with all of the pine time:

Dwyane Wade said before the Heat’s game against the Kings that Greg Oden has “gotten down” and “a little frustrated” while waiting to join the team on the court. Oden was in his business attire and inactive for the 26th consecutive game this season Friday.

At the same time, Wade said Oden “has been great” and the Heat’s co-captain said he was proud of Oden’s patience. The Heat’s reserve center, who hasn’t played in a regular-season game in more than four years, went through his normal pregame routine Friday. He worked out on the court before shedding his knee brace and practice attire for a sport coat and a spot on the bench.

Still, Wade’s tone seemed to acknowledge the widely held belief that Oden is still a long way from being cleared to play.

“His attitude has been great,” Wade said. “I’m sure at times he has gotten down and got a little frustrated, but he’s giving himself a chance. He is listening to the guys who know the bodies very well — way more than us athletes.

“He is doing everything they ask him to do, so it’s giving him an opportunity to get back on the court whenever that time comes. He’s not rushing it, so as someone who has been through injuries before, I’m proud of him being patient, and I know he’s frustrated because he wants to get out there and play with us. I know if he keeps doing what he’s doing, his time will come.”

***

No. 5: Knicks’ hometown hotel — The New York Knicks play their third home noon game Saturday against Memphis, and after the first two ended as the team’s most lopsided defeats of the season, coach Mike Woodson decided he wasn’t taking any chances with his team not being prepared yet again for the early tip. So the coach decided to put the team up in a hotel Friday night. Here’s the story from Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“Yeah, we’ve had those troubles and you know, we’re going to all get together tonight and huddle together,” Woodson said after practice Friday in Greenburgh. “I’m not going to let them hang out.

“We’re going to all get together, ourselves, as a team.”

Asked if he felt the need to “baby-sit” his players — after the Knicks were blown out on their home floor by 31 points by San Antonio on Nov. 10 and by 41 by Boston on Dec. 8 — Woodson replied, “Well, we’re going to be together. Put it that way.”

Carmelo Anthony said he was “hearing” that curfew would be 10 p.m. The All-Star forward indicated the Knicks (8-17) also stayed together at a hotel before the Celtics debacle earlier this month, but it certainly appears they will be more closely monitored before facing the Grizzlies.

“We’ve done that plenty of times where we stayed at a hotel together, the night before a game. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it works. We’ll see about that tomorrow,” Anthony said. “We didn’t do it the San Antonio game. Sometimes it works — early games. Sometimes it don’t.

“It’s just a matter of us coming out the gate and establish that early. I don’t think it has anything to do with us staying in a hotel or not. That’s what Coach wants to do and we’re going to do it.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Duke star and potential top three Draft pick Jabari Parker likes comparisons to Knicks star Carmelo Anthony … Injured Trail Blazers rookie C.J. McCollum has been cleared to practice, but his career debut could still be a ways away … LeBron James says the Heat’s shooters are concerned about how the Christmas Day sleeved jerseys will affect their stroke.

ICYMI Of The Night: The Sixers’ surprising early season success is a thing of the past, but guard Evan Turner helped bring some joy to the City of Brotherly Love with a last-second overtime basket to cap a wild 121-120 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.


VIDEO: Turner saves the day for Philly

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 18


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron to sit against Pacers? | “Silent assassin” strikes again | Henry a solid investment for Lakers | Woody’s code red in New York 

No. 1: With or without LeBron, Heat need to beware of the Pacers — LeBron James might not play in tonight’s rematch between the Heat and Indiana Pacers thanks to that sore ankle he injured Monday night. But Linda Robertson of the Miami Herald is convinced that the Heat need to be on red alert with or without James against this upstart Pacers team that has designs on the Heat’s crown. And since they are the only two teams in the Eastern Conference that are legitimate title contenders, every single time they meet this season will serve as a referendum, of sorts, on both teams:

Heat players rolled their eyes. Asked when he circled the date of the matchup on his calendar, Chris Bosh deadpanned, “Yesterday.”

“What is a rivalry these days?” James said, dismissing the notion that Heat-Pacers qualified as one. He was the King ignoring the serfs as they girded for revolution.

Perhaps Heat players are taking the jaded, realistic view. Who cares about December hothouse flowers? The Heat blooms in June.

Phase One of the long NBA season is for warming up and preserving body parts, not peaking, according to the two-time defending champs. Part of the problem with a league in desperate need of tinkering is the soullessness of so many games. The schedule starts to look like a vast wasteland with mediocre teams plodding from one inconclusive skirmish to another. Realignment and relegation deserve study if the NBA wants to awake.

In the meantime, we have Heat-Pacers II, to be followed by Heat-Pacers III on March 26, Heat-Pacers IV on April 11 and presumably Heat-Pacers Apocalypse in the Eastern Conference finals.

So the Heat better pay attention. As coach Erik Spoelstra is fond of saying, championship habits are ingrained during the regular season. Heat players, who beat the Pacers in seven games in last year’s playoffs, have a right to act superior, but the Pacers won’t be any worse for wear by stockpiling confidence. While the Heat conserves energy, the Pacers hone their ability to exploit Miami’s flaws — skills that will come in handy in five months.

