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Morning shootaround — Sept. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

League, teams hoping to create social change | D’Antoni needs buy-in from Rockets | Lue’s hesitation was worth more than $25 million | Road back-to-backs most dangerous

No. 1: League, teams hoping to create social change — In the wake of more deaths of black men at the hands of police and protests in Charlotte, the NBA and the Player’s Association sent out a joint letter to players about plans to take action and promote social change. Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan released a statement calling for peace in the city. And talking with the media on Thursday, Golden State Warriors GM Bob Myers said that his team will put together a panel to discuss the issue. Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle has the story…

As police-involved fatal shootings of black men continue to rock the nation and spark protests in cities and on playing fields, Myers recognizes that Golden State has a unique platform to create positive change.

But before players and coaches can be part of the solution, they must understand the issues. Myers and head coach Steve Kerr recently brainstormed ways to raise awareness of social injustices. Among the ideas is a panel of civic leaders, a list of names for which already has begun.

“We need to practice to play basketball,” Myers said. “But if one day, Steve walked in and said to (our players), ‘We’re not practicing today. We’re actually gonna go meet with these four people.’ That’s much more important and the players, we feel, will carry that with them.”

“What’s happening out in society, that’s not good,” Myers said. “It’s much more important than dribbling the basketball and making shots. What we’re going to try to do as an organization is take some opportunities to try to have these conversations.”

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No. 2: D’Antoni needs buy-in from Rockets — After a successful, five-year run in Phoenix, Mike D’Antoni had less-than-mediocre results in New York (where he went 121-167) and L.A. (67-87). Now D’Antoni is in Houston and as it does in every other NBA gym at this time of year, optimism abounds. The key for the Rockets, according to D’Antoni, is getting the players to buy in and believe in the system. Bleacher Report‘s Maurice Bobb spoke to the coach and Rockets GM Daryl Morey about their hopes for the season …

D’Antoni says he doesn’t think too much about his time in L.A. and New York, but he’s certainly aware of the main issues that plagued those locker rooms.

“I could never get the guys from the beginning to buy into the way we want to play,” D’Antoni told Bleacher Report. “We never got everybody going into the same direction. That was my fault. It happened. That’s in the past. This is a new team. Guys want to play the way we all want to play.”

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is betting that a change of scenery is all D’Antoni needs to flourish again. To Morey, a career .650 winning percentage over five years in Phoenix speaks louder than the well-publicized flameouts in the NBA’s biggest markets.

“The players are improved under him, the teams have improved,” Morey told B/R. “After he’s left, the teams have done worse. We also have had a lot of success playing an uptempo, spread-floor style. Our players fit that, and having his level of experience and knowledge added to our personnel, which is already set up for his style of play, was a huge factor in us hiring him.”

***

No. 3: Lue’s hesitation was worth more than $25 million — When the Cavs fired David Blatt with a 30-11 record in January, they didn’t want to just make Tyronn Lue an interim coach. They offered him a three-year contract. But Lue never signed it, and it wasn’t necessarily because he thought he could get more money if he won a championship. As Joe Vardon writes for Cleveland.com, Lue wanted to make sure the job was right for him. And his hesitation resulted in a much more lucrative deal after the Cavs won their first title…

Lue, 39, knew what he was getting into when he took over for David Blatt last January. He knew Blatt was fired (Lue was Blatt’s chief assistant) despite a 30-11 record and a trip to the 2015 Finals.

He knew of the heightened scrutiny and brighter lights that come with coaching a team led by James, whose every word is dissected by media and fans and who can set off a firestorm with a simple Tweet.

That’s why Lue, born in little Mexico, Missouri, never signed a three-year, $9.5 million contract he had verbally agreed to with the Cavs when they promoted him to take Blatt’s job.

It wasn’t so much that Lue was betting on himself, although the gamble paid off handsomely. He steered Cleveland to the largest comeback in Finals history to win the franchise’s first title, and thus earned an annual raise of more than $4 million.

Lue held off, he said, because “I wanted to make sure it was the “right fit.”

“Was I right for this job?” Lue said, rhetorically. “I hate being on TV, hate dealing with media on TV. All that stuff, I don’t like that. Being with LeBron, who draws all kinds of attention, I knew I was going to see myself on TV. I hate that. I like to fly under radar. I wanted to make sure the fit was right.”

***

No. 4: Road back-to-backs most dangerous — ESPN‘s Tom Haberstroh has the numbers on the increased frequency of occasions where healthy players get a day off to rest, from 19 in 2012-13 to 146 last season. He also talks to professor Masaru Teramoto, who has done a study on injuries in the NBA…

In a study provided to ESPN.com that will be published publicly in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport later this month, Teramoto researched three seasons of NBA injury data, from 2012-13 through 2014-15, in an attempt to determine if certain aspects of the schedule — in particular, back-to-backs and travel — led to players getting injured in games.

What Teramoto found surprised him: Back-to-backs alone are not associated with greater instances of in-game injury, but back-to-backs that are played on the road are significant predictors of in-game injury, generating 3.5 times the injury rate as those played at home.

The problem? Two out of every three back-to-backs are on the road.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Millsap has a knee issue that will keep him sidelined for the next few weeksThe Kings have questions at point guard … Grizzlies.com caught up with a few of the team’s key players to get an update on their recovery from last season’s injuriesDorell Wright is going to camp with the Clippers … and Jason Terry doesn’t think Klay Thompson is in James Harden‘s league.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Lawson to Sacramento | Embiid finally ready? | Divac hope Cousins continues growth

No. 1: Report: Lawson reaches deal with Sacramento — After establishing himself as one of the best point guards in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets, last season was something of a lost campaign for Ty Lawson following a trade to the Rockets. But after sitting out most of this summer’s free agency, as The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes, yesterday Lawson agreed to terms with the Sacramento Kings, where he should have the opportunity to get playing time…

Lawson visited with Kings officials and coaches on Saturday in Sacramento and had planned to meet with New Orleans Pelicans officials early this week – until the Kings offered him a deal on Sunday, league sources said.

Lawson joins a backcourt full of opportunity in Sacramento, where the Kings lost Rajon Rondo in free agency to the Chicago Bulls. Darren Collison is expected to be the Kings’ starter at point guard.

