Posts Tagged ‘Hornets’

The Hunted: Warriors, Rockets & Jazz


It’s not a question of if we make the playoffs. We will. And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone — Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver…whoever.
– Kobe Bryant

Over his 17 seasons in the NBA, Bryant could always guarantee that he’ll do something absolutely amazing with the basketball just about every time he steps onto the court.

He can shake off an 0-for-10 shooting start to bury a half dozen jumpers and an opponent in a fourth-quarter blink of an eye.

He can duck and whirl through traffic, change hands with the ball and squeeze through a crack in the defense for a clutch how-did-he-do-that bucket.

He can rise up with a hand in his face, almost down his throat, and knock down an impossible 3-pointer with the sheer grace.

He can lead a 20-0 comeback in the final 6 1/2 minutes to pull out a dramatic and critical 108-106 win over the Hornets.

But no matter how many times or how emphatically he says it, what Bryant cannot guarantee is all that can happen with the teams in front of his underachieving Lakers in the Western Conference standings. For even if the Lakers put on a strong finishing kick — say 14-6 or 13-7 — they will still likely need one or more of the Warriors, Rockets and Jazz to tumble.

Can it happen? Sure. Will it happen? Nothing guaranteed. Sometimes it’s not about the hunter, but the prey.

No. 6 — Warriors (35-27)

Back in those long ago days of early February when his team was threatening to compete for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the playoffs, coach Mark Jackson liked to shake his head and scowl at the doubters who didn’t think his Warriors could run and shoot and play defense all at the same time. Maybe those doubts were just premature. Over the past five weeks, the Golden State defense has fallen off any one of the area’s picturesque bridges and sunk to the bottom of the bay. (more…)

Green And White Fly Slam Dunk Colors

HANG TIME, Texas — The last time James White and Gerald Green were in a slam dunk contest together, they practically blew the roof off with a 2010 Russian Cup performance that’s become a YouTube cult classic.

So perhaps it is fitting that they will be comrades along with Terrence Ross, representing the Eastern Conference in the 2013 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, as State Farm All-Star Saturday Night includes an overall team format for the first time.

White, Green and Ross will square off against the Western Conference threesome of Jeremy Evans, Eric Bledsoe and Kenneth Faried.

Evans, the 6-foot-9 forward from the Jazz, will be looking to defend the individual title that he won a year ago at Orlando.

The Pacers’ 6-foot-8 Green won the event in 2007 at Las Vegas when he leaped over a table to dunk in the final round to beat out Dwight Howard and finished runner-up to Howard in 2008 despite a crowd-pleasing first-round dunk where he blew out the candle on a cupcake that was sitting on the back of the rim.

State Farm All-Star Saturday Night, an all-inclusive skills showcase, will take place on Feb. 16 at the Toyota Center in Houston and will be televised live by TNT at 8 p.m. ET.

Two of the league’s long-range shooters — Stephen Curry of the Warriors and Steve Novak of the Knicks — will lead opposing teams in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest. Curry’s West teammates will be Ryan Anderson of the Hornets and Matt Bonner of the Spurs. Joining Novak on the East team will be Kyrie Irving of the Cavaliers and Paul George of the Pacers.

It’s worth noting that Novak will be returning to the Toyota Center court where he broke into the NBA with the Rockets in 2006, while the league’s top 3-point percentage shooter — Kyle Korver of the Hawks — will not take part. But Anderson has the most 3-pointers this season.

The Taco Bell Skills Challenge will have Texans Tony Parker of the Spurs and Jeremy Lin of the Rockets joining forces with Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard for the West against the Hawks’ Jeff Teague, the Sixers’ Jrue Holiday and the Bucks Brandon Jennings.

The Sears Shooting Stars Competition, which features NBA players, WNBA players and NBA legends, will have James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Tina Thompson, Maya Moore, Robert Horry and Sam Cassell of the West taking on an East team of Brook Lopez, Chris Bosh, Swin Cash, Tamika Catchings, Dominique Wilkins and Muggsy Bogues.

As part of the new format, points earned by each conference throughout the four All-Star Skills Competitions will determine the conference that earns the title of 2013 State Farm All-Star Saturday Night champion. Dwyane Wade of the Heat will serve as the East team captain and the Clippers’ Chris Paul will lead the West.

