Posts Tagged ‘J.R. Smith’

Numbers preview: Cavs-Celtics


VIDEO: The Starters: Cavs-Celtics preview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — LeBron James‘ quest to bring a championship to Cleveland begins again this weekend. James has been here before, but teammates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have not. Game 1 against the Boston Celtics on Sunday will be the first playoff game of their careers.

The Cavs have looked like the favorites in the Eastern Conference over the last couple of months, going 33-10 after James returned from a two-week break in mid-January. Their offense has been off the charts at times, and their defense has been improved with the additions of Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert.

The Celtics had their own renaissance by getting rid of two of their three highest-paid players. They traded Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green and finished the season on a 23-12 stretch. Two of those wins came against the Cavs, but James played just 26 minutes of the April 10 meeting in Cleveland and four of the Cavs’ starters sat out the April 12 meeting in Boston.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Cavs-Celtics, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29)

Pace: 94.8 (25)
OffRtg: 107.7 (4)
DefRtg: 104.1 (20)
NetRtg: +3.7 (7)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Boston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Cavs notes:

  • Had the league’s best offense against its top five defenses, scoring 107.9 points per 100 possessions over 14 games against the Warriors, Bucks, Spurs, Grizzlies and Wizards.
  • Ranked 25th defensively through Jan. 11 (the end of LeBron James‘ two-week break), having allowed 106.0 points per 100 possessions. Ranked 16th defensively (102.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) after that. Overall, 20th is the lowest any James team has ranked in defensive efficiency, and no championship team has ranked that low in the 37 seasons since the league started counting turnovers.
  • Isolated on 11.4 percent of their possessions, the highest rate in the league, according to Synergy.
  • Kyrie Irving scored 1.09 points per possession on isolations, the best mark among players with at least 100 isolation possessions.
  • In his 24 games with the Knicks, 36 percent of J.R. Smith’s shots were 3-pointers. In his 46 games with the Cavs, 67 percent of Smith’s shots were threes.

Boston Celtics (40-42)

Pace: 98.4 (5)
OffRtg: 101.7 (20)
DefRtg: 102.1 (14)
NetRtg: -0.4 (18)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Celtics notes:

The matchup

Season series: 2-2 (1-1 at each location)
Pace: 99.2
CLE OffRtg: 100.6 (17th vs. BOS)
BOS OffRtg: 105.1 (15th vs. CLE)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — April 14


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Smith: LeBron the ‘real MVP’ | Blazers’ Batum, Kaman, McCollum injured | Bulls pumped about Rose’s playoff return | Robinson finds a role in Philly

No. 1: Smith backs James as ‘real MVP’ — Two more days to go and the 2014-15 season will be in the books. As such, folks are starting to reveal their choices for the NBA’s awards (if you missed David Aldridge‘s great column, catch up on it). Aside from NBA writers chiming in on who they like, the players will be doing the same thing and Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith his no exception. After last night’s win over the Detroit Pistons, a game in which LeBron James notched a triple-double, Smith crowed about James’ MVP credentials. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

Shortly after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 109-97 win over the Detroit Pistons on Monday, J.R. Smith was interviewed by the Quicken Loans Arena’s in-house emcee. He was asked for his thoughts on LeBron James’ second triple-double of the season and 39th of his career.

“Who? The real MVP?” Smith said, his message echoing to the sellout crowd of 20,562 who were making their way to the exits. “There’s a lot of speculation about who should get the award, but we all know who the real MVP is.”

“In actuality, if you really wanted to, you could give it to him every year,” Smith said of James, who won the award four times in his first 11 seasons in the league. “I mean, the numbers, what he does for teams. You see one year removed from a team like Miami — and they probably won’t even make the playoffs — to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since he left and then, all of the sudden, we’re a 52-win team. So, I don’t think you can do that with anybody else that’s in our league right now.

“Not to knock anything from the other two guys [Stephen Curry and James Harden]. They’re having great years, career years for both of them, but if you want to be realistic about it, you could give it to him every time.”

ESPN.com analyzed the consensus top six candidates’ cases for MVP on Monday, looking at the merits of James, Harden, Curry, Chris Paul, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, who happens to be the MVP pick of another one of James’ teammates, Kevin Love.


VIDEO: J.R. Smith is fully backing teammate LeBron James for MVP

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — April 11


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry for MID award | Duncan hands Father Time first loss? | Cavs or not, Celtics can’t be choosy | Hawks’ Antic, NBPA talk N.Y. incident

No. 1: Curry for Most Improved Defender award — By now, most NBA observers expect Golden State’s floor leader and marvelous 3-point shooter Steph Curry to finish first or second in balloting for the league’s Most Valuable Player. But if you look closely at Curry’s performances on the other end of the court, listen to his coaches and study the Warriors’ numbers in thwarting the opposition, Curry might merit consideration for a wholly fictitious award: Most Improved Defender. Breaking down the components of good individual and team defense with Golden State assistant coach Ron Adams, ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss enumerated the many ways in which Curry has tightened up his game that way, and concluded:

The Warriors challenged their top player to get better, and it worked. They’re having the best regular season — in terms of point differential — we’ve witnessed since Jordan‘s Bulls.