Roy Hibbert is perfecting how to become a 7-2, 300-pound thorn in the Heat’s side.

The center dominated the paint in Indy and made a season-high 10 baskets — almost all from close range as the Heat failed to prevent him from catching post passes. David West added 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

The Heat has no answer for their size and muscle. The Greg Oden Project continues, in secret, with no sign that the big man’s knees will be ready anytime soon. If and when he does return — and Hibbert said he’s looking forward to it — Oden has to make up for a lot of lost time. He hasn’t played in a regular-season game in more than four years.

Paul George is making the most of valuable on-the-job training against Miami. The emerging superstar had a harried first half against the Heat’s double teams last week, but he figured out how to unlock himself and sank three crucial three-pointers, finishing with 17 points.

James was the unselfish distributor with his balanced contribution of 17 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, plus feverish defense of George, but if James’ ankle will cooperate, he needs to be a more aggressive scorer Wednesday. At Indy, he made only 3 of 11 field goals in Miami’s anemic second, third and fourth quarters.

… Miami believes it can make do without a center — and has two titles to prove it. But the rebounding bugaboo almost doomed the Heat against Indiana last year and again against San Antonio in the NBA Finals. Even against Utah on Monday, Miami gave up 17 second-chance points in the first half.

“It’s always a point of emphasis for us,” Bosh said. “It keeps teams in it against us.”


VIDEO: LeBron James is hopeful he’ll be in the lineup against the Pacers

***

No. 2: Big Shot Lillard? Nah! Silent assassin mows owns Cleveland Damian Lillard is developing a reputation around the league in just his second season as one of the true big shot artists in the game. He drained his second game-winner of the week Tuesday night in Cleveland, outdueling All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving in the process. Uncle Drew met up with the “Silent Assassin” Tuesday night and the ending was even better than the show that preceded it, writes Joe Freeman of The Oregonian. The Trail Blazers’ Houdini act makes for spectacular visuals that even the King approves of:

After Damian Lillard bludgeoned the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night, swishing a game-winning three-pointer before the final buzzer to carry the red-hot Trail Blazers to another victory, the superlatives flowed as free and effortless as a shot off Lillard’s right fingertips.
“Cold blooded,” Cleveland’s Dion Waiters said of the game-winner.
“Incredible,” Joel Freeland said of the dominant individual performance.
“He’s like a silent assassin on the court,” Earl Watson said of Lillard. “He’s deadly when he shoots the ball.”
Lillard was certainly a last-second marksman for the Blazers on Tuesday, calmly and confidently nailing a 30-foot step-back three with 0.4 seconds left to lift them to a 119-116 victory over the Cavaliers before 15,689 at Quicken Loans Arena. It was thesecond consecutive game-winner for Lillard — who hit a fadeaway jumper to beat the Detroit Pistons Sunday — and provided another remarkable moment in a season that continues to amaze.
“It’s crazy that we’re pulling off wins like this,” Freeland said of the Blazers, who possess the NBA’s best record at 22-4.

… Afterward, in another muted celebration, Lillard coolly flexed, flashed a menacing glare and bumped chests with Aldridge as teammates gathered around.

“There is nothing to break down,” coach Terry Stotts said, when asked to dissect the winning play. “Damian had it going … he had a special night. I thought it was appropriate that he finished it like that.”

VIDEO: Fan Night Top Ten featuring the vocal stylings of Beau Estes!

***

No. 3: Henry investment produces solid returns for Lakers — Kobe Bryant‘s return to action was a foregone conclusion for the Los Angeles Lakers and in turn the men who toiled in his place during his absence. But that sliver of opportunity provided one-time Memphis Grizzlies lottery pick Xavier Henry with the opening he needed to prove himself to the Lakers and the rest of the league. It was an investment that has delivered solid returns for the Lakers, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. It’s an investment that has worked out well for all involved:

Keeping faith When he set foot in this city nearly 3½ years ago, Xavier Henry was considered a highly touted draft prospect that could help the Memphis Grizzlies toward a deep playoff push.

Henry, whom Memphis selected with the 12th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, never did that. A right knee injury sidelined him for 35 games his rookie season. The Grizzlies then traded Henry the following year to New Orleans, where overlapping injuries buried him on the depth chart. “I was just faithful to God and stayed true to the Bible,” Henry said. “I perservered through it. I’ve been doing that so far in my career. It hasn’t been easy,”

The Lakers signed Henry to a one-year deal this offseason with a partially guaranteed contract worth $884,293, and the move became a good investment.

Henry only posted five points on 2 of 8 shooting in the Lakers’ win Tuesday against Memphis. But he has averaged a career-high 9.8 points on 44 percent shooting in 20.1 minutes per game. He has also shown marked improvement from November (6.8 points on 37.9 percent shooting) to December (13.9 points on 50 percent shooting).

“I’m trying to solidify myself and have a great career,” Henry said. “But it doesn’t happen in a day. I can’t have too many highs or lows. It’s about pushing through the whole season.”

