Posts Tagged ‘Jason Kidd’

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Raptors interested in Rondo | Reports: Nets pursuing Jack, Hill | Report: Wolves, Grizz talking trade | Report: Knicks interested in Hawks’ Teague | Kidd went against D-Will in recent practice

No. 1: Report: Raptors showing interest in Rondo — Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, in the midst of a career-best season, has helped Toronto climb to the top of the Atlantic Division standings and has the team poised to end its lengthy playoff drought. But Lowry is also an unrestricted free agent this summer and whether or not he’ll be with Toronto in 2014-15 is very much an unknown (our David Aldridge spelled out some details on his future there a few weeks ago). Lowry remains a target of the New York Knicks (see below) and his current team appears to have eyes on another star point guard. According to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun, the Raptors are in multiple point guard-related trade talks, the foremost being a discussion to bring Celtics All-Star Rajon Rondo to Toronto:

UPDATE, 11:43 a.m. ET: Now, it seems, the Knicks are getting in on the Rondo action, too, per this tweet from ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

UPDATE, 11:08 a.m. ET: While Rondo continues to have his name tossed about in trade rumors, Sean Devaney of The Sporting News reports that it is unlikely that the All-Star guard will be dealt before Thursday’s deadline:

As has become the custom, any period of NBA trade activity features Celtics guard Rajon Rondo prominently. Also customary, though, is this: Sources told Sporting News this week that there is very little chance the Celtics find a deal involving Rondo this year.

“It really is the same thing, teams call about him but the Celtics want him and he wants to be the leader of that team,” one source said. “It has always been his intention to establish himself in that role, to be part of the rebuilding and to stay in Boston for a long time. Nothing has changed.”

The Toronto Sun reported that the Raptors also inquired about Rondo, but a source told Sporting News that, unless there is a multi-team deal, Toronto does not have the assets to land Rondo. Which has been typical of the conversations involving Rondo for the last two years — teams call and ask, the Celtics give an idea of what it will take to make a deal happen, and the conversation ends there.

Rondo can be a free agent in the summer of 2015, and while preliminary discussions on a contract extension were held, the sides were never close to agreeing to a deal. Boston’s long-term plan is to focus on the summer of ’15, when they might be able to pair Rondo with some member of that year’s free-agent class, which could include Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, Brook Lopez and DeAndre Jordan — some of the league’s best big men.

Add the Celtics’ two picks in the stocked upcoming draft to that mix, and Boston will be ready to be a playoff team again after just a short retooling.

Of course, if the right deal comes up before that, the Celtics would make it. But it is unlikely that such a deal would include Rondo.

Here’s Wolstat’s earlier report on Rondo:

Ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, the Raptors have been involved in talks with multiple teams that would change the team’s point guard situation significantly.

With the New York Knicks continuing to aggressively pursue Kyle Lowry, who has turned in a career season, Toronto has explored complicated deals that would bring back a replacement for the soon-to-be free agent.

It’s no secret Boston has dangled four-time all-star Rajon Rondo league-wide and while the asking price is steep, he has piqued the interest of Toronto’s front office, according to multiple sources. Toronto is eager to up its “star” quotient and is also enamoured with Rondo’s resume, particularly his four all-defensive team selections (two all-NBA first team). He has many backers in the organization.

Rondo would not come cheaply. Bulls.com’s Sam Smith said the price is believed to be “two unprotected first rounders” while one source told the Sun the ask is a combination of at least one lottery pick and talented young player.

Knicks owner James Dolan reportedly nixed a deal earlier in the season and Lowry responded by playing the best basketball of his career. He’s sixth in the league in three-pointers made, eighth in assists per game and sixth in win shares. With the future of star forward Carmelo Anthony uncertain, Dolan apparently has reconsidered as New York looks to improve its roster.

Sources confirmed that Atlanta is also aggressively shopping young point guard Jeff Teague, despite matching Milwaukee’s four-year, $32-million offer sheet to Teague last summer. Teague, who had a tremendous start to the season, has struggled mightily since the Hawks lost all-star big man Al Horford to injury. Teague could be a cheaper, fallback option in either Toronto or New York, should those team’s preferred choices fall through.

On the Boston side of things, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is still mulling what to do with Rondo and the team’s many other assets:

“The public probably views us more as sellers than as buyers,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Boston Globe recently. “But I do think that people around the league know that we have some good players — good veteran players, good young players — and lots of draft picks. I’ve had calls for both.

“I’ve had teams contact me with the idea of trying to acquire young players and draft picks, and I’ve had teams that have called that are looking to get some of those. And I’ve had teams that have called looking for some of our veteran players as well. I think it just depends on who you talk to, but I think everybody knows that we have a lot of young assets.”

Assets, yes. The Celtics potentially have as many as 17 draft picks over the next five years, 10 in the first round.

“Again, I think that we’ll be opportunistic. We’re just waiting for an opportunity to do something good. And I think it’s important, again — you can’t force these opportunities. You can’t just be so hungry for a deal that you try to do a deal. You’ve got to be patient. At the same time, you’ve got to be aggressive.”

In previous years, the Celtics were looking to add a piece or two that could help with a postseason push, but that isn’t the case now with the team 19-35, the sixth-worst record in the NBA.

“I think the difference between other years and this year is that there’s a lot of different directions we could go,” Ainge said. “In past years, we’re focusing on just getting better for the playoff run. And now, we’re looking for possibilities of flexibility, young assets, things of that nature, but, at the same time, [we’re] opportunistic for any deals that could come along and speed up our rebuilding process.”

Said Ainge: “If our record were reversed, I think there would clearly be a different role at this point. But we are what we are. I think that I’m more concerned with how we’re playing, how individuals approach their job, who’s developing as a player and fitting in with our new coach and our system and how that will work. There’s a lot of things to consider.”


VIDEO: The TNT crew discusses Rajon Rondo working himself back into game shape

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No. 2: Report: Nets interested in Cavs’ Jack, Lakers’ Hill — Neither the Cleveland Cavaliers nor the Brooklyn Nets are where they’d thought they’d be in the Eastern Conference playoff race when the season began. As such, both teams are reportedly interested in making trades and may end up doing business with each other — with the Los Angeles Lakers also thrown into the mix — as the trade deadline draws closer. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports has news on a potential Lakers-Nets swap while ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ohm Youngmisuk has info on a Cavs-Nets trade being bandied about

Here’s Wojnarowski on a potential trade that could bring Jordan Hill to Brooklyn:

The Los Angeles Lakers have had discussions on a deal to send forward Jordan Hill to the Brooklyn Nets, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Nets have a $5.25 million disabled player exception that they can use in a trade or free-agent transaction until March 10, and could use a portion to absorb the remaining $3.5 million on Hill’s expiring contract.

Nevertheless, the luxury tax penalty on absorbing Hill’s contract would be extraordinary for Brooklyn: Nearly $17 million. Hill could give the Nets a capable power forward and center replacement for a run at the postseason, but ultimately ownership would have to be willing to sign off on expanding its record $190 million-plus combined payroll and luxury tax.

And here’s Stein and Youngmisuk on a trade between Cleveland and Brooklyn that would land Jarrett Jack in Brooklyn and Jason Terry in Cleveland:

The Brooklyn Nets are interested in acquiring Cavaliers point guard Jarrett Jack and have had discussions about a potential trade with Cleveland involving Jason Terry, according to sources briefed on the talks.

The Nets (24-27) emerged from the All-Star break sitting 3½ games behind the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors and want to upgrade their bench and backcourt.

Jack, 30, is averaging just 8.5 points on 39.7 percent shooting in 25 minutes a game in his first season with the Cavs after a strong 2012-13 season with Golden State.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Nets, eager to add a proven ballhandler and backcourt scorer to their bench rotation, are willing to take on the two remaining guaranteed seasons worth in excess of $12 million left on Jack’s contract despite the luxury-tax implications.

But it’s believed that the Cavs, if they decided to go ahead with such a move, would try to find a third team to absorb Terry’s contract. Terry, 36, has one season left on his deal after this one at $5.85 million and is averaging just 4.5 points on 36.2 percent shooting in 16 minutes per game.