For Lawson, the experiment of coexisting with All-Star guard James Harden didn’t work with the Houston Rockets last season. Lawson agreed to a contract buyout in March after the Rockets sent Denver a first-round pick in a July deal for him. He then agreed to a contract to finish the season with the Indiana Pacers.

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No. 2: Embiid finally ready? — The Philadelphia 76ers drafted Joel Embiid two summers ago with a lottery pick, and the knowledge that he would need some time to get healthy. Since then Embiid hasn’t played a second in a Sixers uniform, as Philly fans have waited to see him get healthy. At an event in Philly this weekend, Embiid made an appearance and said that he’s finally 100 percent and ready to play alongside Ben Simmons. Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com has more:  

“I feel a hundred percent,” Embiid said Saturday at the Sixers Beach Bash. “I’m ready to get started. My summer has been great. We’ve been working out a lot this past summer, just getting some runs in. I’ve gotten a chance to play a little bit against the guys.”

Embiid’s pro career has been sidelined by injuries, undergoing two foot surgeries in as many years. The first was to repair a stress fracture in his right navicular bone. The second, a bone-graft operation on the same bone.

The 7-foot-2 big man has been rehabbing since then, traveling as far as Qatar in the process. This offseason Embiid was cleared for monitored, five-on-five drills. He joined the Sixers during the Las Vegas Summer League to continue his recovery away from game competition.

“It’s been really tough,” Embiid said. “The main thing is, I haven’t gotten a chance to get on the court and play, or help my teammates, or play in front of Sixers fans. I look forward to it and I can’t wait.”

Embiid said he “definitely” plans to be a go for training camp. He expects there will be a transition period once cleared to play given the length of his rehab, but notes he is a quick learner. Embiid also anticipates having restrictions, but has not discussed the specifics with the Sixers.

“Probably,” he said. “But I think the restrictions would probably be about the fact that I haven’t played in two years. It’s not going to be about because people are worried that I’m going to re-injure myself, which I don’t think is going to happen.”

One player who is eager for Embiid’s return is rookie first overall pick Ben Simmons. The two have been friends since high school. They easily gel off the court, and plan to do the same in games.

“He has great footwork, he has great touch, so I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Simmons said, continuing, “Off the court, we’re like brothers. We have fun.”

Embiid has been present with the Sixers for games and practices. He has had numerous conversations with head coach Brett Brown about his days on the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff and how the organization achieved success with fellow big Tim Duncan, one of Embiid’s basketball role models.

With an abundance of bigs, the Sixers will have to determine how they share the floor. For Embiid, who can also knock down long-range shots, he plans to fill whatever role the coaches outline for him.

“I think I’ll take a couple threes, but I’ll do what’s best for the team and whatever I’ll feel comfortable doing,” he said. “Obviously they’re going to need my presence inside and that’s what I’m going to do. But when I’m open, I might fire some threes.”

***

No. 3: Divac hope Cousins continues growth — The Sacramento Kings have seen a lot of changes the last few seasons, but the one constant has been All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins. And while the Kings have changed coaches and players around him, as Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe writes, Kings general manager Vlade Divac hopes Cousins will use his gold medal winning experience this summer to take a step forward:

Vlade Divac is president of the Olympic Committee of Serbia and also general manager of the Sacramento Kings. During the 2016 Rio Olympics, his two worlds collided when his Serbian team matched up with Team USA twice in the Olympic tournament.

The first game was a tight 94-91 Team USA win during pool play. Divac had some fun with Team USA and Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins, promising a Serbian victory if the teams met again. Well, they did meet in the gold-medal game and the Americans were impressive in their decisive 96-66 win.

Cousins turned in his most productive game of the tournament with 13 points and 15 rebounds after being beset with foul trouble for most of the Olympics.

“Boogie played well,” Divac said. “He’s a very talented kid. Hopefully he can bring that positive attitude that he had here to Sacramento next year.”

Cousins is considered one of the more talented centers in the league but has a reputation for being mercurial. He had to convince USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo to name him to the USA Select Team a few years ago, before he was named to Team USA for the 2014 World Cup.

Divac has maintained that Cousins will be a fixture with Sacramento after a tumultuous season that led to the firing of coach George Karl. Has the Olympic experience helped Cousins mature? Divac is banking on that.

“[The Olympics] helps international guys but it also helps NBA guys,” Divac said. “You see a different part of basketball. They can pick up some tricks. That’s how I look at it. When I used to play, I loved playing international because it’s more freedom and more ability to improve.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The recruiting pitches are already starting in Oklahoma City for Oklahoma native Blake Griffin Tony Parker helped out a locker room attendant who got robbed at the Olympics in Rio … The Bucks are hoping Jason Terry still has fuel left in the tankShane Larkin looks at playing in Spain as a stepping stone … If that intern at the NBA offices in New York looked familiar, that’s because it was tennis star Maria Sharapova

Morning shootaround — Aug. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

John Wall has more to say | Donovan on being one-and-done with Durant | Jason and Jason a tandem again in Milwaukee

No. 1: John Wall has more to say — The soap opera surrounding the Wizards and their starting backcourt is either an overblown story that’s dominating a quiet summer, or something real under the surface. If you believe John Wall, it’s the former. To recap: Wall and Bradley Beal, in so many words, see themselves as the face of the franchise based purely on their lead-singer personalities and determination. Also, Beal signed a deal this summer that makes him the team’s highest paid player, while Wall is making Ian Mahinmi money. Well, Wall insists he has no problem with that, and took to social media, specifically “Uninterrupted” to squelch any rumors of unrest regarding salary:

“I just wanted to clear the air for all these people talking about how I’m watching other people’s pockets and I’m not worried about basketball and getting better,” Wall said directly to the camera. “Listen, that doesn’t matter to me. If I produce like I’m supposed to on the basketball court and take care of myself and image, I’m going to be fine with making money. That’s not why I play the game of basketball.”

News of a rift between Wall and Beal came to light earlier this week, when both players acknowledged their difficulties in dealing with each other on the court. Wall point-blank stated the two “have a tendency to dislike each other on the court” in an interview that aired on Comcast SportsNet on Tuesday night.

Beal, meanwhile, described himself and Wall as two “alphas,” insinuating that their difficulties stem from their personalities.

