Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Lin’

East On Verge Of Ushering In 2 New All-Star Game Starters

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Garnering nearly 900,000 fan votes, the NBA’s Eastern Conference is on the verge of ushering a changing of the guard that could last a decade or more. Indiana Pacers forward Paul George is virtually assured of making his first All-Star Game start in little more than a month.

After the third returns of NBA All-Star balloting released Thursday afternoon, George ranks second in votes among East players behind only two-time reigning MVP LeBron James (1,076,063) of the Miami Heat, and third overall behind Western Conference MVP candidate Kevin Durant (1,054,209) of the Oklahoma City Thunder. George, averaging 23.0 ppg and 6.1 rpg, made his first All-Star appearance last year as a reserve. He is now set to replace fading veteran and future of Hall-of-Famer Kevin Garnett.

NBA All-Star 2014The 63rd NBA All-Star Game will be held Feb. 16 at the New Orleans Arena. Fan voting concludes on Jan. 20 and the starters will be announced live on TNT on Jan. 23. From there it will be up to the the coaches in each conference to fill out their respective rosters with seven reserves each.

George’s inclusion as a starter also virtually assures the East of starting an all-small forward frontcourt as James and the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony (702,869), who is third in votes, round out that category. Indiana center Roy Hibbert (385,964) is fourth, but well off the pace.

The East’s backcourt is also set to ring in a new starter, although Kyrie Irving‘s first start — and second consecutive All-Star appearance — might not be of the changing-of-the-guard type just yet because of injuries to Boston’s Rajon Rondo and Chicago’s Derrick Rose. Miami’s All-Star starting stalwart Dwyane Wade (718,109) leads all East backcourt candidates in votes. Irving is second (652,522). Rose (323,099), despite playing in just 10 games before suffering another knee injury, is third.

In the Western Conference, Durant is likely to be joined in frontcourt again by Los Angeles Clippers big man Blake Griffin (500,964), third in votes, and Rockets center Dwight Howard (509,116), second in votes. Howard made his West debut last season with the Lakers. Minnesota’s Kevin Love (483,031) could still make a late charge at a starting spot while Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge (404,793) is more a long shot.

Injuries will play a major role in the West’s lineup. Lakers star Kobe Bryant (844,538), out with a fractured knee, recently told fans to stop voting for him and to funnel votes to younger players in what is a crowded field of deserving candidates. Bryant, who likely won’t be ready to play in the All-Star Game, although that’s not certain, remains the top voter-getter in the backcourt.

However, there is interesting news to report: Golden State’s Steph Curry (677,372) has moved into a starting position ahead of Pacific Division foe Chris Paul (651,073) of the Clippers. It’s difficult to say how much, if at all, Paul’s separated right shoulder suffered last Friday affected voting. Paul is expected to miss at least six weeks with the injury.

Houston’s backcourt of Jeremy Lin (471,980) and James Harden (338,788) sit fourth and fifth, respectively.

As for hometown flavor, the only member of the New Orleans Pelicans receiving enough votes to be in the top 10 at their respective position is forward Anthony Davis (223,956). He’s averaging a double-double, leads the league in blocked shots and will certainly be high on the West coaches’ list to be included as a reserve.

D-League Effect Keeps Growing on NBA


VIDEO: Ryan Blake on Day 4 of the NBA D-League Showcase

RENO, Nev. — For the better part of a week, morning through night, the squeak of rubber soles on hardwood floor is louder than any sounds that come from the stands. What passes for a crowd often looks like a handful of marbles rolling around in a bathtub.

The truth is the bare bones atmosphere inside the Reno Events Center makes the annual NBA D-League Showcase more closely resemble a testing lab than an extravaganza. It belies what has been a resounding success.

Now in its 13th season, the D-League continues to grow as both a business model and the future of cultivating young basketball talent. In short, it is the most scouted professional basketball league on the planet, and not just for this week when coaches and general managers from every NBA team are on hand.

“Players have come to realize that a league where you can get a direct call-up to an NBA team is the cleanest, fastest way to reach their goal,” said Ryan Blake, NBA director of scouting. “There aren’t hoops you have to jump through to get free from a foreign contract. There’s the closeness and familiarity that lets everyone keep up and know who they are.”

Fourteen of the league’s 17 franchises now have exclusive relationships with NBA teams, either through direct ownership or a hybrid management. The realistic goal, according to many officials, is to one day have 30 teams, one for each NBA club.

