Posts Tagged ‘Iman Shumpert’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs lose in Lue debut | Stan Van Gundy rips Blatt firing | Kerr, Myers find support in pain | Scola the Explorer

No. 1: Cavs lose in Lue debut Just hours after replacing David Blatt as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tyronn Lue made his head coaching debut at home in a nationally televised game against the Chicago Bulls. And while Lue talked about wanting to make the experience more fun for his players, as Chris Haynes writes for Cleveland.com, that turned out to be easier to talk about than actually make happen, as the Bulls won 96-83…

The Cavaliers showed energy, but lacked any efficiency — showing no shooting touch on the floor or at the foul line. They missed beyond the arc — making just four of 24 attempts — and at the foul line, where they were 9-of-22. By game’s end, they left the floor to boos from the home crowd.

During Lue’s pregame presser, he said one of the problems was that his team needed to start having more fun post David Blatt.

“I don’t think they’re enjoying it,” Lue said. “That was a part of our speech today. The game will pass you by. No matter how great LeBron is, Kyrie, Kevin, the game will pass you by. … I want them to just enjoy the moment now.”

To help cater to a new pleasurable basketball experience, before the game the Cavaliers did something they haven’t done since mid-November: they participated in the starting lineup introductions. Before, the players would just stand in a huddle as the public address announcer announced each starter.

That was the full degree of Cleveland’s (30-12) fun.

Initially into the contest, it looked as if the Cavaliers were energized and full of life by jumping out to a 7-2 lead. But that vigor slowly evaporated and old habits of isolation ball crept back in. They went scoreless in the final 6:26 of the opening quarter, missing their last 16 shots.

Ball movement could have been better, but for the most part Cleveland just couldn’t hit a shot. It was brutal to watch as they shot a horrific 37 percent from the field for the night.

When the buzzer sounded for halftime and the Cavaliers were down five, a frustrated LeBron James slammed the ball to the floor as he headed to the locker room. He had missed all three of his first half free throws. By game’s end, the Cavaliers were 9-of-22 from the charity stripe — and that required an 8-for-11 stretch to finish the game. Chicago capitalized on those missed opportunities, expanding its lead to 17 with 42 seconds remaining in the third.

An exasperated sellout crowd booed the home team, which trimmed the deficit to nine on a James layup plus free throw with 2:55 left in the game. A pair of free throws by Smith chipped it to eight seconds later.

But the Bulls found Taj Gibson for a difficult layup with a foul on James, pretty much ending any suspense. There was no overcoming that margin on this cold shooting night.

James was an assist shy of claiming his his first triple-double of the season. He finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds, but was 11-for-27 shooting. Smith put in 18 points on 17 shots. Love was the only player to make half his shots, finishing with 14 points and five boards and Kyrie Irving registered 11 points on 16 shot attempts.

Lue informed the media at morning shootaround that he would go with a 10-man rotation in order to develop an identity with the second unit. Veteran James Jones, who was out of the rotation under Blatt, was the first to sub in. Mo Williams, who hadn’t played in 10 of his last 13 games, soon after entered. The surprising aspect is that Lue used 10 players in the first quarter, showing how serious he is about improving his bench.

The results didn’t prove beneficial. Chicago’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 22-8.

With the franchise invested in Lue for the long haul, his objective is still to win games, but he also wants to restore his team’s passion.

“I’m not really worried about, right now this early, about the games, I really just worried about the spirit is more important than anything,” he said. “Getting our spirit right, getting our spirit together and I think everything else will take care of itself because we got a lot of great players.”

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Blogtable: Thoughts on Cavaliers at season’s halfway point?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on Cavs? | Biggest surprise at season’s halfway mark? |
Rookie you enjoy watching most (and why)?