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No. 3: Report: Wolves, Grizz talking trade –The Memphis Grizzlies bolstered their team a few weeks ago with the additions of NBA D-League standout James Johnson and by pulling a trade for Celtics guard Courtney Lee. Both players have infused energy and 3-point shooting, respectively, to Memphis’ season and have helped get the Grizzlies back into the playoff mix out West. But despite that turnaround, Memphis is exploring a trade with the Minnesota that would send veteran small forward Tayshaun Prince and fan favorite Tony Allen to the Wolves for small forward Chase Budinger and guard J.J. Barea. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports has more:

The Memphis Grizzlies are discussing a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves centered on forward Chase Budinger and guard J.J. Barea, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Memphis wants to include forward Tayshaun Prince into the package and the deal could be expanded to include guard Tony Allen, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Components of a proposed deal are still fluid.

Memphis has been furiously trying to unload Prince and the remaining $7.2 million (2013-’14) and $7.7 million (2014-’15) on his contract, league sources said.

Minnesota general manager Flip Saunders is believed to want to add defensive toughness to his roster, and that would make Allen a natural to fill the Wolves’ void.

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No. 4: Report: Knicks eye Hawks’ Teague, remain interested in Lowry– Back in mid-December, the Knicks nearly pulled off a trade for Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, but that deal fell apart when New York’s brass balked at Toronto’s request for a future first-round pick. Despite that, the Knicks remain interested in trying to work a trade for the near-All-Star guard and have also shown interest in Hawks point guard Jeff Teague as well.

Marc Stein of ESPN.com has the scoop on the Teague talks:

Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague has emerged as an appealing trade target for the New York Knicks, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Knicks, leading into Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, are calling all over the league in an attempt to upgrade at point guard.

Teague’s name has surfaced as a prime target given the Knicks’ increasing fears that their longstanding top choice — Toronto’s Kyle Lowry — will not be made available before the deadline, according to sources.

The Knicks have been chasing Lowry all season, as ESPN.com first reported in November. But sources indicate that Lowry and his advisers expect to finish the season in Toronto with the playoff-bound Raptors before he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Teague’s name has thus surfaced as a prime alternative, provided that the Hawks are willing to part with him.

The Hawks would have to be interested in Iman Shumpert – and eager to shed Teague’s long-term contract — to give New York any hope of assembling a package to land the point guard.

And Ian Bagley of ESPNNewYork.com has more on the Knicks’ continued interest in Lowry:

With the NBA trade deadline three days away, the Knicks continue to try to engage the Raptors in an attempt to acquire point guard Kyle Lowry, according to league sources.

The Knicks are offering packages including Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton and Beno Udrih, sources say. They have been reluctant to include sharpshooting rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. or a future first-round draft pick in any deal. One of those two pieces is believed to be a prerequisite for Toronto to consider giving up Lowry.

“It comes down to, can they talk themselves into getting rid of a first-rounder or Hardaway Jr. for Lowry?” one league source said.

Recent reports have stated the Raptors are no longer willing to deal Lowry, content to see how the rest of the season plays out. Lowry has been one of Toronto’s best players, and dealing him would send a bad message to the fan base.

One scenario to keep an eye on, though, is the possibility of a three-team deal involving the Hawks and point guard Jeff Teague. Atlanta has all of its first-round picks in the next four drafts and could conceivably send one to Toronto to satisfy the Raptors’ demand for a draft pick.

League sources say a scenario in which Teague ends up in Toronto, Shumpert goes to Atlanta and Lowry winds up in New York has been discussed. Another scenario could have Teague ending up in New York. The conversations are believed to be preliminary.


VIDEO: Raptors coach Dwane Casey talks about trade deadline day nearing

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No. 5: Kidd squares off against D-Will at Nets practiceTry as he might, Nets point guard Deron Williams hasn’t been able to consistently recapture in Brooklyn the style of play that made him an All-Star during his days with the Utah Jazz and the Nets’ days in New Jersey. In an effort to try and spark some of those old juices in his star, Nets coach Jason Kidd reportedly took to the court at a recent practice and squared off against D-Will, writes Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Don’t let the tight suit fool you: Jason Kidd can still ball and still has those juices flowing.

During another disappointing and injury-riddled season for Deron Williams, Kidd stepped on the court and went head-to-head with the point guard in a spirited exchange at a recent practice, a source told the Daily News.

That’s one way to get through to the underachieving star: challenge him with Hall of Fame skills.

Exactly three years ago next week, the Nets acquired Williams in the franchise-altering deal with the Jazz, giving up a top prospect and two first-round picks for what GM Billy King called “the best point guard in the NBA.” It led to a debate about who acquired the better player at the 2011 trade deadline — the Nets with Williams, or the Knicks with Anthony.

But Williams has failed to live up to any expectations while battling injuries and confidence issues. Considering the MVP talk last summer, this season is probably the 29-year-old’s most disappointing, as he is averaging 13.3 points and 6.6 assists on 45% shooting. According to ESPN, the Nets turned down an offer to trade Williams to the Rockets, who were trying to package Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

“(Williams) is never going to get back to where he was in Utah,” Charles Barkley said recently. “His best days are behind him.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pelicans coach Monty Williams doesn’t think Tyreke Evans or Eric Gordon will be dealt anytime soon … Sixers swingman Evan Turner is watching and waiting out the trade talks surrounding him … The Bulls still aren’t expected to do much at the trade deadline … Former Sixth Man of the Year Award winner Lamar Odom has signed with a team in Spain … The Celtics reportedly talked about trading Rajon Rondo to the Kings, but that discussion fizzled out … Portland is reportedly out of the running for the 2017 All-Star Game

ICYMI of The Night: The LeBron James All-Star Interview aired on NBA TV last night and it’s quite compelling, especially LeBron’s explanation of his early years with the Heat …


VIDEO: LeBron James opens up about his first season in Miami

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 17


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Early Thursday, Woodson indicated that Smith would likely play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

***

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

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


VIDEO: Roy Hibbert denies Carmelo Anthony at the rim

Blogtable: In The End, Knicks Or Nets?

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.


Team due to surge, slip | Ultimate pro | Knicks or Nets?


Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks (Kent Smith/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks (Kent Smith/NBAE)

If you had to pick just one to make the postseason: Knicks or Nets?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comThe Knicks. Tyson Chandler is working his way back. Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez is done. Big difference. Mike Woodson vs. Jason Kidd. Big difference, too. Carmelo Anthony has a job market to firm up for himself heading into summer. And the Nets’ grand experiment already seems like a failure that a low seed won’t erase, undercutting more of the Brooklyn vets’ motivation.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In a world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. So count on Carmelo the Cyclops to raise the Knicks from the depths of the garbage heap that is Eastern Conference and any day now the New York media will be talking about their chances of winning The Finals.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comGot to say the Knicks, but mostly because of what the Nets are lacking — as in their starting center and point guard. Obviously Brook Lopez is done for the season and Deron Williams‘ cranky ankles are again causing issues. This is very worrisome. The Knicks have ‘Melo and are getting bodies back. They’re turning it around now and if Tyson Chandler can ever stay on the floor with any consistency, they can really start to climb the standings in the woeful East.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comKnicks. I would have taken the Nets at full strength, but Brook Lopez is that much of a difference maker while picking the least of the worst. Tyson Chandler is back from illness, Carmelo Anthony will always score, the Knicks will hit some threes and Manhattan will finish ahead of Brooklyn.

