Posts Tagged ‘Jamal Crawford’

Blogtable: Your Should-Be All-Star Pick?

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: The Beat crew makes their All-Star Game reserve picks

Give me the player you’d like to see on the All-Star team but probably won’t make it?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Al Jefferson, Charlotte. Just wrote about the guy, the season he’s having, the career he’s had, his impact on an improving Bobcats team and his really unfortunate close call as an All-Star reserve in 2009, when he suffered a double-whammy after missing out on the West squad by immediately blowing out a knee. Don’t give me that “All Stars need to come from teams north of .500″ stuff, because it’s a team game and the NBA wants top players to migrate to struggling franchises, right? A roster spot in New Orleans – site of his knee blowout, coincidentally – and a few All-Star minutes would light up Big Al like a Roman candle.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Goran Dragic. He probably gets squeezed out by James Harden’s higher scoring average and Tony Parker playing for a Spurs team that is near the top of the West. But Dragic has been the offensive leader of the real surprise team in the conference and his play has only gone up in recent weeks without Eric Bledsoe in the lineup.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Mike Conley and Goran Dragic are right up there for me, but from a purely show-stopping standpoint I’d love to see Clippers center DeAndre Jordan get the chance to throw down a series of lobs from the West’s great stable of table-setters. Jordan as an All-Star isn’t such a wild notion. He’s averaging 9.5 ppg and a league-best 13.9 rpg. He’s also fourth in blocked shots (2.38) as he puts together a terrific year defensively. But, hey, defense and the All-Star Game never really went hand-in-glove. That’s not what this is about. This is about pure entertainment value, and for that, no one can go up and throw it down quite like DeAndre Jordan.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Anthony Davis. At least I think he won’t be there. It would not be a shock if he is, though, and he certainly would be worthy. It has nothing to do with the hometown angle of the Pelicans’ franchise player representing in New Orleans and everything to do with talent. He is already at an All-Star level, en route to being a superstar who will make the mid-season showcase in about every one of the next 10 years. He deserves the spotlight. He has earned the spotlight.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comAnthony Davis, of course. As the last couple of games have shown, the guy’s a monster. The festivities are in his building, and he’s one of a couple of big men (Blake Griffin obviously being the other) who would be a ton of fun to watch in the All-Star Game. I don’t think Davis really deserves to go (there are a bunch of bigs on winning teams who are more deserving), but I’d love to see him there.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’d love to see Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan on the team for so many different reasons. Mostly because I feel like he’s put together a body of work this season that clearly shows he’s earned it, but for one reason in particular — player evolution. So many times coaches run their jibbers about wanting a young player to keep his head down and just improve each and every aspect of his game, while also working for the greater good. They want young players to evolve. And so often a guy does that and never sees the reward in the way of an All-Star bid because the fans pick five of the guys and then the coaches feel obligated to hand out All-Star nods to veterans based on their reputation or status. The window for so many of these guys to make an All-Star team is tiny. So it would be nice to see everything line up for a guy like DeRozan, who has gone about his business in a way that coaches swear they love, turning himself into something much more than just the athletic, rim finisher he was branded as earlier in his career.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I’ll go with a guy who’s never been an All-Star but who is consistently one of the most exciting players in the NBA: Jamal Crawford. With the Clippers he plays largely a complementary role, which makes sense when you’re playing alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and defense has never really been something that he’s done with any sort of commitment. But he is averaging 18 points per game this season, and he’s remarkably versatile within the Clippers offense, playing the 1 and 2 and helping the Clips survive injuries to both Paul and J.J. Redick. Besides, if anyone’s game is made for an All-Star Game, it’s Jamal’s, with his ridiculous crossover dribbles and four-point plays.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA Deutschland: For me as a German it isn’t very difficult to make a pick: Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk plays a great season and performs again on a high level. Not everyone expected that after the way his knee injury hampered him last year. His figures are at his career level and on good days he can still dominate every power forward in the league. But with all the great bigs in the West it would be very difficult to get nominated again.

Aldo Miguel Aviñante, NBA Philippines: Jeff Teague. He’s an underrated and under-appreciated player for the Hawks. The way he is running the team is impressive. Minus Josh Smith and Al Horford, you would think that the Hawks would become bottom-feeders in the league, but Teague has been able to keep them afloat.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: Goran Dragic. I can’t see him getting in with all the guards in the Western Conference but this guy has been phenomenal. He has been an integral part of Phoenix’s great start to the season and has gone to another level in Eric Bledsoe‘s absence. He and LeBron James are the only players in the league with at least 19 points and 6 assists while shooting 49 percent. What’s most impressive about his shooting percentage is that his usage rate has significantly increased since Bledsoe went down.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 19



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Cuban docked $100,000 | Beverley return set | George’s All-Star choices | Blazers romp to top spot | Durant in a zone
No. 1: Cuban gets his wish — Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for weeks touted his desire to be fined one last time before commissioner David Stern steps down on Feb. 1. Stern granted his wish Saturday night with a hefty $100,000 fine for confronting officials on the court and directing inappropriate language toward them at the conclusion of the Mavs’ intense, 129-127 loss Wednesday night to the Los Angeles Clippers. Cuban’s team blew a 123-106 lead with 4:30 to go amid a storm of turnovers and fouls. The fine came down moments after Cuban had spoke to reporters as he typically does prior to games. Cuban beat the league in announcing the fine, using his Twitter account to let everybody know his pleasure: “I couldnt let the commish go without a proper farewell. Its been a fun 14 years of trying to create change and donating to the donut fund !” ESPNDallas’ Tim MacMahon has the details:

He added in another tweet that he would donate an equal amount to a charity.

