Posts Tagged ‘J.R. Smith’

Morning shootaround — Oct. 24


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No matter what, Nash’s legacy is safe | Stephenson on Pacers: ‘I wanted to be there’  | Smith struggling to grasp triangle | Report: Sixers working to land Nets’ Teague

No. 1: Nash’s legacy safe, even if his career is over — Fans of the NBA (and standout offensive play from point guards) are no doubt upset this morning after last night’s news broke that former two-time MVP Steve Nash‘s 2014-15 season is done even before it began. Lingering issues with various back injuries have sidelined the L.A. Lakers point guard for this season and, based on the buzz around the NBA, perhaps his career. If this is indeed the last we’ve seen of Nash, though, his last few injury-prone seasons in Lakerland won’t tarnish the Hall of Fame legacy he’s crafted, writes our own Scott Howard-Cooper:

This changes nothing, and this changes everything.

Steve Nash was locked in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer years ago, one of the stars of a generation and one of the standout point guards of any era. So, the agonizing slow leak into retirement — after Thursday’s announcement of Nash missing the entire 2014-15 season with a nerve issue — of what will become three consecutive seasons with serious injuries will not dent his legacy. He got old, not bad.

But what an insightful few years it was. We didn’t get to see Nash close to his best in L.A., what the Lakers hoped for when they sent a couple first-round picks, including the choice that is top-five protected in 2015, and a couple seconds to Phoenix in July 2012, but it was the best of Nash in some ways. The passion to play, the determination to work back instead of taking early retirement and a golden parachute — it was as telling in a strange way as any of the countless accomplishments on the court.

He was always faking people out like that. Nash didn’t have much of a future coming out of high school in the charming Vancouver suburb of Victoria, and then he turned one NCAA Division I scholarship offer, to Santa Clara, into being drafted in the first round and a career that would have reached Season 19 in 2014-15. He didn’t have the athleticism to hang with the speed point guards, and then he surgically steered the Phoenix jet offense of the Seven Seconds Or Less Days, running everyone else into the ground as it turned out. Now, at what by every indication is the end, although the Lakers have only said he is done for the season, Nash discovered a new way to impress.

And if anything, Nash was underrated on offense — which is saying something considering the praise he earned. But to trigger one of the game’s lethal pick-and-roll games (particularly with superb finisher Amar’e Stoudemire) and also succeed in the high-octane offenses of coaches Mike D’Antoni and Alvin Gentry as the Suns reached the Western Conference finals is a note few point guards can reach. He was never a food defender who could get in the conversation with, say, John Stockton or Gary Payton as all-time great two-way point guards. But Nash with the ball was still a clinic.

That’s Nash’s direct impact. His final legacy, though, won’t be known for years, maybe even for a decade.


VIDEO: Steve Nash will not play for the L.A. Lakers in 2014-15

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Sept. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jackson: ‘Melo must keep ball moving | Suns get even deeper at guard | Antetokounmpo ready to take on point guard role

No. 1: Jackson: Passing key to Anthony’s success in N.Y. — Knicks team president Phil Jackson played a big part in the team’s successful wooing of Carmelo Anthony in the offseason that led to him signing a new deal that keeps him in New York for years to come. Part of Jackson’s sales pitch was convincing Anthony that he could thrive under new coach Derek Fisher and the triangle offense, a system predicated on moving the ball often. In a wide-ranging chat with Steve Serby of the New York Post, Jackson talks about Anthony, J.R. Smith and more:

Q: Hawks GM Danny Ferry recently made comments about Carmelo in which he reportedly said: “He can shoot the [bleep] out of it, but he screws you up in other ways. So is he really worth $20 million? I would argue if he plays the right way, absolutely.”

A: I think there’s probably 15 players in the NBA that are very similar position. I don’t know if all of ’em are paid $20 million, but the coaches and GMs are talking about it in those type of terms — how much does this guy hurt your team, or hurt the game flow because he’s trying to score. The attempt to score, the need to score, the pressure that he feels he has to score. … Does he take away from the team game? That’s what Danny’s talking about there. And that’s where Carmelo’s gonna move forward this year in that situation — the ball can’t stop. The ball has to continually move. It moves, or goes to the hoop on a shot or a drive or something like that. In our offense, that’s part of the process of getting players to play in that rhythm.

Q: Is Carmelo on board with this?

A: All we talked about in our negotiation was, “I’d like not to have to feel like I have to carry the load to score every night.” He wants some help.

Q: Your first choice as head coach was Steve Kerr, but the Warriors offered more money. Did Knicks owner James Dolan support your pursuit of Kerr, and why do you think your second choice, Derek Fisher, was worth more money than your first choice?

A: That part is incorrect. However, having had a relationship with Steve that’s beyond just basketball and coach and player, we had discussions over the course of the year. A lot of ’em about running a system in the NBA. Is it possible that you can run this triangle system in the NBA? And I said, “I see no reason why not.” And I said, “A lot of it depends upon personnel and a lot of it depends upon mental attitude of players.” One of the discussion points that came up was as to what type of team you’re thinking about that could be very effective in the triangle, and he said, “Golden State Warriors.” And I said, “Oh that’s interesting, Mark Jackson’s there.” … And he said, “Yeah, I know.” But he said, “If that job was available, that would be kind of the perfect job for a triangle.” Well, once that job became available — I knew that he had a daughter at Cal, great volleyball player — and it really wasn’t more about that than about anything else. And so, even though he committed to me, I knew that the day that they fired Mark that that was where he was gonna be pursued. [Former Jets general manager Mike] Tannenbaum facilitated that, and that was OK with me, because I want [Kerr] to be happy in what he does. And I think probably Derek’s the right choice for this job, so I have no qualms, no problem with it at all, and I’m thankful that Jim wanted to bend. But I think I had to make a statement about what I wanted to pay a coach.

Q: How do you plan to try to get through to J.R. Smith to put an end to all his immature on- and off-the-court antics?

A: I don’t know if that’s possible or not. He might be one of those guys that’s a little bit like Dennis Rodman that has an outlier kind of side to him. But I’m gonna get to know him as we go along, and we’ll find a way to either make him a very useful player on our organization, or whatever.

Q: What’s your level of confidence that you’ll be able to pull this off, and bring a championship back to New York?

A: Well, it’s a day-to-day thing, it’s about every day doing the right thing. There’s no doubt that good fortune has to be a big part of it. I always refer back to a statement when people a lot of times like to talk about great fortune that’s happened with me, to a statement about Napoleon looking for a general to replace someone that’s fallen. And they gave him all the benefits of this general and all this stuff, and he goes in the end and says: “Is he lucky? Does good fortune follow him?” And that’s really a part of it. And so we’re looking for people we think are lucky, good fortune follows them, and we think that’ll happen here.

(more…)

Morning shootaround — July 21


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cavs to ink Wiggins to deal soon | Report: Knicks looking to move a guard | Bird still puzzled by Stephenson’s departure

No. 1: Report: Cavs to sign rookie Wiggins soon — Normally, a first-round pick closing in on signing his first contract is not news in this space as the deals for all first-round picks are predetermined and basically just need pen to be put to paper. But in the case of the No. 1 overall pick — Andrew Wiggins of the Cleveland Cavaliers — and his ties to trade talks dealing with Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love, we’ll make an exception. As Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com points out, the Cavs’ expected signing of Wiggins would, if nothing else, significantly delay any kind of Love-to-Cleveland deal:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are planning to sign No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins to a contract in the coming week, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Cavaliers’ delay in signing the former Kansas star has nothing to do with the prospect of Wiggins being dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of Cleveland’s ongoing trade discussions for Kevin Love.

