Posts Tagged ‘Hornets’

Sixth Man Of The Year: J.R. Smith

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The oddest part about this season’s race for the Sixth Man of the Year Award is that there are probably a half-dozen candidates worthy of consideration.

A voter could close his eyes and take a stab anywhere on a quite worthy list of J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford, Jarrett Jack, Ryan Anderson, Nate Robinson and Kevin Martin.

So does that mean if we put an entire team of second unit standouts onto the court, somebody would have to get bumped to a starter?

In that case, we’re elevating and giving our vote to Smith, who has ridden in the shadow of Carmelo Anthony’s season-long brilliance, but has been no less vital to the Knicks winning their first Atlantic Division title since 1994.

How does that sync with the image of the mercurial guard who had taken his ready-to-shoot game from New Orleans to Denver to China before landing in New York 15 months ago?

How strangely does it stumble off the tongue to say that from the start to the finish of this regular season, Smith has become the Knicks most dependable player night in and night out?

For while you obviously give great credit to Anthony for the performance that will likely win the scoring title and earn him a high place on some MVP ballots, Smith has been the Knicks’ second-leading scorer, averaging 18.1 ppg and the player that coach Mike Woodson has been able to rely on at both ends of the court.

There is no questioning Crawford’s credentials as a big-time scorer off the Clippers’ bench and an ability to take over a game offensively whenever he steps out on the floor. For much of the season, the Sixth Man Award hardware seemed to be his for the taking. He helped the Clippers beat the Knicks to 50 wins as L.A. earned its first division title in the history of the franchise that dates back to its infancy in Buffalo.

The difference is that Crawford is a one-trick pony galloping behind Chris Paul who makes virtually no contribution at all on the nights when the ball is not going into the basket. While the Crawford lobby will point to a higher field goal percentage, it’s only slightly better, 43.6 to 42.2. The same goes for 3-point shooting, where Crawford has 37.0 to 35.6 edge.

At the other end of the floor, Smith has hardly become a stopper, but he tries and is credible, which is all that Woodson has asked. Crawford, meanwhile, couldn’t guard a cadaver.

At 27, Smith has finally inched closer to becoming the complete player that George Karl tried to squeeze out of him during four seasons in Denver and when the Knicks are winning, his assists and steals, as well as his shooting, are up. What’s more, he is literally the only player to show up every night, having played in every game this season, helping hold up the tent when Anthony was injured.

Oh, it’s not like J.R. has traded in his initials, his off-court silliness or his penchant for me-first offense. You still have to live with the times when he tries to win by himself and the can-you-believe-that shots. But they are part of a bigger package now, one that gives the Knicks a real reason to believe in the East.

The top contenders:

Jamal Crawford — He’s bounced back from a horrendous one-year stint in Portland to play a key role in the best Clippers season ever. Not many teams can back up a Chris Paul with another scorer this dangerous. But when it comes down to splitting hairs in a very close race, defense has to matter. You can make the argument that Crawford is the worst defender on the floor any time that he plays.

Jarrett Jack — The veteran has three games of 25 points and 10 assists off the bench, making him the first reserve in NBA history to do that in a single season. He’s provided leadership, defense and helped get the Warriors into the playoffs for only the second time in 19 seasons.

Kevin Martin — It was not an enviable task to step into the role of last year’s runaway Sixth Man winner (James Harden) on a team whose only goal is a return to The Finals. He doesn’t have all the skills of Harden and contributes nothing on defense, but is a high-efficiency scorer with a knack for getting to the foul line.

Ryan Anderson — He’s having the highest-scoring season — by a tick — of his career and has had to carry the offensive load plenty in the frequent absence of Eric Gordon. But it has to count against you when your team has spent the entire season floundering near the bottom of the West.

Nate Robinson — What is he? Who is he? When will he ever figure it out? He’s come off the Bulls’ bench to have his best year since his days in New York and certainly played a big part in ending the Miami win streak.

Playoffs Snapshot — April 12

Here’s a look at some of the more important playoff implications in Friday night’s games:

LAKERS (vs. Golden State, 10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass): With the battle for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference down to the final three games, the Lakers (42-37) face a Golden State team that is currently seeded sixth, just a half-game up on the Rockets … A Lakers win and a Jazz loss to the Timberwolves would put L.A. up two games with two to play … Kobe Bryant scored 47 points while playing all 48 minutes in Wednesday night’s 113-106 win in Portland … The Lakers are up 2-1 in the season series.

