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Morning shootaround — Feb. 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ballmer: Griffin will face ‘consequences’ for fight | Ainge says no trades imminent | Report: Bucks willing to deal | Johnson fills in nicely for Pistons

No. 1: Ballmer says Griffin will face ‘consequences’ for scuffle — The Los Angeles Clippers are about a week into the four-to-six-week timeframe they’re looking at being without All-Star power forward Blake Griffin. He is out with a broken hand, suffered during an off-the-court fight with a team equipment manager in Toronto a few weeks ago. While the NBA is investigating the incident, team owner Steve Ballmer says there will be repercussions for Griffin, writes Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times:

In his first interview since Blake Griffin punched out the team’s assistant equipment manager, the Clippers owner sounded as if he was prepared to discipline his All-Star forward.

Asked Wednesday night if he felt it necessary for the Clippers to take the kind of action that would represent what they stand for, Ballmer didn’t hesitate.

“There needs to be consequences,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Citing a team investigation into the incident that resulted in a broken right hand for Griffin, Ballmer didn’t offer any details, so it’s not known whether the Clippers might add to whatever punishment the Kia pitchman receives from the NBA. Still, Ballmer made it clear that employee-on-employee violence would not be tolerated.

If his actions back his words, good for him.

Ballmer was measured when speaking of Griffin, condemning the player’s actions without tossing him under the proverbial bus.

“Just remember, Blake is a key part of his team,” Ballmer said.

At this moment, the courtside goofball in Ballmer emerged, as he extended his arms to mimic an embrace.

“We will welcome him back,” he said with a smile as broad as his shoulders.

This is something of a new experience for Ballmer. As the chief executive of Microsoft, he said there were times when key employees under-performed as a result of doing something stupid. However, he conceded, “We didn’t ever have a situation quite like this.”

Ballmer continued, “You know, everyone’s going to heal, and we’re going to have an opportunity to move forward. We’re going to finish our investigation, decide what needs to happen and move forward. Blake’s a key part of our team. There’s no question about that.

“He certainly has been remorseful, which is great, and we’ll find a way to move past it. That’s part of life. An important part of life is learning how to have consequences.”

***

No. 2: Ainge says no trades imminent for Celtics — Yesterday we brought you news that the Houston Rockets were reportedly not going to try and deal center Dwight Howard, who was recently linked to a trade with the Boston Celtics. Does that mean Howard is staying put for sure? Who knows. But according to Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, Boston isn’t looking to make a trade just yet — although he is (as always) in talks with other front offices about possible deals. A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNewEngland.com has more:

Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, spoke about the importance of trust in what was the biggest trade he has pulled off to date – landing Kevin Garnett from Minnesota in 2007.

“The biggest trade we made was with my best friend in the business, Kevin McHale,” Ainge said on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich Show.

At the time, McHale was the General Manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“It wouldn’t have gotten done if not for Kevin and I, because there had to be so much trust going back and forth,” Ainge said.

But when it comes to evaluating players and their potential fit with the Celtics, Ainge leans on himself and his staff.

“The relationship is important but I don’t necessarily listen to their evaluation,” Ainge said.

That becomes quite topical now with the Celtics having had some discussions with the Houston Rockets about Dwight Howard who played for McHale in Houston prior to McHale being fired earlier this season.

While Ainge did not speak specifically about Howard and Boston’s level of interest in the former eight-time all-star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, there’s not a team in the NBA that Ainge hasn’t had a conversation with recently.

But does that means he’s close to making a major deal.

Nope.

“Most of the time, ninety-nine percent of the things talked about and discussed, don’t happen,” Ainge said. “This time of year there’s a lot of discussions. It’s really hard to predict if there’s any deals there. Usually they happen at the very end, the very last day.”

“I do feel like we need to make improvements on our team, but not necessarily at the trade deadline,” Ainge said. “We can’t force anything. Right now, there’s nothing on the table, there’s nothing imminent. We’ve just had a lot of discussions and hope that next week come trade deadline (Feb. 18, 3 p.m. EST) we’re prepared to make the right decisions.”

***

No. 3: Report: Bucks willing to deal Carter-Williams, Monroe — The Milwaukee Bucks have been perhaps the most disappointing team of 2015-16, especially given their offseason splash. The Bucks added one of the biggest free-agent fish in the pond, center Greg Monroe, to a squad that surprised many and made the 2015 playoffs. A young core of Monroe, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and guard Michael Carter-Williams seemed poised for at least a repeat (if not an improvement upon) last season. Yet as the trade deadline nears and the Bucks fall further and further out of the playoff race, Carter-Williams and Monroe could be dealt, writes Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times:

Clearly, Bucks officials are deeply concerned. That’s reflected in their ongoing discussions with other teams about potential trades before the Feb. 18 deadline.

Based on conversations with several NBA execs from the Eastern and Western conferences, the Bucks are more than receptive to playing “Let’s Make a Deal.’’

And that includes possibly moving Michael Carter-Williams, who has been consistently inconsistent since joining the Bucks. Carter-Williams has had some dynamic games this season, like an 18-point, 13-assist outing against Sacramento and a 20-point, 12-assist showing against Chicago.

On the flip side, Carter-Williams had only two assists in 26 minutes against Portland on Wednesday night, one assist in 27 minutes against Memphis last week, and zero assists in 25 minutes against Miami two weeks ago.

But Carter-Williams isn’t the only frontline player the Bucks are apparently willing to move. A much bigger surprise is the Bucks have made it known that center Greg Monroe is available at the right price, according to some NBA officials.

Monroe has been a double-double machine, having recorded 26 this season. That ranks sixth in the league behind Detroit’s Andre Drummond (40), Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (33), Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins (28), the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan (28) and Chicago’s Pau Gasol (27) and just ahead of Washington’s John Wall (25), Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (25) and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (24).

But Monroe’s man-to-man and help-defense remain suspect. And he most definitely isn’t the rim protector the Bucks sorely need. He is averaging a mere 0.9 blocks per game this season, which ties him with L.A. Lakers forward Brandon Bass for 46th in the league.

Justified or not, Monroe is being targeted as one of the primary reasons for the Bucks’ defensive deficiencies this season. After being one of the elite defensive teams in the league last season, the Bucks are now one of the worst, giving up 103.3 points per game compared to 97.4 last season.

Clearly, the pieces to the Bucks’ puzzle aren’t fitting. Several league officials said they would be surprised if the Bucks didn’t make a major trade.

“From what I’m hearing is they (the Bucks) are willing to trade anybody not named Parker, Antetokounmpo or Middleton,’’ an NBA executive said. “I even heard they’d listen (to offers) for Parker and Middleton, but it would have to be some crazy offer.

“They want to do something; they know they have to do something. That group they have isn’t working.’’

***

No. 4: Johnson fills in nicely for Pistons — A great number of folks were predicting big things for Detroit Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson after his solid showing at NBA Summer League. He was tops on our Rookie Ladder after Summer League and was a dominant force in the Orlando Summer League. Once 2015-16 got started, though, Johnson was more or less relegated to a reserve role. But an recent injury to third-year guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope opened the door for Johnson to start last night and he delivered with flying colors, writes Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

Stan Van Gundy said earlier this week he was looking for ways to get more minutes for Stanley Johnson. Losing Caldwell-Pope to a core muscle strain that will keep him out at least until the resumption of play following the All-Star break on Feb. 19 isn’t the desired method, but Johnson at least proved more than capable of shouldering greater responsibility in the 111-105 win over the Knicks.

“I thought he was tremendous,” Van Gundy said after Johnson logged 44 minutes and led the Pistons with 22 points plus nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and a blocked shot. “Second start of his career. Thought he played real well. We were even going to him down the stretch before Reggie hit the threes. We were running plays for him. Fearless. Getting better all the time. Not afraid to make plays.”

