Posts Tagged ‘James Harden’

Morning shootaround — March 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dragic gets revenge against Phoenix | Griffin prepares for return | Harden suspended for kick | Teletovic says Bosh should be fine

No. 1: Dragic gets revenge against Phoenix — After the Phoenix Suns moved Goran Dragic at the trade deadline, both sides publicly took the other side to task in the media. Dragic, for his part, says it was hard to take the accusations of being selfish. Last night, with the Suns’ postseason hopes setting, the Suns went to Miami to take on Dragic and the Heat. Things didn’t go Phoenix’s way, as the Heat not only won 115-98, but the game devolved into a wrestling match. As Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic

It was hard enough to see Goran Dragic polish them off in the fourth quarter and fly off the court in glee, pumping his arm in relief after a foul-plagued first half. It was bad enough losing starting big men Markieff Morris and Alex Len to second-half ejections for a Flagrant Foul 2 and a fighting technical, respectively. It was even worse than committing 13 first-half turnovers to make the rest of the night difficult.

The Suns (31-30) just were not tough enough and know it after a 3-10 stretch.

“We have to find out who on this team is going to be tough,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “In terms of going after balls, we are soft going after everything. Teams just take the ball out of our hands. Maybe they grab your arm but you have to be tougher than that. I don’t know what it is but, when teams get physical, we look like a high school team. We have to get tougher and we have to find tougher guys who are going to battle. I get tired of watching us not go after balls. There is nothing worse to me than being soft and not going after a ball.

“In the second half, we showed some fight. We waited three quarters of getting pushed in the back before we decided to do anything about it.”

Some of that fight wound up hurting themselves. In chasing down Dragic on a breakaway, Markieff Morris was called for a questionable Flagrant Foul 2 in a game in which he already had been assessed his 13th technical foul of the season, which ties him for the NBA lead with Russell Westbrook and puts him three away from an automatic one-game suspension.

Morris tried to check on Dragic after the foul but the officials would not let him. After a review, Morris received a Flagrant Foul 2, which is supposed to be for “excessive and unnecessary” contact but it appeared Morris mostly connected bodies on his challenge.

“It was a hard foul,” Morris said. “It was a basketball play, I thought. The refs thought otherwise and kicked me out. Just overexaggerating. I thought he did fall hard. He was in the air and jumped back. My momentum hit him hard. It was a hard foul. It didn’t look intentional like I tried to push him under there or none of that.”

At that point, Miami took a 68-53 lead off the free throws less than four minutes into the third quarter. About four minutes later, Miami center Hassan Whiteside dunked on Suns center Alex Len, as he often did Monday, and came down on Len, who shoved him off. Whiteside tackled Len to the ground and a scrum ensued, leading to fighting technical fouls and ejections for Whiteside and Len.

Len was unavailable for comment after the game but Whiteside said Len was mad “because I just kept dunking on him.” Whiteside, a midseason sensation, had 17 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes.

“You’re not going to come into Miami and just bully us,” Whiteside said.

(more…)

Kick Of LeBron Gets Harden Booted

The battle for the 2015 MVP Award was a tooth-and-nail battle that nearly turned into royal rumble when James Harden kicked LeBron James in the crown jewels in Sunday’s 105-103 OT win by the Rockets in Houston.

But the league office kicked back with a one-game suspension for Harden. The NBA’s leading scorer will sit out Tuesday night when his Rockets face the Hawks in Atlanta.

The play occurred with 2:08 left in the third quarter and was originally called a Flagrant 1 foul. It has now been changed to a Flagrant 2 upon league office review. The play can be seen here:

VIDEO: Harden kicks LeBron

James, who missed 8 of 11 free throws, including a pair with 4.2 left that could have won the game, said afterward in the Cavs’ locker room that he expected a penalty on Harden.

“Obviously that’s not a basketball play,” James said. “Obviously, the league will probably take a look at it. I have no idea why he would do that, but two competitors just trying to go at it, and he won this one.”

Harden tried to wave off any suggestion of ill-intent. “Just a reaction,” he said. “They called a flagrant. Next play we moved on. … He’s a very good friend off the court. Obviously it’s a battle and just trying to win a basketball game. Just competition against one of the best players in the world.”

Following the win, the Rockets had a bit of fun at LeBron’s expense on their Twitter feed.