JAZZ (vs. Minnesota, 9:30 p.m. ET, League Pass): The Jazz (41-38) have lost control of the race with the Lakers for the No. 8 seed and can’t lose focus in the first of consecutive games against the wounded Timberwolves … Utah leads season series 2-0 … Utah needs to win out and hope for an L.A. loss … A short bench missing Enes Kanter, Marvin Williams and Alec Burks was costly in Wednesday night’s loss to OKC … This could be the final home game for Jazz free-agents-to-be Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.

THUNDER (at Portland, 10 p.m. ET, NBA TV): Thunder (58-21) show no inclination to take their foot off the pedal in the fight for No. 1 seed in the West … Holding tie-breaker over the Spurs, they now control the race … After whipping the Warriors on Thursday night — and getting plenty of rest for the starters — OKC wraps up a back-to-back and closes out road schedule … Thunder are 3-0 against the Blazers this season, who went flat in a loss to the Lakers on Wednesday night … Three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant (28.3 ppg.) says he’s OK giving up title to Carmelo Anthony.

SPURS (vs. Sacramento, 8:30 ET, League Pass): Even if the Spurs (57-21) win out, they need OKC to stumble once to reclaim the top spot in the West … But do they really care? Tony Parker is in a tug o’ war with coach Gregg Popovich over whether he’ll play … Parker sat out Wednesday’s loss at Denver with a sore neck and other assorted ailments and Pop says that championship teams must be able to win on the road anyway … Boris Diaw’s back injury puts DeJuan Blair back into the rotation and could slide Kawhi Leonard into minutes at power forward … They lead series with Kings 3-0. (more…)

Hornets Get Mixed Medical Updates

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – This was finally the night the Hornets would get encouraging news on the injury front, a positive update in the moment and for the future. Eric Gordon was playing both ends of a back-to-back for the first time in almost exactly one year, he was passing the important test with a good showing, and it was about time New Orleans caught a medical break.

Enter Anthony Davis.

Wednesday night at Sleep Train Arena, one of the team’s centerpieces of the future, Gordon, went 34 minutes with a bounce in his second game in as many nights. But that gave way to the uncertainty of the centerpiece, Davis, limping out of the locker room and headed for the flight back to New Orleans and a likely MRI exam on his left knee.

The initial diagnosis was a sprain, the result of Sacramento’s Marcus Thornton landing hard on Davis’ knee when Davis was on the court after challenging a Thornton drive under the basket in the fourth quarter of the 121-110 Kings victory. Davis, walking under his own power, left the arena with security and was not talking.

“I think he’s OK,” coach Monty Williams said. “I don’t want to jump the gun. I didn’t see the play yet, but he said Marcus landed on his knee. He said he’s a little sore. I’m just glad it wasn’t a buckle or a ligament or anything like that. We don’t know that for sure. But usually when somebody lands on it, it could be a contusion. It’s probably more scary than anything else. We’ve got to let the doctors check him out and make sure. He’s walking around. He’s got ice on it.”

Williams added that “I’m pretty sure we’ll rush him right over to our people” after the team lands in New Orleans to get an MRI.

Gordon supplied the encouraging update of the night. Working his way back from the injured right knee that caused him to miss the first 29 games of the season, he went from the 33 minutes Tuesday against the Lakers in Los Angeles to the 34 in Sacramento while contributing 23 points and seven assists, both team highs.

“It felt fine,” Gordon said after playing on consecutive nights for the first time since April 6-7, 2012. “It felt better, overall. It was good to get a back-to-back in before the end of the year, just to see how it works out for me. It worked out pretty well for me.”

Said Williams: “Eric’s fine. This is what we had planned on. We knew we were going to take a hit this season by keeping him out and the minute restriction with the hopes that he’d be a hundred percent this summer. We plan on him having a great year next year because he’ll be healthy.”

The Hornets close the season with home games Friday against the Clippers and Sunday against the Mavericks and then a trip to Dallas for the finale.

All That Jazz Puts Heat on Lakers

HANG TIME, Texas — As Dean Wormer might have once said to Flounder in “Animal House”: “Losing nine out of 11 games is no way to make the playoffs, son.”

But here are the Jazz, back up and dancing like Otis Day & The Knights are playing at a toga party, suddenly the owners of a three-game winning streak and… wait for it… a road win.