***

No. 4: Next few days critical for Woodson — Time out controversies, mixed up injury updates and eroding confidence in the locker room and front office, could things get any worse for Knicks coach Mike Woodson? Well, if you let Frank Isola of the New York Daily News tell it, these next few days are critical for Woodson and the prospect of him holding on to his job through Christmas. Fall apart against the Milwaukee Bucks tonight and … well, that lump of coal will arrive a few days early:

According to a source, [Amar'e] Stoudemire “flipped out” when he learned of Woodson’s medical update and quickly took to Twitter to inform the fans ‘IM NOT INJURED.” He also said that his body and knees “feel great!” Of course, Stoudemire didn’t make the trip to Milwaukee, so Woodson isn’t entirely wrong. The Knicks don’t play again until Saturday, so technically Stoudemire is out for “a while.”

Now, whether Woodson is still coaching the Knicks by Saturday is anyone’s guess. [Knicks owner Jim] Dolan is the X factor, of course. Anything and everything is possible. If he woke up in October believing the Knicks were championship-ready, he could just as easily decide tomorrow that Allan Houston or Herb Williams should lead the team for the remainder of the season.

But Dolan likes Woodson and may be willing to give him a chance to salvage the season now that Tyson Chandler is expected back from a broken leg. Chandler’s presence is huge in so many areas but he’s also limited. He’s not a big scorer and he’s injury-prone.

The whole roster is injury-prone despite the Dolan narrative that only Jason Kidd, Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace were medical risks who all had to go. Kenyon Martin has an abdominal strain and is expected to be out two weeks. Pablo Prigioni is also out two weeks with a broken big toe. Raymond Felton, strained hamstring, two weeks.

(Do you get the feeling that the medical staff is under fire and instead of giving a four-week prognosis is now listing everyone at two weeks?) In Dolan’s defense, he only claimed this roster was built for the playoffs. He never promised it would get there.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Warriors finally get Andre Iguodala back in the lineup and at just the right time … Forget the analytics when it comes to Russell Westbrook, numbers just don’t do him justice … Underrated point guard Ty Lawson is the key to the Nuggets’ season and future … Celtics and Sixers ready to battle it out for Rockets big man Omer Asik?

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: You owe it yourself to take one more look at the work Damian Lillard put in against the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night, young fella is a BEAST …


VIDEO: Damian Lillard should get the key to the city after his work in Cleveland Tuesday night

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 17


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Woodson takes blame for Knicks’ loss | Oden’s status remains a mystery | Brown impressed with Trail Blazers | Johnson is Nets’ unsung ironman

No. 1: Woodson botches final seconds, shoulders burden for loss — A public vote of confidence from Carmelo Anthony won’t make things any easier on Knicks coach Mike Woodson today. As if things could get any crazier for Woodson and his beaten down team, Monday night’s Manhattan Meltdown against the Wizards left Woodson on the hook for a late-game mistake. ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley delivers the goods on Melo defending his coach after the curious late-game tailspin that might ultimately cost Woodson his job:

Some will be calling for Mike Woodson’s job in the wake of the New York Knicks’ disastrous one-point loss to the Washington Wizards on Monday.

But Knicks star Carmelo Anthony believes his coach is safe.

“As far as I’m concerned, he’s secure right now. I haven’t heard anything,” Anthony said Monday night after initially declining to answer a question about Woodson’s status. “There’s nothing to discuss. He’s our coach, and we’re rolling with him.”

Woodson’s job security has come into question in recent weeks with the Knicks (7-17) playing well below expectations. Woodson and the Knicks’ late-game errors Monday will only put more heat on the coach.

New York had a one-point lead against the Wizards with 24 seconds to play and a foul to give.

Instead of using the foul, the Knicks allowed Bradley Beal to drive for an uncontested layup with 6.9 seconds to play.

Then, Woodson and his players did not call timeout to set up a final play. Instead, Anthony dribbled the ball across half court and took a 25-foot off-balance shot that fell short as time expired. The Knicks had three timeouts to use.

“I probably should have taken a timeout there at the end, but you know, Beno [Udrih] grabbed it [to inbound] and the ball is in Melo’s hands before I could even react, and I should have reacted a lot sooner once the ball went through the bucket. So, that’s on me,” Woodson said. ” …. I didn’t call the timeout so I’ve got to take the heat for that.”

There is plenty of blame to go around in New York, more than enough for Anthony, Woodson, Spike Lee and anyone else to get in on the action. But Woodson’s seat is the hottest.


VIDEO: The Game Time crew breaks down the Knicks’ Manhattan Meltdown

***

No. 2: Oden’s status remains a mystery for Heat-Pacers and beyond — Greg Oden had to watch the first chapter of the Heat-Pacers drama in street clothes last week. His status for Round 2 Wednesday remains one of  South Florida’s biggest mysteries. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra isn’t tipping his hand. And Pacers big man Roy Hibbert probably doesn’t care, even after his woeful performance in the Pacers’ first home loss of the season to Josh Smith and the Detroit Pistons Monday night. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald does his best to uncover the secretes surrounding Oden’s status:

The Heat plays the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night in the biggest home game of the first two months of the season, and the topic of Oden and his playing status (or lack thereof) will once again be a point of discussion.