Morning shootaround — March 2


VIDEO: Highlights from March 2 of all the action around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Harden humbles James, Cavs | Another blow for already bruised Bulls | Blazers’ Lillard back in rhythm | Warriors are true believers after Boston comeback

No. 1: Harden humbles James, Cavs — The real “King James” stood up Sunday. And the crown didn’t fit the head of LeBron James, not on this day and not with James Harden and the Houston Rockets prevailing in an overtime thriller that lived up to every second of the billed MVP battle between the superstars at the center of this epic race. Statement game? Absolutely. Harden said so and our very own Fran Blinebury weaves the tale of the rise of the man who would be (the new) king:

Rough. Tough. Physical. Contentious. Dirty.

“Yeah, it’s like street ball,” said James Harden. “You grew up playing games like that.”

If Harden keeps growing up any faster, they’re going to have to raise the rafters of Toyota Center just so he doesn’t go straight through the roof.

He’s scored more points in a game this season than he did Sunday. Grabbed more rebounds. Dished out more assists. Played more artistically.

But never been more ferocious, more driven.

You’re damn right that 105-103 overtime win means more when it comes against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

As messages go, this one couldn’t have been delivered more emphatically if it had come wrapped around a brick and tossed through a plate glass window or attached to a flaming arrow.

“M-V-P.”

While there may still be a horse race for the award this season, there’s no doubt which thoroughbred is now galloping ahead of the field.

Less than 72 hours after James stated his case by outscoring Golden State’s Stephen Curry 42-18 in a routine win by the Cavs, Harden provided his response.

James scored more points (37 to Harden’s 33), but took far more shots (35 to 18) to get them. Playing without point guard Kyrie Irving, James controlled the ball like a yo-yo on a string and tried to do too much. Playing without center Dwight Howard, as he’s done for much of the season, Harden simply opened his arms wide to embrace all of the things that had to be done.

“Every time you watch [Harden] play, you’re watching history,” Rockets Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon had said a few hours before the tip. “He’s doing something spectacular. Every night the best defensive player on the other team has to guard him and also the game plan of the other team is how to stop him. And he’s still finding a way to be effective and giving them an opportunity to win every time. So he is definitely the MVP.”

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — March 1


VIDEO: Highlights of the seven Saturday night games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Morris wants more fan support in Phoenix | Harden vs. LeBron for MVP argument? | Randy Wittman accepts accountability in Washington | Rondo back, coping in Dallas

No. 1: Morris wants more fan support in Phoenix — After his team set a franchise-record low for points in a half, and then provided relief for the rodeo road-weary Spurs, Suns forward Markieff Morris addressed the issue of support for the Suns. You could argue the Suns didn’t deserve much on Saturday when they were wiped out by San Antonio and really didn’t put up much of a fight all night. Also, keep in mind that Morris was perhaps speaking out of frustration, realizing the Suns’ playoff chances might be slipping away in the West. Still, he went on a measured rant, wondering why the building never seems noisy enough for the Suns. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic was willing to listen:

“I don’t think we have a home-court advantage,” Markieff said. “It does not feel like a home-court advantage at all. Some games are going to be bad. You can’t win every game. That comes along with sports. Nobody wins games. We need the support. We need, as a team, to know that our fans are going to be behind us and I don’t feel like this year they’re behind us enough.

“I feel like we do have those genuine Suns fans but, for the most part, I feel like we had more San Antonio than Phoenix fans tonight.”

In the first Spurs visit of the season, Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver apologized to fans and offered refunds for a preseason game in which the Spurs did not play their stars. After this Spurs 101-74 drubbing included their stars, the fourth sellout crowd of the season received only advice.

“They don’t boo, but they don’t cheer that much, either,” Markieff said. “We feed off, for the most part, off the energy. I know we’re a lot better than that. I know Phoenix fans are a lot better than that. Like I said, we have a lot of genuine fans that cheers for us – the ones that are in the first row, in the second row, in the third row. Once you go up, you feel like people were just at the game, just watching.”

Markieff made a point to say the sentiment was not specific to Saturday night. The Suns are 17-13 at home this season with six of the home losses coming to losing teams.

“I speak for me and my teammates,” Markieff said. “It depends on who’s playing here. When we have the LeBrons and the D-Wades, we need to be heckling them. We need the fans to win games. We need the energy from them to win a lot of games, and we need that every night, not just certain nights.