The Cavaliers, sources say, are merely exploring options for using their estimated $1.4 million in remaining cap space before signing Wiggins to a contract that will pay him in the neighborhood of $5.5 million as a rookie.

The Cavs and Timberwolves have been discussing a Love trade since the return of LeBron James, with sources saying that Minnesota is insistent on getting Wiggins back in any deal that sends Love to Cleveland.

Once Wiggins signs, though, league rules stipulate that the Cavs must wait 30 days before trading him.

The Cavs’ delay in formalizing Wiggins’ contract has garnered extra attention because of the Love factor, but the reality is that this process is a fairly routine bit of salary-cap management that takes place this time of year with draft picks.


VIDEO:
Andrew Wiggins talks about being in the thick of the Kevin Love trade talks
(more…)

Sixth Man Of the Year: Jamal Crawford

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jamal Crawford has made a strong case for Sixth Man of the Year

There came a point this season where Jamal Crawford was starting so many games as an injury fill-in that it seemed impossible he’d be eligible to make another run at the Kia Sixth Man of the Year award.

He won it in 2010 with Atlanta and he thought he should have won it last season with the Clippers. Instead J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks — remember him? — took the prize. This season, the Clippers wouldn’t be in control of the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed and in line to nab the No. 2 seed with a bit of help (an Oklahoma City loss) before tonight’s season finale at Portland (10:30 p.m., ET, ESPN).

Whether Crawford was coming off the bench, where he’s averaged 17.2 ppg and 3.1 apg, or putting up 20.6 ppg and 3.3 apg in 23 games as a starter in place with either J.J. Redick or Chris Paul or both out, Crawford’s playmaking and shot-making have been invaluable. The lone blemish on his resume is the left calf injury that kept him out of all but eight games since the end of February.

Two games before the calf injury occurred on Feb. 26, Crawford scored 36 points in 40 minutes as a starter to help the Clippers win at Oklahoma City. It was his 11th game of 25 points or more and fourth of 30 points or more. Since, he’s made it five with 31 points in 35 minutes off the bench on March 26 at New Orleans.

“I don’t want to toot my own horn,” Crawford told NBA.com after that Thunder game. “I think I’ve been a professional, honestly. Starting, coming off the bench, being ready at all times, I pride myself on that.”

Crawford certainly faces stiff competition. Candidates include San Antonio’s resurgent Manu Ginobili, Chicago’s rugged Taj Gibson, Phoenix’s Markieff Morris, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Nick Young, Oklahoma City’s Reggie Jackson and even Dallas’ Vince Carter.

Yet none electrify a game and their team with scoring outbursts quite the way Crawford can. Boasting one of the game’s great handles, the 14th-year guard can still live up to his nickname and Twitter handle, @JCrossover, defying foes with tremendous moves off the bounce to get to the rim. He splashes 3-pointers with a rainbow release from virtually any distance, connecting on the 3-ball at a 36.2 percent clip.

His 18.4 scoring average, significantly higher than any of the other candidates, would rank as the third-highest by a Sixth Man of the Year Award winner in the last 20 years behind only Jason Terry (19.6 in 2009 with Dallas) and Ginobili (19.5 in 2008). Crawford would become the oldest player to win the award and he’d join Kevin McHale, Ricky Pierce and Detlef Schrempf as two-time winners.

“Growing up, it wasn’t like I wanted to be a sixth man,” Crawford recently told Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN Los Angeles. “It only happened because I got to this point where I just wanted to win more than anything. When you bring one of your top scorers, your top players off the bench, it really gives your team balance.”

The contenders

Manu Ginobili, Spurs – A year ago it seemed the Argentine might have come to the end of his rope after a glorious NBA and international run. He looked slow and out of sorts, particularly in the NBA Finals. But he came back to the Spurs, 36 years of age, and put together an inspiring bounce-back season, averaging 12.4 ppg, 4.3 apg and 3.0 mpg in 22.8 mpg.

Taj Gibson, Bulls – There should be an award for the entire Bulls team, maybe the Perseverance Award or something. Gibson continues to get better and often pushed Carlos Boozer off the floor in the fourth quarter. His larger role pushed his minutes per game up by five and he responded with 13.1 ppg, a five-point increase from last season, and 6.8 rpg, up 1.5.

Markieff Morris, Suns – Also a Most Improved Player of the Year candidate, averaging career-highs by a wide margin with 13.8 ppg and 6.0 rpg. He’s transformed himself into a dangerous mid-range shooter, making 48.6 percent of his shots, up from 40.7 percent last season and 39.9 percent as a rookie. Morris was vital to the Suns’ 47 wins with one game to go.

Reggie Jackson, Thunder – He got his training on the fly during the 2013 postseason. Since then, he’s provided the Thunder with stability and scoring off the bench as well as in the starting lineup during Russell Westbrook‘s absences. Jackson is averaging 13.1 ppg, fourth on the Thunder, 4.2 apg and 3.9 rpg in 28.5 mpg. He averaged 5.3 ppg and 14.2 mpg last season.

Vince Carter, Mavericks – Carter has kept himself in tip-top physical condition and, at 39.5 percent, has transformed himself into a dangerous 3-pointer shooter. No player in the league has come off the bench and dropped more than Carter’s 145. He’s played in all but one game this season, averaging 12.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg and 2.7 apg in 24.3 mpg.

Nick Young, Lakers – Swaggy P had his swaggy moments, like celebrating a 3-pointer that didn’t drop, but the L.A.-born sixth man was mostly money for the injury-riddled Lakers. He led the team in scoring with a career-high 17.9 ppg while hitting 38.6 percent of his 3-point attempts, his highest percentage since 2010-11.

Morning Shootaround — March 9


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played March 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs retire Big Z’s No. 11 | Walls helps a Nicki Minaj fan | Davis feels ‘supernatural’ belief in Clippers locker room | ‘Melo addresses rumored Noah recruitment | Smith defends coach Woodson

No. 1: Cavs retire Big Z’s No. 11 — Zydrunas Ilgauskas was a Cleveland Cavalier for the first 12 seasons of his 13-season NBA career. The 7-foot-3 center was one of the most unique players in the game who averaged 13.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 47.5 percent shooting during his time in Cleveland. The Cavaliers honored the accomplishments of Ilgauskas on Saturday night as they raised his No. 11 jersey into the rafters. Mary Schmidt Boyer of The Plain Dealer has more on the special night:

Zydrunas Ilgauskas had a few minutes to spend with the people who have meant the most to him.

His family, former coaches and teammates and the Cavaliers owners and executives — past and present — who brought them all together gathered in a room just off the court before the lavish halftime ceremony to retire his jersey.

Danny Ferry came to me and said, ‘You know, you’re the only person that bring this group together in one room. Nobody else could,”’ Ilgauskas told reporters after the lavish production. “I felt like those people touched my life so much more than I have theirs. It was just special for them to take time out of their busy schedules and come to this occasion.”

That the group included LeBron James, in spite of the Miami Heat’s game at Chicago on Sunday, touched Ilgauskas deeply.

“For me, it was special,” Ilgauskas said. “There was some talk leading up to everything. The way I looked at it, if he wasn’t able to make it, that’s OK. I wanted to extend the invitation.

“But him being here is an added bonus for me because of what we’ve been through together. I consider him a dear friend, and we played so much, achieved so much, failed many times but also were successful a lot of times. For me, it would have been almost a detraction if he wasn’t here. Now that he was able to witness that made it so much more special.”