VIDEORelive the Warriors-Cavs matchup

> They lead the East, but in a five-day span they lost a close one to the Spurs on the road, then got blown out by the Warriors at home. What do you make of these Cleveland Cavaliers halfway through the season?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Something’s amiss in the Land. It’s a combination of things, I think, but at the base the issue is how to be the defensive-based team that blew through the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring and dismantled a 60-win Atlanta team in the conference finals while integrating the offense-first Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love into the mix. The Cavs played championship-level defense in the postseason, but couldn’t score enough, as evidenced by the load LeBron James had to carry in The Finals. They’re going to be very good offensively once Irving is back at full speed, but can he and Love defend their positions well enough to beat elite teams? Not putting Monday’s beatdown by the Warriors all on those two, but clearly, Cleveland had no concept as a team of how to stop Golden State. Who does Irving guard? Stephen Curry? Nope. Klay Thompson? Maybe David Blatt puts him on Andrew Bogut, and I’m not kidding. But it’s going to be a question against the best teams, and those are the teams the Cavs have struggled to beat this season.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com The Cavaliers are good enough and not good enough. They’re good enough to get past any rough patches, good enough to essentially control the East and good enough to get back to the Finals without too much angst or sweat. But they’re not good enough to beat Golden State or San Antonio in seven games, not yet, not as currently constituted. J.R. Smith is too erratic on and off the court to be relied upon to the degree Cleveland does, they need more outside shooting as it is and they’re almost starting over in cracking the LeBron JamesKyrie IrvingKevin Love code. They have lots on their plates for the final three months.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: They’re fine. Not perfect. Not the team to beat. But the Cavaliers are still the favorite in the East and, if you want the real perspective, in much better shape than a year ago as doubt flew in every direction and coach David Blatt was supposedly on the hot seat. You know, before they got to The Finals and then to a Game 6 without two of their best players for most or all of the series.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI think the Cavs are fortunate to play in the East, and that all they need to do is win the conference, which last I checked doesn’t go through Oakland or San Antonio. Unless my math is wrong, that puts them in The Finals, right? Look, past history has proven that whatever happens in the regular season (losses to certain teams) often carries little weight in the post-season. Cleveland is fine, in the big picture. There’s a lot of basketball left to find a groove and seek answers.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com They’ve improved defensively and rank in the top 10 on that end of the floor, which is where they need to be. But yeah, that top-10 defense obviously didn’t hold up against the league’s best offense (Golden State), and their offense struggled against the league’s best defense (San Antonio). The Cavs could probably win the East in their sleep, but the Warriors and Spurs are playing like two of the best teams of all-time. The Cavs could wait to flip the switch in the postseason, but now would be a good time to play with some urgency, not let bad teams hang around through three quarters, and see if they can’t match the Spurs’ and Warriors’ point differential for a few weeks.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They strike me as a team that is well aware that they are ill-equipped to handle either the Spurs or Warriors in a seven-game series right now. That narrative about a healthy Cavaliers team surely being able to finish what they started in The Finals against the Warriors seems a bit hollow to me now. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love would have made a huge difference, but I don’t know that they would have been the difference between winning and losing. And the Spurs and Warriors have taken it up a few notches since last season while the Cavaliers clearly have not. I think it’s a good thing, actually, because now the Cavaliers can assess exactly what they are and make whatever adjustments, tweaks and or trades necessary.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Let’s acknowledge that they’ve been without Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert for most of this season. But let’s also not dismiss the impression that they entered this year behaving as if they were de facto champs – as if convinced they would have won the NBA Finals if not for their injuries. If so, then they are learning is that it’s going to require more than talent and depth and potential. Instead of seeing them express the arrogance and indiscipline that led to their blowout loss to the real champions, maybe we’ll see the Cavs approach the second half of the year with humility – which is their only hope.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’m not sure what to make of them. Sure, they’re 28-11 and own the best record in the Eastern Conference. But LeBron’s wavering 3-point shooting numbers are at least mildly troubling to me, and while I know one game out of 82 can be viewed as an aberration, getting blown out at home by the Warriors is not ideal. I know the Cavs went all-in financially on this group of players, but I think they could still use an athletic 2/3 type who can hit 3-pointers and play defense. Things aren’t perfect right now, and the good news is that right now, they don’t have to be perfect. The question is whether things will get right by the time the playoffs roll around.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 26


VIDEO: Top plays from Christmas Day games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better | James wants clarity from Cavaliers | Rockets leave coal for Spurs | Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting

No. 1: Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, even the most rabid Warriors fan, who truly thinks the Warriors have underperformed this season. After all, after last night’s 89-83 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the highly anticipated NBA Finals rematch, the Warriors moved to a ridiculous 28-1 on the season, which included a 24-game winning streak. That is, it’s hard to find criticism unless you talk to the actual Warriors players themselves, as our Scott Howard-Cooper did, where you find that the Warriors believe despite all the W’s, they aren’t playing all that great and still have room to grow

“Look,” center Andrew Bogut said, “we haven’t played great the last 10 games. That’s something that we’ve addressed in this locker room.”

“I don’t think we’ve played well,” power forward Draymond Green said. “Even tonight. We did some good things, but I still don’t think we’ve played well.”

“I’m really impressed with our defense the last two games,” interim coach Luke Walton said. “Before that, our defense was struggling.”

Help is on the way, if only the Warriors can hold it together another couple weeks and avoid the all-out panic that will come if they slump all the way to, say, 75-win pace and only break the single-season record by three games as opposed to the current tracking to 79 victories. Good news is on the horizon for a change.

Coach Steve Kerr, out since the early days of training camp while recovering from the effects of two back surgeries in the offseason, is nearing a return. He stepped in for an ill Walton to run practice Tuesday, the interim to the interim, watched the Cleveland game from the coaches’ office in Oracle and plans to accompany the team on the Dallas-Houston back-to-back that begins Wednesday while Walton continues to lead. While the Warriors continue to avoid targeting a return date, the increased activity raises the possibility Kerr could be back as soon as Jan. 2 against the Nuggets in Oakland.