“Every night is not going to be a great night. It’s going to happen. Stuff like that is going to happen. We expect more from them because I know they expect more from us.”

***

No. 2: Harden vs. LeBron for MVP argument? — The MVP debate, heating up in recent weeks, will take a turn Sunday when the Cavs play the Rockets and more specifically, LeBron James shares the floor with James Harden. As you know, LeBron is a 4-time MVP winner, Harden is looking for his first, and has a solid chance. He leads the league in 40-point games (6) and 30-point games (25) and has the Rockets squarely in the hunt in the West despite missing Dwight Howard. In fact, an amusing moment happened at the Sloan analytics conference over the weekend when Rockets GM Daryl Morey sat on a panel with Warriors GM Bob Myers had an exchange when asked their thoughts on the MVP race. Morey said Harden; Myers noted that Steph Curry and the Warriors have a better record and are 4-0 against the Rockets. Also on the panel was agent Arn Tellum, who chimed in for his client: “Russ Westbrook is better than both of them.” Anyway, Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk had this:

“Take James Harden off our team, and we’re nowhere,” Morey said.

Fodder for Mark Cuban? Yes.

True? To a degree. Harden has successfully carried a heavy load with Dwight Howard in and out of the lineup due to injury. Houston outscores opponents by 6.2 points per 100 possessions when Harden plays and get outscored by 3.2 points per 100 possessions when he sits.

Of course, Morey has long admired Harden, trading for him in 2012. That deal has been revisited countless times with the Thunder grading out poorly in hindsight – despite how reasonable the deal seemed at the time.

But perhaps Oklahoma City deserves criticism for negotiating poorly, given how badly Morey says he wanted Harden.

“We basically told the owner, ‘We should just give them everything. Like, literally, every possible thing that isn’t bolted down with the Rockets should be traded,’” Morey said.

***

No. 3:  Randy Wittman accepts accountability in Washingtonn — The Wizards have had better weeks and months, but at least Saturday was a better day — barely. They slipped past the Pistons and in the process brought themselves some relief from a 6-game slide and a pair of embarrassing losses to a pair of 12-win teams. The good news is Bradley Beal returned from his injury and so did Paul Pierce. No disrespect to Pierce, but the Wizards missed Beal the most. They don’t have a solid backup at his two-guard spot and as a result, John Wall forced too many shots from distance, the kind he doesn’t usually make. The Wizards scored 60 points in the first half against the Pistons and shot 55 percent. Still, they’ve got a long way to go to match the mojo they had early in the season. And if they don’t, well, plenty of speculation will surround coach Randy Wittman, because this team was expected, by management, to take a considerable step in the East. The playoffs will tell. Anyway, Wittman acknowledged the Wizards have been underperforming. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post had this from the coach …

“First and foremost, I’m the leader of this, of the group, and I’ve got to do a better job,” Wittman said. “I’m not doing a good enough job of putting guys in position to succeed better, instilling the confidence in these guys to go out and play. It starts with me. . . . I’ve got to do a better job, obviously, of getting our guys through tough times. That’s my job.”

Beal and Pierce provided what the Wizards’ offense was sorely lacking — dynamic play on the wing. Both players spread the floor with three-point shooting and attacked seams off the dribble, areas that were glaring liabilities during their previous two losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers.

Their imprint was evident in the first half: The Wizards scored 60 points, shot 55.8 percent from the field and made six three-pointers. Washington played with a sense of confidence and freedom not apparent during much of their rut as Wittman incorporated rotation adjustments. In addition to having Beal play with the second unit, which he often did before his eight-game absence, Wittman added Pierce to the lineup.

“We came out as good as we’ve come out both defensively and offensively,” Wittman said. “Again, it starts with me, and I have to figure it out. I can’t explain to you how you play one half and then as soon as a team makes any kind of run we stop playing. That’s what we do — we stop playing. I have to figure out how to help the guys overcome that.