James ducked in and out of The Q without speaking to reporters, watching the game — and a cool pre-game video that meshed current players with former ones — from a suite behind the New York Knicks bench until he moved to the bench area for the halftime festivities. Also on the bench were former general managers Ferry, Jim Paxson and Chris Grant, former coach Mike Fratello, former assistant coaches Hank Egan and Melvin Hunt and former players Daniel Gibson, Anthony Parker, Delonte West and Ira Newble. (Knicks coach Mike Woodson, a former Cavs assistant to Randy Wittman, obviously, did not take part in the ceremony.) The current Cavs players, including Anderson Varejao, also came out of the locker room to watch the ceremony, and Varejao and Ilgauskas embraced as it ended.

Earlier this week, Varejao predicted his good friend would cry during his speech.

“Emotion’s a funny thing,” a dry-eyed Ilgauskas said. “Tears don’t necessarily always describe how a person feels. Inside I was nervous and knotted up.”

Then he joked, “I didn’t cry because I was on a time limit.”

Majority owner Dan Gilbert talked about what he thought the No. 11 hanging in the rafters would represent.

“It represents the concept of never, ever, ever, ever giving up. Ever,” Gilbert said. “It represents loyalty and honor from and for a town and franchise that has adopted Zydrunas as one of its own long ago.

“I think there’s a reason this town has fallen in love with Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and that reason is Zydrunas Ilgauskas represents everything that Cleveland, Ohio, is all about.”

That adopted son stepped to the microphone to thank his family, his former coaches and teammates, Gilbert and former owner Gordon Gund. And then he thanked the fans.

“You guys have been the main reason I kept getting back up after all the injuries and kept trying again,” he said. “I loved coming here to work every day, no matter what our record was, and I miss that feeling of running out of that tunnel on this court every single day of my life.

“I love being part of this community. I love being part of this city. I just hope that you feel the same way about me. Thank you again for this incredible honor, and thank you again for giving me a place I can call proudly ‘home’.”

In addition to attending the ceremony, LeBron James took to Instagram to honor his friend:

***

No. 2: Wall helps Nicki Minaj fan — John Wall has been impressive on the court all season for the Washington Wizards. However, this story is about his off-the-court accomplishments as he went out of his way to help a young fan of rapper Nicki Minaj. Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post has the story:

Damiyah Telemaque-Nelson has all the dolls and princesses she ever dreamed of, but her mom kept asking the 5-year old what else she wanted.

“I want to meet Nicki Minaj,” the youngster decided.

“Okay, I don’t know if Mommy can do that,” Kadisha Telemaque responded.

But her daughter – who has a form of cancer known as Burkitt’s lymphoma, which was diagnosed in October – has gone through months of chemotherapy. She’s had dialysis, spinal taps and extended stays at Children’s National Medical Center. If she wanted to meet Nicki Minaj, her mom was going to make it happen.

So Kadisha and her friends started peppering the entertainer’s social media pages with photos and messages about Damiyah, known to all as Miyah. That effort got the boost it needed when a friend of Wizards point guard John Wall showed him a Facebook post about Miyah’s wish. Wall – who has friends of friends in Minaj’s circle – brought Miyah’s tale to the team’s community relations staffers.

So on Wednesday night, Miyah and her family sat in Wall’s seats at Verizon Center. By Thursday, the family from Northeast Washington was back at the arena to meet Wall, even after the team canceled practice. By Friday, their joint video message to Minaj was all over social media.

“I want to meet Nicki Minaj and I want one of her pink wigs,” Miyah says in the video.

“What’s up Nicki, my buddy Miyah has cancer, and Nicki, c’mon, help us out, help us get one of those pink wigs,” Wall says, before hugging the young girl.

Before Friday was over, the music superstar had responded.

“Hi Miyah!!!!” Minaj wrote on Twitter. “Let’s see what we can come up with for a pretty little princess. ;)”

“She doesn’t know the depths of it, but she’s so happy,” her mom told me Saturday morning. “She said: ‘Nicki wrote me, Mommy? You think you’re going to like me in my pink wig?’ I said, ‘Yes Miymiy, I’m going to love you in whatever you have on.’ ”

Wall isn’t embarrassed to talk about his celebrity status, the people he knows or his million-plus Twitter followers. But he figures he should use those things “to do great things and help other peoples’ lives.”

“I had an opportunity with my celebrity status, knowing people that know people, to help this girl’s dream come true,” he said in a telephone interview from Milwaukee. “I knew [Minaj] had a caring heart, and when she had an opportunity to see it or read about it, I knew she’d reach out as soon as she could. I just thank my fans, everybody who retweeted it and reposted it, to give me the opportunity to make this girl’s wish come true. And we’ll try to make it happen.”

“I’m a shy person, I’m real quiet, but it was great,” Wall said. “You never want to miss an opportunity to put a smile on a kid’s face.”

For now, Miyah and her family are focused on Monday, when she has to return to the hospital for another scan and the latest prognosis. Wall, who knew of the visit, said Miyah is “a great little kid, she has a kind heart,” adding “I want everybody to pray for her.”

And her family – including older brother Khareem, who has decided he wants Wall to be his basketball coach – is soaking it all in.

“I wasn’t going to rest until I found a way to do it; I’m just surprised it happened so suddenly,” Kadisha said. “And it came about so easily, I was like, ‘Okay, dreams can come true.’ ”

***

No. 3: Davis feels ‘supernatural’ belief in Clippers locker room — Glen Davis has been a Los Angeles Clipper for only five games after he was bought out of his contract by the Orlando Magic. Despite this short amount of time with the team, Davis feels something special, maybe even “supernatural,” within the Clippers’ locker room. Dan Woike of The Orange County Register explains:

“It’s a special thing,” he said after the Clippers’ 142-94 victory. “It’s one of those things you can’t really describe. You can’t really put your finger on it, but it feels good. I feel it in the locker room. It’s a belief.”

Davis knows this feeling because he’s been a part of it before. Playing for Coach Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics, Davis won a title in his rookie season.

“It’s almost to the point of a supernatural belief,” Davis said. “We’re starting to believe, and not only believe, but put in the work. You combine the two, you’ve got a deadly combination of guys who can play the right way and who are just so athletic.

“When you mix athleticism and playing the right way every time with a great coach like Doc, the sky’s the limit.”

On the court, the feeling comes from a team scrambling on defense and making the extra pass on offense. Off the floor, it’s a connection and camaraderie that makes coming to work a good experience.

“I feel it,” he said.

Davis also feels comfortable in his role on the Clippers, even though he’s only been with the team for five games.

“It’s to play as hard as I can, play at the max, do what I know I can do and stay within that,” he said. “This team is so great and I don’t have to do too much. I have to do what I can, keep it at a minimum and go out there and play defense. That’s my game.

“It feels good to feel like you’re a part of something. Tonight, I’ve seen my worth, and it can only get better from here.”

Thursday, Davis scored 10 points off the bench and gave the Clippers a defensive spark when he subbed in after DeAndre Jordan’s early foul trouble.

“He obviously brings a, um, ginormous body, and he can really mess things up in the post,” Blake Griffin said. “He can score. He defends. He moves really well. He talks, which is huge. And, he’s been on a championship team. He’s been in Doc’s system. He knows all this.”