Cuban’s latest outburst occurred after the Mavs blew a 17-point lead and Clippers guard Jamal Crawford scored the go-ahead points on free throws after a controversial foul call against Dallas forward Shawn Marion.

Cuban has said several times this season that he planned to draw the final fine of Stern’s 30-year tenure as commissioner. Cuban reiterated that intention to ESPN.com this week before his outburst Wednesday night.

This is the 20th time the league has publicly assessed a fine against Cuban since he bought the Mavs in Jan. 2000, including 14 fines that were the result of criticizing officials or interacting with them in ways the NBA deemed inappropriate.

Those fines have cost Cuban a total of $1.9 million, plus matching donations to charities of his choice.

***

No. 2: Beverley back Monday — The Rockets’ backcourt is about to get its starting point guard back. Patrick Beverley is expected to return to action Monday night at home against the Portland Trail Blazers roughly four weeks after he broke his right hand. Beverley went through the team’s full shootaround Saturday night and will practice Sunday as his final tune-up. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has more:

“I’m back now,” Beverley said. “I went through shootaround. We’ll see how it goes. I went through the whole shootaround like I did before, ran some drills, got a lot of shots up and went over the other team’s game plan.”

Though he prepared as if he was going to play against the Bucks, Beverley was held out to allow him one practice with the team before returning. He said he has been working out enough that he was “not rusty at all. Rockets coach Kevin McHale said the plan is to have Beverley return Monday pending that day’s final medical evaluation.

“I’ve been getting a lot of shots up the last past days,” Beverley said. “ I think our training staff has done a great job with my conditioning, helping me being ready when my number is called.”

Beverley said it is difficult to simulate the energy and intensity of actual games, but said he has made up for lost time with Rockets performance and rehabilitation coach Joe Rogowski.

“It was Camp Rogo,” Beverley said. “Went on like a hell week where just got after it, got stronger and quicker, more explosive. I think it’s going to pay off. Hard work always pays off.

“I felt I could have played last Thursday. I feel I could have played a couple days before that. Something with my body I just heal fast. I’m able to endure a lot of pain. I’m just happy to be back on the court and happy to mix it up with these guys.”

***

No. 3: All-Star choices for George — Pacers wing Paul George is all but set to become a first-time starter in next month’s All-Star Game in New Orleans, and the NBA can’t get enough of the emerging superstar. George has been asked to participate in the 3-point shootout, the dunk contest and the skills competition. What are the chances he soaks up the entire weekend as a participant in one, two or all three events? Scott Agness of the Indianapolis Star has the odds:

The chances of him competing are slim, as he would prefer to rest and enjoy the weekend in The Big Easy. But he said that he hasn’t declined and was still open to the idea of taking part in at least one event. He plans to decide in the next few days.

When asked whether he had declined the offers, George said, “No, I haven’t declined. I’m keeping my options open.”

You know a player is at an elite level when he is considering turning down these invitations because All-Star weekend is typically a time where lesser-known guys or an up-and-coming player can be noticed.

George knows.

He has been actively involved at the past two All-Star weekends. In Houston last year, he played in the big game and was in the 3-point contest. The year before, George and his glow-in-dark-uniform placed third in the dunk contest and he played in the ‘Rising Stars Challenge,’ the same game he was left out of as a rookie.

Frank Vogel and his staff will be down there to coach the Eastern Conference team, which should have at least three members of the NBA’s best team. Lance Stephenson, the flashiest player on the Pacers, said he won’t be involved in any of those events, but he does have a message for his teammate.

“I ain’t got no dunks like that,” he said. “Paul, that’s the guy that needs to be in the dunk contest.”

***

No. 4: Hot Blazers soar again — For anyone thinking Portland’s recent slowdown signaled the start of a permanent trickle back to the pack in the Western Conference, the Blazers say believe what you want. One night after winning at San Antonio, 109-100, Portland went into Dallas and destroyed the Mavs with a near-flawless performance through three quarters. Led by LaMarcus Aldridge‘s 30 points and 12 rebounds, the Blazers led 104-70 after three quarters. Winners of five in a row, they’re now 31-9 and reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the West. Are they for real? Mike Tokito of The Oregonian has the latest:

Portland fans might hope the Blazers are truly one the league’s best teams, critics might suggest they’re interlopers in the elite class. Guess what? They don’t care.

