Posts Tagged ‘Houston Rockets’

Morning shootaround — Dec. 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Next man up is new normal in Cleveland | Riley says Heat not looking to trade | Howard responds with love in Houston | Shumpert truly delivers

No. 1: Next man up is new normal in Cleveland The Oklahoma City Thunder entered Cleveland having won six games in a row, but the Cavs used a strong second half run to build an insurmountable lead and win, 104-100. While Kyrie Irving has still yet to return from injury for the Cavs, LeBron James once again stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 33 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds to lead the way for the Cavs. And as our Steve Aschburner writes, it’s still early, but the Cavs look locked in:

No Kyrie Irving (recovery from knee surgery), Iman Shumpert (groin) and Mo Williams (thumb sprain) meant minutes and opportunities for others. No biggie for the Cavs, for whom short-handed is the new normal. You have to go back eight months and 44 games, to the postseason opener against Boston, for a game in which Cleveland had all its guys healthy.

“Our motto is the next man up,” said James, who now has a 16-4 personal record head-to-head (regular season or playoff) against OKC’s Kevin Durant. “There’s no excuses around here. Whoever’s in the lineup is ready to go.”

While OKC was missing the playoffs last spring, done in by Kevin Durant’s and Russell Westbrook‘s injuries, Cleveland was busy getting resourceful. The Cavs beat the Celtics, the Bulls and the Hawks, and pushed the Warriors to six games in the Finals, by leaning on the likes of Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson like never before. James at times seemed startled by how much those role players could handle, but by doing so they toughened up and built a bond.

That was evident again Thursday. Thompson gave the Cavs repeated extra chances by grabbing 15 rebounds overall — 11 on the offensive end — to go with 12 points. Dellavedova chipped in his own double-double with 11 points and 10 assists. Veteran Richard Jefferson scored 13 points and wild card J.R. Smith was big early, both scoring and making timely defensive plays.

This essentially was the crew that pushed Golden State to an extra level of great last spring. It’s the team that, with Irving, Shumpert and Williams all due back soon, knows how to fold back in talented players because it did that over the second half of last season. It’s the biggest reason Cleveland stands alone as a legit contender from the East, while the Thunder will slug it out with two or three rivals out West.

Durant and Westbrook combined for 52 points and Serge Ibaka added 23 more, but the OKC bench went from good enough in the first half to ghastly in the second. New coach Billy Donovan appeared to get caught in his rotations, asking the Thunder to survive too long with neither of its two scoring stars on the floor. Enes Kantner was a liability defensively and two-way mishap Dion Waiters reminded the sellout Q crowd why their team is better off without him.

James and the Cavs are playing chess right now relative to the Thunder’s checkers. He knows what Cleveland needs to win a title because he’s been there and done it so recently. The Thunder went to the Finals in 2012 but in this what-have-you-done-lately league, that’s old news in a rapidly changing game.

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No. 2: Riley says Heat not looking to trade The Miami Heat are currently 15-9, good for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. But we know team president Pat Riley is always looking to improve the roster, which could involve making a trade somewhere along the way. A recent report had center Hassan Whiteside on the trade block, and yesterday Riley spoke to the media to say he wasn’t ready to make any moves, at least not quite yet, as Manny Navarro writes in the Miami Herald:

“I can guarantee you there have been no discussions about the BS that you have read in the newspapers the last couple of days,” Riley said of rumors Whiteside could be headed to Houston or Sacramento. “I like our team and I want to see where we’re headed.”

Riley said he expects the Heat, which plays the Toronto Raptors at 8 p.m. Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena, will be “one of [the teams] that is going to be for real” when that 40-game mark is complete Jan. 15.

What does he like about this Heat team?

“Well, we’ve got great depth,” Riley said during a five-minute interview with The Miami Herald and a two local TV stations Thursday during a holiday event for veterans at the Miami VA Fisher House. “I think we have a three-tiered team which is we have a group of great veterans, mid-aged veterans, and then we have youth. We have a lot of spirit. There’s a lot of energy with our young guys.

“Probably some of our best defenders are our young players. They’re trying to get their offensive games to match their defensive games.”

He also likes the leadership that team captains Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem have brought.

“They have no idea how proud I am of them and how they conduct themselves every single night, good or bad — to the community, to the media,” Riley said. “It’s not easy. This league is not easy, and when there’s a high-expectation level, then you’ve got to deal with the consequences of winning and the consequences of losing, and I think our guys do it very well.”