Forward Harrison Barnes, out the last 12 games with a sprained left ankle, was in some of the scrimmage Tuesday and Thursday participated in three-on-three drills with the team. Being listed as doubtful for Friday showed there was at least the thought he could play against the Cavaliers, so Monday against the Kings at Oracle or the two games in Texas are all possibilities.

The next week or two, depending on the actual return dates and how long Barnes will need to work back into game shape, could become an eventful time in the season of a defending champion, and that just doesn’t happen very often in early-January. Golden State will be whole again, assuming no one else gets hurt in the meantime, with Barnes an important piece as the starting small forward and also one of the triggers to the successful small-ball lineup when he moves to power forward.

It would have been impossible on opening night to imagine the Warriors would stand at 28-1 under any circumstances, let alone 28-1 with a coach younger than several players around the league and stepping in with two previous seasons as an assistant, with a concussion costing Bogut six games and Barnes’ absence. Now imagine the Warriors at 28-1 and thinking they will start to play better in the future.

“Maybe a little bit,” Bogut said.

Maybe more than a little bit.

“There’s part of it that [makes me mad] and there’s part of it that makes me very, very happy,” Green said. “I think we’ve got a lot of improving to do, and we will.”

Mad because the Warriors are not happy with how they have played lately. The happy: “Because what are we? Twenty-eight and one? You’re 28-1 and you’re not near playing well, that’s exciting. We know we know how to get to that point and we know we’ll reach that point. And when we do, I think that’s trouble because if we’re 28-1 and we’re not playing well, imagine where we are. That’s why it excites me.

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No. 2: James wants clarity from Cavaliers Meanwhile, the Warriors’ vanquished Christmas Day foe, the Cleveland Cavaliers, drop to 19-8. That’s still good enough for the lead in the Eastern Conference, but with the Cavs getting more players back from injury and healthy, including Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert, the Cavs have more options available than ever before. And after the loss to the Warriors, as Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon writes, LeBron James would like to see the Cavs discover a rhythm going forward

After the Cavs lost 89-83 to the defending champion Warriors on Golden State’s home court, where it’s now won 32 in a row during the regular season, dating back to last year, James repeatedly mentioned the lack of continuity the Cavs had on the court and suggested that at least some of it had to do with David Blatt‘s rotation.

“It’s going to take some time to get back into rhythm, and all of us, not just the players, but everyone, to get back in rhythm,” James said.

The lineups and the newness need some context, and what James said about them was nothing like the cool attitude he directed toward Blatt at times last season.

In fact, James didn’t name his coach specifically on Friday, but the bottom line was James called for Blatt and his staff to gain perhaps a clearer sense of who they want to play, and when, now that the entire team is healthy.

“For us to have a full unit, we’ve got to practice, we’ve got to play some games where we know what we want to do, what lineups we want to play out there,” James said.

“It’s an adjustment period, it’s not just going to happen – you plug a guy in there, plug two guys in there and it automatically happens,” he continued. “It’s going to be an adjustment period, but we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine toward February and March.”

This was just the second game this season that the Cavs had all 15 players available, due to season-long injuries to Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert.

That’s not Blatt’s fault, but, it was the head coach who placed James, Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, and Tristan Thompson on the court to start the fourth quarter. It was the first time all season they’d all been on the court at the same time.

When Irving and Kevin Love subbed in for James and Smith with 10:06 left in the quarter, the Cavs still had a lineup that had never played together. Those are just two examples.

Richard Jefferson did not play at all against the Warriors. Mo Williams logged 4:39, and James Jones, a favorite of James, played just 1:34.

James led the Cavs with 25 points and contributed nine rebounds, but shot 10-of-26 and was a brutal 4-of-9 from the foul line. He took the blame for that, saying “I wasn’t very good, inefficient, and it trickled down to everybody else.”

The Cavs’ 83 points, 31.6 percent shooting from the field and 16.7 percent shooting from 3-point range were season lows. Irving (13 points) shot 4-of-15 and Love (10 points, 18 rebounds) was 5-of-16. Cleveland assisted on just 12-of-30 baskets.

“For the first time, for a long period of time we had some different lineups out there,” James explained, talking about the woes on offense. “And against a championship team like this, it’s kind of hard to do that on the fly. We’re not making no excuses, we still got to be a lot better, still got to move the ball, got to share the ball, get it moving from side to side, but offensively we were all out of rhythm.

“You credit to their defense, for sure, and then the lack of detail.”