In addition, NBA Cares and State Farm will make a joint donation of $500,000 as part of the event, with $350,000 going to the winning conference’s charities and $150,000 to the runner-up conference’s charities. All of the charities will be selected by the conference captains, the NBA, and State Farm.

In drafting players for Team Chuck and Team Shaq in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal went in opposite directions with their top picks. Shaq built his foundation on the high-scoring backcourt of Irving and Lillard, while Barkley went for big men in Anthony Davis and Faried.

The 62nd NBA All-Star Game will be played on Feb. 17, at the Toyota Center.

Hornets Cautious This Time With Gordon

HOUSTON – More than an hour before tipoff, Eric Gordon was out on the Toyota Center court with his teammates, spinning left, moving right, pulling up on the dribble and firing jumpers. Some hit the rim and bounced away, but most found the bottom of the net, just the way you’d hope for one of the main guns in an offense that needs all the help it can get.

Except that when the game started Gordon was in street clothes, back on the bench, where he has spent far too much time over the past two seasons.

The Hornets are taking the very cautious approach this time around, holding their 6-foot-3 guard out of back-to-back games as he continues his comeback from a patella tendon disorder and a bone bruise in his right knee.

After missing the first 29 games of the season, Gordon finally made his debut on Saturday night at Charlotte, scoring a team-high 24 points in 25 minutes of a win. Then he played another 25 minutes and shot just 5-for-17 in a loss at home to Atlanta on Tuesday night.

“It’s not so much rest, but just being smart with his knee,” said Hornets coach Monty Williams. “It’s what the doctors had recommended … Obviously, as a coach, you want him out there, but you’ve got to err on the side of caution.”

Especially with the memories of a year ago still fresh in their minds. That’s when Gordon suffered what was originally thought to be a bone bruise in his knee in the Dec. 26 season opener, sat out four games and then came back and played 39 minutes of a loss to Philadelphia.

That turned out to be the last game Gordon would play until April, following arthroscopic surgery Feb. 14 when rehabbing the knee with rest and therapy was unsuccessful.

“I’ve got to be more careful this time,” Gordon said. “The last thing I want to do is push too hard too fast and find myself right back in a position where I’ve got to sit out again. That’s not something that I want to go through again.”

After coming to New Orleans as part of the controversial Chris Paul trade just before the start of last season, Gordon has played in just 11 games for the Hornets. He became a restricted free agent last summer and signed a four-year, $58 million offer sheet with the Suns and caused a stir in New Orleans by saying he hoped the Hornets wouldn’t match it.

“That was just part of getting the contract and me doing what was best for me,” Gordon said. “I think everyone is past that now and the reception I got in my first home game in New Orleans the other night was what I expected. It was good.”

What Gordon had also expected was to be able to team up with No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis before now and to start putting the pieces back together for the Hornets.

“It can be very positive for us going forward,” Gordon said. “Now it’s all about the growing process. When you see young guys being consistent, that’s when you’re growing. Of course, to do that we’ve all got to be out there playing together.”

To be able to stay out there together for the long run, Gordon is willing to have the reins held tight for now. His minutes will continue to be limited in the near future, but Williams said they could be increased by 4-10 minutes by the next game at Dallas on Saturday.

“When you’re like me and you haven’t played much basketball for 1 1/2 years, it can be mentally draining,” Gordon said. “You want to push. You want to hurry. You get so eager. But then you have to sit down and remember all those long, hard days when all you could do was rehab and rehab and couldn’t be with your team.

“My passion and love is this game. These limited minutes right now are tough to swallow. But last year I came back and played full-out right from the start and look where it got me. It’s a lot harder mentally to do it this way. But I’m pretty sure it’s a lot smarter.”

Who’s Sitting On A Hot Seat Now?

HANG TIME, Texas — Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.

In the NBA that familiar line from the holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” has a different twist.

Every time the bell rings a head coach gets his walking papers and a handful of others start looking over their shoulders.

It’s a tenuous life.

Of course, this season has already been quite unusual with Mike Brown fired by the Lakers after just five games. But now that the schedule has reached the one-third mark and claimed Avery Johnson, it’s time to look at some others down around the bottom of the standings.

Randy Wittman, Wizards (3-23) – No, he hasn’t had John Wall all season. Yes, he’s had to play at times without Nene and Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal. But the Wizards are the only group in Washington that makes Congress look competent by comparison. After a recent 100-68 thumping by the almost-as-hapless Pistons, even Wittman seemed to have enough. “That was an embarrassment, and I apologize to our ownership and to our fans,” he said. “I especially apologize to anyone who watched that entire game. I would have turned it off after the first five minutes.” It would seem to be a matter of when, not if.