“Thirty for 30 is something that we’re closer to than I ever expected at this point,” said D-League president Dan Reed. “Ten NBA teams have acquired a 1-on-1 relationship in the last three years and we have more and more teams constantly getting interested. The idea is to eventually be more of a real farm system for the NBA.”

The number of NBA players with D-League experience is now approaching 30 percent and could hit 50 percent in the not-too-distant future. The Spurs’ Danny Green played in the D-League as did the Rockets’ Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin.

More of the big clubs also have come to understand the value and utilize in-season assignments of young players to the D-League. Last season Jeremy Lamb spent much of his time shuttling between Oklahoma City and Tulsa to get playing experience and now is a key member of the Thunder rotation. Reggie Jackson cut his teeth with the 66ers a year before. Beverley signed a year ago with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, made his D-League debut here at the Showcase and four months later was starting in the playoffs in Houston. Terrence Jones went from being a Vipers regular to starting for the Rockets this season.

“I think it’s still a little bit of a stigma, but it’s going away,” said Gersson Rosas, Rockets executive vice president of basketball operations, who filled the role of Vipers GM the past four years, winning two D-League titles and getting to the finals three times.

“I don’t think Terrence would be who Terrence is now without the time that he spent here last year. I think that’s a great testament to the league and it’s a great testament to Terrence that he applied himself, he got better and once he got the opportunity he made the most of it.

“Having said that, affiliated teams have a big advantage because they have 1-on-1 relationships and they’re also the ones hiring the coaches and staff and that staff is spending a lot of time preparing the team. As a result, the philosophy is cleaner and the result is cleaner because you can develop players and get a better feel of where they’re at.”

The next logical step in the league’s own development would be to establish a system for NBA teams to sign players to D-League contracts that do not count against the 15-man NBA roster and yet maintain their rights. Currently, except for players who are on temporary assignment from the NBA, any other NBA club can swoop in and sign any D-Leaguer.

If an NBA team could hold signing rights and exclusivity, then D-League salaries for some players could rise dramatically from what they are paid now, roughly $25,000 per season. It could also enable the D-League to compete with some of the top European leagues for frontline prospect talent. At the very least, some executives say, NBA teams should have the right to match any offers that come to one of their D-League signees by another NBA club

“The biggest strides the league has made over the last few seasons is the talent level,” said Rosas. “In the next five to 10 years, it’s all only going to get better.”

Spurs, Rockets: A Generational Shift?


VIDEO: Rockets race to second win against Spurs in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO — This is how you notice the generations changing around the Christmas tree.

In snapshots.

One year your little brother’s feet can’t reach the pedals on his new bike and, in what seems like the next, he’s resting an elbow on top of your head as you stand side by side in the photo.

Growth and championships are often measured by inches. Nobody knows that better than the Spurs.

All those little things from the 28 seconds in Miami last June are looming larger each time they step onto the court against one of the contenders in the Western Conference this season.

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.

Enough energy to light up every tree in town.

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.

This is only the second time in Tim Duncan’s NBA career that began in 1997-98 that the Rockets have swept the Spurs on their home floor in the season series.

“We didn’t give very good performances,” said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. “You can live with that from time to time. Nobody’s going to play perfect every night. But you can’t combine poor performances with a lack of physicality and a lack of discipline. They whipped us. They whipped us good. That’s an embarrassing loss.”

That’s also becoming a habit.

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 the second time this season the Rockets were the more aggressive, more assertive, more enthusiastic, just plain better team and one full of enough youth and vigor to never have to bother to look back over their shoulders.

Except those same shoulders are carrying around losses to the lowly likes of Philly, Utah and Sacramento.

A lack of maturity or understanding?

“A little bit of both,” said Harden, who poured in 16 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter. “We’ve had quite a bit of injuries coming in and out of the lineup. We’re a fairly new team. So the more we can get our reps in with everybody available the better off we’ll be.”

Or it could more likely be a matter of the Rockets simply not bringing the same level of concentration into every game.

“We understand how good of a team San Antonio is and we want to hit first every time we come here,” said Howard. “We like the rivalry that we’re trying to establish with these guys. We look up to this team. We want to be like them one day. This is a great team. We want to play great.

“We just gotta be more consistent. It’s something we’re all working on as a team … It’s very important. We can beat a San Antonio and lose a couple of games that we should win.”

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.

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

Countdown On Asik Deal Continues

Omer Asik (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Omer Asik (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

HANG TIME, TEXAS — If all goes according to plan, Omer Asik’s time in limbo should end soon as the Rockets sift through final offers for the disgruntled big man. The team has reportedly set a self-imposed deadline of Thursday.