As impressive as it is for a rookie to shoulder 44 minutes and still have enough left to make a handful of the game’s biggest plays in the fourth quarter, Johnson’s play doesn’t really come as a surprise to his teammates. They’ve seen his readiness and his confidence since the early days of training camp.

“It’s awesome. He’s a really good player,” Tolliver said. “We’ve known it the whole season. He’s getting a great opportunity now with KCP out. He’s just really still learning the game. That’s a good thing for him because he’s going to have a bright future, as long as he keeps his head on straight and continues to work hard and play hard like he does.”

Jackson said he and Reggie Johnson discussed strategy on the plane ride back from Boston. What was it? Johnson wouldn’t say, but figures that when Caldwell-Pope comes back, the Pistons now have another tool in their belt to throw at teams.

“What me and Reggie did tonight was different,” Johnson said. “I think it helped a little bit, so I think when (Caldwell-Pope) gets back, having ways for guys who can do stuff like that is going to make it tough for (opponents) to play.”

“Amazing,” Jackson said of Johnson’s contributions. “We talked about it on the plane, the game plan coming in between us two, how we were going to approach this game. He did everything that he told me he was going to do. He’s definitely somebody who has the utmost confidence in himself and he’s one of those, he says he’s going to do it then he’s going to go out and compete. He came up tremendously big.”

Van Gundy sensed some of his veterans feeling the heat as the Knicks took big chunks out of the lead, but not his youngest player.

“We were struggling. I decided to start going to him,” Van Gundy said. “I thought some of our other guys maybe tightened up a little bit and that’s not him. Pretty amazing for a 19-year-old kid.”

Somebody said to Van Gundy, “He relishes the moment.”

“Yeah, he does. He and Reggie both. It’s good to have a couple of guys like that. … I think Stanley’s going to be a really good player. And he handled huge minutes tonight on the fifth game in seven nights, played (44) minutes and played real well. Nine rebounds, made some really good passes. Just played extremely well.”

“I knew I was going to walk into heavy minutes,” Johnson said. “For me going into the game, I was like, ‘How do I keep up (Caldwell-Pope’s) defensive intensity and offensively – we don’t play the same, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it in his way, but I thought I could help out on both sides.”

Yeah, you could say he helped out. Just a little.


VIDEO: Balanced Pistons hold off Knicks in Detroit

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Indiana Pacers executive and Hall of Famer Larry Bird has some pointed thoughts on the lifespan of NBA big men … ICYMI, a quick rundown of everyone who will be participating in the State Farm All-Star Saturday events, which includes the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest and the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest … NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the ‘Hack-A-‘ rule will soon be changing … The San Antonio Spurs will be without Manu Ginobili after he underwent testicular surgery … President Barack Obama had a lot of fun with the Golden State Warriors yesterday … Kind of a cool photo gallery — re-drafting the 2007 NBA Draft

Morning shootaround — Jan. 2


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Walton was right for Warriors job | Does robbery make Knicks tougher sell? | Porzingis taking safer route as rookie | Is Jabari Parker taking a step back?

No. 1: Walton was right for Warriors’ job — When Steve Kerr developed complications from back surgery and had to take an indefinite leave of absence, folks rightly wondered if the Warriors had a decent replacement. Remember, Alvin Gentry bolted months earlier for the Pelicans job and the Warriors didn’t hire an experienced replacement to lend an ear to Kerr. Luke Walton, who didn’t bring much seasoning, took over and the Warriors haven’t looked back. With Kerr bracing for a return, possibly this weekend, Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group writes what we all now know: Walton was a good choice …

With Walton guiding them as the interim head coach, the defending NBA champion Warriors have gone on a dream ride and steamrolled the competition on their way to the best start in league history at 30-2. As Walton appears to be winding down his stint, his success should not have come as a complete surprise.

Kerr, who could soon return from his leave of absence after a spinal fluid leak sidelined him, trusted the 35-year-old caretaker of the team to strike a familiar tone that balances competitiveness with calm.

“When he delivers a message, he’s comfortable,” Kerr said. “He’s really made for it. Nothing rattles him.”

Walton did have his sense of security shaken off the court during the Warriors’ undefeated November. The 2014 Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle that his wife, Bre, drives was allegedly stolen from their home and crashed. Even for the 20-year-old man arrested on felony charges of first-degree residential burglary and unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle, Walton offered compassion.

“I feel bad for the kid,” said Walton, who grew up in an area of San Diego where the front door was rarely locked. “I mean, seriously, you’ve got a 20-year-old kid. What’s going on in his life that that’s what it’s coming to at the age of 20 years old?

When Walton was 20, he was a 6-foot-8, curly-haired redshirt freshman point forward at the University of Arizona. He was just starting a playing career molded by the Hall of Fame voices that are still in his head today as a coach on a meteoric rise.

Walton’s free-spirited father, Hall of Fame player Bill Walton, considered Arizona coach Lute Olson to be the modern-day version of UCLA’s John Wooden, whose sayings (“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.”) were scrawled onto Luke’s lunch bags as a child.

“He was a master at the fundamentals of the game and paying attention to the smallest details in practice, and I — probably from him — am a huge believer in those things,” Luke Walton said of Olson.

“Whether it’s footwork or it’s the way we’re defending a screen-and-roll, the positioning of our screens, those type of things I’m naturally always looking for from the sideline.”

Walton led all frontcourt players in the country in assists as a junior in the Wildcats’ up-tempo offense. He flourished as a cerebral and outspoken player who could read defenses and direct his teammates to the right places on the floor. He could command a huddle, according to point guard Jason Gardner, who with Walton served as senior captains.

***

No. 2: Does robbery make Knicks a tougher sell? — When Cleanthony Early was robbed at gunpoint outside a Queens’ club in the wee morning hours a few days ago, it shed more light on the potential dangers of athletes being in nightclubs because their wealth and celebrity can make them targets. Because this happened in New York, where everything is magnified, it wasn’t a surprise when a New York writer wondered aloud if the Big Apple could be off-limits to some free agents who don’t like big city living. Frank Isola of the Daily News took it a step further and weighed whether the Early robbery was a red flag for those free agents:

In the span of eight months, Chris Copeland was stabbed outside a Manhattan nightclub; another NBA player, Thabo Sefolosha, had his leg broken by a New York policeman; Derrick Williams was allegedly robbed by two women he invited into his apartment, and our newest victim, Cleanthony Early, was robbed and shot outside a strip club in Queens.

This all occurred within a 10-mile radius of the NBA league office and Madison Square Garden, two institutions damaged the most by a string of crimes in which the victims are mostly guilty of poor judgment.

That was certainly true of Early, a 24-year-old second-year role player who was fortunate not to lose his life in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday in Queens. His career, however, could be in jeopardy.

Early becomes the latest example of the old adage that nothing good happens after midnight. The same can be said of his Knicks teammate, Williams, who was allegedly robbed of nearly $700,000 in jewelry by two women 10 days earlier.

Early’s case is much more horrifying and evil. It was around 4 a.m. Wednesday when Early was robbed at gunpoint and shot in his right knee for good measure.

Really, what more can the NBA do than just hope its players will avoid trouble and exercise good old common sense. Some of the league’s bigger stars are accompanied by security guards when they venture into public places, including nightclubs.

But security detail and curfews won’t prevent NBA players from entering clubs and enjoying the spoils of being rich, young and famous. Besides being famous, Williams and Early are no different than some hot shot young attorney or hedge fund guys with plenty of disposable income. The motto is simple: have money, will party.