Neither player mentioned Beal’s new contract, which will garner the 23-year-old $128 million over the course of five years. This makes Beal, who will earn more than $22 million this season, the highest-paid player on the team. Meanwhile, Wall, 25, remains the second-highest paid player, despite being a three-time all star. Under Wall’s current contract, a five-year deal that goes through the 2018-19 season, Wall is set to make just under $17 million this season.

“Me, talking about Bradley Beal [making] more money, I’m not mad. I’m happy. He’s my teammate,” Wall said Friday. “He came out at the right time when the contract money came up. I can’t control that.

Wall added that if he does what he’s “supposed to do and the Washington Wizards win,” he’ll get his own salary bump in the future.

Wall also addressed rumors that he was “rankled” over James Harden’s four-year, $118 million extension.

“I don’t care,” Wall said of the Houston Rockets star’s deal. “I’m happy for him. That’s my guy. I’m not mad at him. … Please stop saying I’m watching money. I’m not.”

***

No. 2: Donovan on being one-and-done with Durant Billy Donovan left the University of Florida two summers ago to take his dream NBA job: Coaching Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and a loaded Thunder team. Donovan did well as a rookie NBA coach, but once again OKC came up short of a championship after blowing a 3-1 lead on the Warriors in the West finals. Compounding matters, of course, was losing Durant to free agency weeks later. Donovan is now left holding the bag with just Westbrook inside, and the coach often wonders what-if he had that duo intact at least for another season. He recently spoke to the Vertical and shared his thoughts on Durant joining the loaded Warriors:

Billy Donovan did not go as far as saying that he thought Kevin Durant would definitely re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency, but the coach told The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski that he felt good about their chances after their meeting.

From The Vertical Podcast:

“I don’t know if I ever felt like he was going to necessarily come back, but I thought our meeting went very, very well. I think Kevin on the front end was very, very, honest that when the season ended, he was going to go through this process and he was going to take a meeting with us, obviously, first. And then he was going to have some other teams he was going to meet with. And I think a little bit later on, after the season ended, they decided to do it out in The Hamptons. But I thought the meeting that we had went very well. I think we talked about basketball, we talked about our team, we talked about direction, we talked about obviously his leadership, his role, all those kind of things.

“I think leaving the meeting it was very, very positive. I thought it was very, very clear. I think there was direction on both sides. But one thing I think with Kevin was going through nine years in the organization, he was at a point of time when he was allowed obviously to be a free agent and go through this process and start to gather some information. We were the first meeting. So obviously, I think being in college for so long and you go through recruiting, you know that during that process, things can change through some of these different meetings. And obviously after meeting with Golden State, things probably in his mind changed in terms of what he was evaluating.”

Essentially, as ESPN’s Royce Young reported, the Thunder were optimistic after speaking with Durant for five hours in Oklahoma City. They were less so after he started listening to other teams. Elsewhere in the podcast, Donovan says that he always knew there was a possibility that Durant would leave, but as a coach, he knew he couldn’t control that. In Donovan’s words, Durant earned the right to go through the process, so all he focused on was trying to make the team better. On the Fourth of July, Donovan’s job immediately became about what has to change next year.

Ever since Durant’s decision, there has been all sorts of conjecture about why he did what he did, what it means and whether he made the right or wrong call for his legacy. Donovan, though, sounded completely uninterested in that. He said he would have loved for Durant to return, obviously, but he wasn’t particularly concerned with why it didn’t work out. Now that he’s gone, it doesn’t matter how well Oklahoma City played in the playoffs last season, and it doesn’t matter how much planning and preparation went into its presentation to Durant. The pitch didn’t work, and the Thunder have to move on.

***

No. 3: Jason and Jason a tandem again, now in Milwaukee — The last time Jason Terry and Jason Kidd needed each other was in Dallas. Neither had a championship ring for all of their years in the NBA, and the aging teammates helped produce one of the bigger Finals upsets when they beat the favored Heat in 2011. And now, as coach of the transitional Bucks, Kidd is leaning on his new veteran addition to help push the Bucks into steep territory in the East. Another championship doesn’t appear to be in the works right away, but the Bucks are building with youth and need guidance in the locker room and on the court. Terry recently spoke with Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the upcoming season and the challenge:

Terry believes his 17 years in the NBA will translate into a mentoring role with the young Bucks seeking a bounce-back season in 2016-’17.

“I think it’s very important,” Terry said in an interview after signing a one-year deal to rejoin former Dallas Mavericks teammate Jason Kidd, entering his third season as the Bucks coach.

“If you look at all playoff and championship teams, they have solid veteran guys to steer the ship. There are going to be times during the season when the coach’s voice, some of the young guys get tired of hearing it. That’s when the veteran leadership steps in and says, ‘No, we’re not going to go away from the ship. We’re going to continue to follow the right direction.’”

It will help that Terry and Kidd have such a close relationship. They played together on the 2011 Mavericks team that won the NBA championship, and Terry was on the Nets roster in Brooklyn during Kidd’s first year as a pro coach in 2013-’14.

“I just knew if I had an opportunity to either play again for him or coach with him, I would take it,” Terry said.

When Kidd was in Dallas, his advice proved valuable to the 6-foot-2 shooting guard. Now Terry believes he can play the same role in Milwaukee.

“It was him taking me in the weight room and just showing me another way to get longevity out of my career,” Terry said. “I didn’t know that if you lifted weights the morning of the game, that prolonged your career.

“That was something I really took to heart, because he didn’t have to teach me that. The respect level was there, No. 1.

“And No. 2, he’s a Hall of Famer. I had a chance to pick his brain and see what he’s seeing on the court. It was just phenomenal for me.”

Terry was coming off knee surgery when he played for Kidd in Brooklyn, but in the past two years he has been healthy and played in 149 games with the Houston Rockets.

He was part of the Rockets team that stunned the Los Angeles Clippers, erasing a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference semifinals in 2015.

Even though he will turn 39 years old before training camp opens in late September, Terry believes he still can contribute on the court.

“I stay in top condition,” Terry said. “I’m always watching film. I’ve already been watching some film on the Bucks last year.

“I may not be playing the point guard position, but I can still help guys get in position and calm them down, just like I did in Houston.”

Terry, nicknamed “The Jet,” ranks third all-time in three-pointers made with 2,169, behind only Ray Allen and Reggie Miller.