According to various reports and different sources, the most likely places for the 27-year-old center to wind up in are Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland or Atlanta, with the Knicks making a late and outside bid to get into the mix.

Asik — who had a breakout year as a starter a year ago averaging 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds– has wanted out of since the moment that Dwight Howard chose Houston in July and the Rockets have been looking to move him since coach Kevin McHale’s experiment with a Twin Towers type lineup ended on Nov. 13.

General manager Daryl Morey spread the word that he would entertain offers from Dec. 15-19 and make his choice. The reason for that narrow window is that Dec. 15 was the first date that players acquired during the offseason were eligible to be traded. Dec. 19 is the last date that any players obtained by the Rockets would be able to be dealt again at the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

Reports have had the Rockets seeking everything from a pair of first-round draft picks to forward Jeff Green of the Celtics to forward Paul Millsap of the Hawks.

Millsap is believed in many circles to be the Rockets’ No. 1 target, a perfect fit to play next to Howard on the front line. But the Hawks may be reluctant to surrender a high-return player after they just signed Millsap over the summer to a salary cap-friendly two-year deal for $19 million.

Discussions of Asik going to the Cavaliers for Anderson Varejao have supposedly cooled in recent days with Cleveland not warm to the idea of paying Asik’s $15-million salary next season.

The top two suitors could be the Celtics and the Sixers. That could produce a three-way deal.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Celtics have entered the names of Green and Brandon Bass into discussions. The Sixers’ most likely to be traded are Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner.

While Green is averaging more than 16 points and four rebounds a game for Boston, the 12-14 Celtics, despite leading the Atlantic Division, are in a rebuilding mode. It wouldn’t hurt to unload a contract that still has $18.4 million due through 2016. If Hawes makes his way to Houston, he could come off the bench at center and also be valuable to the Rockets as a “stretch-four” with his ability to shoot from the perimeter.

Sources around the league have indicated the Rockets would be willing to include point guard Jeremy Lin in any trade. But the fact that he is due virtually the same $15 million pay as Asik next season is a heavy burden for any one team to absorb. That would probably mean a three-team deal to make it happen.

However, if the Rockets were able to move both Asik and Lin and take back only expiring contracts and draft choices, it is possible they could have enough salary cap space to offer another max-level contract to a free agent next summer.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Celtics getting in Asik trade mix? | Granger, Pacers set return date | Dalembert’s role dwindling in Dallas | Lin to miss next game

No. 1: Report: Celtics getting into Asik sweepstakes? — In case you missed it over the weekend, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled their name out of the hat as a team interested in acquiring Rockets center Omer Asik. (Basically, the Cavs would be interested in being part of a three-team deal for Asik, but don’t want him coming to Cleveland.) So where will Asik end up? ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that the Boston Celtics have emerged as a potential suitor for Asik, joining the Philadelphia 76ers (who remain the favorites to land Asik):

There is no hard proof yet to support the theory — first presented in this tweet from my USA Today colleague Sam Amick — that the Houston Rockets already have a trade framework in place to solve their Asik conundrum and are only waiting to see if someone else out there steps up to beat the mystery offer between now and Houston’s self-imposed Thursday deadline to deal Asik.

However …

While strong rumbles persist that the Philadelphia 76ers are the team most likely to go along with such an arrangement, given the close ties between Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Philly counterpart Sam Hinkie, there’s fresh talk in circulation about another potential co-conspirator.

The Boston Celtics.

The advice offered to us on Sunday was stern: Keep an eye on Boston. The Celtics possess two players in different salary ranges that would presumably fit in useful ways next to Dwight Howard: Jeff Green and Brandon Bass. The Celts also have a spare first-round draft pick or two to plug into any trade equation to sweeten the deal for Houston, amid rising suspicions around the league that Morey’s Rockets are going to find a way to come out of the Asik saga with at least one future first.

The same Rockets who happen to have a GM (Morey) and coach (Kevin McHale) who have long-standing relationships with Celts president Danny Ainge.

So, yes, I’d say you should keep an eye on Boston.

Question here that must be asked loudly: Can Houston, in whichever Asik trade it ultimately chooses, really afford to take back a player possessing substantial long-term money like Green (two seasons at $18.4 million after this one) or Philly’s Thaddeus Young (two seasons at $19.4 million after this one) when it knows it’s going to have to give an extension bump to Chandler Parsons as soon as Parsons is eligible for the raise his play merits via extension?

Which is another way of saying you shouldn’t be surprised if Young gets routed to a third team should the Rockets and Sixers officially join forces to construct an Asik deal, as some observers have been expecting all month.