“We all are targets at the end of the day,” Carmelo said on Wednesday. “Regardless of how much love people will show you and whether you feel comfortable being in this place or that place, it will always be that one person who thinks differently, who feels you shouldn’t be in the position that you’re in, that you shouldn’t be as blessed as you are.

“So it will always be the 99 people who are bigging you up and then the one person over here who is trying to take you down.”

***

No. 3: Porzingis takes the safe route as a rookie — Of course, New York can be a very safe place if you take precaution. That’s what a certain Knicks rookie has chosen. Maybe it’s because he’s 7-foot-3 and easy to spot, and because he’s already a celebrity, and because he makes millions. But Kristaps Porzingis, only 20, has not only stayed away from certain hot spots in New York, he has “security” in the form of his parents. Here’s Mark Berman of the New York Post with more:

If any Knick is a good bet to stay out of trouble, it is Porzingis, who often has said he is in New York City only for the games.

Porzingis, who claims to not drink, is living in a cocoon in White Plains with his parents from Latvia and his two brothers.

“It’s always good to have support around as young as I am and New York with a lot of attention,’’ Porzingis said at the United Center on Friday. “My family’s around to make sure I’m doing the right thing and staying out of trouble and focused on basketball. For me, it’s great to have family around.’’

The Knicks are reeling from two ugly incidents in a space of 11 days that prompted GM Steve Mills to give a talk to the players before they flew to Chicago for New Year’s Eve. The Knicks face the Bulls on Friday night.

Knicks forward Derrick Williams allegedly got robbed of $750,000 worth of jewelry two weeks ago by two women he met at a club and took back to his apartment in the wee hours.

On Wednesday at about 4:15 a.m., Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was robbed and shot in the right knee after leaving a Queens strip joint and being held up by at least six bandits.

“It’s sad that things like that happen,’’ said Porzingis, the first Knick to tweet a sympathetic message to Early on Wednesday morning. “It shows how careful you have to be in those situations.’’

Although the drinking age in Latvia is 18, Porzingis says he does not drink at all. And as far as going out to a nightclub, Porzingis said, “I’m 20 years old.’’

***

No. 4: Is Jabari Parker taking a step backward? — He was widely considered by scouts to be the most NBA-ready player taken in the draft a few years ago. Then Jabari Parker got hurt less than two months into his rookie season and missed almost a year following knee surgery. He has made a triumphant return this season and shows flashes of being the player the Bucks projected when he left Duke. But he hasn’t put it all together just yet. Does Parker deserve the benefit of time, or does his sporadic struggles mean he’s in for an inconsistent season? Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel takes a look:

The 6-foot-8 forward firmly believes he will break out of it soon.

“I know what skills I have,” Parker said. “I’m just playing my role. It’s there. It’s always been there.”

Parker was 2 of 11 from the field and scored five points in the Bucks’ 131-123 loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday night and was 2 of 7 with six points in a 103-93 loss at Dallas to begin the Bucks’ four-game trip Monday night.

He played just 18 minutes in each game.

In the past six games he has connected on just 22 of 60 shots (36.7%), and that includes an 8 of 10 performance against the Philadelphia 76ers last week.

Parker tore his left anterior cruciate ligament last December and missed the final 57 games of his rookie season after undergoing surgery. He worked hard throughout the summer and returned to action Nov. 4 against Philadelphia, in the fifth game of the season.

He has showed explosiveness at the rim and finished some spectacular dunks, but he has struggled with his medium-range jumper while shooting 45.7% from the field. Parker is averaging 10.5 points and 4.1 rebounds in 27 games, including 23 starts.

“He has had some very good games,” Prunty said. “He’s been very helpful and he’s important to what we do. Obviously there are games where he’s going through a learning curve.

“I think people tend to look at offensive statistics, but we’re always trying to grow on both sides of the ball. So defensively and offensively he’s made great strides. We like where he is. But like all our players, we’re trying to get better every single day.”

Donovan said Parker — the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft — would not necessarily remain a power forward as he continues his NBA journey.

“Seeing him in high school, I don’t think people realize this,” Donovan said. “He played the center spot; he played the point guard spot.

But he admitted the last few weeks have been rough, not only for him but the team, as it has dropped nine games below the .500 level. He said it’s a matter of confidence with his jump shot right now.

“We’re losing; everyone is always disappointed,” he said. “I have to stay positive, do what I can control, just play hard.

“I still believe in my team, regardless of anything. I still believe in us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stats really don’t tell how good a season LeBron James is having … Marcus Morris of the Pistons, twin brother of recently suspended Markieff Morris, gives his thoughts about the SunsRudy Gobert is angling for a recovery and return for Utah … The Nuggets could use a breather for some of their workhorse players Dwyane Wade is going strong to the rim again.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 13


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Bucks’ Kidd sits Carter-Williams, Parker, tries Bayless, Mayo for spark

The cloak-and-dagger of NBA starting lineups seldom has been more intense, and one example of that played out in Charlotte Sunday afternoon with the Milwaukee Bucks.

In what increasingly is becoming standard operating procedure around the league, Bucks coach Jason Kidd opted not to share his starting lineup with reporters during his pregame interview period about 90 minutes before tipoff. But word that he would be sitting point guard Michael Carter-Williams and forward Jabari Parker leaked out between then and required official announcement for lineups (one hour before tipoff) prior to Milwaukee’s road matinee against the Hornets. That turned, for a brief time, the process into a part of the story almost equal to the move itself.

Longtime Milwaukee beat writer Charles Gardner did a little forensic investigating to track the source of the info:

Not that long ago, it only occasionally happened that a coach might turn cagey when asked about his starting five. Almost all of them did it from time to time, a few of them did it frequently – think former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau – but now many of them do it almost as part of their pregame routine. Maybe technology has changed things, with the speed with which opponents can react – with streamed video breakdowns, for instance – turning those 30 minutes or so into a competitive edge.

Regardless, the meat of the move was Kidd changing up 40 percent of his starting lineup in response to the Bucks’ miserable recent play. Milwaukee had dropped five of six games and seven of nine heading into Charlotte, giving up more than 100 points seven times in those nine games. After riding an improved defense to a 26-victory improvement last spring (from 15-67 to 41-41) and a playoff berth, the Bucks rank 26th in effective field-goal percentage (.521), last in DRtg (113.0) and 29th in pace (92.7).

Carter-Williams, in his past seven performances, has averaged 3.6 turnovers to 3.7 assists and 9.1 points, while shooting 43.1 percent from the floor and 63.2 percent from the foul line. Jerryd Bayless, who started in MCW’s place Sunday, has been better both individually and in running the Bucks’ attack.

Parker, in his comeback from last December’s torn ACL injury, actually had perked up a little statistically: 10.3 points in 25.0 minutes while shooting 53.8 percent in his last eight appearances. The No. 2 draft pick from 2014 – whose starting spot was filled by O.J. Mayo – also was playing his way back on monitored minutes. That had some wondering if Kidd was providing Carter-Williams a little cover, rather than singling him out for a solo benching.