“We just take it day-by-day and game-by-game,” forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. “We don’t get caught up in all the hype. We just focus on doing our things that we need to do. Getting better defensively, staying focused on us.”

The Blazers were very good defensively and focused like a laser Saturday as they put on as impressive a performance as they’ve had all season, running the Dallas Mavericks out of American Airlines Center for three quarters in a 127-111 victory. The fourth quarter was a different story, but more on that later.

First the dominance: One night after putting San Antonio away with a strong fourth-quarter stretch, the Blazers took that sharp play and extended into a dominant first half, when they outscored Dallas 71-52, then revved things up further in the third, when they outscored the Mavericks 33-18.

The Blazers (31-9) have a reputation of a team that relies heavily on three-pointers and tries to outscore the other team, but on this night the catalyst was defense as they held Dallas to 39.4 percent field goal shooting in the first three quarters.

“Having the lead at halftime and coming out with that defensive focus in the third quarter was a really good sign for us,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.

***

***

No. 5: Durant in a (right) zone — Thunder forward Kevin Durant is again leading the league in scoring and he’s doing so with remarkable efficiency. No game highlighted this quite like Friday’s 54-point performance on 19-for-28 shooting. During a one-minute stretch of that win over the Warriors, Durant scored nine points all from the same zone on the floor. Which zone? And why is that important? Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman explains:

Kevin Durant was stuck on 41 points for more than three minutes of game action. And on Friday night, that stagnation felt like an eternity.

So he called for the ball on the right wing, got it, and immediately rose for an in-rhythm three. Swish.

Then, on two of the next three possessions, he did the exact same thing.

Nine points in less than a minute. All from an increasingly more comfortable spot on the floor.

“I’ve been working on that shot, the right wing,” Durant said. “It used to be the shot I missed the most.”

But now, it has just become another lethal option in his unguardable arsenal.

Of Durant’s career-high 54 points on Friday night, 10 came near the rim, 11 came at the free-throw line and 12 came from that right wing, the zone in which he produced the most damage. Overall, he was 4-of-6 on that shot.

And in the grand scheme, that only continued an upward trend that Durant has clearly identified and worked to produce.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwight Howard says he was promised a trade from Magic to Nets … Clippers center DeAndre Jordan wants All-Star invite, not (necessarily) dunk contest … Nets finalizing trades to open roster spot; Bulls give up on Marquis Teague

MVP Ladder: A Little Love For Blake!



VIDEO: The Clippers’ Blake Griffin is one just four players in the league averaging 20 and 10 this season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — A grand total of four players, just four, can boast of averaging 21 or more points and 10 or more rebounds a night this season in the NBA. The Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin is one of them, along with Kevin Love, DeMarcus Cousins and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Three of the four are firmly entrenched on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder this week, Griffin joins the party this week at No. 8, and some folks would argue that Cousins should be included in that mix as well (if he keeps up his current level of play he might gain entry in the coming weeks).

Griffin’s ascent this season, however, has come with the added pleasure of watching one of the league’s true highlight players add some substance to all of that style. This is a tougher, feistier and much more rugged version of the dunk machine we’ve all watched the past few years.

“It’s really cool to be on his team these two years and watch the growth he’s made,” Clippers guard Jamal Crawford told the Los Angeles Daily News. Griffin will only continue to get better under the tutelage of Clippers coach Doc Rivers, whose ability to get the best out of his players is well-known.

Griffin’s task is even more complicated right now with fellow captain, All-Star and MVP candidate Chris Paul sidelined for six weeks with a separated shoulder. But Griffin seems more than up to the task, having increased his production (16 assists in the three games Paul has been out) in certain areas while maintaining his steady flow everywhere else.

And the best part, he hasn’t had to sacrifice his penchant for making highlights — as Kris Humphries can attest — in the meantime.

Dive in here for more on Griffin and a shake up involving Kevin Durant and LeBron James at the top of this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!

CP3 Injury Another Wrench Atop West


VIDEO: The crew discusses impact of Chris Paul’s right shoulder injury

DALLAS – Los Angeles Clippers All-Star point guard Chris Paul suffered a separated shoulder Friday night and now two of the Western Conference’s top four teams must make due without their stellar quarterbacks potentially all the way to the mid-February All-Star break.

Paul joins Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook on the sideline. The two injuries could shake up what has been a consistent top-four power structure along with Portland and San Antonio for these first two months of the season. After winning two straight without Westbrook, who last week needed a third surgery in eight months on his right knee, the Thunder dropped their last two and were wobbly down the stretch of both games, twice losing double-digit leads to Portland and struggling Brooklyn.

The Clippers led by two points at Dallas when Paul went down attempting to drive around Mavs guard Monta Ellis with 6:43 left in the third quarter. Ellis fouled Paul, who had 19 points (5-for-6 on 3s) and six assists, and he immediately dropped to the floor in obvious pain. He stayed down for a few minutes as he was checked out by the medical staff. Upon getting up he angrily headed to the locker room for X-rays, which revealed the separation. He left the American Airlines Center with his right arm in a sling.