The notion of Curry as defensive ace might be subversive, but perhaps not as subversive as the next statement: Curry got better not just because he wants to be the best player alive, but also because he thinks it’s within his reach.

“He wants to be the best,” [coach Steve] Kerr said. “He knew that to be the best he had to be better at that end.”

Even as Curry is favored to win an MVP award, the concept of a skinny, 6-3 point guard as league alpha strikes people strangely. That spot is usually reserved for physical freaks like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. It all just smacks of basketball heresy.

Curry’s star continues to rise in defiance of convention, though. He markets himself as “the patron saint of the underdog” for a reason. Curry doesn’t look like a good defensive player, but then again, he never looked like a Division I college player, he never looked like an NBA draft pick, and he never looked like an NBA superstar. But he has accomplished all of those things. If reputations are often based on appearances, Curry aims to forge a reputation as someone who transcends that expectation. And his aim is excellent.

*** (more…)

One Stat, One Play: A defensive lineup in Cleveland


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Cavs Starting 5

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Thursday’s Warriors-Cavs game on TNT (8 p.m. ET) is a matchup of the two best starting lineups in the league.

Golden State’s starters have been fantastic all season, leading them to a league-best 44-10 record and top-two rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Cleveland’s starting lineup has been together for just six weeks, but it’s been the league’s best lineup that has played at least 200 minutes.

20150226_lineups

Like the Warriors’ starters, the Cavs’ group has been great on both ends of the floor. But the defense has been more important. Cleveland has been a bottom-10 defensive team all season, but they rank 13th since LeBron James returned from his two-week break on Jan. 13.

James has come back with more energy on both ends of the floor. And the addition of Timofey Mozgov have given the Cavs some much-needed rim protection.

Since he arrived from Denver, opponents have shot just 45.0 percent at the rim when Mozgov’s been their to defend it, a mark that ranks sixth in the league and is down from 48.8 percent in his 35 games with the Nuggets.

And Mozgov’s presence has allowed his teammates to defend the perimeter better. Cavs opponents have shot less and worse from 3-point range since James’ return, especially against the Cleveland starters.

20150226_cle_opp_3pt

The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at a defensive possession where the Cavs are active, aggressive on the perimeter, and on a string, forcing a 24-second violation out of the Washington Wizards.

The Cavs still have a long way to go defensively. They still rank 22nd through Wednesday. But with how good their offense has been (it ranks No. 1 since James’ return), a little improvement on defense can go a long way.

There are a lot of reasons to watch Warriors-Cavs on Thursday. And the success of both starting lineups should have you tuning in right at 8:00.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 22




VIDEO: Highlights of games played Feb. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No roar for Dragon | Davis hurt again | Rockets get bench blast | J.R. returns to Garden | No buyout for Prince

No. 1: Dragic can’t light fire in Miami debut — Only hours after being officially introduced as a member of the Heat, Goran Dragic had to cram to learn the Miami playbook on his iPad, but he couldn’t learn enough or adjust fast enough to overcome the loss of Chris Bosh and avoid a loss to the visiting Pelicans. Dragic missed his first five shots of the games and the Heat could never quite get comfortable in their first game with the new point guard, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

“We have some work to do,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re not going to make excuses for it. It was a very emotional day.”

Even with the Pelicans losing forward Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson for the night, and perhaps longer, with injuries in the first half, the Heat fell behind by 25 early in the third quarter on the way to falling to 9-16 at home and 23-31 overall, now in an even more tenuous position in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

“Bringing in a dynamic player and losing a dynamic player, we have to start over,” guard Dwyane Wade said. “We can’t feel story for ourselves. We still have an opportunity to make the playoffs.”

With Goran Dragic missing his first five shots, and with Wade uneven in completing a back-to-back set in his first home game since Jan. 27, the Heat lacked nearly enough, even with Mario Chalmers making his first seven shots and closing with 20 points and with center Hassan Whiteside getting back on double-double track with 11 points and 16 rebounds.

“It looked like we were strangers out there on both ends of the court,” Spoelstra said. “We can fix that. We’ll continue to try to simplify the package.”

“We’ll keep scaling back until everybody feels comfortable with whatever package we have. We looked cluttered in the mind.”
For the Heat, the search for continuity presented another ragged ride, with assists at a premium.

“We have some work to do,” Spoelstra said. “We have some work to do and I think tonight showed that.”

***

No. 2: Pelicans get win, but lose A.D., Anderson — For a team with just four wins in its last 10 games and fading hopes of keeping pace in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, it was a costly victory for the Pelicans Saturday night. They beat Miami, but saw forwards Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson both leave the game with injuries. John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune has the details:

Pelicans star forward Anthony Davis was forced out of Saturday night’s game against the Miami Heat in the first quarter after re-injuring his right shoulder when he collided into Heat center Hassan Whiteside on a shot attempt.
Davis grimmaced in pain as he walked toward the Pelicans’ bench before coach Monty Williams was forced to call a timeout with 3:06 remaining in the quarter.