But it sounded as if Kidd’s decision involved more than just stats:

Morning shootaround — Nov. 8


VIDEO: The Fastbreak: Saturday, Nov. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No call means no Clippers’ comeback | George eager to challenge James | Timberwolves throw OT shutout at Bulls | No holdout hangover for Cavs’ Thompson

No. 1: No call means no Clippers’ comeback — We’re not going to take seriously that old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words. If we did, this Morning Shootaround would wind up unacceptably short and fail to provide the minimum daily nutrients for hungry NBA fans. Still, if you sought out one thing to capture what happened to the Clippers in their game against Houston at Staples Center Saturday night, this shot of L.A coach Doc Rivers would pretty much cover it:

The trigger for that anguished, incredulous look was Dwight Howard‘s defense of the rim in the final half minute that wasn’t ruled a goaltending. Blake Griffin missed a layup and a tip-in, either of which would have tied the game at 107-107, but his tip never fully got a chance when Howard batted at the ball to send it across the rim and eventually squirting out of bounds. A review of the possession – reviewing Howard’s maneuver isn’t permitted per NBA rules – determined it was Rockets’ ball and Ty Lawson‘s free throws sealed it for Houston. There were other factors in the outcome, certainly – Chris Paul (groin) did not play for the Clippers, while Patrick Beverley (concussion), Terrence Jones (eye) and Donatas Motiejunas (back) were out for Houston – and James Harden‘s 46 points had a little something to do with it. Still, as reported by the L.A. Times’ Ben Bolch:

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said the play involving Howard should have been called goaltending.

“I just thought it was a very clear one to call, but that’s not why we lost the game,” Rivers said. “I didn’t think we played very well and I didn’t think we had a great sense of urgency.”

And the Associated Press chipped in:

Paul, dressed in street clothes, came on the court during a timeout to make a case with one of the referees.

“That’s textbook goaltending,” Griffin said

***

No. 2: George eager to challenge James — When Paul George and LeBron James clash Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) in one of the day’s two matinee games, it will be more than just a meeting of two guys with first-name-worthy surnames. It will be George’s first time on the court in opposition to James in more than 17 months. And if it doesn’t yet rekindle the same rivalry that existed between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat during James’ time in South Florida, facing the Cavaliers star in his second tour with Cleveland still packs significance for the Pacers’ young cornerstone guy. George’s eagerness for the matchup was reported by the Indianapolis Star:

The NBA’s landscape, for years, has shifted on James’ play, his dominance and his free-agent decisions. Now back with the Cleveland Cavaliers, James has built his hometown team into the clear favorite to advance through the Eastern Conference and return to the NBA Finals.

George, after missing almost the entire season last year, is eager to once again face James.
“I’m excited. I’m very excited,” he said after a brief practice Saturday. “I’m one of LeBron’s biggest supporters. I look up to him, and he’s always been great to me. It’ll be exciting to have that matchup again. I’m one person in this league that really enjoys big matchups and enjoys competition.”

Their last meeting was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. James wore a Miami Heat uniform, and the Pacers were anchored by Roy Hibbert and David West. George scored a game-high 29 points. James finished with 25 and led the Heat to a 117-92 win that clinched their spot in the NBA Finals.

Two months later, James returned to Cleveland. A month later, George suffered an open fracture of the tibia and fibula bones in his lower right leg during an intrasquad scrimmage of the USA Men’s Basketball team.

This season, James and Kevin Love have led the Cavaliers to a five-game winning streak entering Sunday’s game. George, after struggling to score in the Pacers’ 0-3 start, has found his rhythm and has led the team to three consecutive wins.

George said the Cavaliers are the ideal opponent for the Pacers to gauge themselves against this early in the season.

“That’s exactly what it’ll be,” he said. “Just finding our way, seeing where we’re at, where we compete, where we match up against the team that went to the championship last year. That’s where this team is wanting to go late in this year, so to be the best, you have to beat the best.”

***

No. 3: Timberwolves throw OT shutout at Bulls — It’s still early enough in the season to attribute the Chicago Bulls’ offensive inconsistency to the new style they’re playing under a new coaching staff headed by Fred Hoiberg. Nonetheless, when a team is celebrating its 50th season as an NBA franchise and manages to do something it never had done before in all that time, it is worth noting: the Bulls went scoreless in the extra five-minute overtime period in losing at home Saturday night to the visiting, and apparently underestimated, Minnesota Timberwolves. Chicago was outscored 9-0 in OT while suffering through a 1-for-20 shooting freeze that began midway through the fourth quarter. Mike McGraw of the suburban Daily Herald provided details of what bore little resemblance to the Bulls’ spirited victory Thursday over OKC:

“I just don’t understand it, how you can play with as much energy as we did two nights ago and then just to expect to show up, I guess, and win the game,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I don’t know. It’s tough to even fathom how that can happen.

“You get 82 opportunities to put your uniform and go out and get up for the game, play for your teammates and do everything you can to win. We didn’t do that tonight.”

Hoiberg is a first-year coach, but basing effort on the quality of the opponent has been a Bulls problem for a few years. Last season especially the Bulls made a habit of losing to subpar teams at home. Maybe Minnesota will end up having a good season, but for now this counts as a bad loss.

Derrick Rose did most of the fourth-quarter scoring against Oklahoma City. He didn’t score at all down the stretch against Minnesota, finishing with 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting.

“It’s all about effort. We’ll get tired of getting our butt whupped one day,” Rose said. “It’s all about just bringing out that championship-caliber effort every night. We’ve got to stay more consistent. We have to stay together while we’re out there.”

Rose wasn’t the only one who struggled. Jimmy Butler went 4-for-15 from the field. Nikola Mirotic was 1-for-8. Pau Gasol led the Bulls with 21 points and 14 rebounds.

Gasol, who won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, had some pointed words in the locker room.

“There are certain things you have to bring every night in the NBA in order to win games, and we didn’t bring that tonight,” Gasol said. “We allowed them to hang around all game long and at the end we paid the price.

“We’ve got to make up our minds on what we want to do going forward, what kind of team we want to be. Do we want to be an up-and-down team and a team that does OK but doesn’t really have a chance to win a title?

“So far, that’s what we’re showing.”

***

No. 4: Bucks reach back to own the future — Some NBA teams drip with history. Others have to grab it where they can. The Celtics and the Lakers never are going to lack for impressive alumni clubs and legacies that date back 50 and 60 years ago to some of the league’s most revered names and moments. Then there are the Milwaukee Bucks, who have known some really good times with the likes of Don Nelson, Sidney Moncrief and Ray Allen, but only one stretch of greatness. That run included the franchise’s only NBA title in 1971 and another trip to The Finals in 1974, and it was all made possible by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. The two Hall of Famers were in Milwaukee Saturday as part of new Bucks ownership’s ongoing, multi-faceted push to revive the NBA market. Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was there:

The Big O might be a few pounds over his playing weight and the Big Fella is looking a bit fragile physically after battling heart problems and leukemia, but if you squinted hard enough it was 1971 again and the Bucks were running roughshod over the NBA en route to a 66-16 record and the franchise’s only championship.

“Milwaukee was a great NBA town when I played here,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “We won the title once and vied for it a couple other years. People didn’t like coming here to play. They got whipped, pretty much.”

Can Milwaukee be that town again?

You wouldn’t have bet on it a few years ago, but unless we’re being sold a slickly marketed bill of goods — and that certainly doesn’t appear to be the case — it almost seems inevitable.

The franchise has been infused with energy, and even though the team hasn’t won a thing yet there’s an unmistakable swagger that starts at the top and permeates the organization. On opening night, co-owner Wes Edens introduced the Bucks as the “2016 champions” — a joke, perhaps, but one with a serious undertone of “Just watch us.”

“In talking with the new ownership, I’m really impressed with their vision and the fact that they’re looking to go all the way to the top,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “That’s their focus. They’re not going to wait for it to happen. They’re going to be proactive about it.”

The vibe seems to be catching on in a city that had been largely apathetic about its NBA franchise for far too long. Even Mayor Tom Barrett was emboldened at the tailgate party, shouting into a microphone, “The Bucks are back! The Bucks are back! Milwaukee is back!”

Of course, the most important piece of the puzzle is putting a good product on the court. Time will tell, but even Abdul-Jabbar thinks the Bucks are close to being a contender.