Jason Terry, Joe Johnson (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE )

Jason Terry, Joe Johnson (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE )

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: These two teams have basically been within a game or two of each other all season. New York has a slightly easier schedule going forward, but Brooklyn has been the better defensive team as both have made a little run here in January. I’ll give the edge to the Nets because of the defense, because they should have a healthy Deron Williams coming back to give a boost to the offense, and because they’re a little deeper (with Andrei Kirilenko back in action). But really, it’s a toss-up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI hope they both make it, because I think the playoffs will be that much more compelling with both New York teams in the Eastern Conference mix. But if had to pick just one, the Knicks strike me as the team that would make things most interesting in a postseason scenario, regardless of the matchups. There is such a ridiculously high unpredictability factor with the Knicks (J.R. Smith, Amar’e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert, etc.) that I really don’t want to experience the first round of the playoffs without Mike Woodson’s motley crew involved. Of course, it will help if they are reasonably healthy come April (Tyson Chandler in particular). We know the Nets aren’t going to get Brook Lopez back this season and the idea of watching them stretch Kevin Garnett to his limits in a first-round matchup against either the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat. Granted, we might end up seeing all four of these teams square off in some form or fashion, provided both the Knicks and Nets get off the canvass in time to battle for those final two spots in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: As a New York City resident, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the Knicks are the New York-area team that will make the postseason. I say this for a few reasons, one of them being that Mike Woodson always seems to figure out a way to salvage a season or series. Also, with the Nets losing Brook Lopez for the season, their best low-post scoring threat is now AWOL, and that affects them more than I think some fans realize. But mostly, I think the Knicks will make the playoffs because of J.R. Smith. Oh, sure, he’s benched right now and out of the rotation, but something will click and he will figure out his role and return to the form he displayed last season, and will in turn help carry the Knicks to the posteason. Or something like that.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: Brooklyn. They are too talented not to make a run at some point when they all lock-in and play like they are supposed to — and that’s even with the injury to Brook Lopez. New York is certainly up to par in terms of talent, but there are too many off-court distractions. Combine that with a lack of defensive-minded players and maturity issues from their players that can start a downward spiral for the team.

Simon Legg, NBA AustraliaProbably the Knicks. They seem to have improved their defense in 2014 and Melo is starting to look better as well. He’s become more of an active passer, which has led to others getting involved, particularly Iman Shumpert — who has been putting up some nice numbers. Back to their defense. In their last seven games their defensive rating has improved from 105.8 to 99.9, good enough for eighth in the league in that seven-game stretch. If they continue to defend this well, they have a better chance than the Nets.

 Jacopo Gerna, NBA Italia: I’m pretty sure both of New York’s teams will get to the playoffs. But if I have to pick just one, I’ll go with the Nets. Brook Lopez’s injury was a big blow. When he went down, they lost their best player. On the other hand, if D-Will (not the best version of D-Will ever, but a solid PG for sure) and Paul Pierce are going to stay healthy, the Eastern Conference level will allow Jason Kidd to reach his first playoffs as a coach.

Heat Rising On Coaching Hot Seats

This is the time of year when the holidays are past, decorations packed away and the chill of winter sets in.

Unless you’re the coach of a struggling NBA team. It’s the time of the season when the heat starts to build and then roar like the inside of a fireplace and somebody gets burned.

By Jan. 18 last year, when the struggling Suns cut loose Alvin Gentry, four NBA coaches had been fired. Gentry followed Mike Brown, Avery Johnson and Scott Skiles out the door and that was just a warm-up to the off-season purge that eventually brought 13 new coaches into the 2013-14 season.

Now as the midway point in the schedule approaches, the temperature is getting hot at the bottom of the standings and there are more than a few coaches feeling the heat:

Jason Kidd, Brooklyn Nets

Record: 11-21

Thermometer reading: Boiling.

Team owner Mikhail Prokorov and general manager Billy King thought it was a simple task to throw out gobs of money to fill up a roster with old men and then get a future Hall of Fame point guard to trade in his jersey for a jacket and clipboard. But Kidd has seemed less interested in doing the necessary on-the-job training dating back to his first game ever in charge on the sidelines when he was taking in-game phone calls during his Orlando Summer League debut. He dumped Lawrence Frank as his right hand man and is becoming more withdrawn, except when ripping his team for the media. Just when it seems that his team has tuned him out, they win at OKC. It only makes the entire flop of a start more disappointing.


VIDEO: Go inside the Nets’ huddle with Jason Kidd

Mike Woodson, New York Knicks

Record: 10-21

Thermometer reading: Sizzling.

Despite the fact that owner James Dolan has told the team that no major changes are forthcoming and Woodson’s job is safe, check back in another month just before the trade deadline. Carmelo Anthony is healed and says he’s back in the lineup for the whole run through the Texas triangle that began with a shocking win in San Antonio. But ‘Melo has already called the Knicks the laughingstock of the league and there is no indication that the bad jokes will stop anytime soon. Hard to believe Woodson could survive another gaffe like the uncalled timeout against the Wizards. Because it’s New York — and that’s supposed to be synonymous with championships (even though there hasn’t actually been one since 1973) — Woodson will have to take the fall if it becomes apparent that the Knicks won’t even make the playoffs in the no good, horrible, very bad Eastern Conference.


VIDEO: Woodson still thinks the Knicks can win the Atlantic Division

Tyrone Corbin, Utah Jazz

Record: 11-24

Thermometer reading: Slow boil.

The Jazz franchise and the owning Miller family are not prone to making quick, emotional decisions. That’s probably a big reason that Corbin even made it through the bloody 2013 offseason when change was the norm. With his long time ties to the organization, he was moved into the job when Jerry Sloan quit in 2011 and was expected to be a smooth hand on the tiller as the Utah jockeyed for a low playoff berth. That job has changed dramatically with Utah’s full-on youth movement and it’s up to Corbin to show that he’s the man who can lead the turnabout. So far, it’s not working. He keeps playing veterans Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams and doesn’t have the young nucleus of Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and Alec Burks carving out any kind of identity. Without a contract extension, the hand-writing has been on the wall since the beginning of the season. But if the Jazz keep in free fall, GM Dennis Lindsey may have to pull the switch sooner.


VIDEO: Tyrone Corbin talks about Utah’s victory over the Milwaukee Bucks

Mike D’Antoni, Los Angeles Lakers

Record: 13-19

Temperature reading: Slow boil.

There’s not a hotter seat in the league than coach of the Lakers … unless your name is Phil Jackson. It’s all about the legacy and all those past Lakers championship banners that Doc Rivers had covered up when he took the job with the Clippers. Unless you’re on the verge of hanging up another banner, nobody is going to be happy. And it’s never a good thing when your coach admits after a listless loss at home to the lowly Sixers that he doesn’t really know why his team often plays with a lack of energy or interest. Yes, he’s been without Kobe Bryant for all but six games and the Lakers have enough other injuries (Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Xavier Henry and Jordan Farmar) to fill an ER. But if the Lakers are hopelessly buried — and who says that hasn’t already happened? — by the time Kobe is ready for his second comeback, a head could to roll.


VIDEO: How will Kobe Bryant’s injury affect the Lakers long-term outlook?

Randy Wittman, Washington Wizards

Record: 14-15

Temperature reading: Warm.

It’s about the end of the line for second and third chances and any more excuses for Wittman. Even though he’s had to go for a stretch without Bradley Beal, Wittman has had a healthy and productive John Wall doing all that he can from the season opener. The front office helped him out in the middle by unloading the infirmed Emeka Okafor for Marcin Gortat. The response has been a steady coming together of a team making a run at the .500 mark. It’s really quite simple: the Wizards have to make the playoffs and any dramatic swoon in the coming weeks could make Wittman an in-season casualty.


VIDEO: NBA Action takes a closer look at the Wizards’ season

Mike Brown, Cleveland Cavaliers

Record: 11-21

Temperature reading: Simmering

The Cavs’ old boss was brought back to return a sense of familiarity and stability to a franchise hoping for progress with its young talent to even make a certain native Ohioan (aka LeBron James) look at Cleveland again when he becomes a free agent this summer. Instead, Brown has not found a way to prevent Kyrie Irving from becoming a ball-hog in the eyes of some of his teammates. The Cavs were supposed to be making a run as a real playoff team rather than bickering like the Real Housewives of Cleveland. That’s no way to recruit LeBron or keep your job.


VIDEO: The Starters crew discusses the Cavs’ fallout with Andrew Bynum

Dave Joerger, Memphis Grizzlies

Record: 14-17

Temperature reading: Cool.

The Grizzlies have lost their teeth, their identity and the intimidating factor of playing at the Grind House. They’re 7-11 at home and even the absence of the injured Marc Gasol should not excuse that. But let’s face it. Team owner Robert Pera and his crew forced Lionel Hollins out the door and hand-picked Joerger as their man. If they gave him the boot so quickly, they’d really be admitting they blew it. So he’s safe for now.