***

No. 4: ‘Melo address rumored Noah recruitment — Joakim Noah made it clear he was bored by “gossip” which emerged saying he gave Carmelo Anthony a recruitment pitch to join the Chicago Bulls over All-Star Weekend. Now, Anthony has taken his turn to voice his annoyance. Mitch Abramson of The New York Daily News has the quotes:

Carmelo Anthony scored 29 points on Friday night but his biggest shot was directed at a report that said Joakim Noah was trying to recruit him to the Bulls.

“No, not at all,” Anthony said when asked if there was any truth to the story after Friday’s 108-81 win against the Utah Jazz. “I can’t have that conversation.”

During All-Star Weekend, ESPN reported, Noah told Anthony that if he’s serious about winning a title, he should join the Bulls after he opts out of his Knicks contract on July 1.

Anthony reportedly told Noah that Derrick Rose is his son’s favorite player and asked what it’s like to play for Bulls coach and former Knicks assistant Tom Thibodeau.

The normally talkative Noah refused to discuss the story at the Bulls shootaround on Friday.

“You want me to address that?” he said, according to ESPNChicago.com. “I don’t feel like addressing it. I really have nothing to say about it.”

Mike Woodson said on Thursday that any recruitment pitch to Anthony would violate NBA tampering rules.

But Thibodeau dismissed the story, saying, “It’s a bunch of nonsense. People just start throwing stuff out there and then they wait for everyone to respond to it.”

***

No. 5: Smith defends coach Woodson — It’s been a rough season for the New York Knicks who sit outside the weak Eastern Conference playoff picture with a record of 24-40. Despite their struggle, J.R. Smith doesn’t believe coach Mike Woodson should be to blame. Back to Mitch Abramson at The New York Daily News for the story:

J.R. Smith defended Woodson, saying the way the embattled coach has been treated this season has been unfair.

“I think he’s done a great job since he’s taken over the head job,” Smith said, “and if we’re having a quote unquote bad year, I don’t think he should take the blame for all of that. I think some of the players should take the blame for that. And we should move on as a unit as opposed to singling people out.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Wizards’ Martell Webster dunked over Bucks’ rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo. … Carl Landry of the Sacramento Kings will miss the rest of the regular season. … Roy Hibbert wants a replica Iron Throne from the television show the Game of Thrones.

ICYMI of The Night: Chris Paul goes off the backboard to DeAndre Jordan for a giant dunk against Atlanta as the Clippers narrowly defeated the Hawks 109-108.


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Chris Paul

Clippers’ Jamal Crawford On Quite A Run


VIDEO: Jamal Crawford runs wild in the Clippers’ win over the Thunder

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Jamal Crawford‘s had some big weeks, but he has yet to win the NBA’s Player of the Week award. Jordan Crawford has. So it goes.

Jamal Crawford, though, is having one helluva February and should be a leading candidate for the league’s monthly award in the Western Conference.

Ah heck, who are we kidding? He won’t win it. Just like when the West coaches didn’t put him on the All-Star team last season for what would have been the first time of his career. And like when a panel of genius writers and broadcasters later crossed him over for the 2013 Sixth Man of the Year award and handed it to the clown prince of New York, J.R. Smith.

And now, get this: Crawford’s played so well this season, been so steady, so reliable, so needed that he’d win Sixth Man hands down. But … he’s out of the mix because he’s been forced into the Los Angeles Clippers’ starting lineup way too often — 22 times and counting — as an injury reinforcement.

So, as for the West Player of the Month? LeBron James having his mug being chiseled on the actual Mount Rushmore has better odds. Nah, the monthly honor will probably go to Kevin Love or Kevin Durant. Maybe James Harden or even Crawford’s rather deserving teammate, Blake Griffin. Those four, plus James and Carmelo Anthony over in the East, are the only guys averaging more points this month than Crawford’s 25.2. All-Stars, every last one of them. And not a single one of them’s even hit 30.

Hey, it’s cool. It’s just where would the Clippers be right now without their soon-to-be-34-year-old (March 20) shooting guard with the sick, launch-from-anywhere rainbow 3, and the insanely deft handle?

Not 39-20. Not holding down the No. 4 playoff spot.

“I don’t want to toot my own horn,” Crawford said Sunday night after dropping 36 points, including several timely 3-pointers and a late, backbreaking floater, on the Oklahoma City Thunder. “I think I’ve been a professional, honestly. Starting, coming off the bench, being ready at all times, I pride myself on that.”

Here’s Crawford’s stellar season-to-date statistics: 31.0 mpg, 19.1 ppg, 3.3 apg, 2.3 rpg, 42.1 percent shooting overall, 37.2 percent from deep and 85.9 percent from the stripe.

And here’s his numbers through 10 games in February: 36.5 mpg, 25.2 ppg, 4.0 apg, 2.4 rpg, 48.8 percent shooting overall, 41.1 percent from deep and 90.4 percent from the stripe.

Even better: With Crawford on the floor in February, the Clippers’ offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) soars to 121.6 and when he sits it drops to 102.6 — a 19-point cliff dive.

Crawford’s explosion helps explain the Clippers’ rise as the No. 1 offense in the league this month, boasting an offensive rating of 115.1 and averaging 113.9 ppg, even with Chris Paul reintegrating himself into the lineup and playing only six of the 10 games. L.A.’s playing quicker, getting in transition more and the Thunder win was a shining example with 27 of its 34 fastbreak points coming in a 72-point first half. The Clippers’ pace (possessions per 48 minutes) is at a season-high clip in February, 99.35, compared to December’s previous high of 97.81.

Asked Sunday if he’s considered moving Crawford back to the bench to give some punch to a lacking second unit even with would-be starter J.J. Redick still hurt, coach Doc Rivers literally couldn’t have swatted the question back quicker.

“No,” Rivers said. “That’s not a consideration, I can tell you that. He helps the starters too much. If you’re going to help one group or the other, I’m going to pick the starting group.”

In just the last two games, huge back-to-back road wins at Oklahoma City and New Orleans to get to 16-15 away from Staples Center, Crawford, in his 14th season and somehow on his fifth team in the last six seasons (second in a row with the Clips) —  scored 60 points, buried a dozen 3s, shot 56.8 percent overall and dropped nine dimes.

Really, this run started in January, not February. During the 18 games Paul missed with a separated shoulder from early January to just before the All-Star break, Crawford posted 22.0 ppg, 5.0 apg, 2.7 rpg and shot 39.3 percent from beyond the arc. The Clippers held steady, going 12-6.

Crawford hasn’t missed a game this season. As a starter he averages about 10 more minutes a game, yet in Crawford’s perfect world, Redick would start Wednesday against the Rockets — he won’t, and is out for weeks yet — and Crawford would come firing off the bench.

“J.J.’s our best shooter,” Crawford said. “Whenever he comes back it makes us that much more lethal, it opens up the floor. I can’t wait till he comes back because I get a chance to go back to the bench.”

Is a Most Invaluable Player award something to look into?

Time To Step It Up For The Stretch Run


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony talks about the challenges facing the Knicks

Now that the slam dunking, 3-point shooting and other wretched excess of NBA All-Star weekend is in the rearview mirror, even those of us who aren’t 7-footers can stand on our tip-toes and see the playoffs from here.

There’s jockeying the standings to be done: Races for the No. 1 seeding in both the Eastern and Western Conference, the long-shot hopefuls trying to sneak in at the No. 8 spot and the down-to-the-wire elbowing for home-court advantage in the first round.