“I’ve seen them play a couple times this season,” he said. “I think they’ve got good players. They may be one or two players away from winning it all.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Coach Byron Scott said the Lakers, when evaluating Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis prior to the Draft, felt it would take the lanky young man a while to develop. Turns out the Lakers got that wrong. … Sometimes the most telling column on a score sheet is a fellow’s minutes played. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker logged 24 Saturday, just 24 hours after playing 17 Friday, and that quick turnaround meant something in the Bucks forward’s recovery from ACL surgery. … Meanwhile, Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll might have to yield to the plantar fasciitis foot pain that has hobbled him lately. … And if we’re talking foot pain, it’s a good bet we’re talking Brooklyn center Brook Lopez at some point. The Nets big man with the history of right-foot issues had one again that forced him off the floor Saturday. Nothing broken, it turns out, but his status still is to be determined. … Deron Williams and the Dallas Mavericks got some positive reinforcement in beating New Orleans that they hope nudges the former All-Star point guard to bigger, more satisfying performances. … It might not seem fair to focus the burden of a team’s luxury-tax liability on the last player or two on a roster, but that’s how it goes for the players whose salaries aren’t guaranteed. Consider Jared Cunningham, whose $980,00 contract could end up costing the Cavaliers about $5 million by the time it and the taxes it triggers are lumped onto Cleveland’s massive payroll. …

Morning shootaround — Nov. 7


VIDEO: Top 10 plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cousins to return vs. Spurs? | For Kobe, victory lap beats farewell tour | Imagine Celtics’ Stevens with All-Stars | Joerger on the hot seat?

No. 1: Cousins to return vs. Spurs? — The good news for the Sacramento Kings and their fans is that center DeMarcus Cousins, sidelined since suffering a right Achilles tendon strain on Halloween, expects to play Monday night against the San Antonio Spurs. The bad news is, that timetable would mean Cousins will miss the Kings’ meeting Saturday night with Golden State. Sacramento is 0-3 since Cousins went out last weekend and 6-31 in its last 37 games forced to play without him. So this injury update from Yahoo! SportsMarc Spears arrives not a minute too soon:

“I feel good. If it were up to me I would be playing tonight,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports prior to the Rockets game.

Cousins averaged 26.5 points and 12 rebounds the first two games before injuring his right Achilles tendon in 15 minutes of play against the Clippers on Oct. 31. Kings general manager Vlade Divac told Yahoo Sports there was a “50-50 chance” Cousins would play on Monday and said he would return no later than Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons. Cousins shot prior to the Rockets game.

“Our doctors are worrying about Cousins over the long haul,” Divac told Yahoo Sports.

***

No. 2: For Kobe, victory lap beats farewell tour — He isn’t looking for any Harley-Davidson motorcycles or vintage rocking chairs as lovely parting gifts. The applause from rival teams’ fans is appreciated and a little surprising to him but certainly not expected. Overall, in fact, Kobe Bryant would be fine if folks made a small deal rather than a big deal out of what could be his final NBA season. Were it entirely left up to him, he would settle for toting back to Los Angeles a steamer trunk full of W’s, in the way his Lakers team picked up its first victory of the 2015-16 season at Brooklyn Friday. What could be Bryant’s last weekend in New York as an active NBA player triggered all sorts of interesting stories, including this one from Yahoo! SportsAdrian Wojnarowski:

The long goodbye for Kobe Bryant made it out onto the road on Friday night, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn playing the part of the prelim to a Sunday matinee at Madison Square Garden. Bryant could feel the strength starting to regenerate in his legs here, delivering him a modest improvement over a dreadful Staples Center performance on Tuesday.

As Bryant begins what appears in every way to be his farewell tour, the truth becomes clearer and clearer to him. He isn’t chasing the playoffs, nor a championship. Kobe Bryant is chasing a ghost.

“I get held to much higher standards than most of my peers,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports on his walk out of the Barclays Center. “If I have a bad shooting night, it’s, ‘He’s in the grave. He’s in the coffin.’

Look around the league, and other players have bad shooting nights – and it’s just a bad shooting night.”

But the expectations that they have for me, they’re actually something that I appreciate. Achilles injury. Fractured knee. Torn shoulder. Twentieth year in the league. Thirty-seven years old. All that, and the expectations are that I average 30 points.

“But I appreciate those standards, because it’s something that still pushes me, still drives me.”

He laughs and nods in agreement with himself.

“Let’s see what I can do,” Bryant said.

***

No. 3: Imagine Celtics’ Stevens with All-Stars — Before USA Basketball announced its wise and proper choice of San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich to take over as coach of Team USA when Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski steps down after the 2016 Olympics, much speculation about Coach K’s replacement included Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Stevens’ reputation as a respected and admired sideline strategist, teacher and mentor got polished a little more with Washington forward Jared Dudley‘s comments. Dudley talked up Stevens’ coaching chops to MassLive.com:

On top of all that is Stevens’ ability to manage a team, which Dudley said is obvious to players around the league.

“With Stevens to do what he’s done here (in Boston) — I mean, imagine, give this guy a couple of All-Stars, what he could do,” Dudley said. “But that being said, he hasn’t had that. He has good players, young players, hungry. And to be able to, with a young team where guys want to get stats, and sometimes that’s a little more important than winning, buying in, he’s done a great job.”

“Just knowing his Xs and Os, ball movement, giving players chances to play,” Dudley said. “Obviously it’s a lot easier when you don’t have any stars, technically, on this team, but they can play 15 guys on any given night, any given day. His Xs and Os out of timeouts are great.

“They were first half of the season dead in the water. To have a young team compete, come back, make the playoffs, and we saw them improve year by year. So when it comes to the rest of the body, taking days off, knowing when to prepare, put the time in, Xs and Os. Then he’s a young coach on a young team that would be hard to win. He found ways, and that puts him up there.”

Over the summer, Dudley told Grantland’s Zach Lowe he would put Stevens in his “top two or three” coaches to play for. Coaching isn’t the only factor when players decide where to sign, of course, but Dudley estimated it’s about “30 to 40 percent” of the equation.

“Obviously the big thing here is money,” Dudley said. “The big thing is how good the team is, and city and coach go hand in hand. You’ve seen LeBron (James) go back to Cleveland and it was a rookie coach. So obviously it didn’t matter to him to a certain degree. But you saw guys go to Doc Rivers. You saw LaMarcus Aldridge go to Pop (Gregg Popovich). So it does matter. And usually when you have a good coach, more times than not it’s a winning situation. So it makes it a lot easier.”

***

No. 4: Joerger on the hot seat? — A 1-2 record in their past three games and a 3-3 start to this season through six is not what the Memphis Grizzlies and their followers had in mind. Nor was hearing head coach Dave Joerger comment on how “old” his guys were looking. But with veteran stars who look a little out of place in the new, smaller, long-distance NBA, the Grizzlies aren’t apologizing or protesting too much over the urgency that’s leaked into their season a mere 7.3 percent of the way through their schedule. Beat writer Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal looked not just at Memphis’ record but at the way in which the team has been losing:

[General manager Chris] Wallace, though, sounds confident that what ails the Grizzlies is easily fixable.

“Overall, we’re not playing extremely well on either side of the ball. No one is satisfied with the start,” Wallace said. “But we’re a team that’s faced adversity in the past. It’s a very resilient group that’s proven we can get off the mat and win games. We’re 3-3. We’re not 0-6. Granted, the aesthetics in three losses haven’t been good, but those losses don’t count three times in the standings.”