He said coach Erik Spoelstra has done “an exemplary job.”

“I think he’s finding his way to the heart of his team and how they’re going to play, how he can adjust and make those adjustments,” Riley said. “Contrary to what a lot of people think, we have a team that can play big. We have a team that can play medium. And we have a team that can play small. You don’t want to get caught up in any one thing. You just want to create your own identity, which is what I think [Spoelstra is] talking about. Whether you’re big or you’re small, that’s how you’re going to play. I think we’re showing that.”

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No. 3: Howard responds with love in Houston The Houston Rockets got off to a slow start, including firing coach Kevin McHale. Part of their inconsistent play has come from center Dwight Howard, the former All-NBA player who has suffered various injuries in recent years, and has seen his production fluctuate. But recent reports of Howard wanting out in Houston are, at least according to Howard, not true, as Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle:

“The one thing that I don’t want to happen is people to assume that because things are not going quite well for us that I’ve quit on the team and take away from all the positive things we have done, despite the loss, making the city feel like they’re unwanted,” Howard said on Thursday. “There’s a lot of negativity going around. I haven’t caused it. I haven’t said anything negative to anybody about this team or this situation. I’ve just been trying to find ways to make this situation better, trying to grow as a man, as a basketball player.

“You just try to laugh at it. I don’t want to go out and persecute the people that persecute me. That’s the hardest part. The first reaction is to go back at them. You just have to respond with love.”

A report at sheridanhoops.com on Tuesday cited sources saying Howard is “extremely unhappy” with his role with the Rockets and predicted he would be traded to the Miami Heat. Howard called the report “lies.”

Howard can expect to hear plenty from the Lakers fans tonight at Staples Center. He has often laughed at the taunts in Los Angeles, even singing along with chants in his first return to play the Lakers after signing with the Rockets.

“If they boo me, they boo me,” he said. “Just going to say, ‘Hey, I love you guys. If you boo me, I’m going to respond with love, just try to have a good game, not get frustrated with whatever happens on the floor. I don’t want to smile too much because then I’m (said to) not take it serious. I don’t want to not smile too much because then I’m (called) unhappy. Just going to stay positive.”

Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said he has over the years talked to some players when they have been subject of trade rumors or other media reports. With Howard, Bickerstaff said they have talked often throughout the season, but did not consider that necessary with this week’s reports and that neither took them seriously.

“There’s certain guys that need to be talked to more about those situations and other guys, it doesn’t bother them. I try not to bring attention to it. If a guy does have a problem or a question and he brings it to me, then I’ll talk to him. For the most part, I try to ignore it because there’s so much noise out there.

“We’ve joked about it. We’ve laughed about it. I don’t think it needs to be addressed. I don’t know when I’ve seen him ‘extremely unhappy.’ We’ve had plenty of conversations. We’re in a good place.”

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No. 4: Shumpert delivers One of the Cavs out with an injury last night was forward Iman Shumpert, recovering from a strained groin. Which meant Shumpert happened to be at home on Wednesday when his pregnant fiancé, Teyana Taylor, unexpectedly went into labor and gave birth. As ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, Shumpert ended up having to play doctor and delivered his daughter before the paramedics arrived…

The baby, Iman Tayla Shumpert Jr., was born at 6:42 a.m, according to the post. Taylor nicknamed her “Junie.”

Taylor wrote that she did not realize she was in labor until she could feel her baby’s head. She said Shumpert used the cord from a pair of headphones to tie off the umbilical cord as the couple waited for the ambulance to arrive minutes later.

The birth came about three weeks before the expected due date of Jan. 16, 2016, which Shumpert previously shared on his Facebook account.

Shumpert and Taylor got engaged in November, with Shumpert proposing to her with a ruby engagement ring on the night of her baby shower.

Shumpert was ruled out of the Cavs’ game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night with a right groin strain. According to the Cavs, his playing status is questionable moving forward.

Before the 104-100 win over the Thunder, Cleveland coach David Blatt said Shumpert had yet to be re-evaluated by the Cavs since the team returned from Boston, because he was excused to be with his family.

“Due to the recent events, we’ve allowed Shump to do more important things,” Blatt said. “The doctor will get his hands on him, hopefully, [Thursday] evening. Then we’ll be a little bit smarter [about his status]. But he’ll be down for a few days for sure.”