“I’ve always been a guy that came early and stayed late,” Terry said.

“If we’re on the road, I will go at night and get shots up in the other team’s arena. It familiarizes you with the environment. The rims are still 10 feet, but the shooting background and environment are different. Only shooters can understand that aspect.”

Terry said he learned from watching Miller and Steve Kerr, now the Golden State Warriors coach and former teammate of Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls. Another major influence was Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki.

The increased emphasis on three-point shooting in today’s NBA is not surprising to Terry. Golden State’s success behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson is leading other teams to emulate its style of play.

“I love it,” Terry said. “A guy that’s 38 and still can shoot, it prolongs your career because you’re still valuable.

“You have to have shooting on the floor in today’s basketball. When you have great 1-on-1 players, it provides spacing for your guys to operate.”

The Bucks lagged behind in the three-point game last season, finishing last in the league in threes made and attempted.

But Terry sees that changing with the additions to the roster the Bucks have made in the off-season, including the signing of free agents Mirza Teletovic and Matthew Dellavedova.

The Bucks still have the length featuring 21-year-olds Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, but teams will not be able to pack the paint as much if they can show legitimate three-point threats.

“When you have a guy like Giannis who can play point forward and Jabari, who is great off the dribble, you have to have spacing on the floor and guys who can knock down shots,” Terry said.

“Teletovic, he’s my candidate for sixth man of the year. I don’t know what their plans are, but he can flat out shoot this ball. He’s good.”

Terry is ready for the next chapter in his career and eager to arrive in Milwaukee after Labor Day to begin working out with his new teammates.

Last season the Bucks sorely missed the leadership of Jared Dudley and Zaza Pachulia, who were traded last summer as the youth movement took full flight.

Terry isn’t the bashful type and is nearly twice the age of some of the Bucks players.

“I have a routine and I will show them,” Terry said. “They already have the work ethic and that’s half the battle.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Gregg Popovich should be OK in 2020 at the Tokyo Olympics, you think? … Kobe Bryant essentially telling teams to man up when it comes to facing the Warriors … The Jazz-Sixers trade a few days ago was all about dumping salary … Reggie Jackson is bullish on the Pistons this year … Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson were almost teammates?

Morning shootaround — Aug. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Smith: Call my agent about contract situation | Parker hoping to play five more seasons with Spurs | Report: Bucks, Terry talking deal

No. 1: Cavs’ Smith doesn’t want to talk about contract — For the most part, the big targets in the NBA’s summer free-agent signing period are off the market. A few known entities do remain in the job-seeking mix, one of whom is Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard/fan favorite J.R. Smith. While Cleveland has worked quickly to re-sign LeBron James, Richard Jefferson and James Jones, Smith is waiting on a deal … and not wanting to get into where contract talks are, writes Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

J.R. Smith’s free agency has once again extended deep into the summer, as he remains one of the few players still without a deal.

After a rough last off-season where Smith eventually settled for two-year pact worth $5 million per season with a player option for the second year, the 3-point specialist changed agents. He joined the Klutch Sports Group, which is headed by Rich Paul, the same agent that reps Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James and Tristan Thompson.

Smith has been quiet about his contract situation, instead focusing on his wedding, honeymoon and golf. But he finally spoke up on Thursday, sending out a video courtesy ofUninterrupted prior to the J.R. Smith 10th Annual Golf Classic in Lakewood Township, New Jersey.

“I know you guys are going to ask me about my contract situation,” Smith said. “You’ve got my agent’s number so you all can call him. Rich Paul. You all know what it is. Klutch. You dig?”

Paul has a reputation for being a tough negotiator. Last off-season, he dragged conversations between the Cavs and Thompson into October before Thompson agreed on a five-year deal worth $82 million.

Smith and his reps understand the reality of the market following a wild summer. The enormous cap explosion has led to rotational players receiving around $10 million per season and Smith has earned a pay raise after proving to be such a valuable member of Cleveland’s title team.

However, he’s running into the same issue he dealt with last season. He doesn’t have much leverage.

His colorful personality and history of antics both on and off the court can’t be ignored. A contract is an investment, an agreement that involves trust.

Despite being on his best behavior since coming to Cleveland, he is still a risky investment, especially to other teams around the league that won’t have James to keep him in line or the winning organization that has contributed to his transformation. Those concerns have led to a lack of outside interest for the second straight off-season.

The Cavaliers are scheduled to join James for workouts in Los Angeles next month and training camp starts at the end of September. From that standpoint, there’s a sense of urgency to get a deal finalized. James even pointed that out when announcing his three-year contract with the Cavs last week.

“I’m ecstatic,” James said in his video. “I can’t wait to see my guys. I can’t wait to get back out there in the wine and gold and just get the band back together.

“Lastly, let’s get J.R. done. It’s that time.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — June 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Love likely to play, be reserve in Game 4 | Thompson trying to snap out of funk | Report: Durant not considering Rockets | Terry plans to play 2 more seasons

No. 1: Report: Love likely to come off bench in Game 4 Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love practiced with the team yesterday as it prepares for Game 4 of The Finals tonight (9 ET, ABC). Love has not yet been cleared medically to play after the concussion he suffered in Game 2 ultimately kept him out of Game 3 on Wednesday night. According to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, Love is not only expected to play tonight but will do so in a reserve role:

Kevin Love is expected to play Friday and it’s likely he will come off the bench in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, league sources told the Beacon Journal.

Love still has another medical examination he must pass on Friday before he is cleared from the league’s concussion protocol, but he took part in some on-court shooting drills Thursday and the team is privately confident he will be available to play.

Coach Tyronn Lue would not discuss Love’s role on Thursday, insisting he hadn’t given it much thought. While one source stressed no final decision has been made yet, it’s likely at this point Love will be a reserve for the first time since April 14, 2010 – the final game of his second year in the league.

When asked generally about how he handles lineup changes, Lue said it’s important to be honest.

“They might not like it at the time, but I’ve always learned in this business if you tell the truth, guys understand and they know what the truth is,” Lue said. “They might be mad for a second, but they can always get back to understanding and realize that’s the right thing. And if you tell the truth, guys can respect that.”