VIDEO: Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger discusses the team’s loss to Chicago

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 28


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron suffers strained groin | Beal injures left knee | Kidd losing support | Dolan talked to Knicks | Pacers can get better

No. 1: LeBron suffers strained groin — If Russell Westbrook‘s and Al Horford‘s injuries weren’t enough, there were a couple of more significant ones suffered during Friday’s nine-game slate. And the four-time MVP, one of the most durable players in recent memory, was not immune. In the process of passing Larry Bird and Gary Payton on the all-time scoring list, LeBron James suffered a strained groin, as reported by Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report:

It wasn’t especially apparent when LeBron James made the first three-pointer, or the second, or third, that late spree of nine points in 31.3 seconds of overtime nearly saving the night for the Miami Heat.

But after he spoke to the media and revealed that he’d strained his groin sometime way back in the second quarter, James’ discomfort became painfully clear.

The simple walk to the shower was a struggle.

“It ain’t feeling too good right now,” James said.

And so, now, after the Heat dropped a 108-103 decision to the Sacramento Kings—their sixth loss this season to a team currently under .500—there’s a cloud over another of the team’s highly anticipated showdowns.

After a day’s rest, James scored 24 points, with nine rebounds and seven assists in a Dec. 18 victory against Indiana. This time, though, only 20 hours separate James and the Heat from tipoff against the team with the NBA’s best record, the Portland Trail Blazers.

Will James play?

“See how it feels tomorrow,” James said.

***

No. 2: Beal injures left knee — Earlier in the night, the Wizards suffered a scare when Bradley Beal injured his left knee in the fourth quarter of a loss in Minnesota. Michael Lee off the Washington Post has the story:

Bradley Beal banged left knees with Minnesota Timberwolves forward Luc Mbah a Moute, spun around and dropped on his back side. He tried to stand but collapsed again. Gasping and grimacing as he looked down, with his hands and knees on the hardwood, Beal kept pushing, telling himself to get up from the floor and walk over to the Washington Wizards’ bench. Until he finally relented.

“I really couldn’t get up,” Beal said. “I just fell because it was no way I could possibly move after that.”

The Wizards were well on their way to a humiliating 120-98 loss to the Timberwolves when Beal caused a panic amongst his teammates and fans with 4 minutes 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Martell Webster had just hit a three-pointer to bring the Wizards within 21 points. He turned and walked away but quickly was running back to check on Beal, who didn’t leave the floor until teammates Trevor Ariza and Jan Vesely lifted him on their shoulders and carried him to the locker room.

After having a precautionary X-ray, Beal moved down the hallway with the assistance of crutches but left the arena on his volition, limping and holding back his emotion. Beal will have an MRI exam Saturday in Washington but was encouraged about his outlook.

“The X-ray was pretty positive,” Beal said before smiling to catch himself. “It was negative. My bad. It was negative. That’s a good thing. I was hoping it wasn’t anything too, too serious or too crazy. Hopefully, I’ll be good moving forward.”

So, as the Thunder and Hawks (and Bulls and Nets and Lakers and Celtics) already dealing with extended absences from their All-Stars, the Heat and Wizards await further word on James’ and Beal’s injuries.

***

No. 3: Kidd losing supportThe Nets ended their four-game losing streak with a comfortable win over the Bucks on Friday, but it will take a lot more than a win over the worst team in the league to get Brooklyn back on track. And Jason Kidd might not have the answers needed. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! reports that Kidd has begun to lose some support within the organization:

The Nets had tried to be supportive of Kidd, but patience is running low on the belief he can deliver the structure and organization desperately needed. As the Nets have devolved into chaos, Kidd has increasingly isolated himself within the locker room and organization, sources told Yahoo Sports. From management to players, Kidd has shown an inability to manage crisis and keep the respect of his players.

Rifts exist between old players and new, trust eroded with every humiliating loss in this 9-19 season.

And yet, somehow, Kidd believes he can keep publicly eviscerating his players’ character and desire and spare himself blame and responsibility. For those around the Nets with a sense of history and irony, they remember Kidd running ex-coach Byron Scott out of his job for offenses born of this failed playbook.

Here’s the question management is grappling with: Does Brooklyn start unloading its star players and stay the course with the coach, or unload the coach and let someone else manage these star players?

***

No. 4: Dolan talked to KnicksThe Knicks may be in worse shape than their neighbors in Brooklyn, but apparently they have owner James Dolan‘s word that they shouldn’t fear for their jobs. As Marc Stein of ESPN reports, Dolan spoke to his players and coaches on Thursday, telling them that he’s not looking to shake things up:

Knicks chairman James Dolan told New York players in a meeting Thursday that there are no trades or changes to the coaching staff forthcoming, ESPN.com has learned.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Dolan gathered the team before the first practice in the wake of New York’s embarrassing 29-point home loss to Oklahoma City on Christmas Day largely in an attempt to hush the growing speculation about coach Mike Woodson’s job security following the Knicks’ 9-19 start.

The discussion came amid increasing signs the Knicks’ effort and focus under Woodson is waning on top of the significant injury issues that have plagued them all season.

It’s believed Dolan took the step in an attempt to persuade Woodson’s players to band together and throw their full support behind the embattled coach to help dig New York out of the sizable hole it finds itself with essentially one-third of the regular season in the books, the sources said.

When an emboldened Woodson met reporters after Thursday’s practice, he promptly announced he still thinks New York can rally from its poor start to win the Atlantic Division.

“We won it last year, and I expect us to win it this year,” he said.

***

No. 5: Pacers can get betterDanny Granger has shot just 5-for-22 in his first three games back from a strained calf, but his healthy return means that the Pacers have room for improvement. Indiana now has a two-game lead in the loss column at the top of the Eastern Conference, but they don’t feel like they’re a complete team until Granger has been fully integrated into the rotation, as Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star writes:

Though Indiana (23-5) has outscored its past three opponents by an average of 25.8 points – and a repeat rival, the Brooklyn Nets, fills the dance card Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse – coach Frank Vogel sees room for improvement, specifically with the full integration of Danny Granger in the rotation.

“I think (the rotation) will feel like it’s complete when Danny’s complete,” Vogel said. “Danny’s going to have ups and downs over the next six weeks where he’s just getting his legs under him, getting his rhythm and timing back. That’s going to be a process. Once he gets up to speed then it will feel complete.”

Since Granger made his season debut on Dec. 20, the Pacers have looked like a mighty force. That’s not to credit Granger as the cause for the three-game winning streak – shooting just 23 percent from the floor, he has consistently preached patience about getting his conditioning and rhythm back. Still, the Pacers have moved Granger from the end of the bench to 20 minutes per game quite effortlessly.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Avery Bradley can put the ball in the basketChris Paul takes the blame for the Clippers’ two-game losing streakComing off the bench has worked well for Danny GreenMichael Kidd-Gilchrist had his cast removed … and Metta World Peace revealed that he’s an alien.

ICYMI: Derrick Favors beat the Lakers with this throwdown on Friday…


VIDEO: Favors’ game-winning putback

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 26


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant vows to return this season | Report: Kidd calls out Nets; Pierce unhappy with role | Bogut gets under Clippers’ skin | Concerns about Spurs as contenders

No. 1: Bryant vows to return this season — Save for six games this season, Kobe Bryant has found himself in a spot he’s never been before during the season: watching games in a suit from the sidelines. As Bryant recovers from a knee fracture he suffered last week, he remains steadfast that he will not shut himself down for the rest of the season. Our own Sekou Smith was on the scene in Lakerland yesterday and has more from Bryant and what his future is looking like in L.A.:

Any suggestions that he might shut it down for the season Bryant insists are not only misguided but just plain foolish. He has an obligation to get through his latest rehab stint and get back on the court with the Lakers and chase the playoff berth they have been planning on since he missed out on it last season.

“No, not that I’m aware of,” Bryant said when asked if there was any chance six games would be the total of his workload this season. “My job as an athlete is to train, get healthy, get strong and come back and do my job.”

Some Christmas it turned out to be for him. Instead of squaring off against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat under the brightest of lights, Bryant instead spent his day watching the action. Before he suffered that latest setback, Bryant had this matchup circled on his calendar.