***

No. 4: Rondo back, coping in Dallas — OK, so it’s over, the Rajon Rondo snit with coach Rick Carlisle. Where do we go from here? As Rondo made his way back into the lineup after a 1-game suspension due to conduct detrimental to Carlisle, both the coach and player have had discussions on how to be on the same page philosophically. Rondo has struggled since arriving from the Celtics and feels the system might need tweaking to his liking. Carlisle seems agreeable to that, but only if it’s in the best interest of the Mavericks, and not just one player. Hey, they’re making an honest attempt here! Tim McMahon of ESPN Dallas offers up this:

“That’s just the way it is,” Rondo said almost an hour after the Brooklyn Nets handed the Dallas Mavericks a 104-94 loss, having wrapped up an extended postgame shooting session. “That’s the system. I’m still learning, and I’ll find a way.”

Of course, it’s Carlisle’s job to help Rondo find a way. That’s why they’ve spent hours talking over the past four days. Some of the plays Carlisle called proved his willingness to adjust, attempting to make the Mavs’ midseason blockbuster-trade acquisition comfortable.

Case in point: Dallas repeatedly ran sets designed to run the offense through Rondo on the block, a new wrinkle for these Mavs but old hat for the four-time All-Star point guard.

“I think he’s mixed some stuff up as far as what worked for me in Boston a couple of years back when we had a great run,” Rondo said. “Just put the ball in my hands in different situations, not just pounding up top. Getting in the post and making plays for my teammates and for myself.”

The results weren’t great in Rondo’s return. He posted a so-so statistical line — eight points on 4-of-10 shooting, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 turnovers — but the Mavs were minus-22 in the 27:43 Rondo was on the floor.

In fairness, Rondo and the Mavs were forced to play without three of their regular starters. Center Tyson Chandler (hip) and small forward Chandler Parsons (ankle) wore sport coats and sat on the bench while nursing injuries. Shooting guard Monta Ellis (4-of-16 shooting) just didn’t show up.

But perhaps the Mavs’ biggest issue is figuring out how to make the square peg that is Rondo fit into the round hole that is the point guard’s role in Carlisle’s system.

If Carlisle had his way, the Mavs would never have to call a play. They’d just play free-flowing offense at all times. But that doesn’t work with Rondo, whose shooting woes allow defenses to dare him to beat them from the perimeter, screwing up the spacing for everybody else.

So the Mavs must adjust their offensive scheme to mask Rondo’s weaknesses and maximize his strengths.

“We’re in a situation where his abilities mesh with our team a certain way, and there is more play-calling when he’s on the floor because that’s been the most successful way for us to play offensively,” Carlisle said earlier this week. “He and I early on talked a lot about the right plays to call and the right tempo to play at and things like that, and we got away from it in recent games. We’ve got to get back to it. That’s on both of us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Russell Westbrook underwent surgery on his right cheek and will not play Sunday … Bismack Byiombo of the Hornets is a good dude, taking the homeless to lunch… Hassan Whiteside grabbed 24 rebounds Saturday and the Heat still lost to a Hawks team resting three starters …

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 22




VIDEO: Highlights of games played Feb. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

“It’s not on us.”

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

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

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

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

***

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

Durant backs off media edginess

Kevin Durant averaged 32 points a game last season in winning his first MVP. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Kevin Durant feels if the Thunder had been healthy, they would be near the top in the West. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Kevin Durant either reconsidered some of his caustic comments that began at All-Star Weekend. Or he got tired of the heat he suddenly was taking and decided affability is a lot easier road to travel than candor when headed toward NBA free agency in 2016. Or maybe one of his many sponsors suggested that an edgier Durant would be costing himself, and them, way too much money if his likeability took a dive.

Whatever the reason, Durant walked back the tone if not entirely the content of the criticism he directed at the media in New York a few days ago. He also clarified some comments in a GQ article that was posted to the magazine’s Web site Wednesday. Durant spoke with reporters after the Oklahoma City’s first post-All-Star practice Wednesday, with Darnell Mayberry and Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman chronicling it in Q&A fashion. Bottom line: “I had a moment. I hope we can get past it.”

Here are some notable excerpts:

Story in GQ created some buzz, specifically the quote about your players not being as good in the past. What specifically did you mean?

I think my words were misinterpreted a little bit. I read that this morning and felt bad, but I was just talking in terms of how the public views our team, how everybody views us. Everybody talks about the James Harden trade to this day. Everybody else is asking about a player that’s a three-time All-Star, leading scorer in the league, so we can’t do nothing about that. I never wanted to slight my teammates like I did, but just from the outside looking in, that’s how people view us. That we got worse. But we can’t control that. That’s what really I was trying to say, so I’m sorry if my words got misinterpreted, but I never want to slight my teammates.