VIDEO: TNT analyst David Aldridge addresses the Omer Asik rumors and more

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No. 2: Pacers, Granger set target return date — Just last week — before the much-anticipated Heat-Pacers showdown in Indianapolis — injured Pacers forward Danny Granger said he pondered returning for that game, but ruled it out so as not to put the spotlight on himself over the team. On Friday, Granger ruled himself out of the Pacers’ home game with the Charlotte Bobcats, but said he was closer than ever to a return. Indiana now is hoping for an early Christmas present as Granger is planning on a Dec. 20 return, writes Scott Agness of Pacers.com:

Might this finally be the week that Danny Granger makes his anticipated season debut? That’s the plan right now for the Pacers.

“I was waiting for the Danny Granger [question],” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said more than four minutes into a post-practice interview. “I finally have news on Danny Granger. We’re going to target next Friday for a hopeful return to see how this week of practices goes.”

Until now, the Pacers stayed away from publicly announcing a timeline after the initial diagnosis. Now, both Vogel and Granger appear giddy about the possibility of him playing Friday when the Houston Rockets are in town. Coincidentally, the game will be nationally televised by ESPN.

“I had a good practice today,” Granger said. “It’s really just fine-tuning my game, honestly. Making sure my timing is on, making sure I know all the plays. That’s a big thing when you haven’t played in awhile. I know the plays but I haven’t repped through the plays like all the other guys constantly get a lot of reps through the plays.”

Granger said he and coach Vogel are always on the same page, and that both agreed that he needed more practice time before putting on his game uniform.

“Me and Frank talk after practice — he’ll call me in or he’ll call me over,” said Granger. “Just because I said ‘Hopefully I can play on Friday,’ I was thinking hopefully. And then when I came and I practiced, and I dribbled the ball off my foot twice and I shot an airball on a layup, me and Frank met again and I’m like, ‘I’m not ready,’ and he was like, ‘No, you’re not ready yet.’ ”

Now in his ninth NBA season, Granger has typically been a slow starter. It’s fair to expect that again, though he doesn’t anticipate it.

“In the past in preseason, I always would tinker with different things in my game,” he explained. “I always used it as a time to do the things you’re good at, but just experiment with other things and notoriously I would always have a slow start. I’m trying to avoid that this year.

“I don’t know if (fans) think we’re just machines that you just turn on and all of sudden we’re playing in rhythm. Every basketball player is a rhythm player. It’s takes awhile. That’s why we have a preseason.

“I’m hoping the practices that I’ve been getting now, and the playing that I’ve been getting now is very similar to what I will do in a game. Obviously, when you get in a game you got adrenaline that you have to account for and that changes things a little bit. Just me practicing fullcourt, playing everyday, playing one-on-one, shooting a lot of shots, doing ball handling drills, I’m hoping that’ll be my time where I can get some of these kinks out.”

The team’s medical staff continues to keep a close eye on Granger.

“They’re not out of it,” said Vogel. “They’re still very much involved because part of the final process of recovery from a calf strain is, is his body going to respond to the extra work? Is the calf going to flare up? They’re still checking it everyday and not ruling him 100 percent healthy until they see he can go through added work and the calf can still respond the right way.”

Should Granger step onto the floor Friday night, as hoped, it’ll be his first regular-season appearance since March 3, when he left the game (also against the Bulls) due to soreness in his left knee, which kept him out all but five games last season. The knee is really good, according to Granger, and he’s motivated more than ever to return to game action.


VIDEO:
Danny Granger addresses is potential return on Dec. 20

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No. 3: Dalembert’s role dwindling in Dallas — The Dallas Mavericks signed big man Samuel Dalembert in the offseason in hopes of seeing him provide the kind of interior defense and paint protection that Tyson Chandler gave the Mavs during their run to the title in 2011. That hasn’t been the case so far, though, as Dalembert has gone from starting 16 of Dallas’ first 19 games to seeing his minutes cut as coach Rick Carlisle has given DeJuan Blair the starting job. Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News has more on how the return of Brandan Wright may force Dalembert even further out of the rotation:

The return of Brandan Wright had a ripple effect on the Mavericks’ interior rotation, though it’s difficult to draw conclusions from Saturday night because Dallas was playing without Dirk Nowitzki.

On this night, at least, Samuel Dalembert dropped to fourth-team center, behind starter DeJuan Blair, second-teamer Brandan Wright and late third-quarter sub Bernard James.

Dalembert started 17 of Dallas’ first 18 games, but Saturday marked Blair’s sixth straight start. Dalembert did not play.