“This was a really big measuring stick,” Bryant said of the matchup against the Heat. “Because of their speed, their activity and their size. I was really looking forward to this game to be able to measure where I was physically, especially with the time frame I came back. I was really looking at this game to measure what I can do and what I can’t do.”

When asked if he thought pushing to get back from the Achilles injury had anything to do with the knee fracture, Bryant resisted the urge to go off.

“Because it’s Christmas I will refrain from being a smart ass,” he said. “I don’t think one had anything to do with the other. I mean, we evaluated it pretty extensively. The fact of the matter is, any of us can get hurt at any moment. The key for us at athletes is to block that fear out. And when you have injuries that fear is enhanced. You kind of put yourself under a microscope and you start thinking about it too much. It can happen to anybody. So you just have to tune that noise out and go out there and perform.”

“The biggest part of my game the last two or three years has been getting to a space on the floor and then elevate and shoot pull up jump shots or get into the paint,” Bryant said. “It was a great test going up against Tony Allen, who in my opinion has been the guy who defended me the best individually since I’ve been in the league. And with four games in five nights, to be able to go up against him and respond to that challenge … I was feeling really good about things.”

With that feeling gone and another month or so to grind away getting ready for yet another comeback, Bryant has not lost any of his fire.

“My spirits are fine,” he said. “My spirits are fine. I feel more locked in now than I have my entire career because of this. My spirits are fine, focus is great and we’re just going to have to see what happens when I come back.”

***

No. 2: Report: Kidd calls out Nets after loss; Pierce continues to struggle – We pointed out in this space on Christmas Eve that Nets coach Jason Kidd was none too pleased after Brooklyn’s blowout loss to Indiana, going as far as to say his team was getting complacent with all the losing going on this season. Kidd was reportedly even more upset after yesterday’s 95-78 loss at home to the Chicago Bulls and according to ESPNNewYork.com’s Ohm Youngmisuk, he and veteran forward Kevin Garnett blasted the team following the defeat:

Following the Brooklyn Nets’ embarrassing 95-78 Christmas Day loss to the Chicago Bulls, an exasperated Jason Kidd called his players out in the locker room, according to multiple league sources.

Tired and upset with a lack of effort, Kidd’s outburst came after the Nets dropped their fourth straight game, sources say. The first-year head coach said Monday after a 103-86 loss to Indiana that the Nets were becoming too comfortable with losing.

The frustration is mounting. According to league sources, after Kidd yelled at the team on Wednesday, Kevin Garnett stood up and vented his frustration before walking out to the showers. Multiple sources stressed Garnett backs Kidd and that the veteran’s frustration has been building over some of his teammates’ lack of fight after the Nets lost by 17 points for the second straight game.

Sources also said Garnett’s walking out was viewed as him being one of the few Nets to care about the team’s downward spiral.

“At the end of the day, the coach can only hold you responsible for energy and effort,” Kidd said. “If you’re not giving it, I have to take you out. If you’re missing shots, that’s just part of the game. But if you’re not giving energy or effort, I’ve got to take you out.”

“I’m even surprised with this season, how it’s played out. It’s like a nightmare,” Deron Williams said after the latest blowout loss. “The way the injuries have been and the things we talk about every day: the lack of energy, the lack of effort. I didn’t see that being a problem when we put this team together.”

What Kidd said he has not been able to stomach is the team’s almost apathetic approach when adversity hits in a game and the opponent makes a run against them.

“I think it is getting very close to just accepting losing,” Kidd said of the mental state of the team on Monday. “We are kind of getting comfortable with losing.”

“And we got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in?” Kidd continued. “And most of the time right now, we do.”

Garnett and Williams disagreed and said they don’t accept losing. But the Nets were still blown out by Chicago.

While Garnett reportedly went off on the team’s effort and play against the Bulls, his teammate, Paul Pierce, saw his season-long woes hit a new low against Chicago. He went scoreless for the first time since his rookie season and, as Howie Kussoy of the New York Post reports, is looking unhappy with his off-the-bench role:

Following Paul Pierce’s first scoreless game since he was a rookie — an 0-for-7 performance in Monday’s loss to the Pacers — the 10-time All-Star and former NBA Finals MVP had another miserable day Wednesday, shooting 1-for-8 from the field and finishing with six points in the Nets’ 95-78 loss to the Bulls at Barclays Center.

In the previous 15 seasons, there were only three games when Pierce didn’t start, but the veteran forward has now come off the bench in seven of the past eight. Pierce has shown discomfort in his new role, and also seems unhappy with rookie coach Jason Kidd’s distribution of minutes.

“You’re coming off the bench, you’re not a primary option, and you sort of try and force things,” Pierce said. “You don’t get the looks every night that you’re used to getting over the years, and I’ve grown accustomed to that. I’m usually the third or fourth option when I’m on the court, and sometimes it’s going to be like that. Minutes over the last few games have been different. I played less minutes last game, less minutes this game. When you have inconsistency in your minutes sometimes, you have some inconsistency in your play.”

***

No. 3: Bogut’s spirit wears down Clips, Griffin — If the hubbub of Christmas Day got you worn down and you missed the Clippers-Warriors game last night, it was a dandy. While the final score was close — a 105-103 win for home-standing Golden State — what most folks are talking about this morning is the chippy play between the squads that led to Blake Griffin and Draymond Green getting ejected and a postgame scuffle between the teams as well. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper was on the scene and looked at how Warriors big man Andrew Bogut didn’t cause any scuffles, but did what he could to get under the Clippers’ skin:

Bogut being in the middle of conflict is part coincidence — he didn’t do anything at the end to deserve the parting gift from Barnes — but also surely part plan. He wanted to wear on Griffin just as he would be willing to instigate his own teammates in practice if he felt the Warriors needed to rumble to find their inner fight. He will create havoc to generate stability.

“The little thing between me and Blake, I don’t think he should have been thrown out,” Bogut said. “Just get up and brush it off and go down to the other end, in my opinion. That kind of stuff doesn’t bother me too much.

“It’s not like I go home and pencil the Clippers in and say, ‘I’m going to be physical and try to get a technical foul and try to give the league money.’ That’s just the way the game went. He was being physical, I was being physical, and we both didn’t take a step back and that’s how it should be. I think it’s good spectacle for you guys (the media) and the fans.”

For all the attention that goes to his defense, rebounding and passing, demanding intensity through toughness is one of the primary contributions Bogut provides that’s largely unseen in public.

Early in his career here, after he arrived via a trade with Milwaukee and as he was healing from a lengthy ankle injury, he said he wouldn’t hesitate to start a fight in practice if he felt teammates needed to be, um, called out. He would be insistent and unforgiving in the way a lot of rosters need to be held accountable.

There have been times in practice where fights seemed possible — “We’ve been close,” Bogut said, “we’ve gone at it. Guys are talking smack and it gets pretty testy” — but the Warriors have yet to cross that line with punches thrown, he said. It doesn’t seem necessary with this team that will play hard without the internal conflict, however temporary.

But Wednesday against the Clippers, it was a different story.

“Blake Griffin was hot and I tried to do everything in my power to try and frustrate him and stop him,” Bogut said. “I didn’t want him to get thrown out. I just tried to make life tough for him, and that’s the way it worked out. I’m going to give extra-effort plays and dive on the floor and take charges, and I think guys see that. I think without words, you see a guy doing that, and I think it can give us a spark.”


VIDEO: Warriors claim chippy win over Clippers on Christmas Day

.***

No. 4: Concerns about the Spurs as contenders?At 22-7, the San Antonio Spurs have the Western Conference’s third-best record and are a mere 1 1/2 games behind Portland and Oklahoma City for the No. 1 spot. That would cause you to think there’s no reason to worry in the land of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Co., but you might be wrong about that notion. Our own Fran Blinebury was at last night’s Rockets-Spurs game from the AT&T Center and saw first hand how another upper-crust team in the West — Houston — had their way with the Spurs:

The Rockets may or may not yet be a real contender, depending on the day of the week or their interest in being professionals who show up with the same level of commitment each game.