When Utah won at Portland for its first victory on the road since Feb. 13, it jumped the Jazz over the Lakers and back into the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

According to Bill Oram of the Salt Lake Tribune, the chatter was back in the Jazz locker room after they rallied from nine, 14 and nine down again in the fourth quarter on Friday night.

“Winning does that,” Mo Williams said. “Winning puts you in a good mood, especially when you care. Top to bottom, people care here, when you lose you feel down. It’s not so jolly, it’s not so loose.”

Earlier in the evening, Williams was far from happy. The 30-year-old point guard, in his second stint with the Jazz, was benched by coach Tyrone Corbin in the second quarter. In the final minutes of the game, Williams carried the Jazz to the win, scoring 14 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter and spearheading a 25-6 run in the final six minutes.

“You get pissed off,” Williams said. “Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you come out and be aggressive.”

The Jazz come home to close out a back-to-back tonight against the Nets and there is light again after it had appeared for weeks that Utah was going to do everything except lift the Lakers up onto their shoulders and carry Kobe Bryant & Co. into the postseason.

Now the two teams are in the stretch run and for the first time in a while, the Jazz might have a leg up in getting to the finish.

Let’s break it down for final nine games:

Jazz

Home — 6

Road — 3

Vs. playoff teams — 5

Back-to-backs remaining: 0

Tonight — vs. Nets

Mon. — vs. Blazers

Wed. — vs. Nuggets

Apr. 7 — at Golden State

Apr. 9 — vs. Thunder

Apr. 12 — vs. Timberwolves

Apr. 15 — at Minnesota

Apr. 17 — at Memphis

The Jazz hold the tiebreaker over the Lakers and if they can take care of business at home, where they’re 26-9 on the season, will be tough for the Lakers to beat out.

Lakers

Home — 6

Road — 3

Vs. playoff teams — 5

Back-to-backs remaining — 1

Tonight — at Sacramento

Tues. — vs. Mavericks

Fri. — vs. Grizzlies

Apr. 7 — at L.A. Clippers

Apr. 9 — vs. Hornets

Apr. 10 — at Portland

Apr. 12 — vs. Warriors

Apr. 14 — vs. Spurs

Apr. 17 — vs. Rockets

Of the 14 players on the Lakers roster, seven are listed on the injury report for tonight at Sacramento, though Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Antawn Jamison are probable, with Steve Nash questionable and Metta World Peace and Jordan Hill out. Of the Lakers’ three remaining road games, they won’t have to leave their own building to play the Clippers and that next-to-last game against San Antonio could catch them another break if the mercurial Gregg Popovich decides to rest up his veterans for the playoffs.

Defense Grew Rockets’ 22-Game Streak

 

HOUSTON — As far as seismic shifts in the landscape go, there was no tremor, no low rumble of an earthquake’s warning and it never hit with the fiery blast of a volcanic eruption.

When the Rockets went 49 days — seven full weeks — without a single loss in 2008, it grew quietly for the longest time like an oak tree’s roots growing up through the cracks in a sidewalk until one day it was busting apart the concrete.

The 22-game win streak, second-longest in NBA history, is the outlier in the record book, the one that nobody, even themselves, saw coming, and many, even in hindsight, can still not comprehend.

Before the defending champion Heat, led by the three-headed juggernaut of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, joined the club, only three teams in history had won 20 in a row. The 1971-72 Lakers with their record of 33 consecutive wins and a star-studded roster of Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich went on to win the NBA title. The 1970-71 Bucks, led by Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, ran off 20 straight on their way to win it all.

In fact, of the top eight win streaks ever in the NBA before the Heat, five of those teams won championships. Only the Rockets did not get out of the first round of the playoffs.

“Our names will be mentioned with Hall of Fame people,” said point guard Rafer Alston. “We have something to tell our kids.”

Shane Battier, now with Miami, has called the Rockets’ streak “organic,” part of a process that evolved over time.

It wasn’t often flashy or pretty, but it was effective, like seeing a boa constrictor slowly squeeze the life out of its prey.

The Rockets were led by Tracy McGrady’s bundle of offensive skills, but they survived the loss of Yao Ming and they won and won with a growing confidence and surging defense. During the 22-game streak, they held 19 of their opponents under 100 points and 13 under 90. They won 14 games by double figures, an average margin of 12.36, and had only three games decided by fewer than six points. They won 15 games at home and seven on the road.

The Rockets even won the last 10 without their All-Star center Yao, whose season was ended by a stress fracture in his left foot on Feb. 26.