Dalembert, who as a free agent signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract over the summer, is averaging 6.7 points and 6.5 rebounds.

“He’s shown his moments,” said Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. “I just don’t think he’s been in a position where he’s been expected to perform to help a team win since his first or second years.”

Last season, the Mavericks signed Chris Kaman to a one-year, $8 million contract and anointed him the starter. Though he wound up starting 52 games, his minutes decreased as the season wore on and so, it appeared, did Kaman’s effort level.

In other words, rather than inspiring Kaman, cutting his minutes seemed to have an adverse effect. Are the Mavericks concerned the same will happen with Dalembert?

“No, I think Sam is the exact opposite,” Cuban said. “Sam is figuring out how to contribute. I think he’s disappointed in himself. I don’t think he thinks he’s playing well. He wants to get better.”

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No. 4: Rockets’ Lin expected to miss game vs. Bulls — A knee injury in November kept point guard Jeremy Lin from the Rockets’ lineup for six games. Although he returned to play in Friday’s win over Golden State, he suffered a back injury when he collided with Warriors big man Andrew Bogut. Lin sat out last night’s loss to the Sacramento Kings and seems sure to miss Houston’s date with Chicago this week, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

The Rockets’ injury issues took another unexpected turn when guard Jeremy Lin developed back spasms following a collision Friday with Golden State center Andrew Bogut.

Lin missed Sunday’s loss and is expected to be out Wednesday against Chicago, having played two games after missing six with a sprained and bruised right knee.

Lin said he ran into Bogut on a screen in the first half, but kept playing. He played 21 minutes in that game and returned in the final minutes after Pat Beverley fouled out.

In addition to leaving the Rockets short-handed, it took away another game for Lin to work his way back from the six games out.

“I only played him 14 or 15 minutes in Portland because you could tell he was out of rhythm,” assistant coach Kelvin Sampson said. “The game kind of dictates your substitution patterns, … but I certainly made an effort against Golden State to get him more minutes. He needs to get in a rhythm.

“We’re disappointed that he’s out, not nearly as disappointed as he is, I’m sure.”

Guard James Harden left Sunday’s game with a sprained ankle. With Lin and center Omer Asik out, Rockets players have been out for a combined 43 games. The entire roster was out for a combined 50 games last season.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Heat might be looking to work a trade for the Celtics’ Jordan Crawford … Good look at how rookie point guard Trey Burke has proven to be worth the Draft-day gamble for the Jazz … Magic rookie swingman Victor Oladipo got some preseason pointers from fellow a guy he long looked up to: fellow D.C.-area star Kevin Durant

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: You all know we love Kenneth Faried around these parts, so here’s the latest must-see alley-oop from “The Manimal” last night …


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried gets up high to finish off the Randy Foye alley-oop

LeBron, KD Top Early Fan Voting

The first returns of NBA All-Star balloting 2014 are in and to little surprise, Miami’s reigning MVP and the Finals MVP, LeBron James, is the overall leader with 609,336 votes. West rival Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder is close behind with 607,407.

And if there was any question just how beloved Kobe Bryant remains throughout the world, the 35-year-old coming off Achilles surgery (and back for just two games prior to the release of the first balloting) is the leader in the West backcourt with 501,215 votes. His Los Angeles neighbor, Chris Paul of the Clippers, is second with 393,313.

All-Star weekend returns to New Orleans with the game on Feb. 16 at New Orleans Arena.

In a bit of a strange twist, the 6-foot-9 James could essentially be the Eastern Conference’s starting center. He, along with New York’s Carmelo Anthony (424,211) and Indiana’s Paul George (489,335), are the East’s top vote-getters for the frontcourt. All three are essentially small forwards. Last year, the NBA did away with selecting a true center and designated players as simply “backcourt” and frontcourt.”

Indiana’s Roy Hibbert leads all true centers in East voting and is fourth overall among frontcourt players with 208,369. Brooklyn’s Kevin Garnett, who technically started at center for the East last season as a member of the Boston Celtics, sits sixth with 102,825.

The East backcourt is headlined by Miami’s Dwyane Wade (396,279) and Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving (365,712), who made his All-Star debut last year. Chicago’s Derrick Rose, who missed last season’s game due to an ACL injury, is third in fan-voting. He is again sidelined by another knee injury. Washington’s John Wall, Miami’s Ray Allen and Boston’s Rajon Rondo, who is still recovering from ACL surgery, and Brooklyn’s Deron Williams round out the top seven.