For a holiday night, at least, the most noticeable difference wasn’t those form-fitting jerseys with sleeves, but the way the Rockets strutted into the AT&T Center and did everything this side of ripping the drumstick off the turkey and clubbing the Spurs over the head with it.

It was the difference in 3-point shooting, in having a fourth-quarter closer in James Harden, a defender in Jeremy Lin who wrapped up Tony Parker in pretty paper with a bow, an inside tandem of Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones and in energy.

The Rockets, when they have their heads on straight, are as powerful and devastatingly effective as a blizzard and they buried everything about three feet under with an opening quarter of howling wind.

Meanwhile, the Spurs are looking like one of the polar ice caps that is thawing and melting from climate change.

Despite their gaudy overall record, the Spurs are now 0-7 on the season against the top six teams they’ve faced, giving up 115, 112, 111, 111, 115, 113 and 94 points.

In their four home losses this season — Rockets (2), Thunder and Pacers — they have trailed by double digits every time and were down by at least 18 in three of them. It was the 10th time in their last 14 games that the Spurs have given up at least 100.

For years the Spurs have kept holding open the window on a championship era that was said to be closing and last season perhaps convinced everyone that the Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili can grow older than Methuselah and never fade away. Then there is this.

For weeks now, the Rockets have shown fleeting glimpses of how often they can stomp down on the accelerator, how good they can be, how far they can go. Until the next night when they just don’t.

Sometimes a game is just a game and sometimes it’s a snapshot that shows generations changing.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Heat are well aware of just how quickly the clock can tick on a career … Why did Chandler Parsons sport a nearly shaved look on Christmas Day? It was to pay tribute to a fan riddled with cancer … The Magic are expected to either cut or find a way to trade former Most Improved Player of the Year winner Hedo Turkoglu by Jan. 7 … Lakers big man Chris Kaman is taking eating healthier to a whole new level … Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is trying to figure out how to best manage the minutes of D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich at the point

ICYMI Of The Night: If you somehow managed to NOT see the Dwyane Wade-to-LeBron James off-the-glass fast break alley-oop yesterday in Los Angeles in person, you missed out on one of the all-time great Christmas Day game plays. But, at least you can relive it here …


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade finds LeBron James with the off-the-glass fast break alley-oop

10 Teams Make A Merry NBA Christmas!




VIDEO: LeBron James and the Miami Heat will help supply the Christmas Day fireworks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It can’t possibly get much better than what the NBA has lined up for its fans on Christmas Day. Ten teams, five great matchups and an all-day basketball showcase on the biggest day of the year.

And we get to see it all unfold, game-by-fantastic-game. And it all starts with …

BULLS AT NETS, Noon ET  (ESPN)

Keep an eye on: The visiting Bulls are a superstar down with Derrick Rose in street clothes, while the Nets will play without an All-Star of their own in Brook Lopez. But that won’t stop either one of these playoff combatants from a year ago from going after each other in the Christmas Day opener.  Tom Thibodeau‘s Bulls never back down from a fight. And the Nets have to prove to themselves and the rest of the basketball world that they are better than what they’ve shown thus far.

It certainly doesn’t help matters when Nets coach Jason Kidd talks like this after losses, “We are kind of getting comfortable with losing. And we got to make a stand with that because, when things get tough, do we just give in? And most of the time right now we do.” But the truth hurts, especially on Christmas. And right now the Nets aren’t playing up to their payroll or the standard so many people predicted they would when this group was assembled over the summer. What better day to turn things around?

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VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant will go toe-to-toe on Christmas in New York

THUNDER AT KNICKS, 2:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

Keep an eye on: As if the Knicks didn’t have enough to worry about, Carmelo Anthony rolled his left ankle early in the third quarter of Monday’s win over the Orlando Magic and did not return to the game. It’s unclear whether or not he’ll be available against a Thunder team that has been steamrolling the competition this season. Knicks coach Mike Woodson just got Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton back from injuries, he can hardly afford to lose Anthony with his job seemingly on the line every night. Anthony insisted he’ll be ready to go against the Thunder. “I don’t want to miss that game,” he said. “It’s Christmas Day at the Garden. I’ll be there. Hopefully, I’ll be there.”

You don’t have to worry about Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook showing up and balling out. They do it every night. One of the top scoring duos in the league this season, they rarely miss an opportunity to make an impression on the biggest stage. They are also still smarting from their first home loss of the season (Sunday against the Toronto Raptors) and the only way to remedy that for this ultra-competitive bunch is to take it out on the Knicks in their lone trip to Madison Square Garden this season.

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VIDEO: The Spurs and Rockets battle for Texas bragging rights on Christmas

HEAT AT LAKERS, 5 p.m. ET (ABC)

Keep an eye on: Kobe Bryant relishes showdown games as much as any superstar has before, during and probably after his time in the league will have ended. So you know it’s particularly painful for the Los Angeles Lakers’ star to have to sit this one out against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. But that knee fracture will have Kobe stuck in his Christmas suit behind the bench. The Lakers have to continue to tread water with Kobe out for at least five more weeks and hope that they can stick around the Western Conference playoff chase during that time.

The Heat have health concerns of their own to consider with Dwyane Wade continuing the season-long monitoring of his knees. While he doesn’t have to worry about a back-to-back scenario for this game, the Heat have been extremely cautious with him thus far — he sat out Monday’s overtime win over the Hawks due to “general soreness.” That strategy is paying off, too, as the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week is averaging 26 points on 60 percent shooting from the floor in his last five games.

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ROCKETS AT SPURS, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Keep an eye on: Dwight Howard has to be enjoying this extended stretch of not being at the center of each and every controversial headline surrounding the NBA. After nearly two straight years of non-stop drama, the Houston Rockets’ big man is having  a solid bounce-back season alongside fellow All-Star James Harden. A marquee matchup against a future Hall of Famer like Tim Duncan should be the perfect fuel to get Howard’s competitive juices flowing on this day. Duncan, after all, is the man who overtook Howard last year as the center on the All-NBA first team.

Finals heroes Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green have not ascended to superstardom, as some might have imagined they would after the way both men played against the Heat to end last season. It’s just not the “Spurs’ Way” for youngsters to take on roles bigger than the ones Gregg Popovich has designed for them. Both Leonard and Green have struggled a bit amid the increased expectations this season. But it would be nice to see them both in the starting lineup against the Rockets, if only to bring some sense of normal to a season that has had little of it around the league.

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VIDEO: All 10 Teams Of Christmas

CLIPPERS AT WARRIORS, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Keep an eye on: A fitting end to a day loaded with this sort of action is undoubtedly having two of the league’s most exciting and entertaining teams dueling before arguably the best crowd in the league. The Warriors, with Andre Iguodala finally back in the lineup and comfortable, need all the quality wins they can get after getting off to a shaky start this season. The Warriors’ turnovers and oft-times porous defensive effort has not allowed them to take full advantage of the position they had assumed after last season’s playoff run. They’ve been to careless with all of it far too often.

The Warriors will face a Clippers team with similar issues. While Chris Paul continues to operate at a MVP level and Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford supply their usual All-Star-level production, the Clippers (believe it or not) miss J.J. Redick‘s presence on the floor. Paul needs a backcourt mate capable of spreading the floor on a consistent basis in order to take full advantage of the Clippers’ assets. Their defensive shortcomings, however, remain one of the biggest concerns for coach Doc Rivers. But you knew it would take more time for them to get adjusted on that side of the ball. And to be honest, that should be a moot point against the Warriors. The Christmas Day nightcap figures to be an offensive shootout anyway!

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VIDEO: NBA players and teams show the true meaning of the season by giving back

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: Highlights from all of Monday’s NBA games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo sprains ankle | Pierce, Nets implode, Kidd explodes | Dirk climbs all-time list | Wade sits, LeBron shines | End of the Lottery?

No. 1: Melo leaves with sprained ankle– As if enough hasn’t happened to the New York Knicks in the season’s first two months, now they’re dealing with a sprained left ankle to their best player, Carmelo Anthony. The club’s leading scorer limped to the locker room in the third quarter of New York’s 103-98 win over Orlando. Yes, the Knicks still managed to hold on and win. Oh, to make matters worse, point guard Raymond Felton, who had just returned from injury, left in the fourth quarter with a strained right groin. Both players will be reevaluated Tuesday and Anthony insisted he’s hoping to play on Wednesday, Christmas Day, when the Knicks play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder (2:30 ET, ABC).