Then Blatt cracked a joke about Shumpert’s surprise delivery skills.

“Dr. Shumpert now,” Blatt said. “And congratulations to Teyana, as well.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Scary moment in Cleveland last night, as LeBron James dove for a loose ball and slammed into Ellie Day, the wife of professional golfer Jason Day, sitting courtside. She was taken away on a stretcher and, according to Cleveland.com, treated and released from a local hospitalSteve Kerr hopes to be back on the Warriors’ bench in the next “two to three weeks” … Are the Sacramento Kings interested in trading for Kevin Martin? … Mike D’Antoni was spotted in Philadelphia, presumably there to meet with the Sixers about a job as an assistant … The Milwaukee Bucks held an “informal” meeting with Carlos Boozer in Los Angeles … The Bucks also took a team bonding trip to AlcatrazThe Currys and Drake made a postgame trip to In-N-Out …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 17


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe fine with missing —  or making — All-Star Game | Report: Howard doesn’t desire trade | Report: Kings working to deal Butler

No. 1: Kobe fine with making — or missing — 2016 All-Star Game — There’s still plenty of time to make your voice heard and vote in the 2016 All-Star Game. With this being Kobe Bryant‘s farewell season in the NBA, will he garner enough votes to get a spot (as it is unlikely  he’ll be voted in as a reserve by the coaches)? For Bryant, making his final All-Star Game — or missing it — seem to be of equal value to him, writes Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com:

Though NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently told Sirius XM NBA Radio that Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant “deserves to be” at the 2016 All-Star Game, Bryant said he is fine if he doesn’t make what would be the final All-Star Game appearance of his storied career.

“I mean it would be great to play in it. If I’m not in it, I’m not going to beat myself up over that either,” Bryant said after practice at the team’s facility Wednesday. “I’ll support the game no matter what. Support the players no matter what.”

If the 37-year-old Bryant were voted into the game, it would mark his 18th all-time selection, one shy of the NBA record held by fellow Lakers icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bryant, who is retiring after this season, has started in 14 All-Star Games.

“It would be great, but at the same time I’ve played in a lot of them, so it’s always great to have the younger guys step up and get their opportunities as well,” Bryant said. “I’ve played in quite a few. If I’m fortunate to be there, I’ll be extremely grateful for that. If I’m not, at the same token, I’ll be extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.”

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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 221) Featuring John Schuhmann

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The streak is over. The Golden State Warriors are no longer chasing history, at least not that consecutive games won streak of 33 games.

This allows us all to turn our undivided attention to the rest of the league and all of the stories we’ve neglected while enjoying the Warriors’ 24-1 run to start the season.

Is there still unrest in Houston? Can the Dwight Howard and James Harden combo still work there? And if not, is it time for the Rockets to consider moving Howard before he can opt out of his contract and become a free agent in the summer?

While we’re on the subject of player movement, who are the guys most likely to find themselves in the crosshairs between now and the February trade deadline?

And what about the MVP race, can anyone close the gap on Stephen Curry?

We’re trying to make sense of it all and we’ve enlisted the services of NBA.com’s numbers guru John Schuhmann to help us solve all of these problems, and more, on Episode 221 of The Hang Time Podcast.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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VIDEO: Stephen Curry is a no-brainer pick for whatever individual honors the NBA is handing out through the first quarter of the season

Morning shootaround — Dec. 16


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Irving to return tomorrow; Shumpert suffers groin injury | Making sense of Heat trade chatter | Kerr determined to return this season | Cousins’ manager tossed for swiping at Terry

No. 1: Report: Irving to make debut Thursday; Shumpert (groin) likely to miss 1 game — On Monday, the buzz in NBA circles was that Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving would get back on the court sometime this week. Before last night’s game in Boston, Cavs coach David Blatt said he’s taking a cautious approach with Irving as he recovers from his knee injury, that Irving is not yet 100 percent and has overall been hesitant to commit to a return date. Well, something has changed from then until now as ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin reports Irving will make his 2015-16 debut tomorrow night against the Oklahoma City Thunder (8 ET, TNT):

UPDATE, 11:48 a.m.

Irving threw some cold water on the report of him playing tomorrow, sending out a tweet that he will not suit up against the Thunder

Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving is set to make his season debut Thursday at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a source familiar with Irving’s plans told ESPN.com.