The Pelicans said Davis aggravated his right shoulder and was unable to return.

Backup forward Ryan Anderson also was forced out of the game in the second quarter after he suffered a sprained right knee.
Last week, Davis was forced to miss two games and skip this past Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game after spraining his right shoulder after a Feb. 7 game against the Chicago Bulls after he fell hard following a dunk. He returned on Friday night against the Orlando Magic.

***

No. 3: Brewer picks Rockets off the deck — It’s not always the James Harden Solo Show in Houston, even though it most often seems that way. One night after they were flat and flattened in Dallas, Corey Brewer came off the bench to provide the spark the Rockets needed to end the Raptors club record five-game road winning streak. Our man Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has the report:

Yet, a night after a lethargic, sloppy loss in Dallas, no matter what might have gone wrong, the Rockets did one thing right. They played hard, with energy and effort that the Raptors could not match. A game that seemed about its headline stars became instead about Corey Brewer flying around the court like a live electrical wire until he and the Rockets high-voltage reserves drove the Rockets to a 98-76 rout of the Raptors Saturday at Toyota Center.
“Last night was a rough game,” said Brewer, who had season-highs with 26 points and 10 rebounds. “We didn’t have any energy coming back from the break and they beat us, they beat us pretty bad. Tonight, I feel like personally I had to bring energy. I just came out and played hard and everything worked out.”
The energy off the bench from Brewer, Josh Smith and Terrence Jones so completely took the game from the muck of the first half to a second-half blowout, that the Rockets seemed revived, as if they had recaptured something lost long before they were overwhelmed in losses heading in and out of the break.
“We talked about it today,” said Harden, who escaped from an 0 for 6 first half to score 16 of his 20 points in the third quarter. “Early in the season, we were locking teams down. We were the … No. 2 defensive efficiency in the league. We have to get back to those ways.
“It’s about effort and energy. When you have the entire team like that for four quarters it’s tough to beat us.”

***

No. 4: J.R. Smith comes back with more shots at the triangle — He’s settling in comfortably in the rotation of the surging Cavaliers and his new coach David Blatt is calling him a dream. But approaching the first game back at Madison Square Garden since being traded by the Knicks, J.R. Smith is still hammering away at Phil Jackson’s triangle in a conversation with Marc Berman of the N.Y. Post:

“I don’t want to say I felt different [since the trade], [the system] was just easier to play,” Smith said. “The style of basketball we play suits my game — run and gun, shoot open shots. Just play.
“It was tough from a mental standpoint. You start second-guessing yourself and your talent to a certain point. So many guys thrived in that triangle, and you want to put yourself in that class. Not living up to it is kind of disappointing.”

Asked the toughest part of mastering the Derek Fisher/Jackson system, Smith gave his most detailed complaint yet.

“The toughest thing is we didn’t run enough,” Smith said. “With the talent we had, there was no transition offense. It was bring the ball up, run our set and go from there. Everything is a read. So I may not be reading the same thing as the next person is reading. Before you know it, you got turnovers, missed shots and bad transition defense.”

***

No. 5: Van Gundy says Prince buyout would be “dumb” — Let’s get this straight. Stan Van Gundy might have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. The Pistons coach and team president said he didn’t trade for veteran Tayshaun Prince at the deadline on Thursday just to buy out the contract of the former Detroit champion. SVG told Brendan Savage of mlive.com that a buyout of Prince would simply make no sense:

“The reason Boston made the trade is to save money,” said Van Gundy, the Pistons coach and team president. “We’re paying Tayshaun more money. If he was going to get bought out, he should have done it in Boston. They should let him be bought out. That’s not on me to buy him out. That’s not part of the deal.
“We weren’t told of this until after we made the trade by Tayshaun’s agent. Why would we trade guys who are making less money to take on more money to waive him? That would have been the dumbest personnel move ever.

“It’s not on us.”

Van Gundy was asked if the Pistons should give a veteran like Prince, who doesn’t fit in their long-term plans, the chance to play for another championship.

“I understand he didn’t get what he wanted but the question you’re asking should be asked of (Celtics president) Danny Ainge, not of us,” Van Gundy said. “We didn’t break any agreement with him. There’s no reason for us to buy him out. They could have bought him out if that’s what they wanted to do.

“We wouldn’t have traded for a guy to take on an additional $1.2 million … to waive the guy. Why would we do that? And then we’d still need another guy at that position. If that were the case, we would have kept the guys we traded out and Boston could have waived him.

“I understand he’s upset because he was led to believe one thing but that’s certainly not on us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Andrei Kirilenko is headed back to Europe…Kobe Bryant says he will “die trying” in his comeback next season…Arron Afflalo writes that he’s chasing a championship at new home in Portland..Isaiah Canaan is the starting point guard in Philly.

Blogtable: What’s changed for the Cavs?