And:

A lot of people on the outside looking in think that might be a factor in your decision next summer, the fact that they traded James and the talent hasn’t been the same as in the past and you haven’t been to the Finals since. What impact does that decision in 2012 make on your decision next summer?

None. None. We’re still a good team. Still a good team. Let’s be real now. We’d still be up there if we didn’t have injuries. If I wasn’t out, if [Russell Westbrook] wasn’t out, we’d be up there. So don’t act like we a bad team or we got worse. Nah, we had injuries. It’s a part of the game and I understand that, not crying about it. But that’s what happened. We lost Russell for a playoff series, we lost Serge [Ibaka] for a playoff series. Stuff like that happens, but to say all because we lost James we didn’t make it to the Finals. Everybody’s going to have their opinion, especially with the time winding down and the summer coming up with me, but I love where I’m at right now and I’m just trying to focus on that every single day.

And:

We’ve sort of gotten to know you a certain way the first six, seven years and this year you’ve been edgier, you’ve been more outspoken. How do you explain that shift?

Let’s be real. Let’s look at the whole thing. I’ve been in the league eight years. The media and myself have had a great relationship for eight years. I said something. Two days in a row I said something. Am I allowed to be upset one time? Am I allowed to be mad? Am I human? Do you look at me that way? I can’t say nothing wrong? We had great communication for eight years and it’s still that way. But I had a moment. Everybody in life has one. You had one for sure before but it’s not broadcasted like mine. I was more so trying to take up for my teammates, my coach and every guy in the league that gets scrutinized and I don’t like. Maybe I shouldn’t say nothing about it. I had my moment.”

Morning shootaround — Feb. 16


VIDEO: Highlights of Sunday’s 64th All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden

NEWS OF THE MORNING

What’s next for Amar’e Stoudemire? | Westbrook bounces back in a major way | Rally in the works for LeBron, Cavs | Brotherly love shines during All-Star Game

No. 1:  What’s next for Amar’e Stoudemire? — Now that the New York Knicks are finally parting ways with their one-time savior with a buy-out, what is next for Amar’e Stoudemire? All signs point to Stoudemire packing his bags and heading back to the Western Conference, with the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns all believed to be in the mix once he clears waivers. Tim MacMahon and Marc Stein of ESPN.com provide some context:

Stoudemire, who was in the final season of a five-year, $99.7 million contract with the Knicks, had said he would spend the All-Star break pondering his future, specifically whether to ask the last-place Knicks for a buyout to give himself an opportunity to join a team in the playoff hunt.

“It’s not an easy decision to make,” Stoudemire told Yahoo! Sports. “Over time, we will see how things pan out. You give yourself a break during the All-Star break. You think about it with your family. … That will give me a good solid week on how to weigh out the rest of the season.”

The Mavs can offer Stoudemire only the veteran’s minimum, but he would likely have a significant role off the bench as a candidate for minutes at power forward and center behindDirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler.

“He would fit in great because we play a lot of pick-and-roll,” Chandler, who played with Stoudemire in New York the past three seasons, said recently. “Coach [Rick Carlisle] does an excellent job understanding scorers and how to get them the ball and putting them in a position to succeed. Not only that, we’ve got the best training staff in the league. That also helps.”

The 6-foot-10 Stoudemire, a six-time All-Star, has averaged 12.0 points and 6.8 rebounds in 36 games for the Knicks this season despite dealing with a variety of injuries. He missed 14 of the previous 18 games — due to ankle, wrist and knee injuries — before returning in the Feb. 6 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

Stoudemire, 32, has said the decision to request a buyout would be difficult because of his loyalty to Knicks owner Jim Dolan. But he likewise acknowledged in the Yahoo! interview that the constant losing has made it hard for him to remain motivated while playing for the Knicks.

“All possibilities at this point are still open,” Stoudemire said last week. “The door is still open for that. But at the same time, I am with the Knicks now. I got to stay optimistic about things and what we are doing here. I can’t really focus on the future, because it’s not here.

“We still have a couple weeks left before it’s all said and done. It’s a decision I have to make with my family to figure out the best scenario for the near future.”

Carmelo Anthony heard about Stoudemire’s buyout shortly after the end of Sunday’s All-Star Game.