Irving, sidelined for the first 23 games of the Cavs’ season while recovering from surgery in June to repair a fractured left kneecap suffered in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, was cleared for full contact more than a week ago and has been through a handful of practices since without any setbacks.

Irving’s final hurdle before the team approves of his intention to play will involve a series of physical tests to measure his body’s strength and responsiveness, a team source told ESPN.com. The tests will be similar to the ones administered on Irving before he was allowed to return for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta last spring after sitting out Games 2 and 3 with tendinitis in his left knee.

Although the Cavs can apparently look forward to getting Irving back, his backcourt mate, Iman Shumpert, is likely to miss Thursday’s game after suffering a groin strain last night. Cleveland.com’s Chris Haynes has more:

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert, fresh off of returning from a wrist injury, left the game in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s 89-77 win over the Boston Celtics with a right groin injury and would not return.

He will be evaluated further in Cleveland on Wednesday. Shumpert just made his season debut in the team’s last game on Friday at Orlando.

“Honestly a little concerned,” head coach David Blatt said of Shumpert’s latest injury. “I got to be honest with you. I have no idea what the extent is. Just given our recent history, I’m concerned.”

The defensive specialist was visibly frustrated after the game and refused to speak with reporters.

After getting his right leg wrapped, he sat at his locker stall quietly with a towel around his waist staring at the ground. He worked feverishly to get himself back on the court and now this. He could undergo an MRI if the training staff feels it’s necessary.


VIDEO: David Blatt talks after the Cavs’ win in Boston

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Morning Shootaround — Dec. 13


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grizzlies aren’t what they appear to be


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Matt Barnes wins it with a half-court heave.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Memphis Grizzlies were down two with six seconds left when Matt Barnes grabbed a defensive rebound. He didn’t call timeout — the Grizzlies had three — so Dave Joerger could draw up a play to tie or win the game. And he didn’t use all of those six seconds he had.

Instead, Barnes took three dribbles and left his feet from just beyond mid-court with 3.5 seconds still on the clock. The shot went in with 1.1 seconds left, Marcus Morris missed the Pistons’ last shot, and the Grizzlies improved to 8-3 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.

At 13-10 after a 3-6 start, the Grizzlies are looking strong in the Western Conference, where the 8 seed is under .500. Among the teams in the West’s top 10, the Grizzlies have played the most games (13) against the other nine. They have a respectable 6-7 record in those games, but have had some ugly losses.

That’s the story with the Grizzlies. Nine of their 10 losses have been by double-figures and seven of those have been by 15 points or more. They have losses of 20, 30, 37 and 50 points.

In this 10-4 stretch since they traded for Mario Chalmers, the Grizzlies have been outscored by 10 points. And for the season, they’re a minus-104, the fourth worst mark in the West, worse than the 8-15 Sacramento Kings.

The Grizzlies are 13-10 with the point differential of a team that’s 7-16. A win is a win, but point differential is generally a better predictor of future success than winning percentage. And Memphis’ point differential portends some future struggles.

The Bucks and Rockets also have records that are slightly inflated, based on their point differential. Houston has won six of its last eight games, but all 11 of its wins have been by seven points or less and the Rockets have also played one of the league’s easiest schedules. So don’t be so eager to buy low on the Western Conference finalist that’s still below .500.

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On the other end of the spectrum are the Celtics and Thunder, both with the point differential of a team with 16 wins, but only 13 real wins to show for it. The Celtics have typically won big, with 11 of their 13 victories coming by double-digits. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, is 5-7 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.

20151210_expw_diff2

Morning shootaround — Dec. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving, Shumpert working towards return | Bulls’ Gasol plans to opt out next summer | Rockets reassure Lawson about trade rumors

No. 1: Irving, Shumpert itching to return for Cavs — Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving participated in his first full practice since suffering a knee injury in The 2015 Finals. While he was hesitant to commit to any kind of time frame or specific return date, he is clearly on the mend (which is a good thing for the East-leading Cavs). As well, teammate Iman Shumpert was at practice, too, and based on a report from Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor, both players are looking forward to their 2015-16 season debut:

“I think the biggest thing for me is getting over the mental hump of being able to go out there and still compete,” Irving said Thursday afternoon. “I’ve kind of been itching for the last few weeks, but finally getting my trainers’ clearance as well as our organization to go out there and practice with the guys, have 5-on-5, going up and down, finally being able to hit guys a little bit and have guys hit me, as a competitor, I’ve been itching for that. There’s no better place to be than escaping here with guys that I call my brothers. We’re part of a big family. We definitely have a little ways to go before I get back on the court with the guys, but this week has been great.”