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No. 3: Rockets leave coal for Spurs While the Warriors have romped through the NBA this season, the San Antonio Spurs have quietly put in work as well, and entered yesterday’s Christmas game against the Houston Rockets with a sparkling 25-5 record. Their opponent, the Houston Rockets, have struggled to find an identity, firing a coach (Kevin McHale) and getting inconsistent play from their superstars, James Harden and Dwight Howard. But on a big stage yesterday, the Rockets turned to their defense to grind out an 88-84 win over the Spurs, and as our Fran Blinebury writes, Houston got a present from their veteran reserve guard, Jason Terry

Jason Terry is long past the days of being the shiny new toy. He has stockings that have hung from chimneys far longer than some of his teammates have hung around the planet.

So even after the Rockets had spent most of the night standing toe-to-toe and going push-to-shove with the Spurs, there came a time to seal the deal and the closer had to come out of the attic.

It wasn’t just Terry’s nine points and three steals in the last 10½ minutes of the bone-jarring 88-84 victory Friday night at the Toyota Center. It was the way he did everything. Like he owned the place.

Ever since the shocking 5-10 start to the season that got coach Kevin McHale fired, the Rockets have been trying to convince everybody, including themselves, that they’re really a very good team, capable of getting back again to the Western Conference finals.

Trouble is, since the opening tip back in October, every time the Rockets have put another stake in the ground with a signature win over the Thunder, at Dallas or sweeping a pair of duels from the Clippers, they have also put a stake or a half dozen into their own foot. A combined 0-5 record against the lowly Nuggets and Nets. A whipping in Sacramento. A comeback that came up just short in Orlando.

You don’t get to call yourself a real contender until you stop pretending to show up consistently and take the job seriously every night. Dwight Howard and James Harden talk the talk.

“The Jet” puts his arms out at his sides and takes flight on the wings of drive and emotion that have carried him into a 17th NBA season.

“That’s what I’ve prided myself on, being ready, always stepping up to the moment,” Terry said. “In big moments like tonight when my team needed me most, I want to show up and be effective.”

He buried a big 3-pointer. He hit a mid-range jumper from the wing. He stepped into the San Antonio passing lanes to snatch away three balls to get the Rockets headed in the other direction.

But now, more than being the fire-starter in a big holiday event — the first time the Rockets hosted a home Christmas Day game since moving to Houston in 1971 — Terry’s task and bigger challenge will be to instill a sense of every day urgency that goes from the locker room out onto the court. Even in too many of their wins this season, the Rockets have started games lazily and had to come scrambling back from double-digit holes. Which is why this latest so-called statement win lifts their record back to just 16-15.

Harden’s pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers were big and it’s good to know that you’ve got that arrow in your quiver, but it can’t be enough to think he’ll be able to bail you out game after game with offensive heroics. And it was Terry’s spark that ignited the flame.

Terry had been inserted into the starting lineup for the first four games after J.B. Bickerstaff took over the team. But as the team kept struggling, the interim coach began to shuffle his guards like a casino dealer until finally he turned Terry back face up in this one. In fact, the veteran has played less than 15 minutes in 11 games this season and also has six DNPs, including the previous game, which the Rockets lost at Orlando. That’s now likely to change.

“I just feel like we need him on the floor,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s times where he needs the rest, obviously. But big moments in big games, he’s one of the guys that I trust the most. I trust not only that he’ll do the right thing, but I trust that he’ll perform and then I trust that he’ll carry his teammates in a positive direction.

“You can’t speak enough about him. He’s a class guy. He’s a winner. He’s a champion. He’s a leader. He’ll sacrifice, whatever it takes to win. That’s what he does. That’s who he is. Every since I’ve known him he’s been that way.”

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No. 4: Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting The first 2016 All-Star voting results are in, and while there are still several more rounds to go, at least for now, Kobe Bryant has a huge lead over everyone else in the NBA, including Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Considering Kobe’s global appeal and previously announced retirement plans, it shouldn’t come a complete surprise that fans want to see him on the NBA’s big stage one final time. But as ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, the numbers apparently shocked at least one person: Kobe Bryant.

Bryant has 719,235 votes — well ahead of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry (510,202), the next-highest vote-getter, and more than twice as many as Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James (357,937).

After the Lakers’ 94-84, Christmas night loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Bryant said he was more than a little surprised he had such a wide lead.

“Listen, I was making a little coffee run this morning, got some gas and decided to just go on Instagram and peruse,” he said, “and [I] saw the damn votes, and I was like, ‘What the hell?’ Shocked doesn’t do it justice.”

He added, “It’s exciting. What can I say? Just thankful.”

The 2016 NBA All-Star Game, to be held in Toronto, would be Bryant’s last, as he has announced his plans to retire after this season, his 20th in the NBA. His 17 All-Star selections are second all-time behind former Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had 19. Bryant, 37, is the leading scorer in NBA All-Star history (280 points).