The West’s frontcourt will likely have a true center starting for a second consecutive year under the new rules as Houston’s Dwight Howard is second in fan voting behind Durant. Howard started last year’s game in Houston as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The third starting spot will be an interesting race to watch. Clippers forward Blake Griffin has it with 292,925 votes, 17,149 more than Minnesota’s Kevin Love. San Antonio’s Tim Duncan is fifth and the hometown kid, the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, is a distant sixth.

Behind Bryant and Paul in the backcourt is Golden State’s Stephen Curry (327,449), who received the most attention last year as a snub, followed by Houston’s Jeremy Lin and James Harden.

Belinelli, Most Improved Shooter

Marco Belinelli is shooting 57 percent from 3-point range (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE )

Marco Belinelli is shooting 57 percent from 3-point range. (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE )

The List

Biggest improvement, effective field-goal percentage

2012-13 2013-14
Player FGA eFG% FGA eFG% Diff.
Marco Belinelli 610 46.0% 140 63.6% 17.6%
Michael Beasley 766 43.4% 119 58.4% 15.0%
Andre Iguodala 879 50.2% 110 65.0% 14.8%
Jodie Meeks 530 50.2% 198 61.9% 11.7%
Wesley Matthews 808 54.0% 238 64.9% 10.9%
Tony Allen 638 44.8% 128 55.1% 10.3%
Jeremy Lin 897 49.0% 155 57.7% 8.7%
Spencer Hawes 811 48.3% 236 57.0% 8.7%
Markieff Morris 653 44.2% 196 52.0% 7.9%
Klay Thompson 1,205 50.9% 352 58.7% 7.8%

Minimum 500 FGA in 2012-13 and 100 FGA in 2013-14
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

The Context

It’s interesting how a different team can make a player better. The top two guys on this list went from bottom-10 offensive teams last season to top-10 offensive teams this season. Marco Belinelli went from the Rose-less Bulls to the Spurs, while Michael Beasley went from the Suns to the Heat. Andre Iguodala was part of a top-five offense last season, but the Warriors certainly space the floor a lot better than the Nuggets did.

Speaking of floor spacing, Belinelli is shooting a ridiculous 30-for-53 (57 percent) from 3-point range after going 2-for-3 in Tuesday’s win in Toronto. He’s also shooting 51 percent from inside the arc.

Is it a product of the system? Do Tony Parker‘s pick-and-roll brilliance and the Spurs’ ball movement produce more open shots for Belinelli?

First of all, only 54 of Belinelli’s 140 shots have come with Parker on the floor. He actually has shot better with Parker on the bench. He’s played more minutes with Patty Mills as his point guard and has been assisted 22 times by Manu Ginobili. Mills’ improvement, Ginobili’s resurrection and Belinelli’s shooting are big reasons why the Spurs are 16-4 despite an underperforming starting lineup.

According to SportVU, 61 percent of Belinelli’s shots have been uncontested* this season, a jump from 56 percent last season. But the jump is all in his 2-point attempts. In the 20 Bulls games that were tracked by SportVU last season, none of Belinelli’s 47 2-point attempts were uncontested. This season, 42 of his 87 2-point attempts have been uncontested.

*Uncontested: The nearest defender is at least four feet away.

Both years, most of his 3-point attempts (87 percent last season and 83 percent this season) have been uncontested. But he’s shooting them much better with the Spurs. He’s also 6-for-9 on contested threes this year.

So it’s very possible that this is just a fluky start to the season for Belinelli. Or maybe there’s something in the Riverwalk water.

There is one more aspect to Belinelli’s shooting that SportVU can clue us in on: whether he’s shooting more off the catch or off the dribble.

In games tracked by SportVU last season, 60 percent of Belinelli’s shots were catch-and-shoot. This season, that number is up to 75 percent. But again, he’s shooting much better on those catch-and-shoot jumpers this year.

While the Spurs run the most beautiful offense in the league and that offense certainly makes players look better than they would elsewhere, it’s hard to believe that Belinelli’s shooting numbers are very sustainable.

The Video

Here’s video of Belinelli’s six 3-point attempts against the Rockets on Nov. 30. One was a half-court heave, three were wide-open looks on feeds from Ginobili, one was a semi-heat-check, and the last was a rushed shot with the Spurs down four in the closing seconds. If you’re a Spurs fan, you have to love the way Ginobili has been playing.

And if you really like your meatballs spicy, here are all 30 of Belinelli’s made 3-pointers this season.