“He’s down. He’s out at least three to five weeks and maybe more,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before backtracking a bit. “We don’t know that, [yet]. We know it’s a separated shoulder. We don’t know what grade it is, yet. We’ll probably send him home, and he’ll get evaluated in L.A., and just hope that’s he’s going to be O.K.”

The Clippers (23-12) were OK for at least this night. Behind Blake Griffin‘s 25 points (11-13 on free throws), 15 rebounds and five assists, DeAndre Jordan‘s 25 points (11-for-14 from the floor) and 18 rebounds and reserve guard Darren Collison, who in his revenge game against Dallas scored 20 points with four assists, L.A. managed to flip a 110-103 deficit with four minutes to go into a 119-112 victory.

It was a big one. L.A., in fourth place in the West and just one game ahead of both Houston and Golden State — and just three in front of eighth-place Dallas — plays at San Antonio on Saturday night. The Spurs are coming off an embarrassing home loss to the Knicks on Thursday night and will be ready to pounce.

By tip-off, Paul will have been back in Los Angeles and re-evaluated. That’s when an actual timetable will come into clearer focus.

Moving forward, the backcourt will belong to Collison and Jamal Crawford. Collison played the entire 18:43 after Paul left with six points and just two turnovers. Crawford, the Clippers’ trusty sixth man who recently assumed the starting role at shooting guard in place of the injured J.J. Redick, played all but 33 seconds of the third quarter and scored six points with no turnovers in the fourth.

“We leaned on each other,” Crawford said. “Obviously, Chris is one of the best players in the world. It’s always disheartening to see him in pain because he cares about the game so much. That’s even  more of a reason to rally around each other, use each other, lean on each other and we poured it out tonight.”

Collison will take over the starting duties at point guard with the crafty Crawford having to fill in as well, but there’s little depth from there and that was a clear concern for Rivers immediately after the game with little time to begin preparations for life without CP3.

“I haven’t given it enough time to think so I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Rivers said. “We may go small more, we may go bigger more. I just don’t know what we’re going to do yet.”

Or where the Clippers will be whenever Paul returns.

“Injuries are inevitable,” Griffin said. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself, it’s happening to everybody. You look around the league, there’s key guys hurt everywhere. So we’ve just got to find a way to get through it.”

L.A.’s Stunning Role Reversal


VIDEO: Lakers at Bucks, Dec. 31, 2013

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Happy New Year, Mike D’Antoni. A”We Want Phil” chant, however silly, percolated through Staples Center in L.A. on Tuesday as the glamorous-turned-anonymous Lakers faded to black again in an ugly loss to the now seven-win Milwaukee Bucks.

Total bummer of a New Year’s Eve party.

Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, of course, wouldn’t touch this sinking M*A*S*H unit with a bionic-kneed Andrew Bynum. At this point, any talk of the league’s worst teams has to include the purple and gold, who are 13-19, have lost six in a row (half of those by an average of 17 points) and show no sign of snapping back any time soon.

How could they snap back? Consider D’Antoni’s starting five in the 94-79 loss to Milwaukee: Jordan Farmar (who tore his left hamstring in the game and will miss a month), Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Shawne Williams and Pau Gasol. His available bench was limited to: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, Kendall Marshall, Robert Sacre and Chris Kaman (who has fallen so far he couldn’t even get in the game).

Look at it this way: These unidentifiable Lakers are closer to last-place Utah than to eighth-place Dallas in the Western Conference standings. That gap will either shrink or grow Friday night when the Lakers welcome the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – who, ahem, just beat L.A. in Salt Lake City a week ago.

When these two teams meet Friday, the most exciting player on the floor just might be Utah rookie point guard Trey Burke, who’s quietly making a major move in the Rookie of the Year race. No offense to the impressive Burke, but that’s how far the mighty Lakers have plummeted: A rookie on the opposing team — a team with 10 wins — is the most exciting player on the floor.

With Dwight Howard in Houston after turning his back on the Lakers in free agency, Kobe Bryant on the sidelines again with a fractured knee, Steve Nash still plotting some way to get back on the floor and Pau Gasol sniffling through recurring physical and emotional trauma, the Lakers’ star power is flickering like a faulty neon sign.

The Clippers, once known as the “other” L.A. team, are another story altogether.

We may never truly understand all the reasons that prompted outgoing commissioner David Stern, acting as the de facto head of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets two years ago, to veto the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade.

(Stern said in a statement shortly after the December 2011 trade that he nixed it “in the best interests of the Hornets” and that he decided, without influence from other owners, that “the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade.”)

But by now, we certainly grasp how drastically that decision altered both franchises’ outlooks. Remember, the Lakers thought they had Kobe’s future sewn up: CP3 in a deal that shipped out Gasol and Lamar Odom, followed by getting Dwight in a deal for Bynum. It’s hard to imagine a Kobe-CP3-D12 trio going up in flames like last season’s Howard-Kobe-Nash gathering did. Or like this season’s team has. The Lakers were 10-9 without Kobe to start this season and have gone 3-10 since his brief return and subsequent exit.