This year marks the first time that the 6-foot-6 Bryant is being listed as a member of the frontcourt in All-Star voting. In previous years, he has been listed as a guard. The second-highest vote-getter among Western Conference frontcourt players is Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (349,473).

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Friday’s game that Bryant deserves a spot on the All-Star team.

“A lot of people disagree with me on that. That’s fine. I have my opinion. I think Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I don’t care if he’s a starter of if they figure out a 13th spot for him. [With] what he’s done in his career, he should be on the All-Star team, and I don’t see any debate in that. You can have one, but I’m not hearing it.”

But what if someone else were left off, such as one of Rivers’ players?

“It would be awful, but Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I think they should have a special exception and put 13 guys on if that’s the case if he wasn’t in one of the top 12 as far as voting or whatever. But I just believe he should be on it. Magic [Johnson] was on, Michael [Jordan] was on with the Wizards. I think certain guys earn that right, and unfortunately for other guys who can’t make it, they have to earn that right too.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Chicago Bulls may have turned a corner with their win over the Oklahoma City Thunder yesterday … Steph Curry doesn’t think he’s “hurting” basketball, regardless of what his former coach Mark Jackson says … Chris Bosh punctuated Miami’s win over New Orleans yesterday by talking trash to Anthony Davis down the stretchEvan Fournier has broken out of his slump in Orlando … You can ask him questions, but doesn’t have to answer them …

With Irving back, can Cavs finally soar?

VIDEO: Kyrie Irving is ready to return to the court.

Now that Kyrie Irving is back on the floor, can the Cavs finally discover a new “normal?”

You have to feel for the Cavs a bit. Well, sort of. Ever since LeBron James boomeranged back to Cleveland, the team he envisioned never quite took the floor. At the start of last season, the new club had to deal with transition pains caused by a new coach and the arrival of four key pieces on the rotation: LeBron, Kevin Love, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert.

And then, once the introductions were finally made two months into the season, injuries hit. Anderson Varejao was done for the year. When the playoffs began, Love was finished. Shortly after the NBA Finals began, Irving was finished.

And this season, Shumpert has dealt with injuries, which prevented him from delivering anything more than a newborn baby.

LeBron joked that it was “normal” for the Cavs to deal with being incomplete, but today was a step in the other direction when Irving declared himself fit for duty, having healed from his knee injury.

With a simple Michael Jordan-style “I’m back” tweet, Irving has changed the dynamics of the club. He gives the Cavs one more All-Star on the floor, one more scoring option, one less reason to rely so much on LeBron. The Cavs managed to go 17-7 anyway, which is scary once you think about it, how the rest of the teams in the East had their opening and none took advantage of it.

Irving will suit up Sunday against the Sixers, a great team to use as a warm up, which will give him a few days to prepare for the Christmas Day showdown against Steph Curry and the Warriors. Remember, when the Warriors took the Cavs in six games during the Finals, LeBron saluted the champs but also said he wished the Cavs were fully healthy. And that remark took a life of its own, with the Warriors feeling stung by any accusation that they were lucky. Which they were, from the standpoint of avoiding a major injury, unlike OKC and a few other contenders.

“I’m pretty (bleeping) excited,” Irving said at practice, and that pretty much sums up the feeling of his teammates.

The trick now is for the Cavs and Love in particular to mesh with Irving on the floor. In the absence of Irving, Love has played his best ball in Cleveland by far, and feels comfortable with more touches. It’ll be up to coach David Blatt to devise a way to make everyone feel productive and happy.

Irving has practiced pain-free for weeks, and it’s reasonable to suggest he’ll need a few games to get his NBA stamina back. But look: The Cavs have added a three-time All-Star who’s in the prime of his career at age 23. How can it not work?

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.”

***

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.”

***

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. 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. 12



VIDEO: Friday’s Fast Break

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry, Green rescue Warriors in Boston | Shumpert’s return sparks Cavaliers’ defensive effort | Aldridge finding his groove with Spurs | Report: D’Antoni set to join Brown’s staff in Philadelphia

No. 1: Curry, Green rescue Warriors in Boston No Klay Thompson. No Harrison Barnes. No problem for the Golden State Warriors. As long as Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are in the lineup, it’s going to be extremely difficult for anyone to stop the Golden State Warriors and their historic march. They improved to 24-0 Friday night in Boston, outlasting the Celtics in a double-overtime thriller with Curry and Green coming to the rescue. They are one win away, tonight in Milwaukee (8:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) from completing the first 7-0 road trip in league history. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains how the Celtics escaped Boston with the streak intact:

The Warriors won despite missing starters Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, who were both nursing sprained ankles. The Warriors won despite shooting a season-low 39.3 percent and Curry committing a season-high eight turnovers. They won despite trailing by five points with less than two minutes left in regulation.