The Cavs beat the Warriors 120-90 in Game 3 Wednesday for their first win in this series while Love sat. Lue inserted Richard Jefferson into the starting lineup, moved LeBron James to power forward and the Cavs flourished with their best game of the series.

The Cavs have privately been concerned for months how Love would match up defensively in a Finals rematch against the Warriors, with one team executive offering during the regular season that Love may have to become the Cavs’ version of David Lee – the high-priced, high-scoring forward who came off the bench last year to help spark the Warriors to a championship.

The Warriors shot 42 percent in Game 3 when both Klay Thompson and Steph Curry struggled to find a rhythm and James neutralized Draymond Green. The always outspoken Green said he didn’t see any difference with James at power forward instead of Love.

“There ain’t no Xs and Os adjustment they made (that) worked. They punked us. That was the gist of it,” Green said. “I continually try to figure out, what adjustment can they make? I didn’t think there was an adjustment they can make other than to play harder than us. And that’s what they did.”

Morning shootaround — April 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Terry gurantees win in Game 5 | Thomas says he’ll play in Game 6 | Raptors deliver in big moment | Control of series shifts to Portland

No. 1: Terry guarantees Rockets will win Game 5 — Houston Rockets veteran guard Jason Terry is never short on confidence (this is the player, after all, who had the Larry O’Brien tattooed on his bicep the offseason before his Dallas Mavericks won the 2010-11 NBA title). So it is not exactly a surprise that even after the Rockets were blown out in Game 4, Terry sees his team winning Game 5 tonight (10:30 ET, TNT) and forcing a Game 6, writes Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com:

During the team’s media session at Oracle Arena, Rockets center Dwight Howard wondered aloud if former teammate Chandler Parsons was a prophet. And then Jason Terry, the oldest player on the team, guaranteed a victory in Game 5.

Welcome to the world of the Rockets, who are faced with an elimination game on Wednesday night when they must defeat the Warriors, who will be without reigning MVP Stephen Curry for the remainder of the series.

Will they win?

“I’m guaranteeing it,” said the 38-year-old Terry. “If I don’t, then what? It’s a loss, right. I guarantee victory — that’s what it’s going to take. I believe in my group. I know we can get a win here and send this thing back to Houston.”

“I’m saying right here in front of everybody, I’m getting a tattoo of a Rockets trophy if we pull this thing out,” he said smiling. “You [heard] it here first.”

There were few smiles from Howard. If anything he was shooting down speculation of what he might do this summer. Howard is expected to become a free agent once the season ends and old buddy Parsons said he wants the two to play together with the Dallas Mavericks.

“I think he can still dominate the game,” Parsons said from Dallas. “I think he can still be a great player in this league. And I think he’s going to leave Houston. So why not come here?”

Howard, standing just outside the tunnel following Tuesday’s practice, didn’t seem happy discussing future plans.

“Is he a prophet?” Howard said stoically. “My focus is this basketball game. It doesn’t matter what nobody on the outside says, we are friends, we are close, but none of that stuff matters right now. It’s about this team and what we’re trying to accomplish, and who cares what anybody else says?”

This has been a nondescript postseason for Howard. He’s averaging a career-low 14.5 points per game and despite leading the league in postseason rebounding the previous two seasons, he’s averaging 12.3 boards a game. In his career Howard averages 11.6 shots per game, but in four postseason games this year, he’s at 8.8.

His frustration with not getting touches is apparent and when you add Parsons’ comments regarding his future, it appears Howard has some issues on his mind.

“I don’t pay attention to it,” he said. “It’s he said, she said. My job is to focus on being great [Wednesday] and helping this team win, not what anybody else has to say. Chandler is a close friend, but it’s not about what he thinks or what he wants right now. It’s about this team and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

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Morning shootaround — April 1


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving: Cavs ‘still team to beat’ in NBA | Report: Kobe turned down Euroleague offer | Westbrook saves OKC against shorthanded Clippers | Report: Terry interviews for UAB opening

No. 1: Irving says Cavs still ‘team to beat’ in NBA — The Cleveland Cavaliers have already matched last season’s win total (53) with seven games to play. They seem to have a solid grip on the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. They are also, however, 2-2 in their last four games and have looked a bit shaky at times since the All-Star break. Cavs star guard Kyrie Irving isn’t hearing any of that doubt, though, and had some strong words to say about his team’s place in the NBA hierarchy after last night’s win against the Brooklyn Nets, writes Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“We’re still to the team to beat honestly, regardless of what anybody else says,” he said after the 107-87 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday. “‘[Pundits talking about] what we need and what we don’t need and what we need to get better at. . . . ‘ Us internally, we know we have to improve on a lot of things but we’ve just got to handle business as professionals and continue to get better.”

Clarification was needed. I asked him if he’s saying the Cavaliers are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference or in the entire league. He didn’t backtrack.

“I feel like we’re the team to beat,” he replied. “Honestly, it’s open season until we get into the playoffs. I’ve got a lot more confidence than I think that anyone realizes in our team and what’s going on in our locker room.”

Their latest victory put them at 53 wins for the season, the total they accumulated last season. When LeBron James was informed of Irving’s comments, he didn’t completely join in on the “we’re the team to beat” narrative.

“I think we’re all confident in our ability when we’re playing at a high level,” James said. “We want to continue to use these games to get better. When the postseason starts, hopefully we can lock in, which I believe we can and make a run at it.”

A team with James, Irving and Kevin Love will always be a force to be reckoned with. At times the team has played down to the level of its competition and lost games it shouldn’t have. But the Cavs also have had some impressive road wins over some of top teams this league has to offer.

Cleveland has the third-best record in the association. So why aren’t the Cavaliers getting the respect they feel they deserve?

“It seems like that because everybody is watching Golden State. That’s why,” big man Tristan Thompson told cleveland.com. And that could be true. The Warriors are on pace to eclipse the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ NBA record of 72 wins, and Stephen Curry is rapidly becoming the face of the league.

“We’ve had a damn good season to this point and we’re going to continue that,” James said.


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving has some strong words after Thursday’s win

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Blogtable: More likely to miss playoffs — Bulls or Rockets?

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


BLOGTABLE: Build around Lillard or Davis? | More likely to miss playoffs: Rockets or Bulls? | Thoughts on Russell as starter?