The Griz have lost by 30 points (against Cleveland), 50 (Golden State) and 19 (Portland). Memphis trailed by 26 late in that road loss at Portland. The Griz have been out-hustled and flat-footed in every defeat. The extended times of disinterest and lack of fight are major concerns.

Players routinely express frustration about a sudden lack of chemistry and execution.

Opponents are shooting better from 3-point range against the Griz (41.5 percent) than the Griz shoot overall from the field (41.4 percent). And Memphis is nowhere near its defensive prowess of the past five seasons. The Griz rank 26th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing 107.9 points per 100 possessions.

In other words, the first six games have made it look as though the Grizzlies’ patented grit-and-grind style is just about in a grave.

A recent ESPN.com article even suggested that Griz coach Dave Joerger is on the hot seat, a candidate to be fired early this season because Memphis has trailed by 20-plus points for 62 minutes over the first six games.

The Griz operated from a 20-point deficit for a total of 88 minutes during the entire 2014-15 season.
Wallace defended his coach.

“When things aren’t going well, there’s always a lot of noise from the outside,” Wallace said. “You can’t let it permeate the air you’re breathing as a team. You just have to keep your head down and do what you’ve done in the past to be successful.

“I don’t see Dave on the hot seat. We’re six games into the season. We’re struggling right now, but Dave’s a proven commodity and he’s got a talented staff.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The flip side of the Lakers’ first victory of the season in Brooklyn was the Nets’ continued slide toward irrelevance. … Chris Bosh is making his own comeback this season but the Miami forward spoke in Indianapolis Friday of Paul George‘s for the Pacers. … An 0-3 start for Indiana has been spun more recently into a 3-0 stretch that has the players and coaches accentuating the positives. … “Old school” Lakers coach Byron Scott and “new age” draft pick D’Angelo Russell may have found their time machine to help close philosophical or personality gaps between them. … ESPN.com theorizes on how life might have been different had the Nets drafted Kobe Bryant 20 years ago. … Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker is said to be in the market for new representation, severing his ties to agent B.J. Armstrong and the Wasserman Media Group. … By the time this season is half over, former Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau probably will have had contact, inside and outside the gym, with most of the coaches and teams of the NBA. And we’ll still likely see dispatches informing us of Thibodeau’s travels and meals with notable league executives. …

Milwaukee Bucks anticipate return of Jabari Parker


VIDEO: The Bucks are off to a slow start, but reinforcements are on the way

BROOKLYN — Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd invoked one of the most threadbare (yet accurate) maxims in the NBA on Monday, when he noted “the NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint.” He said this without any apparent sarcasm, perhaps forgetting that just one day earlier 50,000 people jogged past Barclays Center as part of the New York City Marathon.

But perhaps the Bucks can be forgiven if it seems like they are happening at full speed thus far this season. The offseason saw a logo and uniform reboot, as well as plans coalescing for a new downtown Milwaukee arena. After the offseason signing of center Greg Monroe and the continued growth of young players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Michael Carter-Williams, the Bucks figured to be improved from the group that won 41 games and made the playoffs a season ago.

Yet the 2015-16 season has, at least thus far, been more of a letdown than a come up, as the Bucks skidded out of the gate to an 0-3 start. They managed to notch their first victory of the season on Monday night, finishing with a 7-0 run for a 103-96 win over the Nets.

The good news is that reinforcements are imminent. Along with reserve point guard Tyler Ennis, the Bucks announced on Monday that last year’s promising rookie Jabari Parker had been cleared to return to action, and would see time on Wednesday night in Milwaukee against the Sixers.

After being selected second overall in the 2014 Draft, Parker got off to a fast start last season, and was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for December while averaging 11.9 ppg and 6.1 rpg. But his rookie season ended not long after, stopped short 25 games into the season when Parker tore his left ACL on Dec. 15, 2014, during a game against Phoenix.

In Brooklyn on Monday, Parker said he is trying to manage his own expectations for his long-await return: “It feels pretty good but it’s a long ways to go. It’s about maintaining, how I got here so far. But I’m blessed.”

According to Kidd, Parker has been working out with the Bucks rotation players, which should ease his assimilation into the lineup. But they still plan to pump the brakes, Kidd said, initially limiting his minutes to 15-20 per game and perhaps holding him out of the second half of back-to-backs.

“I just stick with the plan,” said Parker. “You know, they always have a schedule for me, but they don’t want me to rush into it, and to just go from there.

“I will just go with what I’m given.”

Parker thinks he can play multiple positions along the Bucks front line, which would seem to make him a perfect fit on Kidd’s roster stacked with long and lean versatile players.

“I look forward to playing the 3, 4, 5, depends on which guys are there,” Parker said. “I’ve gotten to learn philosophies and concepts at each position. Watched other guys, looked at the games and put myself in their positions, got reps at practice.

“I worked on pretty much just being an overall player, to fill a void for the team no matter any position they want me to go. Really been studying the game, to where I’ve been able to just get better and more comfortable now, a lot less nervous than I was a year ago at this time.”

The Bucks’ start may have been bumpy, but it is only a start — remember all that stuff about marathon versus sprint. And with Milwaukee’s first win in the book, maybe the renewed excitement and expectations that surrounded this team all summer can take hold, particularly as Parker gets ready to suit up for the first time in almost a year.

“I think [Parker is] excited,” said Kidd. “He’s 20 years old, he was hurt doing something that he loved and wants to get back out and help his team win.”

One Team, One Stat: A Historical Jump


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Milwaukee Bucks

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Milwaukee Bucks, who made a jump not seen in 17 years.

The stat

20151022_mil_def_impr

The context

20151022_mil_basicsThe only team in the last 38 years that improved as much defensively as last season’s Bucks was the Spurs when they drafted Tim Duncan and got David Robinson back from injury.

The Bucks didn’t add any impact defenders like that. Two-thirds of their minutes were played by guys that were on the roster the season before, with Jerryd Bayless and Jared Dudley being the newcomers that played the most.

But they did change their coach. Jason Kidd and assistant Sean Sweeney introduced a scheme that was aggressive on the perimeter and on the strong side of the floor, knowing the Bucks had the quickness and length to recover to opponents left open on the weak side.

The Bucks’ defensive improvement actually started in transition, where they allowed the fewest points in the league. According to SportVU, Milwaukee allowed the fewest shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock and the most in the last six seconds.

20151022_mil_shot_clock

The Bucks now need a decent offense to go along with their top-5 defense. Free agent addition Greg Monroe is a good fit and will give them a boost inside.

But they need to complement him with better outside shooting. Michael Carter-Williams and Giannis Antetokounmpo were two of the 10 worst shooters from outside the paint last season.

20151022_mil_outside_paint

Antetokounmpo has started three of his four preseason games at the four, with Jabari Parker still working his way back from ACL surgery. Antetokounmpo at the four allows the Bucks to put another shooter on the floor, while also making them quicker defensively.

Last year’s numbers like him there too.

20151022_mil_ga_3-4-5

If Monroe, Parker and John Henson are all healthy, Antetokounmpo probably won’t see as much playing time at the four this season. But it’s a look that Kidd can go to when he wants to get super athletic on defense.

Even with the addition of Monroe, that’s still the end of the floor where the Bucks will win games.

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

Morning shootaround — Oct. 18



VIDEO: Run through Saturday’s highlights with the Fast Break

NEWS OF THE MORNING:

Time for Dan Gilbert to step in? | Kawhi Leonard wants rings, not acclaim | Lillard ready to lead his team | Jabari Parker needs more time
No. 1: Time for Dan Gilbert to step in? — The ongoing negotiations, if that’s what you still want to call the state of stalled talks, involving the Cavaliers and holdout forward Tristan Thompson might require the pulling of an emergency cord. With the regular season just a week away, should Cavs owner Dan Gilbert get more involved in the talks in order to reach a solution? According to Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio News Group, it may come to that:

In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency from either side in reaching an agreement. And that means Thompson’s stalemate will continue to hover over the organization like a black cloud, a cloud LeBron James considers “a distraction.”