“We never get rattled,” Draymond Green said of what he learned about the team. “We continued to fight. We believe in ourselves. We believe in each other, and we trust each other. So, nothing new. The same old, same old.”

Green thumped his chest and wrecked the Celtics with 24 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, five blocks and five steals, playing a career-high 50 minutes and with five fouls during the overtime periods.

Andre Iguodala scored nine of his 13 points in the two overtime periods — including the go-ahead putback layup — and added 10 rebounds in 44 minutes.

Curry exhausted himself playing 47 minutes, going 6 for 13 from 3-point range and scoring 23 of his points after halftime despite finding little room to operate without Thompson on the court.

Avery Bradley and Evan Turner made things difficult, but Curry outlasted the Celtics. He was the one on the free throw line, capping off his night by going 14 for 14 from the charity stripe with two of them giving the Warriors a three-point lead with 13.4 seconds left in the second overtime.

“In my opinion, he’s the best player that this game has right now,” Warriors interim coach Luke Walton said. “He can score in so many different ways. They did a phenomenal job on him, and he scored 38. But that’s how superstars are in this league. I played with Kobe (Bryant). I know what that’s like.”

Ian Clark’s first career start came at shooting guard alongside Curry. Leandro Barbosa played through an illness with Thompson, whose ankle was not yet 100 percent, sidelined.

The Warriors still extended their streak to 28 straight regular-season wins dating back to last season, making it the second longest in league history. They did it in the sixth game of their seven-game trip.

“I think the beauty of our team is when we get out there, nobody’s thinking about if we lose, the streak’s over,” Curry said.

“I think that’s why we are where we are. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves, (we’re) staying in the moment. We’re having a blast chasing history.”

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No. 2: Shumpert’s return sparks Cavaliers’ defensive effort LeBron James did his part, as always, to make sure the Cleveland Cavaliers handled their business against the Orlando Magic. But he had plenty of help, including a welcome spark from the season debut of Iman Shumpert, whose attention to detail on defense had been sorely missed. Shumpert kicked off his season in typical style (his hair was a showstopper, per usual and he made an immediate impact on both ends of the floor). Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com has more on Shumpert’s opening night:

Shumpert didn’t start the game. Cavs head coach David Blatt went with Jared Cunningham, hoping to ease Shumpert back and get him some more practice time before he takes back his previous role as starter, one he excelled in during the Cavaliers’ playoff run.

At the 6:05 mark of the first quarter, Shumpert entered, making his presence felt immediately.

I remember having a conversation about Shumpert last year with Cavaliers general manager David Griffin when I was trying to pinpoint Shumpert’s value after the trade.

Griffin explained how Shumpert not only provided the Cavs athleticism on the perimeter — something lacking while the team was giving minutes to worn-down veterans Shawn Marion and Mike Miller — but Shumpert gave Cleveland an edge.

They needed a player like him, one who gained a reputation early in his career as a hard-nosed defender.

That edge, an intangible quality, became clear on Friday night.

He finished with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 25 productive minutes. He also helped hold the Magic to 28-of-72 (38.9 percent) from the field. That’s his true impact, which can’t always be measured by the box score.

Shumpert is a rare defensive playmaker who brings much-needed toughness.

The schedule didn’t help Orlando, playing at home for the first time after an exhausting five-game Western Conference road trip that ended in Phoenix on Wednesday night. But it isn’t a coincidence that the Cavs played their best all-around defensive game on the night Shumpert debuted.

In the previous four games, Cleveland had allowed 102.5 points per night.

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No. 3: Aldridge finding his groove with Spurs Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge needed a little time adjust to life in an ensemble cast in San Antonio. But now that he’s comfortable, the rest of the league will have to deal with him. And that’s a daunting challenge, as the Los Angeles Lakers (one of his many suitors during free agency over the summer) found out Friday night and the Atlanta Hawks will find out tonight (8 p.m. ET, League Pass) at Philips Arena when the Spurs battle their Eastern Conference doppelgänger. Our very own Fran Blinebury examines Aldridge’s all-business adjustment:

Aldridge scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and did not play the fourth quarter in the Spurs 107-89 win over the Lakers on Friday night.

“I’m getting into a rhythm now and feeling more comfortable,” Aldridge said. “I’m starting to feel like myself.”

The Spurs keep cruising along with the second-best record in the NBA, while the Lakers are now 3-20 and left to wonder how things might look if they’d have landed Aldridge to be the key cog in their offensive attack.

“It is a big what-if,” said Lakers coach Byron Scott.

Scott said the Lakers received the same feedback after their first meeting with Aldridge last summer and changed their strategy when given a second chance.

“The second meeting was just myself and (general manager) Mitch (Kupchak)…It was all basketball,” Scott said. “I think the first presentation, I think we probably looked at it more as a business presentation more than basketball and that’s probably where we made our mistake.”