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: Cavs’ resurgence | Phoenix should root for …? | Atlanta’s final destination?



VIDEOJason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal discusses the state of the Cavs

> Don’t look now, but the Cavs are on an 11-game streak and seem to have figured out a thing or two about winning in the last few weeks. What has made the difference for this team, and will it last?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m tempted to say sheer time – y’know, the weeks and months many of us talked about that Cleveland would need to get all its who’s, what’s and how’s in order (and then impatiently ignored). Clearly GM David Griffin’s moves to acquire Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert have helped. But to me, it was LeBron James’ two-week spa shutdown. James got himself right mentally and physically, while delivering a not-so-subtle message about what life without him might be like again. He came back rejuvenated and the Cavs’ players and coaches closed ranks around him.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: A Healthy LeBron and a healthy defense. In the last nine games of the streak the Cavs have held opponents to under 100 points and shooting no better than 44 percent.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s too easy to say giving Dion Waiters, the Josh Smith of January, an outbound ticket changed everything. As bad a fit as he was in Cleveland, he was not a central figure on the court. But sometimes trades have emotional impact. It can put pressure on the remaining players that they are out of excuses. And other times, it’s simply a matter of time. The Cavaliers had a lot to figure out and needed time. I was surprised how much figuring out was necessary and how bad things got, but thought it was a team still capable of a playoff run. Kyrie Irving and LeBron James are going good while playing together. This isn’t the end result, but it’s a very encouraging midseason progress report for the Cavs.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Well, the main difference is LeBron. Back from injury, and back with a vengeance. He’s more aggressive, unforgiving and business-like than before. The secondary force, of course, lies from the two trades which may have saved the Cavs’ season. Timofey Mozgov is the big fella they needed, especially defensively, while J.R. Smith is very willing to take big shots (and sometimes makes them). If Iman Shumpert can still D-up, the Cavs might be streaking for a while.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The improvement has been on both ends of the floor, and it starts with LeBron James. Upon returning from his eight-game absence, he took on a bigger load offensively (his usage rate is up) and made more of an effort defensively. When he’s engaged, he’s still the best player in the world. The addition of Timofey Mozgov has also helped the D (the Cavs have allowed less than 93 points per 100 possessions with both James and Mozgov on the floor), and the subtraction of Dion Waiters (the team’s least efficient scorer) also helped the O.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The main difference is the tweak the Cavaliers have made to their pick and roll defensive coverages and the way … haha. Come on, you know LeBron James has made the biggest difference for this team in their turnaround. The moment he returned from his injury/rest and rehab hiatus he’s been a different player and the Cavaliers have been a different team. For all the bellyaching folks did about him he appeared to be something other than engaged early on, LeBron is locked in right now. He’s smart enough to know that he can make the difference for a team with aspirations of being a contender (check the rear view for what’s going on in Miami). When he’s plugged in and energized, everything the Cavaliers do looks different and, for the most part, much better. You are welcome David Blatt. Sincerely, LJ.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Doesn’t it all come down to LeBron’s good health? When fully active he’s able to help everyone else look better, on defense especially. And isn’t it funny how we’re not hearing complaints about David Blatt’s supposed weaknesses anymore …

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWell, there’s one pretty clear difference that kicked in right around the time this streak started, and his initials are LBJ. But other than being 11-1 since LeBron returned from injury, the main thing I see is that now the Cavs are playing with real speed. After a wobbly start, they’re the running, pace-setting team we expected they would be when they began their extreme makeover this summer. They’ve scored at least 100 points in 11 of their last 13 games and are good enough defensively to have held their last nine opponents under triple figures.

 

Morning shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Amazing Klay | Hawks soaring | Here come the Cavs? | Teletovic out for the season

No. 1: Amazing Klay — Last night against the Sacramento Kings, Golden State’s Klay Thompson did something last night nobody in the history of the NBA had ever managed to do: He scored 37 points in one quarter. He was so hot that nothing slowed him down, not double-teams, not timeouts. Thompson didn’t miss a shot in the period and scored 37 of Golden State’s 41 in the third, effectively ending the Kings’ chances with each increasingly improbable three. Diamond Leung, the Warriors’ beat writer from the Bay Area Media Group, writes that after the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr even compared Thompson to another wing player who was known to get buckets

He delivered the most electrifying game of his career, going 16-for-25 from the field and 11-for-15 from 3-point range in 33 minutes to lift the Warriors to their 35th win of the season at the midway point and a franchise-record 18th straight victory at home.

Thompson was 9-for-9 from 3-point range in the third as the rest of the Warriors kept passing him the ball in a quarter when he scored 37 of their 41 points.

“As many spectacular things as Michael (Jordan) did, which he did nightly, I never saw him do that,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who won three NBA championships playing with Jordan.

“It was reminiscent of Michael because it’s sort of otherworldly.”

The Kings as a team scored 22 in the third, and their hopes for an upset were dashed after Thompson began flicking his wrist.