The Clippers (22-12) haven’t been nearly as consistent as coach Doc Rivers would like. But they are fourth in the West playing without injured sharpshooter J.J. Redick. They have won seven of their last 10. They’ll try to move 11 games over .500 Friday night at Dallas (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass).

Off the court, the Clippers have been even better. Every second commercial on TV has Paul selling insurance with his equally assisting faux-twin brother Cliff, or a white-caped Blake Griffin saving us all from buying a lame automobile.

Meanwhile, the best news about the Lakers, off the court, is what they’re trying to do to fix their on-court woes. They are paying about $6 million more in payroll this season than their co-tenants, with close to $50 million wrapped up in Kobe and Gasol. The rest of the roster accounts for nearly $30 million. It’s why a rumored Gasol-for-Bynum swap with the Cleveland Cavaliers — followed by waiving Bynum — would be so attractive to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. It would wipe out millions in salary and costly luxury tax from the Lakers’ 2013-14 slate.

Whether that happens or not won’t change the Lakers’s fortunes any time soon. They’ll still be the talk of L.A. They are, after all, still the Lakers.

But until further notice, the star-studded Clips carry the bigger stick.


VIDEO: Bobcats at Clippers, Jan. 1, 2014

Crawford Also Producing As A Starter


VIDEO: Jamal Crawford scores 27 as the Clippers beat the Nuggets on Dec. 21

HANG TIME WEST – It was the first quarter of his first game back in the opening lineup, Dec. 14 at Washington. Jamal Crawford remembers the specific time and place because he doesn’t exactly have a long history of people telling him to shoot more.

“It was kind of weird,” Crawford said. “It was encouraging to hear it, though.”

Coach Doc Rivers called him over to the Clippers bench during a dead ball. Crawford seemed too concerned about fitting in with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Yes, the same Crawford who spent all last season as their teammate, the same Crawford in his 14th season, the same Crawford who every other day seemed eternally aggressive as one of the premier bench-scoring threats of his generation.

“C’mon now,” Crawford recalls Rivers telling him, “I didn’t bring you in here to just be passive.”

And that was it. End of conversation, end of adjustment period.

Crawford, a leading contender for Sixth Man of the Year a few weeks ago, and pretty much every season, quickly re-configured his approach to become the starting shooting guard averaging 19.1 points in the eight games in the starting lineup. The Clippers, not coincidentally, are 6-2 in that time, with losses by two points at Golden State and four at Portland on the second night of a back-to-back.

He is not shooting well, at 38.6 percent in the eight games as starter, but passive? Crawford is not that either. Try 17.5 shots in 37.2 minutes per game, more than leading scorer Griffin is taking (15.9) in fewer minutes (36.6) overall and Paul (14.7 in 35.3 minutes).

“When you’re a starter, you can be a little bit more patient,” Crawford said. “You don’t have to rush as much. Off the bench, you have to make something happen. It’s not necessarily as a scorer, but you have to have an immediate positive impact. When you’re starting, you can kind of feel the game out a little bit better.”

The chain reaction started when J.J. Redick fractured his right hand and tore ligaments in his right wrist in a fall Nov. 29 at Sacramento. Willie Green initially took Redick’s spot, but Rivers eventually turned to Crawford, the 2009-10 Sixth Man of the Year in Atlanta who had started six times in 291 appearances the previous four seasons with the Hawks, Trail Blazers and Clippers.

“I don’t know if there’s much (difference),” Rivers said of Crawford’s dual roles. “I think the biggest difference would be that with the bench, he knows he has to be the guy…. I had to remind him that he was a really good offensive player. You usually don’t have to tell Jamal that. But when you’re playing with Blake and Chris, he was overpassing. ‘No, I want you to be the same Jamal with the starters or not.’ But he is more conscious of who he’s playing with when he’s with the starters. I don’t want him to get too used to that, quite honestly. I can’t wait to get him back on the bench so he can come in and be our sparkplug.”

Injuries Open Spots, But Picking All-Star Guards Won’t Be Easy


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook will be out until after the All-Star break

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kobe Bryant is going to win a starting job on the Western Conference All-Star team. A second round of returns has the Lakers star well ahead in votes among the West’s legion of worthy backcourt candidates. Bryant has played in just six games and although he could return from a fractured knee in time to play in the Feb. 16 All-Star Game at New Orleans, let’s assume that he will not play.

NBA All-Star 2014Oklahoma City’s injured point guard Russell Westbrook was well on his way to a fourth consecutive selection as one of seven reserves to be picked by Western Conference coaches until Friday’s stunning announcement that he underwent a third surgery on his troubled right knee. Westbrook will not be back in time for the All-Star Game.

That leaves (potentially) two backcourt spots up for grabs.

But first, ink Chris Paul in as the starter at point guard. He’s second in fan voting and in all likelihood won’t come close to relinquishing that spot as an automatic starter. Golden State’s Stephen Curry, last season’s sympathy case as the most notable snub, is third in fan voting and should start at shooting guard.