While Kobe Bryant continues driving himself to make it back onto the court this season because, well, he’s Kobe Bryant, there are a handful of other players and teams who need to step up their games coming down the homestretch:

Deron Williams — After a slow start a year ago, Williams found his stride and finished strong, averaging 22 points and 10 assists per game in the second half of the season. While the Nets have picked themselves out of the bottom of the garbage heap of the East to climb into the No. 7 spot in the standings thanks to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett finally starting to come around, the most expensive roster in the league isn’t going anywhere in the playoffs if Williams can’t bounce back again and lead them. Is it the ankles? Is it the lack of confidence that he has mentioned? Or is he simply at the end of the line as an elite level point guard in his ninth season? Williams has scored 20 points just once since Jan. 4 and has only two games of handing out double-digit assists in 2014. He was even challenged to a 1-on-1 duel by coach Jason Kidd at a recent practice to try to light a spark.

Carmelo Anthony — He doesn’t show an interest in defense and, yes, he can turn Knicks games into a circus where he’s in the center ring and everyone else watches him hog the spotlight and the ball. Yet if it weren’t for Anthony carrying the offensive load, New York would be buried deeper in the standings. His PER of 24.61 is the second best of his career. Even at 20-32, the Knicks are within striking range in the East and Anthony is going to have to find a way to lift up his teammates — and save the job of coach Mike Woodson — rather than just outshine them before going into his summer of free agency. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if J.R. Smith stopped his clown show and got back to playing basketball at least part time.

Timberwolves — The clock is ticking. Not just on another season when the Wolves were supposed become a playoff team that is slipping away. It could — and should — be ticking loudly on the end of Kevin Love in Minnesota. Two more seasons until Mr. Double-Double can fly out of the icy north to a landing some place where they actually do more than just talk about making the playoffs. Healthy again, Love is back to putting up big numbers. Yes, he’s faltered at times down the stretch as the Wolves have lost a ton of close games. But it really is a case of not having a supporting cast around him that has shown much inclination for improvement. That’s you, Ricky Rubio. Reports have said G.M. Flip Saunders is willing to trade anybody on the roster except Love in an attempt to keep him in Minnesota. But as another year comes off the calendar, you have to wonder if it isn’t already too late.

Manu Ginobili — Sidelined since the end of the January with a strained hamstring, the San Antonio firecracker is scheduled to jump back into the lineup this week. He’s not on this list due to underperforming but for how much the Spurs need him back in their lineup to get the fire burning again. Tony Parker got a chance to get a head start on his All-Star break because he has simply looked worn out this season after going all the way to The Finals last June and then playing for the French national team in EuroBasket. Tim Duncan is showing more and more of his age at times and there are rumors that he is thinking of retiring at the end of the season. The Spurs have played miserably against the top contenders in the West — just a single win over a Clippers lineup without Chris Paul. They need Ginobili to come back strong and healthy and durable to be considered real playoff contenders again.

Andre Iguodala — When the Warriors brought him in from Denver, the belief was that he’d upgrade the roster at both ends of the floor. They figured he’d be the slashing, penetrating force of the past, adding another scoring option and helping Stephen Curry distribute the ball and being a solid wing defender. While he’s helped move the ball and been solid on defense, the problem has been a lack of offensive production. He’s scoring just 9.6 points per game, the lowest since his rookie season in Philly. The Warriors don’t need him to challenge Curry or Klay Thompson as a big gun every night, but occasional flashes of firepower will be necessary if the team hopes to climb out of the No. 8 spot in the West and reach the preseason goal of a top four finish. Iguodala has scored 20 points only once since the opening week of the season.

Blogtable: Stop Doing That, Please

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


MVP: KD or LeBron? | A should-be All-Star? | Player’s flaw?



VIDEO: Stephen Curry talks about his big season to date

If you could get one player to stop doing one thing on-court – a habit, a particular pass or shot he keeps blowing, something he does too much and drives you nuts every time you see it — who and what?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comRajon Rondo letting an inbounded ball dribble and roll too long before picking it up and going. Don’t mean to pick on Rondo – he’s just one of many, including Ty Lawson, Kyrie Irving and a bunch of mostly point guards who have bought into this false economy. Sure, once in a while the ball is delivered in a way that it can be chaperoned for a few extra feet while keeping the game clock from starting. But often, it’s angled toward the sideline and losing its speed, so finally grabbing it and veering back on course eats up whatever seconds allegedly were saved. Meanwhile, it gives a defender an opportunity to pounce. It’s a Joe College move and the sort of false hustle/smarts that makes sliding into first base such a laughable MLB play.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comJ.R. Smith: touching the basketball.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: My first inclination is for Steve Nash to stop licking his fingers. So gross. But we haven’t seen all that much of Nash this season, so I’ll give him a reprieve. My other beef is with another crafty guard with an oral fixation. Hey Steph Curry, keep that mouth piece of yours where it belongs — in your mouth. He especially seems to love to dangle the thing after dropping a ridiculous 3-pointer and then incorporates the dangle with a half-crazed stare as he awaits the opponent at the other end.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That habit a lot of top players have of getting hurt has become old. I’d like that to stop. I don’t have one player fixing one thing. I would like to see a lot of guys hit a mid-range jumper, even the guys who do well on 3-pointers. I would even take it beyond just players. I would like to see word come down from NBA HQ to make the game the thing, not a layer, even the top layer, in the entertainment experience.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comKevin Love needs to stop admiring his shot and get his butt back on defense. The Wolves rank near the bottom of the league in transition defense, in part because Love often stands idly by as the opponent is running down the floor

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m terribly uncomfortable whining about something like this, truly … players are entitled to their rituals and habits, I’ll take a pass over another dribble almost every time and nobody ever sets out to miss a shot on purpose. I made a resolution for 2014 to stop worrying and whining about things that don’t change the course of my day (or my life, for that matter) and this, my friends, definitely falls into that category. But since we’re going there, I need a player with Ricky Rubio’s talent to stop passing up open looks, wide-open quality looks, because he has no confidence in his shot. Rubio isn’t the threat he should be because he hasn’t fine-tuned his shooting stroke. He’s a brilliant passer and no one will dispute that, but there’s no way he maximizes his immense potential (and no way the Timberwolves get his best) if he cannot round out his game with a more aggressive approach and a more confident and polished stroke.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: From the beard to the range, I love nearly everything about James Harden. Except one thing — the way he flings his head back when driving to the basket in order to draw fouls. It wouldn’t bother me so much if Harden didn’t do it so often, jerking his head back almost every time he drives to the basket. The thing is, it’s hard to criticize someone for doing something that works — Harden shoots eight free throws a game, gets easy points from the line and keeps opponents in foul trouble. But just because it gets called doesn’t make it right.

Karan Madhok, NBA IndiaI scream at the TV set every time Pau Gasol settles for a mid-range jumper, and this has been happening for a few years now. Gasol is one of the league’s last standing big men with genuine sublime offensive post moves, and has the ability to create for himself and dish out beautifully under the basket or with his back to the basket. A quick look at his short chart says that Pau is a better-than-50 percent shooter under the basket and can hit the mid-range jumper in front of the basket, but the percentages start to fall in most shots taken from the mid-range from either corner. Plus, aesthetically, that jumper is an eye-sore, especially when I know how gifted he is when he drives in. Attack the basket, Pau!

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: I hate it when Rajon Rondo hides his mouth-piece inside his jersey. It drives me crazy, because I can’t understand why he does it. Why have a mouth-piece if you don’t intend to keep it in you mouth at the first place!

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: Is there any other possible answer here than erasing the 3-point shooting from Josh Smith? Just stay on the block, Josh!