Irving first returned on Monday, going through a moderated session, and will continue to be monitored closely.

Despite the positive steps in his comeback, Irving won’t reveal a return date.

“Just taking it as it goes,” Irving responded. “You’re not getting anything out of me. No percentages, no target dates, nothing. I’m feeling good. Personally I’m in a great place just being able to be out here and practice with the guys, being able to go up and down and continuously, as well. The first time I went up and down it was more controlled. Today, there was a lot more up and down, being able to test my wind, being able to test my knee, going from offense to defense and translating and being able to get out in the fast break and being able to try my moves that I’ve been practicing. Kind of knock off most of the rust I’ve had. This is what this week has been about.”

Iman Shumpert, who has been injured at the same time with Irving, something that has made a lengthy journey go by a little quicker, was also on the court. Having both players back at practice created a noticeable boost.

“Definitely added a little competitiveness and the activity level and energy was good and was high,” Cavs head coach David Blatt said. “Both of those guys practiced pretty well.”

During a portion of the session, Irving and James were on opposite sides, which usually leads to some of the Cavaliers’ best practices, according to Irving.

“The energy was great, Irving said. “Having Shump back there as well as going against Swish (J.R. Smith) and guys, different matchups that we’ve had, that has allowed our practices to be elevated is back to where it needs to be. Hopefully that can continue over the next few weeks.”

Just like Irving, there’s no return date set for Shumpert. A timetable for his recovery originally was supposed to keep him out until either late December or mid-January. But Blatt admitted recently that Shumpert is ahead of schedule, attacking his rehab with the same vigor that he uses to stifle opposing perimeter players.

“When we get back we call ourselves the Hardy Brothers,” Irving said about his friend and backcourt mate, Shumpert. “We’re coming full attack like the Hardy Brothers back in WWF.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks after Thursday’s practice

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jennings open to bench role | Traditional big men explore 3-point line more | Report: Prokhorov close to deal to get full control of Nets

 

No. 1: Jennings more than open to bench role — The Detroit Pistons won last night against the Phoenix Suns, moving them to No. 10 in the Eastern Conference (and a half-game back of the No. 8 spot) as of this morning. They have picked up some big wins this season — against Cleveland at home, on the road vs. Miami, a 2-0 series edge on Atlanta — but are an inconsistent bunch. Point guard Brandon Jennings is on pace to return to the team in three to four weeks and while Reggie Jackson has entrenched himself as the starter, Jennings isn’t about to rock the boat for his own benefit. Terry Foster of The Detroit News has more:

Brandon Jennings spends too much time on the Internet. He heard from Pistons fans that he might not be a good fit coming off the bench for the Pistons.

He will be rusty. His ego is too big. He is accustomed to being a starter.

That makes Jennings bristle. He sees a young team with potential. He sees a starting unit that is bonding and making things work. The last thing he wants is to disrupt things when he returns to the lineup in three weeks.

“I am not going to mess up the chemistry,” Jennings said. “The starters have chemistry and they have been playing well. If I can come off the bench and help out, then why not?”

“Always in my head (I am a starter),” Jennings said. “But sometimes you’ve got to take the back seat and do what is best for the team.”

And if he never starts?

“I want sixth man of the year,” Jennings said.

Jennings coming off the bench is best for the Pistons. This bench has been inconsistent at best and at least twice cost the Pistons wins.

Forward Stanley Johnson is emerging as its best player. He is coming off a nice 19-point, 10-rebound outing against Houston. If the Pistons can pair Jennings with Johnson, they can become the two J’s crew and get the Pistons through rough spots, particularly in the late third and early fourth quarters.

The Pistons need Jennings but do not want to rush him. He works daily to strengthen his left calf and work on conditioning for a Christmas return. Jennings shoots every day and has gone through every workout except five-on-five scrimmages. He believes his offense will come, but Jennings mostly works on his movement to be a more competent defensive player.

“I am tired of shooting by myself,” Jennings said. “I am tired of not playing one on one with anybody.”

And he is tired of being patient.

“I am feeling pretty well,” Jennings said. “I am more confident. I still have to be patient. That is the main thing. I have been learning patience the whole 10 months.”