Monty Williams, Hornets (6-22) – It’s hard to see the Hornets turning right around and cutting Williams loose just months after giving him a four-year contract extension. There has been the matter of Eric Gordon’s injury and the fact that No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis was on the shelf for 13 games. But there are rumblings in New Orleans about his constantly changing rotations and collapse of his defense, which ranks 29th.

Byron Scott, Cavaliers (7-23)
— The Cavs are likely headed to their third straight trip to the lottery under Scott, but that doesn’t mean that he’s headed to the exit. The key to his previous success at New Jersey and New Orleans was having a top-notch point guard and Scott has an excellent relationship with maybe the next great thing in Kyrie Irving. This was always a long, heavy lift from the moment LeBron James bolted and that has not changed.

Mike Dunlap, Bobcats (7-21)
– What a difference a month makes. After beating the Wizards on Nov. 24, the Bobcats were 7-5, had matched their win total from last season and their rookie coach was getting praised. Now 16 straight losses later, Dunlap is preaching patience with his young core of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Byron Mullens and Jeffery Taylor. He has earned that. A dozen of Charlotte’s 21 losses have come by 10 points or less, a dramatic change from the historically horrible last season when the Bobcats were rolled in one-third of their games by 20 points or more.

Lawrence Frank, Pistons (9-22)
— Frank insists that his Pistons are a better team than they were a year ago. The record — identical then and now — does not back that up. He says that his club now is more competitive, but just doesn’t know how to finish games. Some of the players have grumbled that there is also a failure of coach to make the right calls and adjustments when games get late. When push comes to shove, it’s the coach that gets nudged out the door.

Dwane Casey, Raptors (9-20)– Another one of those seasons when the Raptors were supposed to turn things around and make a push for the playoffs in the lesser Eastern Conference has gone south. Injuries to Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry and Linas Kleiza. Amir Johnson gets suspended for throwing his mouthguard at a referee. G.M. Bryan Colangelo says the talent is there, but the Raptors lack focus and attention to detail. The Raps’ offense is mediocre (ranked 17th) and their defense just bad (27th). Even in Canada during the winter, that all puts Casey on thin ice.

Keith Smart, Kings (9-19) – Smart got the job to replace Paul Westphal specifically because of what was perceived as an ability to work with the mercurial DeMarcus Cousins. So he turned Cousins loose last season, let him do just about anything he pleased and got enough results to earn a contract extension. Now that Cousins has abused his free-rein relationship with his coach and another season is sinking fast, it would be easy to just blame Smart, which the Kings eventually will do. But this is a bad team with a knucklehead as its centerpiece and ownership that can’t tell you where they’ll be playing in two years.

Alvin Gentry, Suns (11-18) — It was at the end of a seven-game losing streak when Suns owner Robert Sarver told that Gentry’s job was safe. “We’ve got confidence in our coaching staff and we’re not considering making changes,” he said. Of course, that usually means start packing your bags. It was all about starting over in this first season post-Nash in the desert. He’s changed lineups more than his ties and the result is usually the same. Gentry is a good bet to last out the season, but it’s probably going to take a big finishing kick to return next year.

Will Gordon Return Be Naughty Or Nice?

— Ho! Ho! Ho!

Look who came down the chimney of the Hornets early on Christmas Eve.

Guard Eric Gordon, who has been on the shelf all season due to problems with his right knee, took part in his first practice since training camp on Monday.

Though he is a present that still requires more assembly before all the kids can play with him in a game, just the sight of Gordon out on the court is a lift to a New Orleans bunch that has lost 11 in a row.

Coach Monty Williams said Gordon will not play Wednesday at Orlando. But Gordon says he felt great and indicated to our man John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he would like to play before the end of 2012. After the Magic, the Hornets will play at home against Toronto on Friday and at Charlotte on Saturday.

“I felt pretty good,” Gordon said after Monday’s practice.“I was just ready to get out there with the guys. It was full contact and I participated in every thing. Now it’s just the conditioning part.”

It was only Gordon’s third contact practice he has participated in since training camp began this past October. He participated in two contact practices before the Hornets opened the regular season against the San Antonio Spurs, but he did not play because of recurring problems with his knee.