Right from the start, the Spurs’ approach that eventually landed Aldridge to a four-year, $84-million contract couldn’t have been more different than L.A.’s.

“We don’t try to convince people, very honestly,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “I think it’s overblown, like we’re going to have some kind of salesman deal. We tried to sell Jason Kidd (2003) and it didn’t work. We had mariachis and everything. We had all kinds of stuff and after that I decided never again. If they come, they come. If they don’t, I don’t care.

“It’s as simple as that, especially for a guy that’s been in the league for nine years. You know what he can do. You know what he can’t do. You know what you like. You know what you don’t like. Whatever it might be.

“But more importantly, he knows who you are and he knows what team he would like to go to for whatever reason. So everything is pretty much out there on the table. If a guy had been in the league for a split second and then he had to make some decisions, it’s different. But he’s seen a lot. He’s been around a long time and we just did the polite thing. We met with him. Our guys talked to him. He talked to us and asked a few questions, he and his agents and that was that.”

Aldridge came into Friday’s game averaging 15.4 points, lowest since his rookie season. He’s also struggled with his shot, making a career-low 45.5 percent. But the Spurs aren’t making a peep of complaint.

“He’s been great,” Popovich said. “It’s a totally new system. When you’re playing with a whole group of new players, it takes time to understand where your place is. Sometimes I think he’s deferred too much because he’s trying to fit in and usually that’s the right thing to do when you enter an organization. Any of us who has a new job defers in the beginning and tries to fit.”

***

No. 4: Report: D’Antoni set to join Brown’s staff in Philadelphia — The extreme franchise makeover in Philadelphia that began with the hiring of Jerry Colangelo as chairman of basketball operations earlier this week could get another high-profile addition, and soon. The Sixers are reportedly in talks with Mike D’Antoni to join Brett Brown‘s staff as an assistant coach. Brown’s two-year contract extension was announced Friday afternoon and soon after word of the possibility of D’Antoni coming on board began circulating. Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer provides some context:

It turns out that Jerry Colangelo doesn’t have to be in Philadelphia to have an influence on the 76ers.

The team’s recently hired chairman of basketball operations is in talks with Mike D’Antoni to become an associate head coach with the Sixers, according to Yahoo Sports. The website said that Colangelo and coach have spoken to D’Antoni about a role on the Sixers bench that could be filled in late December.

The Sixers introduced Colangelo as chairman on Monday. The former four-team executive of the year for the Phoenix Suns flew back to Phoenix on Tuesday.

D’Antoni and Colangelo have a relationship that dates backs to the Suns and USA basketball. The 64-year-old spent five seasons as the Suns head coach.Colangelo owned the Suns when D’Antoni was named their coach in 2003.  he coached four teams in a total of  12 seasons.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: There was a Kevin Durant takeover in the fourth quarter for the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night … Kyrie Irving is getting close to his return for the Cleveland Cavaliers … The confidence in D’Angelo Russell’s game is growing in Los AngelesNick Stauskas is struggling with his shot and all of the losing in Philly … The Hornets unleashed the Jeremy Lin-led bench mob on the Memphis Grizzlies … Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett notches another career milestone …

 

Morning shootaround — December 11



VIDEO: All the highlights from Thursday’s four games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Thompson says ankle is 70 percent
Don’t count the Splash Brothers out from making a full appearance tonight when the streaking Warriors play the Celtics in Boston. Klay Thompson tells Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com that the sprained ankle suffered in Tuesday’s win over the Pacers is at “70 percent” and he’ll be a game-time decision:

“It’s not feeling great, but it’s not feeling bad,” Thompson said after Thursday’s practice at Emerson College in Boston. “It’s like somewhere in between. It’s like 60 percent — nah, 70.”

Thompson, who finished with a season-high 39 points against the Pacers, was walking under his own power with a bit of a limp after the game, though the team said X-rays were negative. He has been rehabbing the injury since.

“He’s obviously out there getting some shots up, shooting around, but it’ll likely be a game-time decision [against Boston],” Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton said. “If there’s any concern at all that his ankle’s hurt, then we’re not going to play him.”

When asked for his prognosis, Thompson said: “I’m optimistic about life and Friday. And, yeah I’m optimistic. I think if I have a good shootaround [on Friday], I’ll play.”

***

No. 2: Irving, Shumpert could be ready
With LeBron James’ minutes back up and Cleveland working extra hard to hold onto that top spot in the Eastern Conference standings, the Cavaliers could definitely use a boost to their lineup. That help could come very soon as Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert might both be ready to play on the two-game road trip to Orlando and Boston. That’s the word from Chris Fedor of cleveland.com:

“There’s a chance that one or two or both will play on the trip, but there’s also a chance they don’t,” head coach David Blatt said Thursday. “We’ll see how they’re feeling.”