More from Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“It’s on. I still have it. It ain’t going nowhere, so I’ll be there,” Anthony said of his sprained ankle. “Hopefully, I’ll be there. … It’s Christmas in the Garden. I don’t want to miss that game. I don’t know, I’m hard-headed sometimes when it comes to that. But I’ve got two days.”

The Knicks (9-18) constructed a 24-point cushion at halftime and still led 72-52 when Anthony went up for a rebound of his own miss and landed awkwardly, with his left foot coming down on the foot of Orlando forward and Long Island product Tobias Harris with 7:26 remaining in the third.
“Melo’s a tough kid. He don’t sit down very often,” Mike Woodson said.

Anthony, who also battled knee and shoulder problems last season, described this ankle injury as “not as severe” as one that kept him out of two games this time last year.
Still, Anthony limped to the bench and remained there for several minutes while receiving treatment from trainer Roger Hinds. During a timeout with 5:43 remaining in the quarter, the pending free agent headed for the locker room and did not return.

“The pain was too much. I was actually trying to walk to see if I could get back in the game. There wasn’t no reason for me to go out there and risk it anymore,” Anthony said. “But I’m walking. I think I caught it before it rolled all the way, but it rolled pretty bad. We’ll evaluate everything (Tuesday), but the good thing is I am able to walk with a little bit of pain.”

Felton was back in the lineup after missing the previous six games with a strained left hamstring, scoring 13 points with four assists in 25 minutes before he collapsed to the floor following a midair collision with Jameer Nelson with 3:21 to go.
Felton, who also missed time earlier this season with a pinched nerve in his hip, admitted he “felt a pop” in his right groin.

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No. 2: Pierce ejected, Kidd explodes – With the Nets down 19 points to the East-leading Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce, in the midst of a horrible personal season, took down Indiana’s George Hill on a fastbreak. The play was ruled a Flagrant 2 resulting in the automatic ejection of the former Celtics great. But that’s not as bad as it got. Following the Nets’ 103-86 to fall to 9-18, rookie head coach Jason Kidd went off on his underachieving team that just two days ago lost All-Star center Brook Lopez to a broken foot. Kidd’s most damning quote of his club: “Well I think it is getting very close to just accepting losing. We are kind of getting comfortable with losing. And we got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in and most of the time right now we do.”

ESPNNY.com’s Mike Mazzeo has more:

The Nets came into the season with the NBA’s highest payroll — an estimated $190 million counting the impending luxury tax — and extremely high expectations. But they’ve failed to meet them.

During the summer, Nets general manager Billy King mortgaged the future, relinquishing several future assets to acquire veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry in an effort to try and win now. But so far, it hasn’t worked out.

On Monday night, Garnett and Pierce both left without talking to the media. Pierce was automatically ejected after being accessed a flagrant foul 2 for clotheslining Pacers point guard George Hill, who tried to finish a layup in transition with 4:22 remaining in the third quarter. He could face a fine or suspension from the NBA league office as a result.

Pierce (0-for-7) was held scoreless for the first time since March 9, 1999 — the 16th professional game of his 16-year career. Garnett went 3-for-10 from the field in 19 minutes. Both players have struggled mightily while trying to fit in with their new team for the majority of the season.

Told of Kidd’s comment, point guard Deron Williams said, “I’m not. I’m not comfortable losing. It’s not fun. Not only when we’re losing during the game, but when I go home sitting there and thinking about it, it’s not fun.”

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No. 3: Dirk passes English, destroy RocketsEvery few games it seems Dirk Nowitzki is passing another legend of the game on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. On Monday night, Nowitzki overtook Denver great Alex English for No. 13. The Mavs’ sweet-shooting 7-footer did it in style, dropping 31 points on Dwight Howard and the Rockets to move to 2-1 against their Southwest Division rival this season. Nowitzki, of course, traveled to Los Angeles with owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle over the summer to recruit the free-agent Howard, who preferred the situation in Houston. Nowitzki scored 10 points in the final nine minutes to help Dallas protect the lead and end a two-game skid.

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News was there:

Dirk Nowitzki simply said: Come on, boys, and climb on my back.
“Listen, he’s the great Dirk Nowitzki,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “The guy has changed the game with the way he plays. The game is not the same. He changed the power forward game forever, and it’s reflected in the modern game now. He’s a great player.”

Nowitzki piled up 31 points, including 10 points in the final nine minutes when the Mavericks were protecting a nice lead they had earned in the third quarter. Along the way, Nowitzki passed Alex English for 13th place on the all-time NBA scoring list.

His play was made possible in part by the shooting of Vince Carter, Jae Crowder and Jose Calderon, all of whom loosened up the Houston defense in a third quarter that the Mavericks won by 15 points to turn the game around.

“They had a lot of respect for our shooting at that point,” Nowitzki said. “So they were a little hesitant to double me. And I got to take advantage of the matchups when they play me with 6-7, 6-8 guys and I can shoot over them. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole career.”
And so the Mavericks still have not had a three-game losing streak this season. They stopped the skid at two with their gutsiest victory of the season.

It’s worth noting that the Rockets were playing without leading scorer James Harden (ankle), point guard Patrick Beverley (hand) and center Omer Asik (thigh).

As such, the Rockets leaned heavily on Dwight Howard, who was a beast all night. But the Mavericks held most of the other Rockets in check in the second half.

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No. 4: Wade sits, LeBron shinesThe Miami Heat continued their cautious approach toward Dwyane Wade and his cranky news, sitting the superstar yet again Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks. This time it seemed it would be too much for Miami to overcome. Then again, they do have LeBron James, who had 38 points and one massive late fourth-quarter dunk over Paul Millsap that helped get the game to overtime and allow the Heat to take a 121-119 decision.

David J. Neal of the Miami Herald has more:

No Dwyane Wade. Later, after an elbow to the jaw, no Chris Bosh, either. But the Heat still had a LeBron James, and could pull a Michael Beasley off the bench. And then a Ray Allen and, even for the last 2.3 seconds, Bosh.

Which is how the Heat outlasted the Hawks 121-119 in overtime Monday night. Allen got the Heat to overtime. Beasley provided the game-winning free throws. Bosh provided the long arms.

“The one thing I did like about this game, in the last couple of years with this group, if we’d given up 17 threes in a game, we don’t win that game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s ninth win in a row over the Hawks. “It would collapse our spirit and our mind.”

Beasley had 10 points. Allen had 19. James scored 38 points on 16 of 28 shooting, six of his last seven as the Heat came from 11 down in the second half. As remarkable, James had six assists without a turnover. About the only thing James didn’t do well was hit free throws (two of six).

“For the basketball aficionado out there, this is a game where you see his full skill set,” Spoelstra said.

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No. 5: End of the LotteryWith a multitude of front offices seemingly setting up their teams to be very bad this season with an eye toward what is believed to be a very talented draft class, and the league quite sensitive this whole notion, a proposal for a change to lottery system might be floated to owners in 2014.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe has the story:

We can also search for solutions, and there are lots of folks in the league office and among the 30 teams who find tanking abhorrent — who bristle at the idea that the league has incentivized teams to be anything but their best every single season. One detailed proposal, submitted by a team official, has gained initial traction among some high-level NBA officials — to the point that the NBA may float the proposal to owners sometime in 2014, according to league sources. Other top officials in the league office have expressed early opposition to the proposal, sources say.

The Proposal

Grantland obtained a copy of the proposal, which would eliminate the draft lottery and replace it with a system in which each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once — and exactly once — every 30 years. Each team would simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year. Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year, up to 30 years out from the start of every 30-year cycle. The practice of protecting picks would disappear; there would never be a Harrison Barnes–Golden State situation again, and it wouldn’t require a law degree to track ownership of every traded pick leaguewide..