Last week, Oden watched from the bench in Indianapolis as Pacers center Roy Hibbert dominated the paint both offensively and defensively. After the game, Hibbert said he was looking forward to Oden joining the rivalry.

But exactly when Oden will begin playing games for the Heat remains a mystery. He made an appearance in the preseason but hasn’t suited up for a regular-season game. Oden, who was in street clothes against the Jazz, has been inactive for the first 24 games of the season.

As a follow up to a question about his rotations, Spoelstra was asked about how to efficiently incorporate Oden into the Heat’s system once he is ready to play.

“We’ll get to that when we get to that,” Spoelstra said. “It will be no different than when we had to incorporate Michael [ Beasley], when we’ve had to incorporate Shane [ Battier]. We incorporated Norris [Cole]. When we get to that point, we’ll deal with it the way we always do.”

Spoelstra was then asked whether he thought adding Oden midstream would be the biggest challenge of the season.

“You can’t ever pinpoint what the biggest challenge will be in an NBA season, really,” Spoelstra said. “They come daily, they come weekly because of the schedule, but they will arrive on your doorstep.”

Oden hasn’t played in regular-season game in more than four years.


VIDEO:
Did the Pacers get caught looking ahead to Wednesday’s showdown with the Heat?

***

No. 3: Brown sees much to like (maybe even love) about the Trail Blazers — Don’t judge Cleveland coach Mike Brown for being envious of Terry Stotts and the machine he’s presiding over in Portland these days. All coaches wish they could get off to the early season start the Blazers have. So while Brown has the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week (Kyrie Irving) at his disposal, he’d love to have the NBA’s team of the first two months (arguably, the Pacers want in on that as well) to work with, as Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer explains (oh, and that point guard matchup tonight between Irving and Damian Lillard should be as good as any we’ve seen thus far):

Ask Cavaliers coach Mike Brown what makes the Portland Trail Blazers so good and his long, long list of compliments starts with coach Terry Stotts and goes through LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews all the way to Mo Williams.

It’s no wonder, either, since the Trail Blazers come into The Q on Tuesday with a shiny 21-4 record, best in the Western Conference. After an overtime victory at Detroit on Sunday, they’re even better on the road — 11-2 — than at home.

“Terry is a good coach first of all, but if you look at their roster, they have veteran guys on that team or guys in their prime,” Brown said after the Cavs practice on Monday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “They have very few young guys they’re asking to run or lead the ship. They’ve got a lot of veteran players on their team who know how to play the game the right way on the floor. A lot of those guys have had success. Maybe not last year, but LaMarcus has won before, Batum has won before, Matthews has won before there and even in Utah.

“I thought the Lopez kid was the right fit. They needed a big body that doesn’t need to score or anything like that who will do the dirty work because they have enough scorers when you look at the guys they rotate in and out of the game. Then on top of that you’ve got a veteran like Mo Williams who can shoot the 3, who can come off pindowns,  who can play pick and roll. He’s fast with the ball, can play in transition, can make plays for himself and his teammates.

“That’s a nice mix of players they have who know how to score the basketball. Because they have size and because in my opinion they added a guy like Lopez, that makes them bigger. Lopez has great feet, so that makes them even better defensively than what they might have been in the past. Then you have Batum and Wes Matthews, too, on the perimeter. Those are two big guards who know how to defend.”

***

No. 4: Low-key Johnson serves as Nets’ unsung ironman — His record-tying shooting night thrust Joe Johnson into the national headlines. But he’s been the Nets’ unsung ironman all season, writes Filip Bondy of The New York Daily News. Through all of the trials and tribulations this team has faced this season, Johnson has been the one constant. And whether Nets fans and others realize it or not, that could very well be the one factor that saves their season:

Of all the remarkable season stats for Joe Johnson, the most impressive one right now rests directly below the “G.”

There, you will find the number 24, which means that Johnson is one of only four Nets, and the only one who really matters, not to have missed a single game this year due to injury. It is a wonder how he has remained in one piece, while all around him his teammates have been felled like Christmas trees in early December. “I love to come out and play,” Johnson said after he had done something remarkable on Monday night. “I just try to be here for the guys.”

Johnson wasn’t merely there for the guys at Barclays Center, he was ablaze. Johnson went on a record-tying 3-point streak that suddenly made a lopsided game worth watching, at least for a period. In that third quarter, he scored 29 points and buried eight of 10 threes, including an impossible bomb from the left corner with defender James Anderson draped all over him — while drawing a foul.

“I got a good look, got separation,” Johnson insisted. “I just let it go. I was in the right spot a lot of times, at the right times, catching the ball with the seams every time in the right place.”

It was all more than enough to bury the Sixers, 130-94, and to demonstrate again how Johnson has become the rock on a team largely comprised of delicate sand pebbles. “Got to keep giving him the ball, keep giving it to him,” Andray Blatche said.