“One of the main reasons I’m a New York Knick today was because of him. To see him leave, to see the situation where it’s at today, I know what he wants and you have to respect that as an athlete as a competitor,” Anthony said. “… When he came [to New York] he brought back some excitement to the game of basketball here in New York. There was hope when he came back. People started believing in the New York Knicks again. He was the main reason for that belief and for that hope.”

***

No. 2: Westbrook bounces back in a major way — No one had more to prove during Sunday night’s 64th All-Star Game than Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, who was not around last year in New Orleans due to injury. He made his presence felt early and often this time around, stealing the show and MVP honors on the big stage at Madison Square Garden. It wasn’t by accident that Westbrook came within a point of tying Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game scoring record of 42 points. Westbrook was a man on a mission. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman explains:

Westbrook was named MVP after scoring a game-high 41 points off the bench to lead the West All-Stars to a 163-158 win over the East inside Madison Square Garden, the renowned arena on 33rd Street and 8th Avenue in which legends have been made.

His scoring outburst, which featured 23 points coming in his first seven minutes, left him one point shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 42, which he set in 1962.

“Definitely a blessing, man,” Westbrook said. “You never want to take no games off, especially an All-Star Game to get a chance to go out and show your talents. I’m blessed to be able to play the game that I love and definitely happy we got the win.”

Westbrook wowed the sold out Garden crowd of 17,198 with a jaw-dropping mix of pinpoint-accurate jump shooting and rim-rattling dunks. He made 16 of 28 shots, including five of his nine 3-point tries. His 27 first-half points marked the most of any player in a half in All-Star game history, topping Glen Rice and Kyrie Irving’s old record of 24.

“It was a spectacular show of athleticism,” said Warriors guard Stephen Curry.

Twelve months ago, many questioned whether Westbrook would ever flaunt this type of athleticism again. He underwent an initial surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee in April 2013. A loose stitch from that procedure necessitated a second operation just before the start of the 2013-14 season. And the day after Christmas 2013, after Westbrook torched the Knicks to the tune of a triple-double in this same arena, he learned that he needed a third surgery to alleviate chronic swelling.

The last procedure forced him to lose 27 consecutive games and his customary All-Star spot.

If last year’s postseason performance wasn’t confirmation enough, Sunday night showed that Westbrook has indeed returned to his rightful place at the pinnacle of his profession.

“That just shows what type of person he is,” said teammate Kevin Durant, who was limited to 10 minutes in this All-Star Game while nursing his own nagging injuries. “Forget the player, just the person. The perseverance he showed, the adversity he went through, just being resilient. It’s a lot of words you can group with Russell Westbrook, man. He’s just tough. I’m so happy that he came out here and did his thing.”

***

No. 3: Rally in the works for LeBron, Cavs — With the busy All-Star Weekend in the rear view and a few days of rest before the second half push of the season begins, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have a little time to get their bearings. They know the mountain left to climb is steep. But it can be done. They’ve already come back from the brink once this season. Now we’ll see if they can do it again. It won’t be easy, though. Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

It’s been a theme for him this season, it was the case for him in the NBA’s 64th All-Star Game Sunday night, and it must hold if the Cavaliers are to continue their momentum in the second half and deep into the postseason.

James logged another brilliant All-Star performance, posting 30 points, five rebounds, and seven assists in a 163-158 loss for James’ Eastern Conference. With 278 points in 11 All-Star games, James is just three points shy of passing Kobe Bryant for the most in league history.

Not only does James, a two-time Most Valuable Player in All-Star games (Sunday night’s MVP was Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook), always play well in them, but he also is a dominate force at Madison Square Garden – where this game was played.

So it should come as no surprise that James was rocketing up and down the court, rattling the rim with dunks and draining threes. He registered one of the plays of the game, catching a third-quarter lob from Toronto’s Kyle Lowry in the third quarter and flushing it with a reverse slam.

Only, on Thursday following a loss to Chicago, James declared in no uncertain terms he needed “rest,” both mentally and physically. He’d had an arduous couple of weeks, dealing with a sprained wrist and sore ankle, and didn’t know until sometime Sunday how he’d approach the All-Star Game.

And then he opened the game with two dunks and tallied 15 points in the first quarter alone. There would be no rest for the weary on this night.