Now comes the difficult part for the West’s coaches: There’s so many worthy point guards — just point guards — that you could select an All-Point-Guard All-Star team even without Westbrook. Check this out:

PG: Paul

SG: Curry

SF: Damian Lillard

PF: Eric Bledsoe

C: Ricky Rubio

Bench: Tony Parker, Ty LawsonMike Conley, Jrue Holiday

OK, so it takes some of imagination there, but you get the idea how deep the West is at the quarterback position. Then you’ve got the shooting guards to consider. James Harden figures to be a lock for a second consecutive selection. And what about Klay Thompson, Monta Ellis, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Wesley Matthews and Jamal Crawford, who felt he got dissed last year? Even 36-year-old Manu Ginobili can make a compelling case.

There’s plenty of basketball to go before fan voting ends on Jan. 20 (the starters will be announced on Jan. 23) and until the reserves are announced soon after, so selections could become more crystallized by then. But probably not.

So of five guards to get a 2014 All-Star nod, here’s my early locks: Paul and Curry as the starters with Harden as a reserve. That leaves two spots open.

Let’s begin with the power of elimination. As strong as they’ve been, apologies to Martin, Dragic, Matthews and Crawford. Holiday was an East All-Star last year and benefited from Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose being hurt, and even though he’s a hometown Pelican, I’m not seeing it. Rubio has gone from the magician everybody wants to see up close to standing in the back of the line.

Onto the rest. This is going to be tough and there could be not one, not two, not three … but even more deserving guards taking the snub.

Here’s a brief comparison of a few of the backcourt candidates that I don’t consider to be locks (in no particular order):

>Parker, Spurs – Scoring (17.8 ppg) and assists (6.0) are down, but he’s the irreplaceable team catalyst, San Antonio is rolling and it’s hard to see him not making it

>Lillard, Blazers – As clutch as any player going, the reigning Rookie of the Year is averaging 21.1 ppg, 5.8 apg and is shooting 43.1 percent on 3s for a team that’s taken the league by storm

>Bledsoe, Suns – A fearless competitor, has meshed beautifully with Dragic while averaging 18.4 ppg, 5.9 apg, 4.3 rpg and is shooting 49.2 percent overall for arguably the most surprising team in the league

>Ellis, Mavericks – He’s turned analytics on its head, averaging an efficient 20.7 ppg — highest since 2007-08 — and 5.8 apg, and he’s as exciting swooping to the cup as anyone

>Lawson, Nuggets – He’s slowed a bit as the team has struggled recently, but still putting up 17.5 ppg, 7.9 apg and 3.4 rpg in a new, slower-tempo system

>Thompson, Warriors – The other half of the Splash Brothers, he’s scoring 19.6 ppg on 43.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc, plus 2.7 apg and 3.3 rpg.

>Conley, Grizzlies – He’s been garnering greater respect for a few seasons now and while the team has struggled, especially without fellow All-Star Marc Gasol, Conley’s averaging 17.0 ppg, a career-best, and 6.2 apg

Blogtable: The Super-est Sub

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.


Big Apple busts | First off your bench | Blazers-Pacers


Ray Allen of the Miami Heat

Ray Allen of the Miami Heat (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

You have a solid, balanced starting five. Who is the one reserve you want first off your bench?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comJamal Crawford. Isaiah Thomas is bringing scoring so far off Sacramento’s bench but I’d like a bigger sample size and, speaking of size, a bigger player (he’s 5-foot-9). I’m assuming Ryan Anderson will be racking up starts in Anthony Davis‘ broken-hand absence in New Orleans. I’m partial to game-changing big men off the bench, such as Denver’s Timofey Mozgov and Chicago’s Taj Gibson. But of the 100 or so true “super subs” (at least a dozen appearances, four starts or fewer) so far this season, Crawford remains the gold standard. At 16.0 ppg, 38,6 3FG% and 26.9 mpg, this is his side of the street – other guys are just working it.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You said I already have a solid, balanced starting five. So I’ll take Ryan Anderson off the bench filling up the hoop with all those 3s. That’s a valuable wild card.

Jamal Crawford

Jamal Crawford
(Noah Graham/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comJamal Crawford. Instant offense. The guy averages 16.0 ppg in 26.9 mpg. He’s devastating beyond the arc, can break ankles and can dish it, too. What else is there?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: If I don’t have any obvious glaring holes in the opening lineup that create an obvious need – scoring, rebounding, playmaking, etc. – I want someone who can play multiple positions. To be able to plug my top reserve into two spots, depending what is needed at the moment, is an obvious advantage. Wanting versatility and someone who can make a quick impact brings me to Jamal Crawford. A former starter at the point, a former starter at shooting guard, a current scoring threat.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Ideally, I’d like a guy who can shoot and play defense. But I can’t find a bench guy out there who does both at an above-average level. So give me Ryan Anderson, an elite shooter who will complement the playmakers in my starting lineup. He’s not a good defender, but he can rebound. Depending on the exact makeup of my starting lineup, I’d also consider Omer Asik for rim protection.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comWow. Great question. And with the entire league to choose from, that would require me to know exactly what my starting five looked like and what sort of reserve help I needed (scorer/floor spacer, defender/rim protector, rebounding specialist, etc.). Whoever the guy is, I need him to be a game changer who has the experience and savvy to aid my team in whatever capacity is asked of him. I need a guy like Ray Allen, who even at this stage of his career can still work at a high level and in clutch situations (see his work in The Finals last season). If my starting five is as solid and balanced as described, I’d have the luxury of deploying a specialist and floor spacer like Allen into my lineup as a sixth man without worry that he’s not a great defender and doesn’t have the greatest size or range to work at several different positions. But I’d take solace in the fact that he’s arguably the greatest shooter the game has seen and has championship pedigree oozing out of his pores. There are plenty of guys who are younger and could probably do more on both ends. But when I needed that clutch corner 3, well …