Johnson finished with 37 points and 10 3-pointers, and all around him his teammates were shouting, “Just keep shooting.” But Johnson had been battling a bug these last couple of days, skipping practice, and so he took a seat on the bench while watching the fourth quarter of this laugher. He had earned the rest, averaging 34 minutes per game while shooting .433 from 3-point range. “He’s been the one horse, been consistent for us,” Jason Kidd said. “A guy who never complains.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Heat’s Dwyane Wade insists the average fan just doesn’t understand the anatomy and physiology of an NBA star … Joe Johnson wasn’t the only former Hawks star to have a good night. Josh Smith is working on back-to-back monster nights for the Pistons … Contrasting styles were on display in the Clippers-Spurs game last night, Gregg Popovich’s way vs. the unique approach that Doc Rivers employs … Derrick Rose is worried about the Bulls’ future? (while most everyone else is worried about his!)

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: Forget about the Bulls’ struggles for a minute and just enjoy Taj Gibson‘s finishing touch on this pick and roll  …


VIDEO: Nik Vucevic is a HT fave, but he’s on the wrong end of this dunk by Taj Gibson

Hibbert’s Edge Over Miami At Both Ends Begs For Oden Response


VIDEO: Roy Hibbert joins NBA TV after beating Heat

INDIANAPOLISPaul George is having a breakout season, a Most Improved trophy winner improving his game all over again to barge into discussions for the next level of superstar hardware.

But George wasn’t the pivotal player for the Indiana Pacers in their 90-84 victory over the Miami Heat Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Roy Hibbert was. And it figures to stay that way through three more regular season meetings and however many times the teams hook up in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Keeping things parallel, then, if not literal, Miami’s most pivotal player as this slugfest for East supremacy plays out might not end up being LeBron James, its MVP in residence. The guy sitting behind the Heat bench Tuesday night in the blue jacket – Greg Oden – might wind up rating that status.

It’s a big might or if or maybe or whatever conditional set-up you choose to use, because Oden hasn’t played an NBA game in more than four years, dating back to Dec. 5, 2009. His knee zippers have zippers, and surgeons set up an honor bar in one of them, anticipating their next visit. The 7-footer from Ohio State and Lawrence North High in Indianapolis, one of the league’s most unfortunate and frustrating stories in recent memory, has logged a total of 82 games since he went No. 1 in the 2007 Draft. He has missed five times that number.

But as Hibbert kept throwing in buckets over the top of the Miami defense (24 points on 10-for-15 shooting) and altering not just shots but the Heat’s strategy and identity at the other end, Oden – project player and two-year, $2.2 million gamble – became conspicuous in his seat for his possible late-season involvement.

After The Game That Wasn’t A Statement, James flashed a hopeful look as he contemplated the possibility of Oden as a Hibbert counter. Not next week when they meet again in south Florida but in March. Or April. Or best of all, May.

“We’re not the team that we want to be in April right now, and that’s OK,” James said, after Miami asserted itself in the first half against Indiana, then got a little casual when things unraveled on it in the second. “That’s exactly what we want. We want to continue to get better.”

Might Oden figure into that plan?

“We hope so,” James said. “We hope so.”

And guess what? Hibbert hopes so too. At the moment, he is literally and figuratively the biggest X-factor in the matchups between these teams.

Offensively, he works old-school from the low post like few current NBA centers, a cockeyed change of attack point and style as disconcerting for opponents as Seattle’s pesky old switch-everything defense under George Karl, especially when encountered randomly during a long season. Miami deals with all manner of open-court and wing players like George. It showed in the first half it can swarm and choke him off the way it has other dynamos like Chicago’s Derrick Rose or Jeremy Lin at the height of Linsanity. Hibbert’s size, though, makes him a rarity.

Defensively, he long has been planted not just in the Heat players’ peripheral vision but in their heads, especially now that NBA officiating crews seem to grant him “verticality” calls the way Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant used to own rip-throughs. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a member of the privileged class like James or Dwyane Wade banging into him 10 feet above the court .

Still, for all that advantage, the Pacers’ big man sounded eager to face whatever XXXL card the two-time champions have stashed up their sleeves (sleeves, for the record, is legit phraseology now in this alternative-jersey world).

“I’m gonna just keep asserting myself whenever I play against them,” Hibbert said. “But I’m really looking forward to matching up against Greg when he does play. He’s such a big impact, a big impressive presence. When he gets healthy, we can battle a little bit.”

Oden, Miami insiders say, continues to work out pain-free, participating partially in Heat practices with an eye on game involvement at some point in the season’s second half. He was signed largely for a possible playoff matchup with Hibbert, who expects to see him later if not sooner, assuming Oden a) gets on the court and stays on the court, and b) plays like some reasonable facsimile of his former self.

“At some point this year,” Hibbert said late Tuesday. “I’m not saying ‘Hey, I’m gonna go kick somebody’s ass.’ I always say I can play against the best. Joakim Noah brings the best out of me. Playing against LaMarcus Aldridge. And y’know, Greg is such a dynamic image … I’ll see.”


VIDEO: Paul George and the Pacers discuss their win over the Heat

Huge NBA Opening Week; And You Wanted To Wait Till Christmas?

VIDEO: The top plays from the NBA’s opening week

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Six nights. That’s all it took to remind yet again why we play the games, all 82, and why any claim of less being more is pure folly.

Why not November? I say.