Thompson made a steal, stepped back and made a 3-pointer to put the Warriors ahead 63-60 before hitting another to make it 66-64.

Stephen Curry fed him on a one-handed alley-oop after which Thompson continued his barrage. He even got a shooter’s roll on one of the 3-pointers.

Thompson brought down the house going it alone against the Kings defense with a jumper that gave the Warriors an 89-70 lead. Another 3-pointer made it 95-71.

“I was taking a lot of bad shots out there, but I was taking one until I missed, and I just got lucky,” Thompson said.

With 4.9 seconds in the third, Thompson hit two free throws that gave him 50 points for the game to become the 12th player in franchise history to score at least that number. His previous career highs were 41 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in November and eight 3-pointers at Sacramento last season.

Thompson hit two free throws in the fourth before checking out of the game to an ovation with 9:28 left.

“He was typical Klay,” Draymond Green said of Thompson on the sideline. “Just sitting there. His favorite line: ‘It’s crazy.’ That’s all he said.”

His third quarter had set the NBA record for points, and falling with it was a significant franchise mark. Wilt Chamberlain in his 100-point game in 1962 held the previous record with 31 points in a quarter.

“It’s that number 37 in a quarter that’s unbelievable. I thought I’d never see that,” Curry said after using his phone to watch video of Thompson’s performance again.

Up until Thompson began hoisting shots into history, the Warriors were struggling to put away Sacramento, which entered the game having lost five in a row.

Kerr was angry at halftime, telling his players he wouldn’t be calling plays in order to let them figure things out themselves. The Warriors had led by 18 points in the first quarter, but the Kings grabbed the lead after halftime.

“Get the ball to Klay, and Klay get the ball,” Kerr said. “Those are the two plays they ran.”

Said Thompson: “They just kept wanting to see the show. That’s what they kept telling me. When your teammates have confidence in you like that, you can do extraordinary things.”

***

No. 2: Hawks Soaring — Meanwhile, on the other coast, the Atlanta Hawks just keep winning. They entered last night’s game against Oklahoma City with a gaudy 35-8 record, winners of 14 in a row and 27 or their last 29. But that streak got put to a serious test last night as they hosted a potent Oklahoma City Thunder team hungry for a win. And through one half, after a dozen turnovers, the Hawks looked like they didn’t mind if their win streak came to an end. But that turned around in the second half, and the Hawks won going away, 103-93, for a franchise-record 15th win in a row

The Atlanta Hawks romped to their 15th straight victory, the longest streak in franchise history.

Don’t expect them to savor it for long.

This team is focused firmly on what’s in front of them.

Paul Millsap scored 22 points, Jeff Teague added 17 and the Hawks broke the record with a 103-93 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

“It’s a good accomplishment,” Millsap said, sitting in a rather somber locker room. “But it’s just another win.”

The wins keep piling up for a team that no one expected to be a title contender at the beginning of the season. Before a raucous sellout crowd, the Hawks came out on top for the 29th time in 31 games to extend their Eastern-best record to 36-8.

As usual, pretty much everyone chipped in.

Four starters were in double figures and backup point guard Dennis Schröder led a spurt at the start of the fourth quarter that helped the Hawks pull away. He finished with 13 points and five assists, igniting the arena with a towering finger roll that dropped gently through the net.

“Give me five really good guys,” Millsap said, “and I’ll go out there and win with ’em.”

Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 22 points, but it wasn’t enough to extend their four-game winning streak.

Kevin Durant added 21 points, while Serge Ibaka with 13 was the only other Thunder player in double figures.

The Hawks were much more balanced. Al Horford had 14 points and 12 rebounds, while DeMarre Carroll chipped in with 13 points. Kyle Korver was the only starter who didn’t reach double figures, but even he chipped in with a play that had everyone talking: another dunk in the waning seconds of the first half that sent the Hawks to the locker room with a 48-47 lead.

They never trailed again, strolling off the court at the end with the public-address announcer screaming “15 in a row!”

“It’s cool to get your name in the record book,” Carroll said. “At the same time, we’ve got bigger tasks at hand. That’s making it to the playoffs and bringing an NBA championship to Atlanta.”

The crowd of 19,203 marked the third sellout in Atlanta’s last four games. In a sign that the attendance-challenged city is really getting behind its team, most of the crowd came to cheer for the home team rather than to see an out-of-town star.

“They’ve jumped on the bandwagon now,” Durant said. “The crowd was great tonight and really helped them out.”

He’s also impressed with what Atlanta is putting on the court.

“They’re a really good team,” he said – over and over again.

***

No. 3: Here come the Cavs? — It’s been a rough start for the Cleveland Cavaliers, marked by losing streaks, coaching questions, trades and injuries. But last night, with all the principles healthy and on the court together, the Cavaliers swatted the Charlotte Hornets, 129-90. It was Cleveland’s fifth straight win, and exactly the kind of dominant performance LeBron James and the Cavs were looking for when they constructed this team, writes the Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Joe Vardon

That’s five wins in a row for the Cavs after losing six straight. They limited the Hornets to 40 percent shooting and caused 12 turnovers.