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog:  Elton Brand. I know he’s kind of toiling in obscurity with the Hawks this season, but whenever I see the Hawks play I’m struck by Brand’s versatility and professionalism. It’s hard enough to find quality bigs in the NBA, but to have a guy who can play the 4 or 5, who is smart enough to be physical without immediately fouling out, is a bit of a luxury. Also, Brand would be fun to have around just to explain technology to him.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: That seems opportunistic since I just posted a Sixth Man of the Year ranking on NBA Brasil! Still, even though I have Isaiah Thomas as the best reserve so far and Manu Ginobili isn’t even in the top 10 for this season, I’m always picking Ginobili when you ask me this question. Ginobili was a borderline franchise player when he got to the NBA, and even as he’s gotten older and injuries have slowed him, he still has such a great basketball IQ that he makes the game easier for everybody. He’s not as fast as he used to be, but still hustles on defense and gives you his best. And even though he looked like he was done for much of last season’s playoffs, he’s been pretty good so far this season with the Spurs.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I think Jamal Crawford deserved to win the Sixth Man Award last year and he sure is a contender this season as well. I know there is a lot of buzz about Nick Young, Mo Williams, Nate Robinson, but Crawford is averaging 16.0 PPG while playing on a Clippers team that has scorers all-round. Crawford is my man.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: I like the way Taj Gibson has been playing for the Bulls lately. He is a really solid big man off the bench. He defends well, grabs boards and scores in an efficient manner. He knows his role and plays within his limitations. But Jeremy Lin when healthy is a great option as a sixth man because he can really run a team on offense — if he can improve on his defense he will be the perfect player off the bench for the Rockets.

Air Check: Sometimes You’re Hot

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – For NBA fans like us, there’s nothing better than League Pass. Having the ability to watch every game every night (and then again the next day) is heaven.

aircheck-250Of course, with local broadcasts, you get local broadcasters, which can be good and bad. It can be good, because these guys know their teams better than most national broadcasters. It can be bad, because these guys love their teams more than most national broadcasters. And they’re usually not afraid to show that love.

Air Check is where we highlight the best and worst of NBA broadcasts.

He must work on these lines

Sixers analyst Malik Rose has become an Air Check favorite and you may recall his Hawesome call from a couple of seasons ago. Well, Rose is back with another great line, this time using poetry instead of a pun after Marcin Gortat gives Spencer Hawes two free points with a major blunder.


VIDEO: Malik Rose gets poetic about Marcin Gortat’s gaffe

“Sometimes you’re hot, sometimes you’re Gortat.”

Classic. Hat tip to The 700 Level for tweeting that one out when it happened. You have to wonder if Rose’s game prep includes coming up with one-liners for the Sixers’ opponents.

“Let’s see, we got the Wizards tonight.

“John Wall … didn’t get the call, lost the ball, had a rough fall.

“Hmmm…. Bradley Beal has lost his zeal…

“Nah…

“Uh oh, Eric Maynor, better call the trainer!

“Close, but not quite….

“Every day he doesn’t play, Otto Porter‘s career is getting shorter.”

“Heh.”

Hyperbole in Hollywood

If you were watching that great Wolves-Clippers game on Monday night, you may have heard Ralph Lawler go a little over the top in regard to Chris Paul‘s steal in the final minutes …


VIDEO: Ralph Lawler gets a little too excited about CP3′s steal

Lawler called it the best steal he’s ever seen. Yeah, you could say that’s hyperbole … or maybe Lawler just doesn’t watch a lot of basketball, missed the 1987 Eastern Conference finals, and missed all the contact on the play (which he acknowledged upon seeing the replay).

Of course, Lawler’s has a partner in hyperbole in analyst Michael Smith. Check out the following calls from a preseason game against the Blazers.

First, after DeAndre Jordan gets fouled on a fast break, Smith lauds Jordan’s ability to run the floor…


VIDEO: Clippers analyst Michael Smith loses perspective on DeAndre

Smith: “That is so difficult to do. I don’t even know if it’s fair to say that it’s more difficult for a big man to do that than a small man. But people would say that often, that it’s harder for a big to shoot free throws or it’s harder for a big to run and catch on the fly. I don’t subscribe to that, because D.J. runs like he was 6-foot-2 and catches like he’s 6-foot-2 on the fly.”