VIDEOJazz outlast Rockets, push Houston to No. 9 in West

> More likely to miss the playoffs this season: The 29-26 Bulls or the 28-29 Rockets?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Houston. Just don’t like the vibe from that squad, which can Kumbaya all it wants — there are issues in that locker room that have nothing to do with Xs and Os. And, I’m not sure Detroit or Washington can put together a run for long enough to surpass the Bulls, while I see Utah being more than capable of finishing the season with a flourish — especially with Shelvin Mack looking like he’s going to solidify the Jazz at the point for the stretch drive.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comForced to pick between disappointments, I’m going with the team that is committed to its current coaching staff. Fred Hoiberg and his bosses understand the embarrassment they’ll face if they miss the playoffs, having dumped Tom Thibodeau and his sixth-best winning percentage of all time (.647) among coaches who’ve worked at least 300 games. Management turned Thibodeau into a lame duck last season and suffered consequences that still linger. But there are signs Chicago is starting to click, if it can hang in long enough for Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic to return from injuries. Houston clearly gained little from its impulsive firing of Kevin McHale and is likely to dump interim J.B. Bickerstaff before next season too. The Rockets’ dysfunction runs deeper and, unless they have a bunch of games left against Phoenix, they’ll be done at 82.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Call it a cop-out, but I’m saying neither. But if you make me pick, I’d say the Bulls are more likely to miss out. The Rockets have to beat out only one of either the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz, both of whom are playing close to their limit. And they might even have a shot at the struggling Mavs coming down the stretch. Over in the East, this seems to be a lost season for the Wizards and the Magic are again headed toward disappointment. That keeps the door open for the Bulls. But I think Stan Van Gundy is doing everything he can to drive the Detroit Pistons into the playoffs. The question mark that puts the Bulls in danger is when Jimmy Butler returns to the lineup.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com The Rockets. Chicago expects to get Jimmy Butler back, maybe within a few weeks, and Nikola Mirotic as well. No one who can play at an MVP level when healthy is walking through that door in Houston. I’m not crossing the Rockets off the list because that’s not exactly an overwhelming group of playoff hopefuls around the cutline in the West. But the Bulls’ roster could get significantly better.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: This is something of a coin flip, but my gut says the Bulls are more likely to miss the playoffs. Yes, I realize Jimmy Butler will return at some point, but Chicago is being chased by Detroit and Washington for the final spot at the moment, and both teams — while flawed — are capable of finishing strong. Meanwhile, the Rockets are dealing with only the Jazz. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chicago and Houston sit this one out.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com The Rockets. First of all, they’re out of the playoffs right now, while the Bulls have a three-game cushion in the loss column. Secondly, the Rockets’ record is a little inflated (they have the point differential of a 25-32 team), because they’ve been good in close games (though the Bulls’ record is similarly inflated). And finally, they have a tough schedule relative to the teams they’re fighting with, playing 17 of their final 25 games against teams that are currently at or above .500.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Both teams are stuck in their current predicaments due to their own mistakes as well as some unfortunate injury issues. That said, I can see the Bulls sinking in the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff quicksand. The Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks are all capable of walking down a Bulls team that will limp to the finish of this regular season with key players (Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Mike Dunleavy, etc.) dealing with injuries. The dysfunctional Rockets have a huge challenge ahead of them, but they at least will have their best player to lean on down the stretch.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comAs much as I prefer the roster and chemistry of the Bulls, they must deal with a lot more competition in the East than the Rockets are facing in the West, where there are essentially nine teams competing for eight playoff spots. James Harden should be able to drive Houston into the postseason, whereas the Bulls are going to have to fend off the Pistons and Wizards in addition to the higher-ranked teams in their tightly-bunched conference.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog The Bulls have been through a lot this season, but I think they’re more likely to qualify for the playoffs. The Rockets have been through a coaching change, a few trades, and even a trade that was rescinded. I don’t know this for certain, but it sure seems like there isn’t a lot of confidence right now in that Rockets locker room. I think the Bulls make it.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 26


VIDEO: Top plays from Christmas Day games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better | James wants clarity from Cavaliers | Rockets leave coal for Spurs | Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting

No. 1: Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, even the most rabid Warriors fan, who truly thinks the Warriors have underperformed this season. After all, after last night’s 89-83 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the highly anticipated NBA Finals rematch, the Warriors moved to a ridiculous 28-1 on the season, which included a 24-game winning streak. That is, it’s hard to find criticism unless you talk to the actual Warriors players themselves, as our Scott Howard-Cooper did, where you find that the Warriors believe despite all the W’s, they aren’t playing all that great and still have room to grow

“Look,” center Andrew Bogut said, “we haven’t played great the last 10 games. That’s something that we’ve addressed in this locker room.”

“I don’t think we’ve played well,” power forward Draymond Green said. “Even tonight. We did some good things, but I still don’t think we’ve played well.”

“I’m really impressed with our defense the last two games,” interim coach Luke Walton said. “Before that, our defense was struggling.”

Help is on the way, if only the Warriors can hold it together another couple weeks and avoid the all-out panic that will come if they slump all the way to, say, 75-win pace and only break the single-season record by three games as opposed to the current tracking to 79 victories. Good news is on the horizon for a change.

Coach Steve Kerr, out since the early days of training camp while recovering from the effects of two back surgeries in the offseason, is nearing a return. He stepped in for an ill Walton to run practice Tuesday, the interim to the interim, watched the Cleveland game from the coaches’ office in Oracle and plans to accompany the team on the Dallas-Houston back-to-back that begins Wednesday while Walton continues to lead. While the Warriors continue to avoid targeting a return date, the increased activity raises the possibility Kerr could be back as soon as Jan. 2 against the Nuggets in Oakland.

Forward Harrison Barnes, out the last 12 games with a sprained left ankle, was in some of the scrimmage Tuesday and Thursday participated in three-on-three drills with the team. Being listed as doubtful for Friday showed there was at least the thought he could play against the Cavaliers, so Monday against the Kings at Oracle or the two games in Texas are all possibilities.

The next week or two, depending on the actual return dates and how long Barnes will need to work back into game shape, could become an eventful time in the season of a defending champion, and that just doesn’t happen very often in early-January. Golden State will be whole again, assuming no one else gets hurt in the meantime, with Barnes an important piece as the starting small forward and also one of the triggers to the successful small-ball lineup when he moves to power forward.