VIDEO: Reggie Jackson powers the Pistons past the Suns

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Morning shootaround — Nov. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Nov. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Rush puts latest ‘wow’ in W’s | Wizards hard to please in swoon | LeBron saves day, J.R.’s D | McCollum’s audience of 1

No. 1: Rush puts latest ‘wow’ in W’s — All right, the Golden State Warriors are just messing with The Association now. Racing to their 18-0 record, the NBA’s defending champions are posting stupid numbers of superiority and seem almost to be handicapping themselves just for sport. For instance, reigning MVP Steph Curry scored 17 points in the first quarter of his team’s victory over Sacramento while taking only six shots. Draymond Green, who in previous generations might have gotten dismissed as a ” ‘tweener” and been sent packing to multiple teams as a seventh or eighth man, became the first Warriors player since Wilt Chamberlain to post consecutive triple-doubles. Golden State already has outscored opponents by 288 points in just 18 games, ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss reports, and then – even as Harrison Barnes goes out for what could be a couple weeks there’s the whole Brandon Rush thing Saturday:

So, how does a team that averages a blowout top itself? On Saturday night, joyous surprise came in the form of a quick strike Brandon Rush throwback game. He was called upon to replace Harrison Barnes (sprained ankle) in the starting lineup, to some surprise. He didn’t deliver much in the beginning but owned the third quarter like Klay Thompson in disguise. Rush scored 14 points in a 3-minute, 49-second stretch that was shocking, fun, and possibly cathartic.

Rush has a history here, having done nice work for a very different Golden State team, not entirely long ago. On the 2011-2012 Warriors, he was the rare good role player, a glue guy in a situation too shattered to matter. On Nov. 3, 2012, against the Grizzlies, a Zach Randolph shove sent Rush’s career into dormancy. He’d scored 2,639 points in his four-plus seasons before his ACL injury. In the two seasons that followed, he scored 109.

In the background, he has been a vocal part of the locker room, originator of the, “Get what you neeeeed!” catchphrase, meant to inspire work between practices. He’s a popular teammate, someone people here have been pulling for to finally reclaim what he lost. That was palpable in the frenzy of his 14-point explosion. Teammates were clearly looking for Rush, hoping to extend his moment.

After a dunk over contact, Rush was found for three consecutive 3-pointers. Then, during a timeout, interim coach Luke Walton and assistant coach Jarron Collins decided to carry the fun further, calling up “Elevator Doors” for the suddenly hot Rush.

“Elevator Doors” is a play that looks like its namesake. An offensive player runs off the ball between two screening teammates, who converge together to block his defender — the closing doors. It’s a play normally called up for the best of shooters, as it creates a 3-pointer on the move. You’ll see Curry get this play call. You’ll see Thompson get this play call. Something crazy has to happen for almost anyone else to ditch the stairs and take the lift. Since three straight 3s qualifies, Rush got the call, got the ball and … splash.

The crowd went nuts, only outdone by a Golden State bench that might have accidentally created dance moves never before invented.

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No. 2: Wizards hard to please in swoon — All it took was a playoff sweep of the Toronto Raptors for the Washington Wizards and their fans to go all-in on the small-ball, pace-and-space style of offense so popular throughout the league. All it has taken to shake them from that embrace is four defeats, strung together last week in five nights against Indiana, Charlotte, Boston and Toronto. That shiny, new attack doesn’t look so dazzling anymore, and center Marcin Gortat sounded ready to throw it under the bus to get his old bruise buddy, Nene, alongside him again in a big-man tandem that, weeks ago, seemed prehistoric. Gortat also wasn’t happy with what he termed “negativity” in Washington’s locker room, saying: “”It’s not even fun coming here anymore.” Here is an excerpt of J.Michael’s Wizards insider report for CSNMidAtlantic.com:

“We missed some shots but it’s tough also because with the system we play, four outside one inside,” he said after 16 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday’s 84-82 loss to the Toronto Raptors. “I’m by myself over there fighting for the rebounds. Usually you got two, three guys inside the paint so it’s a little bit different without Nene being at the four.”

Nene, who started alongside Gortat as the power forward, missed Saturday because of a left calf strain. Even though his career rebounding numbers are modest (6.6), Nene tends to clear the traffic around the rim to allow Gortat to rebound.