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni tells fans to find another team if they’re discouraged … According to a report, attempts to revive Kyle Lowry trade talks failed … Metta World Peace to have same blood-spinning procedure as Kobe Bryant … In wake of Brook Lopez injury, Nets will file the paperwork for a Disabled Player Exemption

Making A List, Checking It Twice …

We’re making a list, checking it twice. On Christmas Eve, it’s time to remember who’s been naughty or nice in the first two months of the 2013-14 season:

Naughty — Nets — There isn’t enough coal in Newcastle to fill up the deservingly drooping stocking that hangs over a forlorn and underachieving mantle in Brooklyn. Why would anyone think it would make sense to trade for 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 36-year-old Paul Pierce, 36-year-old Jason Terry as part of $102 million-payroll and put the whole thing in the hands of a guy who had never coached a game in his life? Then Jason Kidd gets extra naughty by intentionally spilling a drink when he doesn’t have a timeout against the Lakers. They have a mediocre offense and the 29th-rated defense. Now they lose Brook Lopez to a broken foot. So it won’t be a Happy New Year either, Billy King.

Nice — LaMarcus Aldridge — From Damian Lillard to Nicolas Batum to Robin Lopez to coach Terry Stotts, there are many contributors to the rousing start to the season by the surprising Trail Blazers with the best record in the league. But no one has done more to elevate his game and his team to the elite level than Aldridge. He labored faithfully through seven seasons with a roster that virtually fell apart around his ears, listened to so much talk of trades and has come back to deliver a magnificent season that has him firmly in the MVP conversation.

Naughty — Knicks — Remember when they used to play basketball in New York? The Manhattan edition of the NBA can’t shoot, doesn’t rebound and Carmelo Anthony is saying the Knicks’ troubles are all in their heads. Would that be the heads of the players and the coach who can’t think to call a timeout in the final seconds to set up a shot? If things don’t turn around fast, Mike Woodson’s going to be the fall guy even though there have been enough injuries to fill an ER and the myth of the Knicks as true playoff contenders entering the season was no more real than a team of flying reindeer pulling a sleigh across the sky.

Nice — Suns — If you went to a Las Vegas sports book during training camp and plopped down a sizable lump of cash on the Suns to beat the over/under prediction of 21.5 wins, you’d probably be only a week or two away from returning to book a penthouse suite with your winnings. First-year coach Jeff Hornacek has his club riding the backcourt pairing of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic with a rotating cast of other contributors to a 17-10 record and a spot right in the thick of the tough Western Conference playoff race. When the Spurs were in town last week, the entire Phoenix roster had played the same number of NBA games in their careers combined as 37-year-old Tim Duncan.

Naughty — Ricky Rubio — Sure, it’s fun to sit in front of the big screen TV and keep hitting the rewind button on the DVR to replay all of those behind-the-back, no-look, over-the-shoulder, through-the-opponent’s-legs, thread-the-needle, oh-my-gosh, how-did-he-do-that, head-on-a-swivel, slicker-than-a-greased eel passes that get his teammates easy layups and dunks. But come on, two years plus into your NBA career, you’ve got to be able to knock down a wide open jump shot when teams give them to you. Which they do and which you don’t. Which is a big part of the reason why your Timberwolves are healthy and still underperforming.

Nice — Kevin Love — After missing 91 games over the past two seasons to injury, Love’s return to good health and a nightly spot in the lineup has been a sight sweeter than sugar plums dancing in the Timberwolves’ heads. How does a guy who is always a threat to score 30 points and pull down 20 rebounds get better? He becomes a better passer, nearly doubling his assists to 4.2 per game. Outside of The King down in South Beach, there’s just nobody in the league you can count on more every night.

Naughty — Grizzlies — There are more excuses than places to hear the blues in Memphis. But the bottom line is that even before Marc Gasol was sidelined with a knee injury, the Grizzlies were going south. They simply haven’t bought into new coach Dave Joerger, still can’t shoot from the perimeter and Zach Randolph seems to have lost his inspiration. The Grind House was a fun place while it lasted.

Nice — LeBron James — Maybe the only thing that stops him from winning MVP No. 5 — and third in a row — is boredom. Not his. Ours. He’ll never completely win over the entire public the way Michael Jordan did simply because of the times in which we live. The age of social media allows critics to throw stones and pick nits. There has simply never been anyone this big and this strong and this fast and this complete with still such a large part of the meat of his career ahead of him.

Naughty — Westbrook critics — Now that Russell Westbrook has recovered from two surgeries, returned to the Thunder lineup and shown not the slightest loss of his swagger, is there anyone who still thinks Kevin Durant and the OKC franchise would be better off without him?

Nice —Kendrick the Bouncer — It had to bring a smile to the face — if not a tear to the eye — of every old school scrapper who’s ever laced up a pair of sneakers and just gone after it when Kendrick Perkins unceremoniously ran Joakim Noah out of the Thunder locker room. That’s enough of the 21st century touchy-feely, we’re-all-buddies atmosphere that persists these days. Not enough get-outta-my-face growling between rivals. A team’s locker room is its castle and the only thing that could have made it better is if Perk dumped him into a moat.

Naughty — Omer Asik — Let’s see. For two seasons in Chicago you were averaging just 13 minutes per game and getting relative peanuts. The Rockets signed you to a free agent contract that pays $25 million over three years and last season you started all 82 games and averaged a double-double. That’s nice. But then they signed All-Star Dwight Howard in July. He’s much, much better. You’re still getting your $25 million. Didn’t you read the line about you better not pout? So we’re making our list, checking it twice and — ho-ho-ho — you’re definitely on it.

Happy 35-Year, 117-Day Birthday, Kobe

Kobe Bryant is trying to do something no other wing player his age ever has done (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Kobe Bryant is trying to do something no other wing player his age ever has done (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Kobe Bryant is facing a long road back, considering the destination that probably means the most to him: A sixth NBA championship ring.

Not that he necessarily needs this in chasing it, but we’ve got a teensy bit of extra motivation for him.

First, of course, Bryant has to get his game back, if not to its all-galaxy heights then at least to something reminiscent of who he was and what it was prior to tearing his left Achilles tendon in April. Then he has to fit and shape himself and his teammates on this year’s edition of the Lakers (or the next two) into the ranks of legit contenders.

And then  they have to actually play and win the games, 16 victories in at most 28 games, when the stakes are highest, the pressure is most intense, and fatigue – and in Bryant’s case, Father Time – are laughing hardest.

So just in case Bryant needs a little extra oomph in his quest, here it is: He would be doing something Michael Jordan never did.

As noted on Twitter by “GangstaMoogle” (a.k.a., Tommy), Dec. 18, 2013 is a special day for Bryant because, as of today, he is precisely the same age as Jordan was when His Airness clinched that 1998 NBA Finals with The Shot in Game 6 against the Utah Jazz:

That means, should Bryant win a ring from this point forward, he will accomplish something Jordan didn’t. Didn’t even come close to doing, in fact, given the Washington Wizards’ 74-90 record (no playoffs) from 2001-03 in the former Bulls star’s two late-career seasons with them.

Among Hall of Fame players, no wing player or big-time ballhandler considered the leader of the team — note that we’re not counting big men — ever has won a championship at the age Bryant will be by his next playoffs. Or even tomorrow, according to basketball-reference.com.

Boston’s Sam Jones was 50 days shy of his 36th birthday when the Celtics won again in 1969, but by that point, the five-time All-Star ranked third on his team in scoring (16.3 pgg) and sixth in minutes (26.0).

Gary Payton was 37 when he got his ring with the Miami Heat in 2006 but he was well past his “Glove” prime at both ends, with a PER (10.7) that ranked ninth, behind both Dorell Wright (13.2) and Wayne Simien (11.5).

If you broaden it to include players likely to be enshrined, the Heat’s Ray Allen was at a point similar to Jones, averaging 25.8 minutes as his team’s fourth option. Jason Kidd led the 2010 Dallas champs in assists (8.2) and averaged 33.8 minutes, but by PER (14.4) he ranked no higher than eighth among the Mavericks and 14th in usage (14.3).

Jordan got his sixth ring same as his first five, as his team’s best player and leading scorer. That’s something Bryant might have to, and probably would like to, do for one more.

The odds against him increase with each passing day. And knowing what we know of Bryant, he would have it no other way.