“It’s just a feel,” James said Sunday night. “I understand that my fans, our fans of this great game, voted me in for a reason. They wanted to see me play, see me do what I’ve been doing this year, and that’s why they voted me in. So it’s my obligation, my responsibility to go out there if I’m feeling 80 percent, 85 percent, or 90 to go out there and give my fans something, give them what they wanted to see, and hopefully I did that.”

***

No. 4: Brotherly love shines during All-Star Game — It was a special night for so many, but no one will take away the memories from Sunday’s All-Star Game that the Gasol brothers will relish for the rest of their lives. Pau of the Bulls and Marc of the Grizzlies were in the middle of the floor for the opening tip at Madison Square Garden. It was a historical moment for the NBA and for the Spaniards. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune provides the details:

Numerical symmetry is nice. Brotherly love is something altogether more special.

For the record, Pau Gasol beat younger brother Marc on the historic opening tip for the West’s 163-158 victory over the East in Sunday’s 64th annual extravaganza. It marked the first time in NBA history that brothers started an All-Star Game.

The 321 combined points set an All-Star Game record.

“It’s a great privilege to be in this position because it’s hard to leave your country and get to a new country and compete and climb yourself to the top,” Pau said of his family’s journey from Spain to stardom. “The path is usually harder. So we take pride and understand the value of it and are just proud to represent a lot of people that look up to us.”

That was the sentiment. This was the sibling rivalry.

“It was cool to win the jump ball,” Pau said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New slam dunk king Zach LaVine is betting on himself in a contest with LeBron James … Are the Timbwerolves going to get busy in the trade market before Thursday’s deadline? … The Nets and Thunder could be ready to do business involving Brook Lopez and Reggie Jackson … Jason WThompson is ready to force a trade in Sacramento … The Spurs could be the dark horse team in the Stoudemire sweepstakes

ICYMI, they played the 64th NBA All-Star Game Sunday night at Madison Square Garden …


VIDEO: The All-Star Game Top 10



VIDEO: MVP Russell Westbrook goes off for the Western Conference All-Stars

Harden, Thompson to start for West All-Stars

Steve Kerr will go with a three-guard lineup during All-Star 2015.

Western All-Star coach Steve Kerr will go with a three-guard lineup during All-Star 2015.

It turns out that Steve Kerr did not need the wisdom of Solomon to avoid splitting the baby.

The solution to his problem about what to do with a logjam in the West backcourt was a simple one: He’ll employ a three-guard lineup that puts the Rockets James Harden and Warriors Klay Thompson alongside Stephen Curry.

The “Splash Brothers” teamed up to score 39 points in the Warriors’ 94-91 win over the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Wednesday night just a short time before learning they’d be starting together in the 2015 NBA All-Star Game on Sunday.

As the leading vote-getter in the fan balloting, Curry was set to start, but a bit of debate and dilemma opened when the injured Kobe Bryant was scratched and speculation swirled if Kerr would give the starting nod to his own player Thompson and snub the NBA’s leading scorer in Harden.

But the announcement that the Clippers’ forward Blake Griffin underwent surgery for a staph infection in his elbow and would also miss the All-Star Game gave Kerr the wiggle room he needed.

Thompson and Curry will become the Warriors’ first duo of All-Star starters since 1967, when Rick Barry won the MVP at the Cow Palace and started alongside Nate Thurmond.

Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle had the reaction to the decision:

“For our coaching staff to be handling the Western Conference and to be rewarding us for the wins we’ve had in the first part of the season, I think it’s only right that coach gets to pick his guy and reward Klay for what he’s done this season,” Curry said.

“It’s a cool honor for Klay to have with his head coach manning the team and having both of us in the backcourt.”

Kerr has known for weeks that he needed to name replacements, and he said he lied about not considering his options eight straight times before finally making the announcement after Wednesday’s game.

Joining the three guards in the West starting lineup will be center Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies and forward Anthony Davis of the Pelicans.

Star-studded Three-Point Shootout field highlights All-Star Saturday Night


VIDEO: Star-studded field for Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Forget East versus West. After two years of NBA All-Star Saturday Night pitting one conference against the other, this time, it’s personal. And for once, long range marksmanship may trump dunks as the center of attraction.

NBA All-Star 2015Conference affiliations will be out the window on Saturday, Feb. 14, for the State Farm All-Star Saturday Night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. This year, it’s every man and woman for themselves in the annual Saturday night showcase.