Both Irving and Shumpert went through a full practice on Thursday, the final workout before the team left for Orlando, and both made the trip.

“It’s a day-to-day thing with both of them,” Blatt said. “We kind of like to let them get through the practice then the next morning gauge how they’re feeling. And then just go from there.”

***

No. 3: Warriors still chasing Spurs
The defending champs might be the ones with the rings, the perfect record and the No. 1 ranking in the standings. But Warriors general manager Bob Myers says his club is still looking up to the Spurs as the gold standard in the NBA. Myers expressed his admiration for what coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have built to Sam Amick of USA Today:

“They are a model franchise,” Myers told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday. “We are all trying to emulate them.”

Yet this is not a classic case of one rival spewing politically correct platitudes about another. Myers, who made a seamless transition from NBA agent to executive after being hired as Golden State’s assistant general manager in April of 2011, keeps a poignant quote from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich saved on his cell phone as a reminder of how great sports organizations should be built. From Warriors owner Joe Lacob to Myers on down, the Warriors have been taking plays out of the Spurs’ proverbial playbook for years now.

“A synergy has to form between the owner, whoever his president is, whoever the GM is, whoever the coach is,” Popovich said in that quote from March of 2014 that Myers kept as a blueprint of sorts. “There’s got to be a synergy where there’s a trust. There (are) no walls. There is no territory. Everything is discussed. Everything is fair game. Criticism is welcome, and when you have that, then you have a hell of an organization. That free flow through all those people is what really makes it work. And that includes everything from draft to Os and Xs. Nothing should be left to one area – only to the president, only to the GM, only to the coach – or the culture just doesn’t form. At least that’s what’s worked for us.”

***

No. 4: Gibson says Griffin meant no harm
It is no surprise that Blake Griffin didn’t think he deserved a flagrant foul for taking a swipe that caught Taj Gibson in the head on Thursday night. But count the victim Gibson as just as shocked that Griffin was penalized and ejected, according to Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“Man, I’m old school. It’s basketball,” Gibson said before saying he was surprised Griffin got tossed. “You’re going to get hit. First thing as soon as it happened, he reached down to make sure I was OK. I’ve known Blake for a long time – great guy. Even after he got ejected, he was making sure I was OK. It’s no big thing. It’s basketball. But that’s how our league is now so you have to respect the referee.”

Griffin, who was ejected in the Clippers’ last nationally televised Thursday game against Phoenix, said he got caught in the air after Gibson pump-faked.

“I thought he was going up so I tried to swipe across the ball. Obviously I missed,” Griffin said. “ … I wasn’t trying to hit him in the face. There wasn’t intent to hurt or intent to really hit him. I was trying to get the ball and he pump-faked me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA says it is “premature” to talk about Luke Walton coaching the West team in the 2016 All-Star Game…Mask?  Derrick Rose didn’t need a stinking’ mask in the second half against the Clippers..Mark Cuban wants refs to make more defensive 3 seconds calls…Sixers deny talk of sale…Mark Jackson says it’s too early to talk about Kristaps Porzingis as an All-Star…Jordan Clarkson is looking at getting a big raise from the Lakers next summer.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Clippers gauged trade mark on Smith, Stephenson | Shumpert progressing in rehab work | Nowitzki praises Porzingis | Report: Other owners lobbied for Sixers to make changes

No. 1: Report: Clippers tested trade market on Smith, Stephenson — When the Los Angeles Clippers added Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson via free agency and a trade, respectively, this summer, it was seen by many as a smart move. Unfortunately for the Clippers, neither player has lived up to the expectations most had for them and apparently were on the trading block last month. Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears has more on that and what’s next for the duo:

Stephenson can be traded now while Smith is not eligible to be dealt until Dec. 15 after signing as a free agent in the offseason. Two NBA executives told Yahoo Sports that the Clippers would have hard time trading the struggling newcomers who have not fit in well during the team’s slow start.

The Clippers haven’t been as active in trying to move Stephenson and Smith in recent days because of the team’s injuries, another source said.

“There is not much of a market for them,” one NBA executive said. “They are buyout candidates. Maybe Lance goes back to Indiana, you never know. You won’t get back much for them.”

Said another team’s front-office executive: “They are talented, but when you add people like that it does affect the chemistry of their team. I don’t think they will be traded. It’s a tough thing to do because they didn’t have a lot of takers beforehand.”

The Orange County Register previously reported that Smith was involved in a loud shouting match with a Clippers assistant coach following a 90-81 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 21. The assistant in question was Mike Woodson, a source told Yahoo. Woodson coached Smith in Atlanta.

The Clippers have also been open to trading guard Jamal Crawford since the offseason, sources told Yahoo.

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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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