Before rejoining the team Saturday, Gordon had been in Los Angeles since early November going through extensive rehabilitation work to strengthen his knee.

“He looked pretty good out there at attacking the basket,” Williams said after Monday’s practice. “He looked pretty encouraging, but we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”

Of course, the big question that still hangs in the air is whether reception Gordon will receive a naughty or nice reception when he finally return to the court before the home fans in New Orleans. Many of them still haven’t forgotten that he said he wanted to put the Hornets in the rear view mirror and continue his career in Phoenix after the Suns signed him to a four-year free agent contract worth more than $58 million last summer.

All might have been forgotten quickly if Gordon had been able to make a good early impression while teaming up with No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis. But when Davis had early aches of his own that kept him out of the lineup and with Gordon missing the first 27 games, Hornets fans have watched another season go south quickly (5-22).

Gordon has said that his statements were only part of the regular negotiating that is done in free agency and Williams has already made a public plea for the guy who could put a big kick into his offense to be forgiven.

You’ve got to figure delivering big in that first game will be the only way to heal the wounds.

Stop The Floppers By Ignoring Them

HANG TIME, Texas – The shot that will get the big run on all the highlights shows and the most clicks on YouTube will, of course, be Damian Lillard’s frozen rope jumper with 0.3 seconds left that provided the margin of difference in the Blazers’ 95-94 win over the Hornets on Sunday night.

But it says here that just as big a play came a little over a minute earlier and it wasn’t by a guard, forward or center and not by anyone in a Portland or New Orleans uniform.

Take a bow, referee David Guthrie.

The Blazers had squandered most of their 16-point lead when LaMarcus Aldridge got the ball on the left wing in front of the New Orleans’ bench and turned to drive the baseline on Ryan Anderson. Aldridge leaned in just slightly with his left shoulder and might have drawn a whistle for an offensive foul. Except that Anderson reacted as if he’d been charged by every bull that had ever run through the streets of Pamplona and flung himself to the floor.

What happened next? Aldridge simply stepped back and nailed a 15-footer with 1:04 showing on the clock that turned out to be the bucket that set up Lillard’s heroics.

Guthrie simply watched. And there wasn’t a peep of protest from the Hornets’ bench.

A flop is a flop is a flop. There was no need to send the video feed to the league office and wait for a ruling from the Sheriff of Floppingham, a.k.a. Stu Jackson. No need to wait a few days to levy a fine or pass down heavy-handed punishment after the fact. None of the extra level of bureaucratic nonsense that has entered the game this season with the advent of the Flop Council.

I would like to see flopping taken out of the game as much as the next guy. But we’re not even two months into the season and I’m already fed up hearing color commentators on League Pass talk nightly about whether this player should be warned or whether that player will get the dreaded fine notice or maybe a particularly egregious violator will be made to play for the next several weeks wearing a dunce cap and a bright red nose.

It’s a call that should be made — or not — right then and right there by the game officials on the scene, not somebody sitting in a New York office with a remote control in his hand, actually undercutting officials by second-guessing them. Tell them to be definitive on the spot.

If you want to drop the hammer on floppers, give the referees the power to slap them with technical fouls, maybe even an extra free throw for every additional violation in a game.

Or better yet, simply instruct them all to react like David Guthrie. Just ignore the fakers and let the game play on.

The Chris Paul Trade, One Year Later

It’s obviously a happy anniversary around Clippers HQ. They’re winning, Chris Paul has been everything they hoped for in performance and personality and every indication is he will re-sign as a free agent in July, and every certainty is that he has done exactly as promised in keeping the contract issue from turning into a hazmat spill the way it did for others in previous years. Raise a toast.

Not you, Hornets.

One year later, New Orleans can say it has moved on from the Paul saga, except that it really hasn’t. The future of Eric Gordon, the centerpiece of the return among existing players, is an unknown. The future of Austin Rivers, drafted with the pick acquired from the Clippers, is an unknown as a rookie in a difficult transition. The future of Al-Farouq Aminu is more encouraging than any time in his two-plus seasons as a pro, which is something, but a small portion of the resolution.

There is no real closure from Dec. 14, 2011, with Paul, along with a pair of second-round picks, going to the Clippers for Gordon, Aminu, Chris Kaman and the Timberwolves’ first-round pick that landed at No. 10. Kaman played 47 of the 66 games last season before leaving as a free agent without the Hornets flipping him into anything, but all other books are open.