As the 2011 lockout ushered in a reduced schedule of 66 games starting on Christmas Day and firing off a fan-pleasing crush of games nightly, a spark ignited into a full-blown media/Internet forest fire: Why not start every NBA season on Dec. 25?

Heck, no one’s paying attention in November, let alone a pre-Halloween slate. With the NFL and college football beast roaring, who’s got the attention span to cram in hoops, too?

So congratulations to the NBA for a wholly unpredictable and fascinating opening week that featured scintillating individual performances and take-that victories by teams who’ve been told they stink. And so the games are played. Yes, even in November.

There isn’t a more outrageous narrative than Philly’s 3-0 start that includes takedowns of the Heat and Bulls led by The Kid, Michael Carter-Williams. Our own John Schuhmann couldn’t help but unprecedentedly vault the Sixers from 29th to No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings.

While all will likely right itself before too long, one week in and we’ve got upside-down standings. The trifecta tankers — Philly, Phoenix and Orlando — are 7-2. Miami, Chicago, Brooklyn and New York are 5-8.

Along with some fascinating upsets and  fast starts, we’ve seen a bevy of fantastic individual scoring and rebounding frenzies.

Here’s a quick look at some of the opening week’s wildly unpredictable highlights:

*  Carter-Williams has to sweep the Player of the Week honors for rookies and everybody else. In his season debut against Miami, he nearly notched a quadruple-double with 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals. A fluke? A few nights later against the Bulls and the comeback kid Derrick  Rose, he dropped 26 points and 10 assists. Golden State, in Philly tonight (7 p.m. ET, League Pass), has been warned.

* You can probably name more traded Suns than current Suns, but they’re 2-1 and on Sunday pushed Oklahoma City to the brink in their home opener even with Russell Westbrook supercharging the evening with his unexpected return. By the way, he looked super-fast.

* Let’s not forget the Magic’s supposed bid for massive ping-pong-ball accumulation. Rookie Victor Oladipo has other plans. The Magic aren’t disappearing after two rousing victories over the improved Pelicans and (title-contending?) Nets by a combined 41 points to even their record at 2-2.

* The no-name Lakers bench crushed the star-studded Clippers’ starters in the fourth quarter in both teams’ opener.

* Chris Paul has stat lines of 42 points and 15 assists and 26 points and 10 assists.

* Kevin Love is all the way back, averaging 29.7 ppg, 14.7 rpg and 3.7 apg to help Minnesota start 3-0. He already has games of 31 and 17, and 34 and 15.

* The 2-1 Pistons’ front line is living up to expectations. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are walking double-doubles. Monroe has a 24 and 16 game under his belt and Drummond already has 15-and-12 and 12-and-16 games.

* Second-year Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson went off for 38 points on 15-for-19 shooting in 31 minutes.

*Kings center DeMarcus Cousins notched 31 points and 14 rebounds against the Nuggets.

* In the same game, Knicks center Tyson Chandler pulled down 19 rebounds and Bulls center Joakim Noah grabbed 15.

* In a battle of point guards, Steph Curry and CP3 combined for 80 points, 11 3-pointers, 24 assists and 17 turnovers.

* Also in the same game, Mavs forward Shawn Marion and Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph posted matching stat lines of 21 points and 14 boards.

* Greg Oden dunked on his first offensive possession since Dec. 5, 2009.

* Dwight Howard is averaging 15.0 ppg and 17.0 rpg in three games. His 51 rebounds nearly double his free 26 throw attempts, of which he’s made half.

* Pelicans second-year center/forward Anthony Davis is taking this breakthrough stuff seriously, averaging 23.7 ppg, 12.3 rpg and 4.0 bpg. He has games of 25 points and six blocks, 26 points and 17 rebounds and 20 points and 12 boards.

There are even more big games to get to from Kevin Durant to Paul George to Monta Ellis to Nicolas Batum‘s apologetic triple-double, but in the interest of fair time, we must also get to the surprising (or in some instances the not-so-surprising, but still noteworthy) developments at the other end of the spectrum:

* The Nuggets, 0-2, and center JaVale McGee are not off to inspiring starts. This is supposed to be McGee’s big moment, but the 7-footer has averaged just 11.5 mpg and 5.0 ppg and 2.0 rpg despite starting both games.

* Raptors forward Rudy Gay again has a nice-looking scoring average (17.0 ppg), but just think what it might be if not for shooting 32.7 percent from the floor and 30.0 percent from beyond the arc.

* Rookie Nets head coach Jason Kidd served a two-game suspension stemming from his DUI situation and then got hammered by 21 points in his debut at Orlando.

* Memphis is in transition after the promotion of Dave Joerger following Lionel Hollins being shown the door. Joerger is credited as the architect of the Grizzlies’ stifling defense, yet even with a virtually unchanged roster, the defense is being picked apart, allowing more than 106 ppg.

* Detroit’s active big guys, Monroe and Drummond, are pushing high-dollar free-agent signee Josh Smith out to the perimeter. Smith likes to shoot the long ball, but averaging 7.3 attempts from back there is a bit much, especially when he’s making just 27.0 percent.

And you wanted to wait until Christmas? Bah!