It may be time to signal to the dugout for Cavs owner Dan Gilbert.

Thompson’s presence on and off the court is sorely being missed. Internally, members of the Cavaliers have expressed to each other how it would be such an unnecessary hurdle to try to contend for a title without their best offensive rebounder and most versatile big defender.

James has been in constant contact with Thompson throughout the negotiations. He has made it clear the importance of ending the impasse as soon as possible.

A championship run is at stake.

“I try not to get involved in that, as far as what the team is speaking on or talking about,” James said about the stalled negotiations. “It’s basically more on a personal level, asking him how he’s doing and if his mind is right and things of that nature. There’s a lot of things that’s much bigger than basketball, even though I know he would love to be here right now and we would love to have him here, but I kind of stray away from that.”

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No. 2: Kawhi Leonard wants rings, not acclaim — Some players say they don’t care about fame, applause, blah, blah, but when Kawhi Leonard says it, you tend to believe him. His previous pattern of being soft-spoken and staying in the shadows plays to his personality. And yet this season, Leonard will probably make the All-Star team for the first time if he takes another leap forward in production. Here’s Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News with a discussion with Leonard on this topic:

“I just want (another) one of those up there,” Leonard said, referring to one of the championship banners hanging from the Spurs’ practice facility.

Leonard, 24, has little concern with individual accolades.

“In 2014 I wasn’t an All-Star or Defensive Player of the Year,” Leonard told the Express-News. “If I can get back and win a championship, that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich wasn’t surprised Leonard’s motivation stems from pursuing a championship.

“That sounds like him,” Popovich said. “ … He really is more interested in winning than he is with (individual awards). He’s a really selfless kind of guy. … It’s not about him in any way, shape, or form. It’s always been about the group.”

It’s this type of attitude that supports the notion Popovich will be around for a few years after the Big Three dismantle. With Leonard, and now LaMarcus Aldridge added to the mix, Popovich doesn’t worry about character issues, just basketball.

“I’ve always said I’ve been fortunate with the guys I’ve had come through here,” said Popovich. “My job is pretty easy when people have that character and you don’t have to convince them to get over themselves, convince them to be happy for their teammate’s success, or to feel responsible to each other. (Leonard) already feels all that. He understands it when we talk about it. It makes it easier to have a team that enjoys playing together.”

But who could doubt Leonard if he did have MVP aspirations, or if making an All-Star team was a goal?

“I’m not one of the guys in the league for the fame,” Leonard said. “I’m here so I can take of my family, my mom, my friends and take care of myself. I love the game of basketball and as long as I can do that, keep playing and try to get some more championships with the organization, I’ll be happy. I don’t care about winning an MVP – the MVP doesn’t mean you’re the best player in the league.”

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No. 3: Lillard ready to lead his team — It’s difficult to imagine the Trail Blazers finishing anywhere close to what they did last season, when they turned a 51-win season into yet another playoff berth. But then the mass exodus began and the lone returning starter is Damian Lillard, who’s hardly backing down from the challenge of spearheading the transition, painful as it might be. Lillard spoke about it with Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune:

If you’re counting, that’s four of five starters from the reigning Northwest Division champions. The rubble is clear, and Lillard is the only mainstay remaining. He’s the one being counted on to guide a bunch of young and unproven players, a gaggle of free agent signings and draft picks looking to make their mark.

Lillard says he’s up for the challenge.

“I have a lot of belief in myself,” Lillard told the Tribune. “I give a lot of credit to my upbringing, and I’ve already done more in this game than I ever thought I would. So I’m prepared for what’s to come. This year will be similar to what I went through at Weber State, except on a higher level.”

When the Jazz face the Blazers on Sunday at the Moda Center, the preseason will be almost over for both teams. When the regular season starts, Lillard will be counted on for more than just the 21 points, six rebounds and almost five assists per game that he provided last year.

He’ll be looked to for additional leadership. He’ll no longer have Matthews around to guard premier opposing backcourt players. He’ll have to take full ownership in clutch moments, instead of splitting them with Aldridge.

Most importantly, he’ll be the unquestioned top option, which means he’ll be at the top of opposing scouting reports nightly. Now in his fourth season, and armed with a new long-term contract, Lillard is prepared to be the face of the Blazers on and off the floor.

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No. 4: Jabari Parker needs more time — Despite rehabbing well from the knee injury that ended his rookie season after a little more than a month, Jabari Parker will require a bit more time before he returns to the court. How much time is anyone’s guess right now, but the Bucks and Parker are playing it carefully and sense that there’s no need to rush. All they know is Parker will play at some point this season. Here’s Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with details:

Parker is making steady progress in his comeback from major knee surgery in January and is practicing with his teammates.

Right now, that’s enough for the 6-foot-8 forward and the Bucks.

“I’m feeling my legs getting underneath me,” Parker said after going through practice Thursday. “It’s going to be a grind.

“I’m looking long-term. I really don’t want to risk going back and lingering on if I’m not ready. I just want to be as productive as possible.

“There’s no use in me playing if I know I can’t contribute the way I want to.”

Parker suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament Dec. 15 in Phoenix, an injury that shortened his rookie season to 25 games.

But he said he doesn’t feel cheated by missing so much time.

“My No. 1 goal was to make the playoffs,” Parker said. “A lot of people looked at me like I was crazy.

“It’s all about the team; that’s where it starts. We all contributed at the end of the day.”

The Bucks did make the playoffs as the sixth-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, even without Parker. Now they have Parker returning and the addition of 6-foot-11 center Greg Monroe, raising hopes even higher for this season.

Coach Jason Kidd said no target date has been established for Parker to play in a game. Milwaukee has five preseason games left and opens the regular season Oct. 28 at home against the New York Knicks.

“For us it’s day by day, but at the end of the week we’ll see how he feels,” Kidd said. “We’ll continue with the game plan of loading and giving him more things to do and we’ll see how his body responds to it.

“So far his body has been great.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin visit Lamar OdomArron Afflalo says he once hustled records to the stars … There’s a good chance that rookie RJ Hunter will pass James Young in the Celtics’ rotation … Is the NBA preseason too long or just right?… Dave Bing helps Pistons players adjust to life off the court.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 10


VIDEO: Top plays from Friday’s preseason action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dave Meyers — UCLA star, Bucks enigma — dies at age 62 | Klay gives Doc some of own medicine | Sefolosha clears name, can work on game | Mavs’ injuries dampen Dirk’s mood

No. 1: Dave Meyers — UCLA star, Bucks enigma — dies at age 62Dave Meyers‘ greatest basketball achievements came at UCLA, where the 6-foot-8 forward anchored legendary coach John Wooden‘s 10th and final NCAA championship team. But for a lot of NBA fans, particularly in Milwaukee, Meyers represents a terrific player who got away and a man who lived life on his terms rather than strangers’ expectations. Meyers, 62, died Friday at his home in Temecula, Calif., after a lengthy battle with cancer.

His basketball accomplishments came in the first half of his life, including the national championships he won with Wooden and UCLA in 1973 and 1975. Meyers was the No. 2 pick in the ’75 NBA Draft, behind only North Carolina State’s David Thompson. Three weeks later, Meyers was packaged in one of the NBA’s most famous trades ever, sent by the Lakers with Junior Bridgeman, Brian Winters and Elmore Smith to Milwaukee for an unhappy Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Walt Wesley. He averaged 11.2 ppg and 6.3 rpg in four seasons with the Bucks but is most remembered for walking away from the game at age 26. Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times was working in Milwaukee then and wrote about that in Meyers’ obituary for the Times:

Another member of the Meyers family gained fame in the sport. Ann Meyers Drysdale, Dave Meyers’ sister, was also a UCLA basketball All-American and is currently a vice president of the Phoenix Suns in the NBA and the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, as well as a broadcaster for both teams.