In the Degree Shooting Stars competition, the two-time defending championship team of Chris Bosh, Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash will reunite. Although this is a shooting competition, Team Davis, made up of Anthony Davis, Scottie Pippen and Elena Delle Donne, will have unbelievable length. Other participants include Golden State’s Stephen Curry and his father, retired guard Dell.

Eight players will compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, a three-round, obstacle-course competition that tests dribbling, passing, agility and shooting skills. Seven of those players are point guards, including the defending champ, Utah’s Trey Burke, as well as All-Stars Kyle Lowry, Jeff Teague and John Wall. The lone non-point guard in the field is Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, an All-Star swingman with well-rounded skills.

The Sprite Slam Dunk field was announced a few weeks ago. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zach LaVine, Victor Oladipo and Mason Plumlee bring an energetic edge to the proceedings this season. Brooklyn’s Plumlee is the lone active NBA player with New York ties participating on Saturday night.

Yet even with the loaded dunk field, it may be tough to top the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, which is this year stocked with sharpshooters …

Marco Belinelli, Spurs — Last year’s defending champ, Belinelli has played just 30 games this season due to injury. Belinelli has the lowest 3-point percentage (38.2) of any player in the Three-Point Contest field.

Stephen Curry, Warriors — Drained 10 3-pointers Wednesday night in a 51-point performance against the Mavs. Earlier this season, became fastest player in NBA history to make 1,000 career 3s.

Klay Thompson, Warriors — At 44.6 percent, Thompson trails only Korver in 3-point percentage this season. Thompson and Curry are the only teammates ever to combine for 400 3-pointers in back-to-back seasons.

James Harden, Rockets — Fifth this season in 3-pointers made and attempts, and the NBA’s leading scorer at 27 points.

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — Other than Belinelli, Irving has the least made treys in the field, with 100. But last year’s All-Star Game MVP has a flair for the dramatic, and he knocked down 11 3s in his 55-point performance a few weeks back against Portland.

Kyle Korver, Hawks — On pace to have the greatest 3-point shooting season in NBA history, currently leading the NBA in 3-point accuracy at 53.2 percent. Korver is attempting to become the first player in history among qualifiers to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from beyond the arc and 90 percent from the free-throw line.

Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers — Leads the NBA in 3-pointers made (151) and attempted (375). Has had 11 games this season where he made at least 5 3-pointers.

J.J. Redick, Clippers — Has made 114 3-pointers, putting him on track to break his previous high of 165. Currently shooting a career-high 43.2 percent on 3s.

State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night will be televised live exclusively on TNT on Saturday, Feb. 14, from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.


VIDEO: All-Star guards highlight Taco Bell Skills Challenge

Report: Dwight Howard out for ‘weeks’

Dwight Howard's knee problems don't seem to be going away (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports).

Dwight Howard’s knee problems remain a major issue (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports).

Up to this point, the Rockets have been pitching in by committee to replace Dwight Howard in the middle of the lineup and succeeding. They are 11-5 this season without their starting center.

But now the task of battling for one of the top playoff positions in the Western Conference has likely gotten significantly harder as continuing problems with his right knee will keep Howard out of the lineup for weeks.

Marc Stein of ESPN.com says the Rockets are bracing themselves for playing without Howard for an extended period as he continues to get advice on how to best treat the recurring problem with his knee:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Rockets, while confident that Howard has enough time to bounce back for the regular-season stretch run and playoffs, fear their defensive anchor will be lost for a period of “weeks” as opposed to days.

Howard is still in the process of getting additional consultation from various doctors to determine the best treatment course for the knee.

Yet sources told ESPN.com that the Rockets already acknowledge that a period of rest “likely measured in weeks” will be the minimum requirement before their defensive anchor is ready to the return to the lineup. But sources say Houston nonetheless remains confident that Howard will be able to come back “in plenty of time” to ramp up for the postseason, even if the absence stretches into the six-weeks range.

The Rockets dodged another bullet when the NBA’s leading scorer James Harden went to the floor in the second quarter Saturday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills with a bone bone bruise in his left knee. But Harden returned in the second half of Houston’s 114-101 loss to Detroit.

Howard did not accompany the team on the two-game road trip to Boston and Detroit. He is averaging 16.3 points, 11 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots this season, but had a string of eight consecutive All-Star Game appearances end this week when he was not added to the Western Conference roster by vote of the coaches.