It would have been impossible on opening night to imagine the Warriors would stand at 28-1 under any circumstances, let alone 28-1 with a coach younger than several players around the league and stepping in with two previous seasons as an assistant, with a concussion costing Bogut six games and Barnes’ absence. Now imagine the Warriors at 28-1 and thinking they will start to play better in the future.

“Maybe a little bit,” Bogut said.

Maybe more than a little bit.

“There’s part of it that [makes me mad] and there’s part of it that makes me very, very happy,” Green said. “I think we’ve got a lot of improving to do, and we will.”

Mad because the Warriors are not happy with how they have played lately. The happy: “Because what are we? Twenty-eight and one? You’re 28-1 and you’re not near playing well, that’s exciting. We know we know how to get to that point and we know we’ll reach that point. And when we do, I think that’s trouble because if we’re 28-1 and we’re not playing well, imagine where we are. That’s why it excites me.

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No. 2: James wants clarity from Cavaliers Meanwhile, the Warriors’ vanquished Christmas Day foe, the Cleveland Cavaliers, drop to 19-8. That’s still good enough for the lead in the Eastern Conference, but with the Cavs getting more players back from injury and healthy, including Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert, the Cavs have more options available than ever before. And after the loss to the Warriors, as Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon writes, LeBron James would like to see the Cavs discover a rhythm going forward

After the Cavs lost 89-83 to the defending champion Warriors on Golden State’s home court, where it’s now won 32 in a row during the regular season, dating back to last year, James repeatedly mentioned the lack of continuity the Cavs had on the court and suggested that at least some of it had to do with David Blatt‘s rotation.

“It’s going to take some time to get back into rhythm, and all of us, not just the players, but everyone, to get back in rhythm,” James said.

The lineups and the newness need some context, and what James said about them was nothing like the cool attitude he directed toward Blatt at times last season.

In fact, James didn’t name his coach specifically on Friday, but the bottom line was James called for Blatt and his staff to gain perhaps a clearer sense of who they want to play, and when, now that the entire team is healthy.

“For us to have a full unit, we’ve got to practice, we’ve got to play some games where we know what we want to do, what lineups we want to play out there,” James said.

“It’s an adjustment period, it’s not just going to happen – you plug a guy in there, plug two guys in there and it automatically happens,” he continued. “It’s going to be an adjustment period, but we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine toward February and March.”

This was just the second game this season that the Cavs had all 15 players available, due to season-long injuries to Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert.

That’s not Blatt’s fault, but, it was the head coach who placed James, Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, and Tristan Thompson on the court to start the fourth quarter. It was the first time all season they’d all been on the court at the same time.

When Irving and Kevin Love subbed in for James and Smith with 10:06 left in the quarter, the Cavs still had a lineup that had never played together. Those are just two examples.

Richard Jefferson did not play at all against the Warriors. Mo Williams logged 4:39, and James Jones, a favorite of James, played just 1:34.

James led the Cavs with 25 points and contributed nine rebounds, but shot 10-of-26 and was a brutal 4-of-9 from the foul line. He took the blame for that, saying “I wasn’t very good, inefficient, and it trickled down to everybody else.”

The Cavs’ 83 points, 31.6 percent shooting from the field and 16.7 percent shooting from 3-point range were season lows. Irving (13 points) shot 4-of-15 and Love (10 points, 18 rebounds) was 5-of-16. Cleveland assisted on just 12-of-30 baskets.

“For the first time, for a long period of time we had some different lineups out there,” James explained, talking about the woes on offense. “And against a championship team like this, it’s kind of hard to do that on the fly. We’re not making no excuses, we still got to be a lot better, still got to move the ball, got to share the ball, get it moving from side to side, but offensively we were all out of rhythm.

“You credit to their defense, for sure, and then the lack of detail.”

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No. 3: Rockets leave coal for Spurs While the Warriors have romped through the NBA this season, the San Antonio Spurs have quietly put in work as well, and entered yesterday’s Christmas game against the Houston Rockets with a sparkling 25-5 record. Their opponent, the Houston Rockets, have struggled to find an identity, firing a coach (Kevin McHale) and getting inconsistent play from their superstars, James Harden and Dwight Howard. But on a big stage yesterday, the Rockets turned to their defense to grind out an 88-84 win over the Spurs, and as our Fran Blinebury writes, Houston got a present from their veteran reserve guard, Jason Terry

Jason Terry is long past the days of being the shiny new toy. He has stockings that have hung from chimneys far longer than some of his teammates have hung around the planet.

So even after the Rockets had spent most of the night standing toe-to-toe and going push-to-shove with the Spurs, there came a time to seal the deal and the closer had to come out of the attic.

It wasn’t just Terry’s nine points and three steals in the last 10½ minutes of the bone-jarring 88-84 victory Friday night at the Toyota Center. It was the way he did everything. Like he owned the place.

Ever since the shocking 5-10 start to the season that got coach Kevin McHale fired, the Rockets have been trying to convince everybody, including themselves, that they’re really a very good team, capable of getting back again to the Western Conference finals.

Trouble is, since the opening tip back in October, every time the Rockets have put another stake in the ground with a signature win over the Thunder, at Dallas or sweeping a pair of duels from the Clippers, they have also put a stake or a half dozen into their own foot. A combined 0-5 record against the lowly Nuggets and Nets. A whipping in Sacramento. A comeback that came up just short in Orlando.

You don’t get to call yourself a real contender until you stop pretending to show up consistently and take the job seriously every night. Dwight Howard and James Harden talk the talk.

“The Jet” puts his arms out at his sides and takes flight on the wings of drive and emotion that have carried him into a 17th NBA season.

“That’s what I’ve prided myself on, being ready, always stepping up to the moment,” Terry said. “In big moments like tonight when my team needed me most, I want to show up and be effective.”

He buried a big 3-pointer. He hit a mid-range jumper from the wing. He stepped into the San Antonio passing lanes to snatch away three balls to get the Rockets headed in the other direction.

But now, more than being the fire-starter in a big holiday event — the first time the Rockets hosted a home Christmas Day game since moving to Houston in 1971 — Terry’s task and bigger challenge will be to instill a sense of every day urgency that goes from the locker room out onto the court. Even in too many of their wins this season, the Rockets have started games lazily and had to come scrambling back from double-digit holes. Which is why this latest so-called statement win lifts their record back to just 16-15.