Oden Returns, Dunks On First Touch


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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Greg Oden is not ready to step into the Miami Heat’s rotation. But he was ready to step on the floor for his first NBA action in 1,418 days. And there he was in New Orleans on Wednesday night, checking in with 5:15 to go in the second quarter.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra ran a play for Oden right away. The big man set a screen for Chris Bosh and dragged Bosh’s man Al-Farouq Aminu into the paint with him. Bosh hit Oden with an entry pass and the big man pivoted and threw down a strong, two-handed dunk, eliciting an emotional reaction from the Miami bench.

A few possessions later, Oden made an impact defensively, stopping consecutive shots by Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis at the rim (though he didn’t get credit for either block). He played 3:59 and, most importantly, walked off the floor feeling fine.

“A mark of success for me,” Oden said back on media day, “is walking on to a court and walking off healthy. Being able to play in a game and just walk off the court healthy, no matter if it was one minute or two minutes. My dream is being able to play basketball, and if I can go out there and do it, run up and down and come off the court again healthy, that’s goal one. Goal two is going to my second game, going on the court and walking off.”

Just a week ago, Oden experienced swelling in his knee after a five-on-five scrimmage, so to see him playing Wednesday — even if it was preseason — was somewhat of a surprise. To see him dunk the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game since Dec. 5, 2009 was rather remarkable.

As a team, the Heat are healthy, with Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen up front. Dwyane Wade looks to be in great shape, Bosh has played well all preseason, and LeBron James is LeBron James. So, while it’s tempting to think about what he could add to a team that’s won two straight championships, there’s absolutely no need for Oden to be ready to start the season on Tuesday.

“We’re thinking big picture with this,” Spoelstra said about Oden’s progress last week. “We’re going to move very patiently.”

If we see Oden play meaningful minutes for the Heat, it probably won’t happen for a while. But this was a big step in his journey back to the NBA.

“I got a long ways to go,” Oden told FOX Sports’ Jason Jackson after the game, “but I’m just happy to be out there.”

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clips making Jordan a focus | Prep coach reflects on Rose | Oden rarely rests| Kidd adjusting to new gig

No. 1: Clippers making efforts on, off court to pump up JordanCenter DeAndre Jordan is one of the key targets of Chris Paul‘s alley oops in what was formerly known as “Lob City” and was also known for being pulled late in games due to his offensive deficiencies and poor free throw shooting. While the Clippers are still going to go as far as Paul and fellow All-Star Blake Griffin can take them, the Clips want to integrate Jordan into the mix as one of their key players as well. Off the court, they’re featuring him on the cover of this season’s media guide and on it, coach Doc Rivers wants Jordan in the game when it matters most in what are calculated moves by the coach, writes Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times:

Two rare or unprecedented sights to look for during the Clippers’ upcoming season:

DeAndre Jordan’s image on the cover of the team’s media guide with franchise players and acknowledged leaders Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, a statement about what will be expected of the 25-year-old center in his sixth season.

DeAndre Jordan, in person, on the court during the fourth quarter of tight games.

New Coach Doc Rivers’ imprint is on both moves. On the first point, Rivers made it known he wants to promote a “big three” concept rather than focusing on All-Stars Griffin and Paul. On the second point, he believes Jordan is capable of playing during crunch time, even though Jordan was mostly a spectator during that stage last season.

Jordan, who was inconsistent defensively and hit only 38.6% of his free throws last season to rank last among full-time NBA starters, played in all 82 regular-season games but got into the fourth quarter of only 30 of them. He played in two of six fourth quarters in the Clippers’ first-round playoff loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

To Rivers, who replaced Vinny Del Negro this summer, that’s ancient history, not a guideline to future success.

“I wasn’t here last year,” Rivers said Thursday when asked about Jordan’s limited late minutes last season.

Can Jordan be trusted in the fourth quarter?

“Yeah,” Rivers said before the team practiced for its first Staples Center exhibition, on Friday against Portland.

Jordan likes Rivers’ philosophy about not prejudging what he can — or can’t — do.

“Doc is a great coach, and he expects a lot out of me, and I’m definitely going to embrace that challenge,” Jordan said. “He believes in me and that only helps me be more confident and believe in myself.

“It’s a new year, a new start for everybody, and that’s what I’m focused on.”

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No. 2: Derrick Rose’s prep coach provides insight on NBA starBulls fans everywhere are delighted that Derrick Rose is back on the court and looking pretty much like his old self after missing all of last season while recovering from his torn ACL. Jason Jordan of USA Today catches up with Rose’s high school coach, Robert Smith of Simeon High School, who has great insight into what drove Rose during his rehab work:

JJ: Is it me or does he look faster in these preseason games coming off the ACL tear?
RS: He really does, right! You hit that right on the head. People text me all during his games asking me the same question and I have to agree. That’s hard to believe, but it certainly looks that way. I knew he would come back even better.

JJ: What convinced you that he would come back better?
RS: Because he took his time and he doesn’t like to disappoint people. I think that was the main reason why he didn’t come back early. He just doesn’t like to disappoint anyone. That drives him. His competitive nature would never let him not come back as good or better than he was before. When he opted to stay out I said to myself, “When he gets back it’s gonna be rough on some people.”