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 17


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Celtics prep for Rondo’s return | Prokhorov defends self, Kidd | Knicks’ Smith plays, but Stoudemire, Martin hurt | Oden: Knee ‘fine’ after debut | Durant responds to James’ ‘jealous’ comment

No. 1: Celtics gearing up for Rondo’s return — The last time Rajon Rondo played in a game for the Boston Celtics, it was a 123-111 loss on the road to the Hawks on Jan. 25, 2013. Since then, much has changed around Boston, including the departure of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce as the team has undergone a complete roster overhaul. But barring any unforeseen setbacks this morning and afternoon, Rondo will make his 2013-14 debut for the Celts as they host the Lakers tonight (7:30 ET, League Pass). Marc D’Amico of Celtics.com has more on what to expect from Rondo tonight in terms of minutes played, his role and more:

Fifty-one weeks have passed since Rondo has walked onto the court as Boston’s starting point guard. That streak will finally come to an end tomorrow, but as team president Danny Ainge warns, we should not think that Rondo’s fight is over.

“What I’ve seen throughout my professional basketball career is that the ACL injury is something that every player has to overcome and come back mentally, not just physically,” Ainge told reporters on Thursday. “So I anticipate some adjustments and just getting used to playing and confident in playing and returning to the player that he was.”

As you might expect, Brad Stevens is on the same wavelength as his boss. Stevens views tomorrow’s game as the next step in Rondo’s rehabilitation.

“I don’t think we can expect him to be Game 7 Rajon Rondo tomorrow,” Stevens said. “This is part of this process to getting back to full go, and now the next step is to play a maximum number of minutes in a game.”

That maximum, according to Stevens, will be approximately 18-20 minutes per game. Ainge stated that Rondo would play about five minutes a quarter, but it sounds as if Stevens and Rondo will have the final say as to how those 18-20 minutes will be used throughout the game.

…“I think it’s just guys feel more comfortable in where they are, the position they’re in,” said Stevens. “I think people will be in position to take advantage of their best strengths, and hopefully that continues as Rondo gets into games, but in practice, it’s clearly shown itself true that he kind of lifts everybody around him.”

Come Friday, Rondo will finally have an opportunity to make those adjustments in live game action. He will play 18-20 minutes, and he’s bound to make an enormous impact on the game.

That being said, we all need to temper our expectations for Rondo in the immediate future. This is a guy who hasn’t played a basketball game in a year, and he plays what could easily be described as the most challenging position in the NBA.

There will be some moments in which Rondo will not look like his old self. That’s an inevitable part of this process. If you’re in Ainge’s boat, though, you don’t expect those struggles to last for very long.

“I anticipate him coming back quicker than any of us think,” Ainge confidently stated. “He’s a guy that I think will fight through the adversity.”


VIDEO: Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge discuss Rajon Rondo’s return to the Celtics’ lineup

***

No. 2: Prokhorov defends himself, Nets coach Kidd — Since taking over as owner of the Nets franchise back in 2010 when he bought the team for $200 million, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has been outspoken about his team, taken a couple of shots at the crosstown New York Knicks and gone as far as to promise Nets fans a title before too long. But Prokhorov also maintains a mostly hands-off approach to the team — at least in terms of being visible at every game — and has taken flak for that in the media. He addressed that complaint, as well as the barbs that have directed at coach Jason Kidd this season, as he met with the media in London before yesterday’s Nets-Hawks game at the O2 Arena. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News has more on what Prokhorov had to say:

The Russian billionaire, making his first appearance around the Nets since the season opener, predictably backed coach Jason Kidd and threw in his usual witty one-liners during his first session with Nets reporters since July. But Prokhorov changed his tone, if only briefly between jokes about a Soviet author and carrier pigeons, when asked about whether he’ll attend more games in Brooklyn. The Moscow-based businessman went to several games last season after being a no-show for the entire 2011-12 campaign.

“Frankly speaking, there’s a lot of criticism that I am not in Brooklyn. But I just have a question for you: Do you really think you need me sitting in the arena to see a game?” said Prokhorov, noting that he has been busy preparing for the Winter Olympics in Sochi as the president of Russia’s Biathlon Union. “My friends, we are living in the 21st century. And in spite of the fact I have no computer, I still have a subscription for NBA games and, for me, it’s like enough to even have a look on the stats so you can understand what is going on. …So like I’m full in, I’m all in for this team and I think it’s the only way how to reach championship.”

Despite the team’s high expectations and abysmal start, Prokhorov said he never thought about making a change – a contrast to last season, when he fired Avery Johnson after a 14-14 start. Prokhorov hinted again that Johnson lost the locker room, while Kidd has maintained control in the midst of a 15-22 record before Thursday’s game against the Hawks.

“What is more important is that Jason Kidd is becoming more and more comfortable. And what is important is he has the support of the players,” Prokhorov said when asked about the difference between coaches. “And that’s the only way how we can conduct together. So everything is okay because, of course, we can’t make any excuse with injuries. And what I’m glad to see is the players stepping up in the situation. Now everything is more or less okay.”

Prokhorov said he even called Kidd after a bad loss, urging him to ignore the critics in the media.

“I told him about a very famous Russian writer is Mikhail Bulgakov, who said, “Don’t read Soviet papers before breakfast,’” Prokhorov said. “In other words, so don’t pay any attention for what they are writing about. So just keep doing your job.”

On Friday, Prokhorov was more cautiously optimistic than brazen, though clearly encouraged by the stretch of five wins in six games before Thursday. He also seemed to back away from his light-hearted guarantee that he’ll get married as punishment if the Nets don’t win a championship by 2015, saying, “Time will tell. We’ll see in a year.”

“Of course at the beginning (of this season), I wasn’t jumping over the moon. But it’s a sport. It’s a procedure. And now the team is playing much better. So we’re on the right way,” he said, adding later about his championship guarantees, “I still think we have a chance to be a championship, if, of course, stars align. I think we like sport because, of course, it is unpredictable. So it’s unpredictable, but possible.”

***

No. 3: Smith back in Knicks’ lineup; Stoudemire, Martin injured vs. Pacers — The latest turn in the well-documented J.R. Smith/Mike Woodson saga in New York wasn’t much of a turn at all. Smith, who has been in out of the coach’s rotation for the last week or so, played 27 minutes in the Knicks’ blowout loss to Indiana. He had previously been benched during New York’s loss to Charlotte days earlier. Bigger news for the Knicks, though, may be more injuries: forwards Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin both suffered them in last night’s game, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

J.R. Smith’s one-game benching ended on Thursday, but while he returned, the Knicks may have lost three others. Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin both sprained their left ankles during the 117-89 loss to the Pacers, and neither forward will be available for Friday’s home game against the Clippers. There is a strong possibility that Stoudemire and Martin will miss multiple games.

Also, rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. re-injured his surgically repaired left wrist but indicated that he will play Friday. X-rays came back negative.

The more immediate concern is the health of Stoudemire, who has played well over the last three weeks, and Martin, one of the Knicks’ top defenders.

“Amar’e sprained his ankle really bad,” Carmelo Anthony said. “Kenyon said his ankle felt different than it did before. We lost two of our big guys. We’ve got a couple other big guys out there that we’re going to have to utilize.”

Early Thursday, Woodson indicated that Smith would likely play.

“There’s nothing (that) needs to be said,” Woodson said. “I expect J.R. to be a pro and concentrate on playing basketball. That’s why he’s wearing a Knick uniform. That’s any guy on this team. It’s a privilege to play in this league. You got to do all the necessary things, the right things on and off the court to be a pro in this league.