The bottom of the list

Kosta Koufos is the anti-Belinelli, with a regression of 13.6 percent. That mark edges out Kevin Garnett (-12.7 percent), Jerryd Bayless (-11.4 percent), Patrick Patterson (-10.6 percent) and Tyreke Evans (-9.4 percent). Koufos had an effective field-goal percentage of 58.1 percent on 508 shots with Denver last season and is at 44.5 percent on 146 shots with Memphis this season.

Trivia question

To qualify for the above list, you had to have attempted at least 500 shots last season. There are five players who had at least 500 field-goal attempts last season and have not played a game this season. Four of them are on rosters and are injured: Carlos Delfino, Danilo Gallinari, Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor. Can you name the fifth?

Random notes

  • Chris Paul has 84 assists to Blake Griffin this season and no other combination has nearly that number. Next on the list of teammate-to-teammate assists is Jeff Teague and Al Horford, who have hooked up for 62 of Horford’s buckets.
  • Paul, Griffin and the Clippers have the No. 1 home offense, scoring 111.2 points per 100 possessions in 10 home games. But they have just the 17th best road offense, scoring only 100.9 points per 100 possessions in 12 road games. Their differential of 10.3 isn’t the biggest in the league. That belongs to the Mavs, who have scored 10.9 more points per 100 possessions at home than they have on the road.
  • The biggest defensive differential belongs to the Rockets, who have allowed 14.9 fewer points per 100 possessions at home. Houston ranks third defensively at home and 28th on the road. The good news is that they have the No. 1 road offense.
  • Deron Williams returned to the Nets’ lineup against Boston on Tuesday and Brooklyn played its best offensive game of the season, scoring about 116 points per 100 possessions against what was a top-10 defense. Point guards are important.

Trivia answer

Shannon Brown, who attempted 571 shots for the Suns last season. He was sent to the Wizards in the Marcin Gortat trade and was waived before the season.

Howard Says Rockets Lacking Effort


VIDEO: Dwight Howard talks about the Rockets’ loss to the Suns

 

HOUSTON — From the moment the Rockets hit the free agent jackpot with Dwight Howard last summer and put him in the lineup with James Harden, there were always going to be questions about how they would put it all together and how long it might take.

Those questions were not supposed to be about how hard they would try.

“[Expletive] effort out there on defense and on offense,” said Howard. “The ball stuck … We didn’t move it and we can’t win that way.”

Bumps in the road over the course of the long regular season are to be expected, but the Rockets have now run head-long into a boulder of indifference as a 97-88 home loss to the Suns Wednesday night came on the heels of a virtual no-show trip to Utah on Monday.

“It had nothing to do with us missing shots,” Howard said. “They just played harder than us…It had nothing to do with the offensive game. They just played hard.

“We know what we [have to] do. It’s gotta be important for guys to come out and play the same way every night.”

The Rockets were shorthanded without Chandler Parsons (sore back), Jeremy Lin (sprained right knee), Omer Asik (right thigh contusion) and Greg Smith (sprained right knee). But neither Howard or coach Kevin McHale, who kept the locker room closed for 20 minutes after the game, would accept that out.

“You still have to play,” McHale said. “I don’t care who’s not there. You just [have to] go play and we didn’t play the right way.

“We didn’t move the ball. We didn’t move our bodies. They got up on us and started denying passes. We didn’t go backdoor. We didn’t drive all the scenes. When we did drive, we took wild shots…We did not play very good and that’s the bottom line.”


VIDEO:Coach Kevin McHale discusses the Rockets’ loss to Phoenix

The team’s leading scorer Harden shot just 3-for-17, including 0-for-10 from behind the 3-point line and bailed out early from the locker room after speaking only to team employees.

The Rockets were uninspired from the opening tip and never seemed able — or willing — to match the Suns energy or aggression and it was the fact that it was a virtual repeat of nonchalance that carried over from the loss to the Jazz that bothered Howard, who scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.

“We can’t give away games like this,” Howard said. “It will come back and bite us later on in the season. So we got to learn no matter how many guys we got out there, short-handed and all, we got to play the same way — play hard and play aggressive.

“It’s just [has to] be in you. You can’t coach it. You can’t draw up plays or anything like that. You just gotta have it.”

Howard would not reveal what the obviously distressed McHale told the team.

“We keep that between us,” said the All-Star center. “We know what we got to do. We don’t do it, we’re [going to] continue to lose.

“We got to learn when we’re down. We got to learn how to play when we got big leads. It’s something that we got to learn how to do. We got to get a good shot every time. Coming down and shooting quick shots is not always good, especially when you’re down. That gives a team like Phoenix an opportunity to run. That’s what they want to do. We played right into their hands tonight.”