“Right now, I feel like this is the team that I envisioned,” James said.

In the middle of a long season, there really isn’t anything more important James could say than that.

It’s been a turbulent return campaign for James in Cleveland, and even with these last five victories the Cavs are only 24-20 and in fifth place in the East.

James admitted his team is just one losing streak from all the progress, all the good feeling, unraveling again. He sounded, and looks, like he plans to guard against that.

A three-minute, 20-second stretch in the second quarter said it all.

Cleveland was already up by 22 when James came charging into the lane before pulling up for a short floater. Thirty-seven seconds later, he drove in for a finger roll and was fouled.

Then, a steal. After that, another layup. Next possession, two free throws.

Oh, there’s more.

James stole the ball again, this time dribbling down for a left-handed windmill dunk that sounds easier than it looked. [Kyrie] Irving drained a three and then he stole the ball. Four seconds later, [J.R.] Smith tossed a half-court alley-oop to James that he might not have even tried to catch a few weeks ago.

Still not done. James stole the ball, again, and the Cavs scored on a lob, again. James passed (from halfcourt, no less) and Kevin Love caught it for a layup.

At the end of that sequence, it was 62-27 with 5:48 to play in the half.

“This is the style of basketball I envisioned,” James said. “Obviously the points we put up I don’t envision that every night, but how we share the ball, how we defend, that should be our staple.”

Charlotte coach Steve Clifford was asked before the game if James looked different on film recently than when the Hornets last played him on Dec. 15. The reason for the question – James’ obvious progress athletically since his two-week rest from nagging injury.

“He always looks pretty good,” Clifford said. “So yesterday when I started, he’s always fun to watch. And then as you get closer to the game time and making decisions about how you’re going to try to stop him, it’s not nearly as much fun.”

***

No. 4: Teletovic out for the season — It hasn’t been a great season for the Brooklyn Nets, who’ve had to deal with injuries to Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, trade rumors, and talk that their owner wants to sell the franchise. And now they’re out another player, as forward Mirza Teletovic has been diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs, ending his season as he seeks treatment, writes Andrew Keh of the New York Times

Teletovic, a 29-year-old forward from Bosnia and Herzegovina, left Thursday’s game in Los Angeles after experiencing a shortness of breath and was transported to the California Medical Center.

The Nets on Friday morning said Teletovic would remain hospitalized to undergo further examination and begin treatment with blood thinners.

“Our first thoughts are with Mirza and his family,” General Manager Billy King said in a statement, praising the team’s medical staff and the emergency room doctors for their work. “I have visited with Mirza this morning and he is in good spirits as he begins his treatment and recovery.”

Blood clots can form for a variety of reasons, with long travel and surgical procedures among the most common risk factors. Blood clots near the lungs carry an increased risk of sudden death, said Dr. Alexis C. Colvin, a sports medicine specialist at Mt. Sinai Hospital, who was speaking generally and not about Teletovic’s specific case.

Teletovic posted a message on Twitter late Thursday night that read, “I had a small problem, but now everything is ok… Thx all fans from Bosnia, Spain and USA for support.”

The struggling Nets will miss Teletovic, who was averaging a career-high 22.3 minutes per game this season. They lost by 39 points to the Clippers, and their record dropped to 18-25. They had already been missing point guard Deron Williams, who fractured a left rib earlier this month.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Lakers and Kobe Bryant should get some clarity regarding the options for his injured shoulder after a meeting with doctors on Monday … Dallas’s Rajon Rondo sat down the stretch last night against Chicago, but Rondo and coach Rick Carlisle say it’s no big dealMark Cuban says the All-Star voting process is “absolutely, positively broken” … The Brandon Jennings/Brandon Knight trade is one of those rare deals that worked out well for both teams … Could the Clippers be free agent Nate Robinson‘s destination? …

Jackson rightly owns Knicks’ woes


VIDEO: Phil Jackson discusses Derek Fisher’s patience with team’s struggles

It’s not Derek Fisher‘s fault. It’s not Carmelo Anthony‘s fault. It’s not the other players’ fault, and it certainly isn’t the New York Knicks’ fans’ fault.

Phil Jackson, in a session with reporters Saturday, said the Knicks’ miserable season is his fault, throwing himself in front of the locomotive of crankiness and criticism over New York’s 5-34 record, 14-game losing streak and consistently feeble offensive and defensive performances. From the way he took the blame, you’d think he was the team’s president or something. Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com was on hand prior to the Knicks’ matinee game vs. Charlotte at Madison Square Garden (in which they fell behind 62-31 by halftime):

“This is a mea culpa. I take responsibility for it,” Jackson said

Jackson reiterated on Saturday that he thought the Knicks would be a playoff team this season. Instead, things have gone horribly wrong for Jackson and the Knicks.

Actually, Jackson set himself up for this when he accepted the job (and his five-year, $60 million contract) last spring. There was no way he, Red Auerbach or David Copperfield was going to wave a wand and magically transform the team’s thin talent base and bloated payroll in the span of a few months. That’s what he inherited from chairman James Dolan and the Knicks administrations that preceded Jackson’s arrival by, oh, a couple decades.