Gordon: He is young (24 on Christmas), talented (22.3 points per game in 2010-11), versatile on offense (has range, handles well enough for a shooting guard that some thought he could be a point guard as he entered college in 2007)… and far away. Gordon played nine games last season in his inaugural Hornets campaign and has yet to play in 2012-13 because of a knee injury. There is no timetable for his return.

Rivers: The son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers is the first to say the career turn to becoming a full-time point guard is an adjustment. It’s also just beginning, not only because Austin is one-fourth of the way through his rookie season, but because he will eventually, presumably, have to learn to play in the same backcourt as Gordon. For now, the former Duke standout is averaging seven points, 2.9 assists and 1.4 turnovers in 27.6 minutes while shooting 32.5 percent with 11 starts in 20 games.

Aminu: The No. 8 pick in 2010 by the Clippers has gone from 5.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 20 minutes and 40.2 percent his first two seasons to 9.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 29.3 minutes and 47.2 percent. Although the majority of his success is coming very close to the basket, Aminu hitting any shot, after 39.4 percent as a rookie in L.A. and 41.1 last season in New Orleans, is an important. He was once a top prospect, but he’s still just 22 and could have a future yet at small forward.

Given Gordon’s health and Rivers’ inexperience, it will probably be at least one more anniversary and maybe longer, depending on the Gordon recovery, until any solid read on the deal working out for the Hornets. If they get a starting backcourt for eight or 10 years out of it, that’s a pretty good salvage job from a bad situation. But if Gordon is limping through seasons, plural, it obviously becomes a much different outcome.

Race For Rookie Of The Year Gets Interesting Again

The Hornets are 5-14 and can’t stop the ball, and it’s early enough in the season for a comeback. Yes, this still sets up nicely for Anthony Davis.

He is back tonight and so is the race for Rookie of the Year, no matter how much it seems like Portland’s Damian Lillard has started to lap the field. He does have a lead, probably even a commanding lead, none of which is a surprise considering he began the season as the No. 2 contender behind Davis. But that’s different from insurmountable.

Davis, health willing, is that good. He can close ground on Lillard. Not only that, but after missing 11 games because of an ankle problem, he is in perfect position to create the contrast of the New Orleans Hornets with Davis and New Orleans without.

For now, we know the Hornets are 3-10 sans Davis and 2-4 with the top draft pick on patrol. The schedule sets up, too: his fourth game back, Sunday in Portland, is a matchup that will draw a lot of eyes even though the only way the two best rookies will go head-to-head is when Lillard charges toward the rim.

If Davis has no more significant injury setbacks beyond the usual tweaks every player endures, three-fourths of the season is more than enough showcase. Lillard might even want the competition. Win this way and he won’t have to face questions about whether Rookie of the Year ’13 was tainted by Davis trying to keep up with a hobble.

The strange thing is how easy it can be to overlook that Davis is such a talent. His defense got all the attention at Kentucky and he won Player of the Year awards by the dozen and a national championship. But this is a power forward who absolutely knows what to do with the ball, with a shot or pass. He was rarely on the court in the summer, missing summer league in Las Vegas for the experience of being with Team USA in the London Olympics but getting only 7.6 minutes, the fewest on the squad, there. His eyebrows got more of a spotlight in many cases than his game, even while opening with 16 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.20 blocks before the injury.

The ankle problem, a stress reaction that could have led to a fracture and much longer on the sideline if not addressed, was another moment that made it too easy to forget Davis’ potential impact. But no more. Starting tonight against the Wizards at New Orleans Arena, he is back in the Hornets lineup … and in the Rookie of the Year race.

Eric Gordon And The World He Created

Jimmy Smith of the Times-Picayune and caught up with Eric Gordon a few days ago, wrote that Gordon reported progress in the recovery from the knee injury, and that there still is no timetable for a return to the Hornets lineup. And then the fallout began.

It began again, actually, because this is hardly the first time Gordon has been accused of a sick out by 50 different names. It has become a familiar claim in New Orleans, it is unfortunate because there is every chance in the world the health issue is legit, it is disappointing because he has the talent to become a top-tier shooting guard … and it is his fault.

Not the ailment itself – criticize a player for bad performance, rip a GM for roster moves, jump up and down on a coach for poor strategy, but have something more than a fast Internet connection and bookmarked before accusing a respected pro of using a medical problem to take a dive. The reaction to things, of course, is on Gordon.