It is only the second time this season that the Rockets have lost back-to-back games and, at 13-7, they are still the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference. So it was less a blaring alarm bell than a humming undercurrent reminder that a wannabe playoff contender needs more than summertime signings and headlines to turn into the real thing.

“It happens,” Howard said. “I told you guys a couple weeks ago the season is up and down. You go on runs. You have those games where you miss and you lose a couple of games. But the biggest thing is coming back the next game with a better effort and if not, then we got to take an ‘L’ for us to learn.”


VIDEO: Houston’s Dwight Howard fights through the defense for the jam

With Change Comes Improvement For Lin


VIDEO: Jeremy Lin shows off an improved 3-point stroke in a win over Philly

HOUSTON — When Jeremy Lin stepped back onto the court at Madison Square Garden two weeks ago, the signs were there. A throng of reporters around his locker, the kind of electrical hum that comes off power lines filling the air.

Linsanity, it was said, had returned, when in fact nothing could have been farther from the truth.

Despite having filled up the hoop with 31 and 34 points in the Rockets’ previous two games, this was not Lin making headlines around the basketball globe with every step, just a guy trying to make shots.

The stats say Lin has been a better shooter this season than last, his field goal percentage is up from 44.1 to 50.6 and his 3-point shooting improved from 33.9 to 39.7.

The eyes say that he is a better player, too. He’s playing with more confidence and a sense of true belonging that’s better than what he had during those surreal 2 1/2 weeks with the Knicks when he (seemingly) had the NBA world in the palm of his hand.

That was a time that was never built to last. These are the days that are determining Lin’s place in the NBA as either a footnote or a foot soldier.

“Jeremy’s played very well, doing the things we’ve asked him to do,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “It’s like I’ve said over and over and like I’ve told Jeremy many times, nobody could ever keep up with that pace of play that he had during those few weeks in New York. It’s just not realistic.

“I always thought there was going to be some leveling off last season when he came to us, but the truth is I was never as disappointed in him as a lot of people on the outside, and maybe Jeremy, were in him. For a guy who was playing what really amounted to his rookie season in the league, I thought he did well and there were things he had to work on.”

The most obvious was Lin’s shot, which had a hitch at the top and rarely looked comfortable as he let the ball fly. He spent the summer breaking the shot down, rebuilding it and learning to repeat it with constant use in workouts with Dwight Howard in Colorado and James Harden in California. Lin doesn’t pause anymore or look to pass the ball when he gets open perimeter shots. In raising his scoring average to 16.3 points per game, Lin has made at least half his attempts 10 times in the Rockets’ first 15 games.

“I’ve seen him shoot the ball all summer,” Howard said. “I know he can shoot the ball. We want him and need him to feel that it’s his place to shoot the ball.”

Lin is doing it while still trying to find his place in the Rockets’ rotation. McHale made the decision to open the season with Pat Beverley as the starting point guard. However, due to injuries to Beverley and Harden, Lin has since started seven games. He played 31 1/2 minutes, scored 14 points and shot 4-for-8 on Monday night as the Rockets came from behind to win at Memphis, but during the comeback Lin was sitting on the bench. As was Howard.

What Lin has improved as much as his shot is his ability to handle change, embrace new roles and ignore all of the outside-the-game distractions.

While the Twitterverse and knee-jerk over-reaction of the online world has tried to stir up a contest or a controversy with Harden and him — it is, you know, supposed to be a team sport — Lin just keeps moving forward. There are still defensive deficiencies, though he is considerably better, and even more attentive there than Harden. There is still the matter of trying to get all of these disparate parts of the Rockets to fit together.

Howard isn’t the explosive low post presence that he used to be back in Orlando either, 1-on-1 tutoring from Hakeem Olajuwon be damned. But there have been the indications that Lin has recovered a bit of the what-do-I-care swagger that was missing from his game last season as he tried to free himself from the weight of Linsanity.

“I’ll never forget that experience and I wouldn’t want to forget any of it,” he said. “There are some negatives in the aftermath that have made some things difficult. But let’s face it, it also opened up a lot of opportunities for me. In the end, I just can’t let it define me.”

Others have done enough of that already, trying to make more of an issue and a stir about his Lin’s shift to a reserve role and his place in the Rockets’ offensive hierarchy. Next season is the $15 million “poison pill” part of his contract the Rockets constructed in his three-year deal that helped sweep him their way. Clever then, indeed. But will Lin be that level of player, able to hold up under the scrutiny that will come again with the big raise?

It’s a question and a problem that can wait. For now, Jeremy Lin is content to take steps.