When the most successful head coach in NBA history, in one of his early acts as a team architect, doubled down on New York’s commitment to Anthony – signing him to a five-year, maximum salary contract despite ample evidence Anthony isn’t up to the task as a cornerstone, No. 1 franchise guy for a true contender – Jackson became complicit in the problems facing that club.

He didn’t help himself, either, trading away Tyson Chandler with Raymond Felton as first serious move – as far as players, after hiring Fisher as head coach – to “change the culture.” Chandler is a higher-character guy than Jackson realized, dragged down by the losing and drama in 2013-14.

Shedding J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, while waiving what came back in the three-team trade along with center Samuel Dalembert were solid moves, both for payroll flexibility and for addition-by-subtraction. But like the old joke about 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean, it’s merely a good start.

As for asking fans not to let Fisher hear the brunt of their frustration or in covering for the players’ slowness in executing his triangle offense, Jackson basically was stating the obvious. Whether “blame” was the right word or not, this all had to be – or should have been – part of Jackson’s vision. Getting worse to get better was the only viable option for the Knicks. It was unrealistic for anyone, least of all Jackson, to think that tweaking last season’s 37-45 team would get New York into contention (even in the East).

Was 5-34 in the cards? Or shutting down Anthony for a majority of the season due to his sore left knee, which remains a possibility? No one should have expected that. Playing below even the meager expectations for this group, some of that certainly is on the players and Fisher. The Knicks turn over the ball too much, get beaten on the boards too often and get to the foul line too seldom. They settle for jump shots, frequently from the wrong shooters.

But this job requires sutures and rehab, not Band-Aids. That means another offseason for draft choice, trade acquisition and (with $25 million or more in cap space) free agents. That came up Saturday too:

Jackson reiterated on Saturday that he is concerned that the team’s record will make it an unattractive destination for free agents.

“We’re all worried about the fact that money is not going to just be able to buy you necessary talent. You’re going to have to have places where people want to come and play,” said Jackson. … “But I do think that New York situation holds a high regard in players and agents that have contacted us. We have no lack of agents that have contacted us for their players. We still think that we have a really good chance to develop a team.”

Finally, in the closest thing to news in Jackson’s chin-wag with the media, he said that surgery might be an option for Anthony, who hasn’t played since New Year’s Eve in L.A. due to his aching knee:

“I think for ‘Melo the last resort is surgery, as it should be for anybody,” Jackson said. “Surgery is basically to repair and to correct. He’s got a situation that could exacerbate, could get difficult, could be better with the surgery, but he wants to really try it again and see where he’s going to be at. The next period of time we’ll assess that and we’ll sit down and talk to him about it. I know the All-Star game (at Madison Square Garden) is important for him down the road in February. I know this trip to London (for the Knicks game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan .15) will be important for him to play. He sees possibilities of helping the team get back and be better.”

Morning shootaround — Jan. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Unique challenge in Oakland | Pistons keep chugging along | Report: Grizz pursuing Deng, Green | Scott: Lakers ‘soft’ in loss to Clips | Cavs chime in on new faces

No. 1: Kerr’s unique challenge in Golden State Klay Thompson scored 40 points last night in the Golden State’s win over the Indiana Pacers, keeping the Warriors two games ahead of the surging Atlanta Hawks for the NBA’s best record. The good news continued for Golden State in that game, too, as injured center Andrew Bogut returned to the lineup after a lengthy absence. So with so many things going right in Oakland, life has to be golden for coach Steve Kerr … doesn’t it? Of course it is, but finding minutes for so many talented and clicking players could be his next hurdle. The Oakland Tribune‘s Carl Steward has more:

Draymond Green said it best: “Coach has some problems now. We don’t.”

Indeed, Steve Kerr has a pleasant problem of trying to find enough time for all the players who are playing well and want time and need time to continue being effective. It’s not going to be easy keeping everybody happy with a roster that got deeper with Andrew Bogut’s Wednesday night return, and one that will be ridiculous once Festus Ezeli returns soon from a sprained ankle.

“We have a lot of guys that can play and a lot of guys that are playing at a high level, but only so many minutes to go around,” Kerr said after the Warriors’ hard-fought win that was closer for a good long while than the final result indicated. “I told our players the sacrifice that they are going to have to make will not be easy. But they have to make it if we are going to be good. From one night to the next, it might be your night and it might not be. They have to accept that.”

Kerr and his assistants arranged their rotations on the fly after it was determined Bogut would in fact play. It resulted in some strange breakdowns. David Lee only played six minutes in the first half — Lee himself said it felt like two — and 11 in the second. Harrison Barnes played 18 first half minutes and only six in the second. Justin Holiday played eight first half minutes and none in the second.