“People always remembered Dave as a tenacious player with a big heart,” Meyers Drysdale said Friday.

Meyers was also known as a private person, who shocked the sports world in 1980 — five years into a productive and lucrative pro career with the Bucks — by announcing that he was leaving the NBA to spend more time with his family.

“Remember, David played for an unbelievable teacher at UCLA,” Meyers Drysdale said, referring to Wooden. “He was taught more about life than about basketball.”

Meyers returned to California, and after a stint in sales for Motorola received his teaching certificate and taught elementary school — mostly fourth and sixth grade — for more than 30 years. He began teaching in Yorba Linda and later taught in Temecula.

An aggressive, fundamentally sound player, he rebounded, played defense and handed out assists with the same enthusiasm that he took shots. From his power forward position, he used the backboard on his shots more than most players and became known for those skillful bank shots. It was something he learned from Wooden.

“I’d run into Bob Lanier,” the former Bucks’ star, Meyers Drysdale said, “and he would always tell me how sad he was that David retired. Lanier always said that, if he had stayed, the Bucks would have won the championship.”

Meyers suffered a serious back injury during his pro career and was pressured by team management to undergo surgery. He refused, partly because that surgery went against principles of his Jehovah’s Witness religion and, according to Meyers Drysdale, partly because there were extreme risks to that kind of surgery.

“In the end, it was what he said it was,” Meyers Drysdale said. “He wanted to be with his family and watch his children grow up.”

***

No. 2: Klay gives Doc some of own medicine — Make up your own mind which you think is sillier: Folks elsewhere in the NBA saying things that seem to detract from what the Golden State Warriors did last season or the Warriors dignifying little barbs and digs by responding. Who cares what Houston’s James Harden or Ty Lawson thinks about Steph Curry‘s MVP season, at this point? Or whether Clippers coach Doc Rivers was sticking a Phil Jackson-esque asterisk on Golden State’s championship run from last spring? But Warriors guard Klay Thompson didn’t let the opportunity to zing back pass, as chronicled by Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group:

Warriors players issued several retorts to Doc Rivers after the Los Angeles Clippers coach commented on Golden State being lucky it faced neither the Clippers nor San Antonio in the playoffs.

“Didn’t they lose to the Rockets? Exactly,” Klay Thompson said Friday, laughing in reference to Houston coming from behind to beat the Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals. “That just makes me laugh. That’s funny. Weren’t they up 3-1, too? Yeah, tell them I said that. That’s funny, man.”

Walking away from reporters after his interview session, Thompson continued, “I wanted to play the Clippers last year, but they couldn’t handle their business.”

Rivers’ remarks were the latest in a string of perceived swipes at the defending NBA champions. In published comments, Rockets guard Ty Lawson lamented that Stephen Curry was allowed to relax on defense in the Western Conference finals, and teammate James Harden insisted he felt he deserved the Most Valuable Player Award that Curry won.

Asked on KNBR about the suggestion from other teams that the Warriors were lucky last season, Andrew Bogut joked, “I’ve actually got my ring fitted for my middle finger.”

“We respect all previous champs,” Bogut said. “We’ll respect future champs. They don’t want to respect us, so be it.”

***

No. 3: Sefolosha clears name, can work on gameThabo Sefolosha missed all of the Atlanta Hawks’ training camp while testifying in New York in his own defense against three misdemeanor counts, stemming from an incident outside a nightclub there in April. The 6-foot-8 wing player also missed the Hawks’ preseason game against New Orleans Friday in Jacksonville. But Sefolosha, who suffered a broken leg while being arrested by police that night for allegedly interfering with them, did get acquitted on all counts earlier in the day. Now he and the Hawks can get back to basketball, as detailed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Now he wants to get back to playing basketball with the Hawks. Sefolosha hasn’t fully recovered from the injuries apparently suffered when a police officer kicked his right leg. He has been cleared for all basketball activities and has participated in training camp before leaving this week for the trial. He hopes to be ready when the Hawks’ season opens Oct. 27.

“I hope I still have a long career,” he said.

Jurors declined to comment as they left the court, but several of them shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with Sefolosha on the street outside the courthouse. Sefolosha thanked them in person and with his public comments.

“I want to assure them this was the right verdict,” he said. “They were on the side of truth and justice today. I’m happy this is over now.”

Sefolosha, a 31-year-old native of Switzerland who has played in the NBA for nine seasons, thanked his family, attorney Alex Spiro and the Hawks organization. He singled out coach Mike Budenholzer, who testified on his behalf Thursday.

“I’m thankful to the American justice system,” Sefolosha said. “Justice was made today.”

***

No. 4: Mavs’ injuries dampen Dirk’s moodDirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams participated in their first contact workouts of the preseason Friday, but the overall health of what’s projected to be Dallas’ starting lineup still is a work in progress. Wesley Matthews (Achilles tendon) and Chandler Parsons (knee) still are rehabbing from offseason surgery, and center Samuel Dalembert has been hobbled this week by a swollen knee. Nowitzki apparently was pretty candid, according to Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News, when he spoke of the effect such injury absences have on October enthusiasm:

The plethora of injuries, combined with the light workload for Nowitzki early in camp, has made getting a handle on these Mavericks impossible. They have been beaten soundly in two exhibition games, but with four of their projected starters yet to play, that’s understandable.

“It’s disappointing,” Nowitzki said. “Honestly, you’d wish more guys would be doing more, at least more contact or run more. But that’s not the case. Some of these guys have had major, major surgeries. And whatever the doc tells them, you got to take it slow.

“Obviously, Parsons and Wes are both guys that want to be here for a lot of years. It would be wrong to push it too much in October and not have them later in the season. You want to take it slow and progress week to week, and whenever they’re ready, they’re ready.”

Carlisle, by the way, said Parsons and Matthews are on similar timetables. Neither is close to playing in the preseason, and both players have said their only goal is to be ready by opening night Oct. 28 in Phoenix. Playing exhibitions is not a prerequisite for being ready when the games count, although it wouldn’t hurt.

At the least, it would help foster some chemistry with so many new players in the rotation.

“It’s not optimal, especially when you have a new point guard [Williams] trying to learn the system,” Nowitzki said. “You can run all the five-on-oh you want, but until you practice and play with each other, it’s not going to help much. But we’re doing all we can to get everybody used to the plays and the calls.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: When The Logo speaks, real NBA fans should want to listen. Here’s an ESPN.com Q&A with Hall of Famer and current Golden State advisor Jerry West. … LaMarcus Aldridge‘s adjustment to his new job in San Antonio is proceeding as methodically as his selection of the Spurs as his free-agent destination, per our man Scott Howard-Cooper. … Our own Steve Aschburner talks with Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker about his rehab methods and his coping techniques in coming back from ACL knee surgery. … Dallas owner Mark Cuban, never shy about speaking out, obviously has at least one qualification for the job. But Speaker of the House in Congress? Really? … Members of the Warriors staff would love to seek out coach Steve Kerr for input on various preseason issues, but they’re consciously avoiding that so Kerr’s aching back can recover (second item). … ICYMI, as folks say on social media: Bill Bridges, a 13-year NBA player and three-time All Star who died in late September at age 76, was a pro’s pro and formidable rebounder.


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