JJ: What’s something that people would be shocked to know about Derrick?
RS: Probably that he’s really superstitious. His routine is always the same, he doesn’t change anything. Just things like always being the last one to come out of the locker room and always being the last one to come to the huddle. Different things like that. But he’s serious about that stuff.

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No. 3: Day off of practice doesn’t mean rest for OdenGreg Oden was held out of two days of Heat practice this week due to swelling on his left knee, but that doesn’t mean he’s just hanging around the practice facility doing nothing. The goal for Oden and the team is to keep the big man on a consistent workout plan and keep his spirits up as well, writes Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

“I don’t really take a day off,” Oden said. “For me, it’s maintenance to this knee and maintenance to my body, because some days I’m not able to do the up-and-down stuff that they are able to do. I’ve got to be in the weight room, riding the bike, lifting and doing all the things I can.”

Oden began experiencing the swelling on his left knee after completing his first 5-on-5 workout in more than three years. The Heat decided to hold him out of practice rather than risk further injury. The minor setback for Oden caused little concern considering what he’s been through.

He hasn’t played since Dec. 5, 2000 after suffering a series of career-threatening knee injuries.

“I’m fine,” Oden said. “It’s been 3 1/2 years for me so a little bit of swelling … as long as there’s no surgery, I’m OK. It’s going to be a long season so I’m going to get there. It’s just one day.”

“It’s not really a set formula for that right now,” said Oden when asked when he will take days off. “It just kind of goes how the legs feel. I will see how it reacts after hard days and then we’ll figure it out from there. The more days I can get going hard and the more days we can figure out what works and what doesn’t work.”

Perhaps most impressive is Oden’s ability to remain positive during the process. He is still a few months away from the possibility of playing.

“I’m all right. I’m just icing it down,” Oden said. “It’s a process. I’ve got to figure out the ups and downs, what all I can do, how long I can do it … It wasn’t the first time [the knee swelled]. I was hoping it didn’t but it did. What can I do about it? Now, the next thing to do is get it back down. I’ve definitely got bigger goals. The best thing for me is to take it day by day.”

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No. 4: Kidd adjusting to new gig, responsibilities — Last night in Brooklyn was all about Jason Kidd as the former Nets star (and current coach of the team) had his No. 5 jersey lifted to the rafters of the Barclays Center. Before that sentimental moment, Kidd talked with our own David Aldridge about the challenges of his new job — such as learning how to draw up a play quickly — and more in a solid Q&A interview:

ALDRIDGE: When you talked to those guys this summer, did they immediately talk to you as a coach, or did you still think there was a coach-player vibe there?

KIDD: No. I think all the coaches that I ran into this summer have all been great from Doc [Rivers] to Pat Riley, you know, listening to them talk about their story of when they got started It sounded very familiar to mine, and so just listening to them and also asking them questions after the fact of what worked, what didn’t work, and the biggest thing that comes back is be yourself, trust that you know basketball, but trust your gut and always be honest and just communicate, and you’ll be fine.

ALDRIDGE: I’m sure you have a favorite play. I’m sure you’ve got something that over the years you say, “Yeah. I really like that one.”

KIDD: Yeah. There’s some plays that I’m comfortable with drawing, but in the preseason, this is all about being able to give new things to guys and see how they execute, so we can always go during the season to my favorite go-tos, but this is also for us to get better. The train’s moving, so I got to be able to feed guys new stuff and see how they accept it on the fly. Can they execute what we draw up, or can they execute what we talk about? And those are things — as a player, yes, you can do it, but now as a coach, can they — it’s out of your hands, and did you communicate it to them right, or did you leave something out? So those are the things that I’m going through.

ALDRIDGE: How will you critique yourself as a coach?

KIDD: You know, I think trusting myself, being able to take in the information and being able to deliver it. That’s the one thing I will always give myself a grade at the end of the night. There’s a lot of information being thrown my way. How did I process it, and how did I deliver it to the guys?

ALDRIDGE: Yeah. Who do you — I don’t know if “confide in” is the right word — but who will you kind of bounce ideas off of?

KIDD: Everyone. I’ve come with kind of the approach of there’s an open table. You know, come to the table with it, bring it to the board, and let’s discuss it, and then I’ll make a decision do we go with it or not? Maybe we keep it on the board because maybe it’s not the right time for that, but I love more information. The better off I’ll be, but also the team.

ALDRIDGE: Have you actually spent any time with Mikhail Prokhorov yet?

KIDD: Just at the press conference. We spent a little time together. When you talk about an owner who wants to win, well, he’s definitely shown that by putting this team together.

ALDRIDGE: Is that in any way odd to you that haven’t spent much time at all with the person who hired you?

KIDD: He’s always watching, and he’ll give a call once in a while just to check in and see how things are going.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: High-flying Nuggets big man Kenneth Faried has a strained hammy … Thunder rookie big man Steven Adams impresses in OKC’s win against New Orleans … Great story looking at the love-hate relationship Carlos Boozer has with most Bulls fans

ICYMI Of The Night: The Knicks’ Iman Shumpert had one of the best put-back dunks of 2012-13 and is getting an early start on his highlight reel for 2013-14  …