OK. He runs well and can catch the ball. Fine. But then Smith takes it over the top…

“Of course, he’s 6-11 and I think he’s the best running big the game maybe has ever seen.”

Lawler: “Settle down, Mike.”

Smith: “Can you name one better, partner?”

Anthony Davis. Just sayin’.

Later in the same quarter, Jamal Crawford missed a pull-up, mid-range jumper…


VIDEO: Clippers’ broadcasters need to check their stats on Crawford

“Jamal Crawford,” Smith says, “will make that shot 8 times out of 10.”

So Jamal Crawford shoots 80 percent on mid-range shots. OK.

Clippers Learning Who They Can Be

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VIDEO: Clippers outlast Rockets

HOUSTON – It was back at the start of training camp when Blake Griffin declared that Lob City was closed for business.

Since then the Clippers have struggled to find a new identity, something catchy for postcards and maybe to put on all those new banners hanging inside Staples Center. Of course, Paris has pretty much put a headlock on the City of Lights and even Cedar Bluff, Ala., already laid claim to the label that is most historically accurate for the NBA’s long-suffering franchise — Crappie Capital of the World.

“I don’t think anyone has an identity except teams that have been together,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “You pretty much know who Indiana is — they’re a big, physical team. Miami, you know who they are. Oklahoma and San Antonio. Other than that, I don’t know anyone else.”

Rivers would like to think the Clippers learned a little about who they can be with a win over the Rockets that was more a product of perseverance than sheer performance. After an opening few minutes that fed off J.J. Redick practically setting the nets on fire, the Clippers fell into a deeper funk than George Clinton behind a microphone and might have been on their way to packing an 0-3 record into their luggage after a swing through Orlando, Miami and Houston.

There were missed jumpers that bounced off the rims. There were layups that couldn’t find the bucket or were rejected into the stands by the Rockets’ Dwight Howard. More significant, there were shoulders slumped, heads hanging and eyes that were vacant.

It is one thing for the Clippers to roll happily along when they’re pouring in 137 points, as they did five nights earlier against the Rockets in L.A. But if they are going to make the step forward to being real contenders in the contentious Western Conference, it is the other games that will make the difference. The ugly ones, the games that require concentration and grit and the kind of trust in each other that is built, at least at the start, on faith.

“It’s a process,” said guard Jamal Crawford. “We’ve got half a new team, a whole new coaching staff. We’ve got to weather the storm and get better each day and keep building. I said it before the season. We’re not gonna be judged on what we do in the season. We’re gonna be judged on the playoffs. We got to go through the process and build toward that.”

The foundational construction is always done on the defensive end, which is how Rivers’ teams in Boston made their calling, and it’s what he’s now trying to get through a continent away.

“I kept telling them to hang in there,” Rivers said. “We started off so well and then it went bad and we went bad. We were all pouting and our body language was awful and I just kept telling them, ‘Hang around, hang around, hang around. We’ll find something for you defensively.’ “

What the Clippers eventually found was a play here, a steal there that lit a spark that became a fire. After a Chandler Parsons layup gave Houston a 71-60 lead with 5:02 left in the third quarter, the Clippers went into a shutdown mode. They got stops on eight consecutive possessions by the Rockets and ripped off an 18-0 tear into the fourth quarter that let them fly home with a measure of dignity and a record (4-3) that had chinned itself back above the .500 mark.

“It’s a long game, man,” said point guard Chris Paul. “I watch more basketball than anybody. It reminds me of LeaguePass. I’m watching, flipping through channels and you think a game is over and later you see the scroll and you say, ‘Oh, it’s a two-point game, a three-point game.’ That’s how it goes sometimes and you to find a way to win it.

“We showed up to the fight late, which you can’t do. They were a little bit grittier, a little bit scrappier than us. Then we finally said enough is enough.”

It’s the grit and the scrappiness that has been missing from the Clippers over the past three seasons as they’ve made their climb from dregs to highlight darlings. It’s the part of their makeup that has led to consecutive flameouts in the playoffs, leading to the departure of former coach Vinny Del Negro and the arrival of Rivers and the search within the locker room and within themselves for a different way of competing.

“We’re still understanding the offense, learning to trust each other on defense,” Griffin said. “We haven’t hit our stride yet. But when guys are playing hard like we did in that second half, we can overcome mistakes and misses.”

It was far too early in a long season to call it must-win, but it is the necessary step up the ladder that the Clippers have to take to spur further progress and it came against a Rockets team that is just as, if not more, talented and equally as naive.

“They’re just like us,” Rivers said. “We’re both gonna be a lot better later. They need time to figure it out. We need time to figure it out. It’s early in the season. We know that. They know that. At the end of the year the Rockets are gonna be a helluva basketball team. At the end of the year I’m hoping we’re gonna be a helluva basketball team.”

Or at the very least not have to do a check of driver’s licenses to find an identity.