Of course, last season Gortat wasn’t happy on the offensive end because being on the floor with Nene being there clogged the paint and caused difficulty for him, as well as John Wall on drives, to operate. The idea of moving Nene to the bench and sliding in someone who has three-point ability into that role opens the floor but usually comes at the cost of rebounding.

The Wizards are 6-8 and struggling with their identity, and minus-28 in rebounds during this four-game losing streak. Playing the old way got them to the Eastern Conference semifinals two years in a row.

Kris Humphries had started every game at power forward as his three-point shooting evolved but has only made one deep ball in the last five games. For the first time Jared Dudley, who is undersized at 6-7 and was a teammate of Gortat’s with the Phoenix Suns, started there Saturday. He had seven points and four rebounds.

“Jared is a different player. He’s giving a lot to the team. I love to play with him,” Gortat said. “But just as Jared is giving us offensively great opportunities, we’re suffering on rebounds a little bit. It is what it is.

“Coach [Randy Wittman] is still looking for the right guy at the four spot. … It’s tough. Everybody has to do more now, including me. It’s not easy.”

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No. 3:LeBron saves day, J.R.’s D — A late-game mistake nearly torpedoed the generally good defensive work that Cleveland’s J.R. Smith turned in on Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson. But LeBron James‘ late-game heroics averted that particular disaster on a night in which the two Cavaliers – a study in contrasts in so many ways, in demeanor and drive – were their team’s best story. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com saw it as further steps in the championship contender’s progress toward the goal:

There they stood next to each other in the back corner of the Cavaliers’ locker room Saturday: one with aspirations of being known as the G.O.A.T., the other narrowly avoiding becoming the goat for the night, thanks to his ambitious friend hitting a game winner that absolved his defensive sin in the previous possession.

For James, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about his final stat line of 26 points, nine rebounds and five assists or anything too outlandish about him hitting the clincher; he has done it plenty of times before. But it was the nature of his final shot — an eight-foot, driving hook shot over the 7-foot Brook Lopez — that made it unique.

“I don’t think I’ve ever made a game winner off one of those,” James said. “I’ve made layups. I’ve made pull-ups. Obviously I’ve made step-back jumpers. I’ve probably never made one of those for a game winner. So, I might go to the skyhook next time. … Brook, he did not think in his wildest years that I was going to shoot that one.”

For Smith, unfortunately, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about his ill-advised foul on Joe Johnson’s 3-point attempt with 15.2 seconds left and the Cavs leading by three. Smith has committed mental mistakes by fouling in inappropriate situations before, be it Friday night against Charlotte on a Nicolas Batum 3 or the mountain of miscues he had late in Game 2 of the Finals. But it was his overall defensive effort — a career-high four blocks, three steals and the primary defensive assignment on Johnson to begin with — that warrants mentioning

“I know as long as I can bring that enthusiasm and toughness on the defensive end, then we will have a better chance of winning than if I’m just making shots,” Smith said. “I have to be a two-way player.”

It could be seen as troubling that Cleveland needed the double-rainbow-like performance to win a home game against a Brooklyn team that’s now 3-13. There could be legitimate points made about Cleveland’s big-man trio of Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Timofey Mozgov — making a combined $28.7 million this season — combining on the court for just 12 points on 5-for-18 shooting, 20 rebounds and six turnovers against the Nets. There certainly has been a bit of hand-wringing among team observers wondering when the on-court product would actually look as good as the Cavs’ 13-4 record is.

The flip side to that: You have developments such as Smith becoming a key cog in Cleveland’s fourth-quarter, switch-everything defensive lineups and encouraging quotes such as James crediting coach David Blatt for the “designed play.” However, Blatt passed the praise to his star player, saying, “Just the way I drew it up. … Give it to No. 23.”

Like James and Blatt’s relationship, or Smith’s commitment to something other than taking contested jump shots to James putting in so much time in practicing a specialized shot such as that running hook that he would actually feel confident enough to use it in crunch time, Cleveland’s season goals are all about growth.

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No. 4:McCollum’s audience of 1 — When Portland shooting guard C.J. McCollum sank the first four shots he took against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Trail Blazers’ eventual home victory Saturday, he simply was following instructions. His own instructions. Turns out, McCollum – who scored 19 points in the first half and finished with 28 points as Portland won for the third time in four games – had given himself a rather demanding pep talk before the game and Jason Quick of CSNNW.com was on hand to witness it:

It was a mostly silent Moda Center when CJ McCollum took the court about two hours before Saturday’s Trail Blazers game. The music had yet to start blaring from the speakers above, and there were only a limited amount of players on the court.