It’s going to be like this for awhile and who knows how it is going to shake out. Kerr noted that he brought Bogut off the bench because Marreese Speights has earned the right to continue starting for now, and after a Speights had a rough start, he finished with 18 points with the strong fourth quarter. It might stay that way for awhile. But at some point, Bogut will be a starter again and then what happens to Mo Buckets, particularly if he’s competing for minutes with Lee? It remains to be seen how Lee handles being a bit player after a decade as a 30-40 minute starter. As he becomes more productive, as he was Wednesday night, will he continue to be happy with 15-18 minutes a game?

The reality is that it’s pointless to make these speculations because as healthy as the Warriors are now, more injuries are bound to occur over the final 49 games that will change everything. Hopefully not any serious ones, but the Warriors are well covered when they do come up. The best-case scenario is that the most indispensable players — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Green and Bogut — won’t be overtaxed in the regular season because of the team’s remarkable depth and they’ll be more than ready for the second season come mid-April.

Our rotations are so deep, it’s going to be a struggle for Coach to figure that out,” Curry said. “We have so many guys who can come in and play and who are hungry to play, too. But we have good character guys in the locker room that hopefully handle it well. Certain nights it might not be a certain individual’s night to go out and impact a game, but everybody needs to stay ready and it’s great problem to have when you can go 11-12 deep and still not miss a beat with how you’re playing.”


VIDEO: Klay Thompson runs wild on Pacers in Golden State’s win

(more…)

Blogtable: Thoughts on Cavs’ deal?

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’ deal? | Struggling marquee teams | Where will Dirk finish?



VIDEONBA TV’s crew discusses the three-team trade

> Cleveland’s deal for Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith was made, seemingly, to shore up some holes on defense. Mission accomplished? Or more to come?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIf the Cavaliers are done sprucing up their roster defensively, then I think they’re done, period, as a serious contender this season. It’s not like I expect them to lure Dikembe Mutombo out of retirement and coax assistant coach James Posey back into uniform, but they’re going to have trouble coughing up from within the proper defensive intensity, on the fly, in what’s left of the season. Rim defense in particular is needed, and no one on the current roster (with Anderson Varejao out) is capable of filling that void. As for finding one of those much coveted 7-foot shot swatters walking around outside the arena, good luck with that. The Cavs need to make another deal.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comDefinitely not. From the beginning of the season the Cavs have been short on big men and the loss of Anderson Varejao for the season only exacerbated the problem. More than one hole in the hull of the S.S. LeBron. Still need bigs.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comMission accomplished to get away from Dion Waiters. Maybe Shumpert makes the Cavs better on defense, but the primary goal was addition by subtraction, not shoring up holes on defense. Although Waiters has talent, he obviously wasn’t a good fit there, and that’s not just with the new roster, either. More to come? I could see it. Cleveland doesn’t have many trade chips left, but any tinkering is possible after the way the season has started.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI wouldn’t say mission accomplish or that there is more to come. Not sure if the Cavs, at this point, have any more disposable assets to swap that will fetch the shot-blocking rim protector they need. Shumpert is just a band-aid. The Cavs need more of a team effort defensively that will help hide the shortcomings of Kevin Love and, to an extent, Kyrie Irving, but I’m not so sure that mentality is there. LeBron can only do so much, and even he isn’t the defender he used to be.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe mission certainly hasn’t been accomplished, because they still lack rim protection and both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love still need to show that they can play both ends of the floor. But the trade is definitely a step in the right direction. Trading Waiters is addition by subtraction, Shumpert gives them more perimeter defense than they had, and Smith is a good shooter if he can just play off LeBron James and Irving and limit the isolation, step-back nonsense. I’ll be curious to see how coach David Blatt finds playing time for all these guards, though.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comIt has to be a little of both. The Cavaliers certainly found a potential perimeter defensive stopper (no offense to Shawn Marion, who has performed those duties in the past) in Shumpert. So that part of the mission has been accomplished. But there has to be more to come in terms of shoring up the rim-protector/post-defense deficiency that was created when Anderson Varejao (Achilles) was lost for the season. The Cavaliers have plenty of time to continue exploring their options. And based on what we’ve seen from them so far, they need to turn over every rock in the basketball world in search of the idea fit.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comMuch more to come … and much of it must happen in-house. Shumpert is a good pickup because he join LeBron James in his commitment to defense. Will everyone else come around? The mentality in Cleveland needs to change in addition to the mandatory acquisition of an intimidating big man. If everybody isn’t paying attention at that end of the floor, then nobody in Cleveland is going to be winning the championship.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe more I think about this deal, the more I like the way it works out for Cleveland. First of all, Dion Waiters either wouldn’t or couldn’t fit into the sixth man role he’d been asked to occupy, so the Cavs went out and got a former sixth man of the year in Smith. On top of that, they added Shumpert, the Knicks’ most versatile player and a true a-level wing defender. I think this will really help Cleveland down the stretch in games, where they’ve tried auditioned various players, from Matthew Dellevadova to Mike Miller, as Irving’s backcourt mate. Doesn’t matter which one, Shumpert or Smith is an upgrade.