Harden’s pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers were big and it’s good to know that you’ve got that arrow in your quiver, but it can’t be enough to think he’ll be able to bail you out game after game with offensive heroics. And it was Terry’s spark that ignited the flame.

Terry had been inserted into the starting lineup for the first four games after J.B. Bickerstaff took over the team. But as the team kept struggling, the interim coach began to shuffle his guards like a casino dealer until finally he turned Terry back face up in this one. In fact, the veteran has played less than 15 minutes in 11 games this season and also has six DNPs, including the previous game, which the Rockets lost at Orlando. That’s now likely to change.

“I just feel like we need him on the floor,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s times where he needs the rest, obviously. But big moments in big games, he’s one of the guys that I trust the most. I trust not only that he’ll do the right thing, but I trust that he’ll perform and then I trust that he’ll carry his teammates in a positive direction.

“You can’t speak enough about him. He’s a class guy. He’s a winner. He’s a champion. He’s a leader. He’ll sacrifice, whatever it takes to win. That’s what he does. That’s who he is. Every since I’ve known him he’s been that way.”

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No. 4: Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting The first 2016 All-Star voting results are in, and while there are still several more rounds to go, at least for now, Kobe Bryant has a huge lead over everyone else in the NBA, including Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Considering Kobe’s global appeal and previously announced retirement plans, it shouldn’t come a complete surprise that fans want to see him on the NBA’s big stage one final time. But as ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, the numbers apparently shocked at least one person: Kobe Bryant.

Bryant has 719,235 votes — well ahead of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry (510,202), the next-highest vote-getter, and more than twice as many as Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James (357,937).

After the Lakers’ 94-84, Christmas night loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Bryant said he was more than a little surprised he had such a wide lead.

“Listen, I was making a little coffee run this morning, got some gas and decided to just go on Instagram and peruse,” he said, “and [I] saw the damn votes, and I was like, ‘What the hell?’ Shocked doesn’t do it justice.”

He added, “It’s exciting. What can I say? Just thankful.”

The 2016 NBA All-Star Game, to be held in Toronto, would be Bryant’s last, as he has announced his plans to retire after this season, his 20th in the NBA. His 17 All-Star selections are second all-time behind former Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had 19. Bryant, 37, is the leading scorer in NBA All-Star history (280 points).

This year marks the first time that the 6-foot-6 Bryant is being listed as a member of the frontcourt in All-Star voting. In previous years, he has been listed as a guard. The second-highest vote-getter among Western Conference frontcourt players is Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (349,473).

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Friday’s game that Bryant deserves a spot on the All-Star team.

“A lot of people disagree with me on that. That’s fine. I have my opinion. I think Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I don’t care if he’s a starter of if they figure out a 13th spot for him. [With] what he’s done in his career, he should be on the All-Star team, and I don’t see any debate in that. You can have one, but I’m not hearing it.”

But what if someone else were left off, such as one of Rivers’ players?

“It would be awful, but Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I think they should have a special exception and put 13 guys on if that’s the case if he wasn’t in one of the top 12 as far as voting or whatever. But I just believe he should be on it. Magic [Johnson] was on, Michael [Jordan] was on with the Wizards. I think certain guys earn that right, and unfortunately for other guys who can’t make it, they have to earn that right too.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Chicago Bulls may have turned a corner with their win over the Oklahoma City Thunder yesterday … Steph Curry doesn’t think he’s “hurting” basketball, regardless of what his former coach Mark Jackson says … Chris Bosh punctuated Miami’s win over New Orleans yesterday by talking trash to Anthony Davis down the stretchEvan Fournier has broken out of his slump in Orlando … You can ask him questions, but doesn’t have to answer them …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 16


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Irving to return tomorrow; Shumpert suffers groin injury | Making sense of Heat trade chatter | Kerr determined to return this season | Cousins’ manager tossed for swiping at Terry

No. 1: Report: Irving to make debut Thursday; Shumpert (groin) likely to miss 1 game — On Monday, the buzz in NBA circles was that Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving would get back on the court sometime this week. Before last night’s game in Boston, Cavs coach David Blatt said he’s taking a cautious approach with Irving as he recovers from his knee injury, that Irving is not yet 100 percent and has overall been hesitant to commit to a return date. Well, something has changed from then until now as ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin reports Irving will make his 2015-16 debut tomorrow night against the Oklahoma City Thunder (8 ET, TNT):

UPDATE, 11:48 a.m.

Irving threw some cold water on the report of him playing tomorrow, sending out a tweet that he will not suit up against the Thunder

Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving is set to make his season debut Thursday at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a source familiar with Irving’s plans told ESPN.com.

Irving, sidelined for the first 23 games of the Cavs’ season while recovering from surgery in June to repair a fractured left kneecap suffered in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, was cleared for full contact more than a week ago and has been through a handful of practices since without any setbacks.

Irving’s final hurdle before the team approves of his intention to play will involve a series of physical tests to measure his body’s strength and responsiveness, a team source told ESPN.com. The tests will be similar to the ones administered on Irving before he was allowed to return for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta last spring after sitting out Games 2 and 3 with tendinitis in his left knee.

Although the Cavs can apparently look forward to getting Irving back, his backcourt mate, Iman Shumpert, is likely to miss Thursday’s game after suffering a groin strain last night. Cleveland.com’s Chris Haynes has more:

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert, fresh off of returning from a wrist injury, left the game in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s 89-77 win over the Boston Celtics with a right groin injury and would not return.

He will be evaluated further in Cleveland on Wednesday. Shumpert just made his season debut in the team’s last game on Friday at Orlando.

“Honestly a little concerned,” head coach David Blatt said of Shumpert’s latest injury. “I got to be honest with you. I have no idea what the extent is. Just given our recent history, I’m concerned.”

The defensive specialist was visibly frustrated after the game and refused to speak with reporters.

After getting his right leg wrapped, he sat at his locker stall quietly with a towel around his waist staring at the ground. He worked feverishly to get himself back on the court and now this. He could undergo an MRI if the training staff feels it’s necessary.


VIDEO: David Blatt talks after the Cavs’ win in Boston

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