It was quiet enough to hear McCollum engage in what would be an important conversation … with himself.

“Get up!” McCollum told himself as he attempted a shot.

The next shot, it was the same thing. “Get up!’’

And so it went for the next 15, 20 minutes.

“Get up!” … Swish … “Get up!” … Swish.

Nearly every shot was accompanied by a reminder to both get arc under his shot, and lift from his legs.

“Sometimes, my shot is a little flat,’’ McCollum said. “I’m shooting more of a line drive, so I just remind myself that I’ve got to get it up.’’

McCollum, who is averaging 20.4 points while shooting 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range, says he often talks to himself during shooting routines. Usually, he talks to himself in his mind during morning sessions at the team’s practice facility. Other times, he is more audible. Either way, he find the personal reminders offer “positive reinforcement.”

“We shoot so many shots that sometimes, you baby it, hold back a little bit,’’ McCollum said. “So I remind myself to get it up, let it go.’’

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It has taken the proverbial New York minute for the Knicks and their fans to swap out the question mark after Kristaps Porzingis‘ name with an exclamation point, and our man Lang Whitaker tells the tale of New Yorkers’ newfound 7-foot-3 source of hope and optimism … Detroit coach and basketball boss Stan Van Gundy had center Andre Drummond in his crosshairs, asking more from the big man who has given the Pistons so much this season, at least in terms of gaudy rebounding numbers. … Here’s some video of Kobe Bryant on that kid McCollum’s growth in Portland, on the young Lakers and on the inevitable march of time. … Here at HangTime HQ, we can’t remember the last time Father Time grabbed 18 rebounds in a game but we do know when San Antonio’s Tim Duncan most recently accomplished that. … The Bulls need Derrick Rose to play more like Derrick Rose, especially when trying to score, though some doubt he’ll ever quite make it back. … Did someone say back? That’s what Rockets fans wonder, while waiting for Donatas Motiejunas to come back in his recovery from back surgery. … ICYMI, this Philadelphia 76ers fan’s lament does some serious Sixers ‘splaining. … The way Brook and Robin Lopez mock-bicker and tease each other – over their cats, their personalities, you name it – you might find yourself wishing they were conjoined rather than merely identical twins.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 19


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant closing in on return | Nash lauds Curry’s play to date | Ainge: McHale has a ‘spot’ with Celtics

No. 1: Durant closing in on return to lineup — Oklahoma City Thunder star forward Kevin Durant hasn’t played in the last four games, but OKC has held down the fort pretty well in his absence. They are 2-2 in that stretch after last night’s win against the New Orleans Pelicans and may not have much longer to go until Durant returns to the fold. The Oklahoman‘s Erik Horne has more:

Kevin Durant looks like he’s getting closer to making a return to the court with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

A week after he was diagnosed with a left hamstring strain, Durant was seen after Thunder practice Wednesday taking some jump shots and showing more mobility than the last time we saw him on the practice court late last week. Last week, Durant was only seen taking a few set shots, but on Wednesday, he went through a series of drills with assistant coaches Monty Williams and Royal Ivey.

In addition to jumpers, Durant also went through a drill with Ivey and Williams in which he had to beat the double team while dribbling from halfcourt then pull up for a 3-pointer in transition. Williams and Ivey also did some light jogging with Durant the length of the court.

“I hadn’t really talked to anybody medically about him,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I think he’s doing more than certainly he was a week ago. How close he is to being able to return, I’m not really sure; I haven’t been updated on that, but I know that he’s doing more physically just me watching and seeing what’s happened over the last week.”

The Thunder initially said last Wednesday that Durant would be re-evaluated in seven-to-10 days following the MRI on his strained hamstring.

“Looking good,” Anthony Morrow said of Durant. “Looks like Kevin Durant.

“I think that our staff is doing a good job with him. He’s doing a great job of being patient. I’m glad to see him getting up shots, taking it one day at a time. One thing he’s doing is really staying in guys’ ear, even from the sideline when he’s out. To me, that’s a sign of growth and leadership. He’s doing that even more so than last year.”

Durant’s return could come in the next two games. The Thunder plays the New York Knicks on Friday and the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, both at Chesapeake Energy Arena.


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook discusses OKC’s win against New Orleans

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