“I don’t take coaching for granted. I don’t think any player should take it for granted. When he’s in uniform, his job is to play. When he’s out of uniform, his job is to concentrate on being a pro and playing basketball. It’s as simple as that.”

***

No. 4: Oden says knees are ‘fine’ after first game actionThe top NBA story Wednesday night and into Thursday, perhaps, was the successful (albeit brief) return Heat big man Greg Oden had in Miami’s loss to the Washington Wizards. Oden was playing in his first game since 2009 and although he was on the court for just eight minutes, most around the league were happy to see the oft-injured former No. 1 pick playing healthy again. He took part in yesterday’s Heat practice and says his knee is doing well after seeing some full-speed NBA action, writes Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:

Miami Heat center Greg Oden emerged from his first NBA regular-season game in more than four years with no significant pain or swelling in his troublesome knees, and will be re-evaluated before his status is determined for Friday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Oden, the No. 1 draft pick in 2007, was back on the court Thursday, a day after his productive and encouraging seven-minute stint during the Heat’s blowout loss to the Wizards in Washington. The Heat had a lengthy film session before players took the court for individual workouts at Temple University on Wednesday. Oden wasn’t involved in any scrimmage work, but did participate in some light conditioning and shooting drills.

After the workout, Oden said his knees responded “fine [with] no swelling” from his first meaningful game action since Dec. 5, 2009, when he suffered his second season-ending knee injury as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. Oden finished with six points and two rebounds in eight minutes in the 114-97 loss to Washington. He started the second half after initially entering late in the second quarter.

“It’s nothing I can’t manage,” Oden said Thursday of the minor soreness he attributed to general wear and tear from playing in a game. “I’m just looking forward to playing in the next game. I got to play in a game. That’s what it really is, when you’re able to battle and be out there. I would have loved for us to win and say I was able to give us a spark. But you just move on to the next game, and hope I can play.”

Oden’s performance Wednesday provided a bit of a spark for the Heat, who trailed Washington by as much as 34 points in the first half before they cut the deficit to nine. However, they couldn’t get any closer on the way to their third straight loss. With the Heat trying to search for answers to their recent poor play, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Oden was a bright spot.

“We were all very happy that he was able to get out there and compete, even for a short period of minutes,” Spoelstra said Thursday. “We know the struggle that he’s been in, and just to see the smile … we allowed one guy to have a smile on his face after [Wednesday’s game], and that was Greg.”

But Spoelstra also said it’s too soon to know what, if any, role Oden will have in the rotation at this point. Oden remains on a specific training regimen designed to improve his conditioning as well as to strengthen his hips and the leg muscles around his knees.

He paused for a few seconds when asked Thursday if he’s reached the point where he can trust his knees to hold up in his latest and most extensive comeback.

“Honestly, when I was out there [Wednesday], I didn’t even think about my knees,” Oden said. “So it’s just a matter of if they feel good. I’m not worried about what’s going to happen. I’m worried about just getting out there and playing.”


VIDEO: Heat center Greg Oden talks after his season-debut vs. Washington

***

No. 5: Durant responds to James’ comments — Earlier this week, ESPN.com published a story in which Heat star LeBron James said he is at times ‘jealous’ of the offensive freedom that Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant enjoys on offense. Last night, Durant took the time to briefly address James’ comments — which he had heard — and didn’t seem too worried about what James can or cannot do in Miami, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

Kevin Durant tried to act as though he hadn’t seen or heard LeBron James’ latest comments about him.”What he say?” Durant asked, rhetorically.

“How can I not see it? It’s been on CNN. It’s been on ABC, FOX Sports. Man, it’s been everywhere. Ya’ll blowing that out of proportion, man. I mean, I’m pretty sure, matter of fact, I’m 100 percent sure LeBron can do whatever he wants.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Apparently, not even the Rockets themselves knew just how awful they were in the second half of their loss to OKC on Thursday night … Ex-Hawks big man/tough guy Ivan Johnson, who has been toiling in the Chinese Basketball Association, is drawing interest from Atlanta … Celtics assistant coach Jamie Young plans to run in the Boston Marathon … ICYMI yesterday, the NBA unveiled the All-Star Game uniforms for this year’s contest. Our own Lang Whitaker breaks ‘em down … Should the Pacers try to sign Andrew Bynum if for no other reason than to ensure the Heat don’t pick him up? …

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Pacers fans (and Knicks fans) surely have their own good (or bad) memories of Carmelo Anthony driving to the rim for a dunk in the 2013 Eastern Conference semis and Roy Hibbert stopping it. But, in case that moment was foggy for anyone, there was a nearly identical recreation of it last night:


VIDEO: Roy Hibbert denies Carmelo Anthony at the rim

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 15


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Smith-Woodson tension boils in Charlotte | LeBron ‘jealous’ of Durant on offense? | Gasol’s return lifts Grizzlies’ spirits | Self-policing style marks Pacers’ success | Report: Clips may soon sign Turkoglu

No. 1: Smith sits vs. ‘Cats; Woodson mum on situation — Knicks swingman J.R. Smith was fined $50,000 by the NBA for his various shoe-untying incidents on Jan. 8 and since then, he has appeared in two of New York’s next four games, playing roughly 25 minutes in each game. Smith was a DNP-CD in the Knicks’ win over the Heat on Jan. 9 and was given the same treatment last night in New York’s loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. Smith’s relationship with coach Mike Woodson can best be characterized as tense of late and things may be coming to a head after last night’s game. Woodson refused to answer questions about Smith’s lack of playing time while Smith himself says “communication from my end is over” with the Knicks. Marc Berman of the New York Post has more on the fallout from last night’s game:

The J.R. Smith-Mike Woodson feud escalated Tuesday, putting the future of the Knicks’ sixth man under a dark cloud.

Smith didn’t play again, but this time the Knicks didn’t win again and afterward he called the whole thing “ridiculous.’’

Woodson’s latest sending-a-message-to-J.R. ploy backfired on a night the Knicks needed a spark. But Woodson stuck to his guns and benched Smith, and the team’s five-game winning streak ended in a 108-98 defeat to the Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Wednesday is the first day Smith can be traded under a quirk in the NBA bylaws for 2013 free agents, but a despondent Smith had his bags packed for Indiana and flew with the club. His future, however, is in question as a viable member of the team after being benched for the second time in four games.

But perhaps the sneaker-lace caper was the final straw for Woodson and Knicks owner James Dolan, whom The Post had reported was already irate over Smith’s public complaint of being “betrayed’’ by the recent waiving of his brother, Chris Smith.

“For [the sneakers] to be the trigger point and for all this to happen is ridiculous,’’ Smith said in the quiet of the Knicks’ locker room.

Asked if he wanted to be traded, Smith said, “I’m not worried about that. I’m trying to fix what’s going on here.’’

Woodson, who sat Smith on Thursday in the win over the Heat, wouldn’t reveal what went into his latest decision to bench Smith after playing him in Philadelphia on Saturday and against the Suns on Monday.

“I’m not even commenting on J.R.,’’ Woodson said. “I just didn’t play him tonight, just didn’t play him.’’

When asked if Smith would play in Indiana on Thursday, Woodson said, “I’m not commenting on that.’’

Carmelo Anthony said he hopes Smith plays in Indiana.

“The only thing I could do is keep giving him positive energy,’’ said Anthony, his teammate in Denver. “That’s the only thing I could do. Whatever’s going on with him and Woody, they have to deal with that. Of course we missed him. He’s a big part of our team. Sometimes the way he goes, we go. We miss him. Hopefully this will be it.’’