“Every time a team gets a chance to come close, the streak comes up,” said forward Luis Scola, now with the Suns. “It was a great stretch. It was a good team. If we lose any of those games it wouldn’t change that fact. But maybe that team wouldn’t be as remembered.

“You know we were playing well. It was a fun team to play with. The momentum that we had going. We were playing very well. We were beating teams just because we were good…That month and a half was great. I remember it was a lot of fun.”

The Rockets were 15-17 on Jan. 2 and 24-20 when they beat Golden State 111-107 on a night when Yao was dominant with 39 points and 19 rebounds. They were fighting for their playoffs lives, sitting precariously as the seventh seed in the Western Conference. Two nights later, they went on the road to win at Indiana 106-103 and ran off seven straight wins where they never gave up 90 points.

“What we’re developing is a great team like the Pistons,” said McGrady. “A great defensive team going out there and playing together and not relying on one or two people to score the rock.”

No. 8 was their narrowest escape, needing Steve Novak to come off the bench to hit a 3-pointer — his only field goal of the game — with two seconds left to rescue an 89-87 win over the Kings.

The streak continued through trades. On the afternoon of No. 10, they sent Bonzi Wells to New Orleans and Kirk Snyder to Minnesota, yet didn’t miss a beat in thumping Miami. They attracted real notice around the league when they whipped the No. 1-seeded Hornets in New Orleans.

When the Rockets took the floor on Feb. 26, the word was out that Yao was lost for the season and the fears inside Toyota Center were palpable. But with 41-year-old Dikembe Mutombo blocking shots, waving his finger and filling the middle, the streak rolled on.

“You could probably check this, but I’m thinking all the way to the 17th or 18th game of the winning streak we still were in the eighth spot or the ninth spot or something like that,” Scola said. “It was a really tough year for the West. The playoffs were in jeopardy.” (more…)

Does Kobe Have One Foot Out Door?

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HANG TIME, Texas – There’s never a shortage of funny stuff being tossed around on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” But Kobe Bryant didn’t seem to be joking when he told the host and that he would be retiring “soon.”

Of course, that’s only natural talk for a 34-year-old who has literally spent half his life playing in the NBA.

Yet it didn’t stop the loud groans of displeasure coming from the studio audience in Hollywood.

Bryant grinned and reminded that it would be nearly two decades of competing — and in his case, that means running, jumping, dunking and trying to chew the legs off his opponents — by the time his current contract expires after next season. He laughed and noted that he entered the league 1996 with a full Afro and now couldn’t grow one if he tried.

Certainly we all seem to understand that he can’t keep up the Black Mamba routine forever. Then along comes a night like Wednesday in New Orleans, when he makes 14 of 21 shots and finishes with 42 points,12 assists and seven rebounds in leading the Lakers back out of a 25-point hole to beat the Hornets.

After all, he still does rank third (27.6 ppg) in the league in scoring, behind only Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony and, perhaps more impressive, tied with the 24-year-old Durant in total minutes played (2,370).

We keep watching him push the boundaries, test his own limits and try to drag this collection of disparate Laker parts into the playoffs sometimes with the sheer force of his own will and tend to forget that he might have logged more miles than some of the now-retired space shuttles.

Bryant says he will not play for any team other than the Lakers, which would force major concessions or restructuring of his salary (and maybe the entire Lakers organization) if he decides to continue on beyond 2013-14. The club is intent on lowering payroll below the luxury-tax plateau and Bryant’s contract calls for $30.4-million next season. How much of a discount would he give the Lakers to keep chasing championships alongside or maybe without Dwight Howard?

Even if he got his sixth NBA title sometime by June of 2014, how hard would he chase No. 7 in order to pass Michael Jordan?

Then again, the driven man who has modeled so much of his on-court aura around Jordan surely understands that he will never again be able to come close to feeding his competitive fire the same way again once he steps off the court for good.

You know that Bryant surely read Jordan’s recent interview with Wright Thompson in ESPN the Magazine where the 50-year-old said: “Man, I wish I was playing right now. I would give up everything now to go back and play the game of basketball.”

Maybe he is much closer to the end than we realize after watching all that he still can do in driving himself for 42 minutes to keep the Lakers’ playoff hopes alive in a critical game in New Orleans.

The only other question left is who’ll miss Kobe more when he’s gone: his fans or the ones who root against him?

The Hunted: Warriors, Rockets & Jazz

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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 ESPN.com 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.