He set himself up for this in July, when he signed with the Suns as a restricted free agent and put out a statement that finished “Phoenix is just where my heart is now.” Gordon was trying to put public pressure on the Hornets to not match the offer sheet, a tact that never works and can only cause problems. New Orleans was going to match no matter what, as it should have, no matter how easy it to second-guess now. There was zero chance the comment could have helped and a pretty good possibility it would alienate fans who had supported a team in difficult times. Now, it is really hurting him.

Nicolas Batum tried it around the same time in hopes of tunneling out of Portland to get to Minnesota, then ended up red-faced and having to mend fences around the Blazers. Turns out Batum got off very, very easy. (His subsequent play obviously helped the healing process.) Gordon walked right into a public-relations mess by declaring his heart was not in New Orleans and then – whoops! – going straight to the sideline. Talk about a bad coincidence.

It doesn’t have to be wrong to look wrong, as the player and the team now face in ongoing terms with no sign of when a foundation of the Hornets future will make his 2012-13 debut.

“It’s getting better; progress is getting better, but there’s no straight-up timetable,” Gordon told Smith. “The main thing is things have been getting better. They’ve got a plan for me and the main thing is the pain level is going down. Just trying to get back to 100 percent before I get back out there playing.”

Gordon said he did not know the medical name for the ailment in the right knee, but added there has not been any swelling. The other sign of hope is the second opinion from a doctor in Chicago: “It’s almost like a disorder. There was a little bit of a bone bruise, and, you know, kind of like some of these other guys like (Andrew) Bynum and (Danny) Granger. Luckily my process will be shorter than that.”

The flip side being that Gordon has already missed most of last season as well, his first in New Orleans after being acquired in the Chris Paul trade. The one-year anniversary of the blockbuster is Dec. 14, and Gordon has played nine games, all in 2011-12.

Paul’s Words After Loss Could Raise Pressure On Clips’ Del Negro

It was, and will end up being, one of the more dizzying games of the season. Caron Butler making nine 3-pointers and the Clippers losing. The Hornets, down their two best players, Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis, winning. A career-low four points for Blake Griffin. The Clippers making just one more two-point shot (19) than from behind the arc (18). And New Orleans, a lottery team even at full strength, on the road on the second night of a back-to-back and still getting better bench play than one of the deepest teams in the league.

And afterward things got really good.

Chris Paul, as quoted by Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, said Los Angeles lost to “a less-talented team that was well-coached.” Shots fired.

On one hand, Paul may not have intended to run over his own coach, Vinny Del Negro, then back up and run over Del Negro again by complimenting the opposing coach, Monty Williams. Paul may simply have intended to praise his former coach from their days together in New Orleans. It could have been pro-Williams without being anti-Del Negro.

On the other hand, it doesn’t matter.

Del Negro is already facing enough much-deserved scrutiny. Now Paul’s comment will only increase it. Paul’s words will be interpreted by many as the star point guard, in the final season of his contract, putting his coach in a bad light.

With a lot of other teams at other times, a player so much as appearing to pull the chair from under a coach — whether the actual intention or not — could be explained away as over-analyzing a deserved compliment for Williams. But this is about the Clippers in win-now mode yet being unable, again, to harness a championship-hopeful’s focus. It is also about Donald T. Sterling.

While a lot of owners ignore popularity contests to guide personnel decisions and go with the opinions of the basketball-ops staff, Sterling has spent decades trying to win the press conference. He famously asks security guards and ushers at the arena, media, fans, anyone, for advice in solving the Problem of the Day. Not because he is making conversation. Because he will make major decisions based on the subsequent approval rating.

Sterling has been known to care more about what his friends think than what his general manager thinks. So Paul stoking the many fans who have been hoping for Del Negro’s departure will be read as CP3 saying something along the lines of “If only we were well-coached.” Paul didn’t have to mean it that way. What matters in the Sterling universe is that it looks that way.

One thing about Del Negro continuing to catch heat, though. If he gets the blame for all performances like last night’s — such as those seen in a loss to the Warriors, a loss to the Cavaliers, a loss to the Hawks and a loss to the Hornets — he should get the credit for beating the Spurs twice and the Heat, Lakers and Bulls before the first full month is complete. There has been some good, after all. However Paul meant it.