VIDEO: Mike Woodson refuses to discuss J.R. Smith’s benching vs. the Bobcats


VIDEO: J.R. Smith befuddled by his lack of playing time in Tuesday’s game

***

No. 2: LeBron ‘jealous’ of Durant? — The battle for they mythical title of “best player in the NBA” in the minds of many fans is a two-man race between the Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and the Miami Heat’s LeBron James. While James sports multiple MVP trophies, two NBA championships and two Finals MVP trophies, Durant has three NBA scoring crowns and something that James apparently wants: near-complete offensive freedom. In an interview with ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh, James says he wishes he could shoot as much as he likes in the Heat offense (much like Durant does for the Thunder):

“I get jealous sometimes when I look over at KD and he’s like 16-for-32 (from the field) and then 14-for-34. … Man,” James told ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh.

While the Miami Heat star is shooting a career-high 59.1 percent from the field this season, he is tied for just 18th in the league in field goal attempts (580) with an average of 16.1 per game.

With that kind of efficiency, James could stand to take more shots but explained, “I’m not much of a forced-shot guy.

“But there are games where I have it going, and then at the end of the game, I’m like, damn, I shot just 12-for-16? Why don’t I get up at least six or seven more? I definitely notice it.”

“First of all, you have to have an unbelievable mindset to get up 30 shots,” James said. “I always think about it, though. If I get up high-20s, 30 shots a game, what could I do today, with the way I’m playing?”

***

No. 3: Gasol’s return lifts Grizzlies’ spirits — Memphis, in short, has spent most of this season trying to rediscover the magic that made them a 56-win team and a Western Conference finalist last season. When All-Star center Marc Gasol suffered a knee injury on Nov. 22 that would lead to him being out eight weeks, Memphis went from a 7-6 team that evening to a 17-19 squad before last night’s matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder. But thanks to Gasol’s trademark passing and defense, the Grizz got a solid home win and are hoping things will pick up even quicker for them, writes Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal:

The shot clock running down, the ball found its way to Marc Gasol a good 20 feet from the hoop.

So he shot the thing. It went in.

Whereupon, Gasol laughed, headed back down the court, leapt in the air and — there is no other way to put this — slapped himself on the butt.

It was a joyful slap.

It was a slap of pure glee.

And let me just say that if any of you feel like leaping in the air and slapping yourself on the butt this morning, nobody will blame you.

Big Spain is back.

He played like the same grizzled guy you remember.

There was that set shot from 20 feet. There was a gorgeous high-low bounce pass to Mike Conley. But the most Gasol play of all may have come with 4:28 left, on the defensive end of the court.

Kevin Durant was eviscerating the Griz. He seemed bent on ruining the party. The Grizzlies were obliging him in this effort, letting him sail right to the basket.

“We got out of the way of four or five opportunities to take charges,” said Griz coach Dave Joerger. “You’ve got to step in there and take one.”

So Gasol stepped in there and took one. The guy with the bum knee. He went down, popped back up, and roared in triumph.

Gasol wound up with 12 points and four rebounds in 28 minutes. He will need some time to knock off the rust. But with that one play, he reminded everyone exactly what the Grizzlies had been missing.

“That was a big play by Marc,” said Joerger.

That was a huge win for the home team. Because now the Grizzlies are just one game under .500 and just three games out of a playoff spot.


VIDEO: Marc Gasol’s return helps lift Grizzlies to win over Thunder

***

No. 4: Pacers’ players, not Vogel, do the policing in Indiana  — With last night’s blowout victory against the Sacramento Kings, Pacers coach Frank Vogel clinched the right to coach the Eastern Conference All-Star team in the 2014 All-Star Game in New Orleans. As much as the win was a milestone for Vogel and the rest of the Pacers’ brass, it also provided a prime illustration of how Vogel’s style and demand that the Pacers trust each other works for that team. Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star has more on the Pacers’ unique self-policing ways:

One of Frank Vogel’s best attributes as a coach is his unwavering belief in his players.

“It seems like we’ve grown together. I’m happy for him,” said Paul George, who will almost certainly join Vogel in New Orleans for the Feb. 16 All-Star game. “This is going to be a fun trip. I’m looking forward to being down there with him.”

Vogel does not have spend time shepherding egos, because he has shaped a locker room where the words “sacrifice” and “togetherness” spill from everyone’s lips. Neither does Vogel have to stay on Stephenson, the one Pacer most likely to explore the full range of his emotions for all to see, because he has empowered his players with responsibility over themselves.

Nearly 3 minutes had expired in the second quarter when Vogel stepped in and called a timeout to break up the momentum Sacramento was building with a 31-29 lead. On his way to the huddle, Lance Stephenson appeared rattled and fumed from an earlier pass he tried shoveling inside but that Ian Mahinmi couldn’t handle. So as Stephenson barked, Luis Scola followed his teammate back to the sideline and told him to cut it out. Then, David West took over, standing up with a menacing scowl and letting Stephenson hear it. Finally, Vogel and the coaching staff walked over. The players turned their attention toward his clipboard and listened. Back to business.

The scene described here does not color the Pacers as a divided team, but rather one that freely communicates and polices its own transgressors.

“We check each other,” West said. “Before it gets to the coaches, that’s something correctable by us. Obviously, we hold each other accountable and we coach each other up.

“I feel like that’s a good formula for success, so we go with it.”

This is the atmosphere that Vogel has worked so hard in developing since the day the ‘interim head coach’ tag dropped from his name. He might have been a relative unknown to the NBA back in 2011, but in Indianapolis, Vogel already had earned the respect.

“I came in here with him,” George said. “He’s the one dude I respect the most on this team. He’s really coached me through a lot of things and made me better as a player. So it’s amazing.”

“Frank has proven himself based on what he has done with this group,” West said. “Finding the right balance for this group, transitioning from assistant with some of these guys to taking on a different role as a head coach.

“He’s done his job and he’s done a good job in that.”


VIDEO: The Pacers talk about beating the Sacramento Kings

***

No. 5: Report: Clippers close to signing Turkoglu — Ex-Magic swingman and former Most Improved Player of the Year winner Hedo Turkoglu was cut by Orlando on Jan. 3, but since then, his name has been closely linked to the Clippers. It appears that his move to Los Angeles could happen as soon as today, as both ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Arash Markasi report a deal seems likely for Turkoglu:

The Los Angeles Clippers could be signing veteran forward Hedo Turkoglu soon, coach Doc Rivers said Tuesday.

“We could. We’re looking at him strong. I can say that much,” Rivers said.

The Clippers brought in Turkoglu for a meeting and a workout Thursday and liked what they saw. The Clippers signed point guards Darius Morris and Maalik Wayns to 10-day contracts last week. Their deals will expire before the Clippers’ start a 12-day, seven-game road trip Thursday, when Turkoglu potentially could sign.

“He made shots from everywhere,” Rivers said after the free agent’s workout. “He looked good. It was a good workout.”

Rivers and the Clippers have had their eyes on Turkoglu since he became available.

“I just like him as a player,” Rivers said last week. “I think he’s out there and we should look at him. I’ve always liked him. He can play [the] three and four. It’s a position that we can use in some ways, so we’re looking.”


VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers addresses the media after Tuesday’s practice

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Does Oklahoma City need a more structured offense? … Cavs coach Mike Brown isn’t concerning himself with restricting Luol Deng‘s minutes … Surprise, surprise: Derrick Williams is just a little excited about playing the Timberwolves tonight … Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson are learning, slowly but surely, how to play together

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:


VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam