Posts Tagged ‘Joakim Noah’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 | Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings | Waiters believes he has grown | Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly?

No. 1: Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 — Black was going to be the color of the night heading toward the Portland Trail Blazers’ home game against Washington Saturday, the proper attire for the sort of mourning already going on over forward LaMarcus Aldridge‘s injured left thumb and the six-to-eight weeks Aldridge likely was going to miss recuperating and rehabbing. But then Aldridge surprised Blazers fans by announcing that he would postpone surgery and try to play with the torn ligament. And he did just that in Portland’s 103-96 victory, putting the “triumphant” into his return with 26 points, nine rebounds and one splint. Here’s some of the quotage from the Blazers’ locker room:

Head coach Terry Stotts: “Well it was a win that we needed to get. Understatement: it was good to have LA back. I’m glad he had a good game with the thumb and the splint. It was very encouraging.”

Blazers guard Wesley Matthews: “He was big time. Even if he didn’t have the monster game that he did, I think just his presence and his sacrifice of his own body and for him to recognize how special this season is and can be and continue to be, for him to give that up to be out there with us in the trenches, it speaks volumes. … He can’t sit out. He doesn’t want to sit out. He loves this game and figures if he’s got something to give, he’s going to give. I can relate to that.”

Aldridge: “I felt okay. There was a few moments where I got it hit or whatever, and it was kind of tender. But for the most part, it was okay. … I was just trying to work with it. I kind of figured it out as the game went on, how to use it or whatever, and I kind of played with it.”

More Aldridge, on the Moda Center crowd reaction: “It was humbling. I thought they definitely showed me love and they respected what I was doing at that moment, trying to play through it, so that was humbling.”

 

Not all was sweetness and light on the injury front in Portland, however. Wing Nicolas Batum sat out Saturday’s game after aggravating a right wrist injury Thursday against Boston. He initially hurt it when he took a spill in Milwaukee Dec. 17. Here is an update from The Oregonian:

Batum missed the next game, Dec. 19 at San Antonio, then played in the next two games before sitting out the Dec. 23 game at Oklahoma City. He said he has aggravated the injury several times – usually when he falls to the court. On Thursday against Boston, it was a third quarter fall that took him out of the game and ultimately led to him missing Saturday’s 103-96 victory over Washington.

Batum, who is wearing an immobilizing brace, said he is unsure whether he will rest and let the wrist heal, or continue playing through discomfort during the Blazers upcoming trip at Brooklyn, Cleveland, Atlanta and Milwaukee.

He is averaging 9.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 38 games. He is shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from three-point range, figures he largely attributes to his ailing wrist.

“It’s my shooting wrist,” Batum said.

***

No. 2: Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings — The pain in which Brandon Jennings writhed on the court at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee Saturday night — you could almost feel it. The way the Detroit Pistons’ point guard grimaced and banged the floor with one hand, while grabbing at his left ankle with the other, was palpable. Jennings, who had been rejuvenated along with the Detroit Pistons since they reconfigured their attack in a post-Josh Smith world, suffered a serious injury when he took a defensive step back on an inbounds play, and most who saw the replay and its aftermath immediately began to think of a torn Achilles tendon. That included teammate Caron Butler, as chronicled by the Detroit News:

“I saw him in pain, just the way he was. It was the second time I’ve seen something like that,” Butler said after Saturday’s game.

If Jennings didn’t know exactly what it was at the time, Butler had a good enough idea, remembering a former teammate Pistons fans should be familiar with.

Chauncey Billups,” Butler said, his face cringing at the memory of Billups’ Achilles tear in 2012 when both were members of the L.A. Clippers.

“It happened in Orlando. We were playing good basketball, Chauncey was playing great. I was right next to him. He asked, ‘Did you kick me?’ I said, ‘Nah, I didn’t touch you.’ He was on the ground grimacing so he got up and went back down because he couldn’t move. He just started hopping.”

The Pistons know how important Jennings has been, averaging 19.8 points since Smith was released. They were expecting a medical update Sunday, with backup D.J. Augustin poised to step into a bigger role again this season the way he did in Chicago when Derrick Rose got hurt early last season.

Like a quarterback, Jennings touched the ball every single play he was on the floor, the most improved player in the last 15 games. Averaging 21.3 points and 7.5 assists on 44-percent shooting tells only part of the story.

“He’s tapped into a part of his DNA that says he’s a star and he’s got to that place,” Butler said. “And we were riding him out. Greg and Andre and everybody’s gonna have to raise the bar.”

“He’s been the guy who’s been our catalyst offensively,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s been averaging 20 a game, high-assist, low-turnover, playing at the highest level of his career. Was a huge factor in the previous 15 games so, it’s a major, major loss.”

A Pistons teammate who suffered a shared his experience with the Detroit Free Press:

Jonas Jerebko, who tore his Achilles in 2010 in the first preseason game of his second season, said he had a chance to talk to Jennings.

He wouldn’t say what was discussed, but recalled his injury.

“It was like learning to walk again,” Jerebko said with a slight chuckle. “You really started off there, but you know we have the best in the business with [physical therapist] Arnie Kander.”

***

No. 3: Waiters believes he has grownDion Waiters was back in Cleveland with his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in anticipation of Sunday’s clash with the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. He’s the shooting guard traded a couple of weeks back in the deal that delivered New York’s J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland, part of a roster makeover credited – along with LeBron James‘ spa-shutdown of two weeks to heal and invigorate – for the Cavs’ boost in play. Waiters didn’t sound like an eager participant but he did submit to and answer questions from the media, including ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, on topics such as being scapegoated and his rapport with star teammates past and present.

“I ain’t really care what nobody say. It ain’t affect me. I slept good every night. I slept good every night. So, I mean, that’s what comes with the territory. That’s what comes with it when you got somebody like LeBron who brings all that attention around the team when we wasn’t used to having that. So the littlest things that you do, they be like the biggest. It’s so crazy. But it is what it is. I’m not in that situation anymore. Over here it’s still the same situation, but it’s different. I’m happy, I’m comfortable already two weeks in and I feel like I’ve grown. I’ve grown in a short period of time as a player and off the court.”

Waiters is averaging 11.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.8 steals on 39.8 percent shooting from the floor and 25 percent shooting from 3-point range in eight games with the Thunder. His production is nearly identical to the 10.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals on 40.4 percent from the field and 25.6 percent from 3 that he averaged for Cleveland this season before the trade.

The difference is in the win-loss column. The Thunder are 5-3 since acquiring Waiters. The Cavs are on an upswing as well, winners of five in a row.

“Both teams are doing great — winning,” Waiters said. “Everybody seems at ease now and that’s what it’s about, just being happy, being comfortable and having fun, getting an opportunity. That’s what it’s about.”

While his relationship with James has apparently ended, Waiters explained why reigning MVP Kevin Durant has embraced him.

“From the outside looking in, he probably saw how things were looking or how I’m always the odd man out and things like that. How it was going, how my name was always in something and half the time it probably never was me,” Waiters said. “I was that guy who you point the finger at, but I was fine with it. I could take it. I didn’t have no pressure on me. I didn’t have no pressure on me. My job is to go out there and play basketball, get as many wins as we can as a unit and unfortunately, it didn’t work out. And I think the organizations made great decisions on the moves and it’s helping both teams.”

***

No. 4: Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly? — We return now to our regularly scheduled injury news – notice a trend in these daily reports? – and to the suggestion by ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes that the Lakers, and specifically coach Byron Scott, could have handled the early days of Kobe Bryant‘s shoulder injury better. Instead, by letting Bryant continue to play after an overload of early-season minutes, Scott’s decision might have contributed to the torn rotator cuff on which they’ll all be updated Monday.

In hindsight, these issues appear greatly troubling, because just as Bryant must treat every aspect of his health, training and diet so seriously at this age just so he can perform, so too must the Lakers, and especially Scott, be ever so cautious with him.

That’s all the more true because Bryant is the Lakers’ sole attraction during an awful season, the lone reason for fans to tune in or attend games, all they really have to look forward to until the draft lottery. From a business sense, Bryant is their cash cow — their extremely well-paid cash cow — and thus missteps are extremely costly.

Where does blame lie? Certainly some falls on Bryant. He’s as powerful as any figure within the Lakers’ organization and as powerful as any player within any NBA franchise. If he wanted to play fewer minutes, he could have. If he wanted to get his shoulder examined earlier, he could have. The only person who could’ve stopped Kobe was Kobe, but he didn’t, because Kobe is Kobe. He believes he will overcome.

So the blame truly falls on Scott, who hasn’t been shy about admitting his fault in the issue. And, to a greater degree, the blame truly falls on the entire organization for not stepping in at some point earlier on when Bryant was playing all those minutes.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Washington’s John Wall wants Ray Allen to join the Wizards, but the All-Star point guard is busy enough without adding recruiting duties. … Brooklyn’s players and coaches admit they were shocked to learn of forward Mirza Teletovic’s season-ending condition … Houston’s Jason Terry still intends to play until he’s 40, and he’s surprised Shawn Marion won’t. … The photographer who first snapped Michael Jordan in that iconic, soaring pose is suing Nike over its use of the Jumpman logo. … Charlotte’s Marvin Williams did suffer a concussion when he took that elbow from New York’s Jason Smith.

 

Morning shootaround — Jan. 21


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers await word on Aldridge | Thibs gives Bulls a break | Wroten to see knee specialist | Saunders not a big fan of shootarounds, too

No. 1: Blazers await word on Aldridge’s thumb — Portland has designs on making a serious run for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. It’ll be hard for them to do that without All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. The big man is due to have an MRI today on his left thumb and will miss tonight’s game against Phoenix. How the team will cope if he is out for an extended period of time is another story. The Oregonian‘s Mike Richman has more:

If the Trail Blazers know anything more about LaMarcus Aldridge’s left hand injury, they weren’t saying much at practice on Tuesday.

“He’s at an appointment right now,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said at Blazers practice on Tuesday afternoon. “He won’t be traveling to Phoenix and hopefully there will be some determination this afternoon as what course of action.”

Aldridge was evaluated today by a hand specialist and has a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test scheduled for “later this week” according to the team. The Blazers announced that the they have not established a timetable for Aldridge’s return.

X-Rays revealed no breaks or fractures, but would not likely show if Aldridge suffered ligament damage.

“We’ll see what happens,” Stotts said. “I don’t want to rush to judgment on anything right now.”

The Blazers are 3-1 this season without Aldridge in the lineup and were 8-5 last season when he was forced to miss 13 games with a groin injury.

Chris Kaman, Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard and Dorell Wright are the Blazers remaining healthy big men. But the injury to Aldridge could force Stotts to get creative with his lineups as he did Monday against the Kings, when starting small forward Nicolas Batum played power forward next to Robinson for the entire fourth quarter.


VIDEO: Blazers coach Terry Stotts discusses LaMarcus Aldridge’s injury

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: Trevor Booker taps in possibly the shot of the year

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Booker practices those ‘circus’ shots | Tarpley, dead at 50, ‘could do it all’ | Cavs find sunshine through dark clouds | Rock bottom in 5 seconds for Nets

No. 1: Booker practices those ‘circus’ shots — Necessity is the mother of invention, but it occasionally can be the father of ridiculous. That’s how it felt Friday night in Oklahoma City, when Utah Jazz forward Trevor Booker took resourcefulness to an outrageous level and made not just the play of the night but the shot of the 2014-15 NBA season, at least based on rarity and degree of difficulty. Booker’s back-to-the-basket, no-time-except-to-tip, underhanded flip of a field goal attempt stunned pretty much everyone in the gym. Here’s Jazz beat writer Jody Genessey on the play:

With 0.2 seconds remaining on the shot clock, the Jazz got the ball out of bounds on the far sideline. The only shot that can even be completed in that amount of time is a tip, and that’s what Jazz coach Quin Snyder called for.

Booker said he didn’t even know the play that his coach barked out, so he headed to the hoop thinking Gordon Hayward would probably throw a lob. When that didn’t materialize, Booker rushed over toward Hayward and stopped with his back toward the basket.

That’s when, as the NBA marketing department might say, amazing happened.

Hayward made a bounce pass to Booker, who creatively and instinctively tipped the ball with both hands and flipped it up and over his head in the nick of time. It’s a move that might come in handy next summer when he plays volleyball again.

Incredibly, the ball plopped into the net, helping the Jazz take a 50-44 lead into the break.

“We try to cover a lot of game situations. That was not one,” Jazz coach Snyder said. “I have to say they manufactured that.”

While Snyder, Hayward and everyone else was startled, Booker grinned and immediately thought to the hours he and his cousin, Lakers forward Jordan Hill, spent practicing – yes, practicing – such goofball shots and situations. As cited by Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune:

“I know you won’t believe me, but I really do practice those shots,” he said in the locker room afterward. “My cousin [Lakers forward] Jordan Hill, he texted me after the game and said, ‘They’re not going to believe we practiced those shots all the time growing up.’ I guess you could say the hard work finally paid off.”

The Jazz lost the game, 99-94, and dropped to 13-24. But Booker was buoyant afterward about his team as well as that shot.

“That’s a good [team] right there,” he said of the Thunder. “Let’s not forget that they went to the Finals a couple years ago. We’re playing good ball right now, playing hard. I told the group, there’s no group I’d rather go to war with than these guys. We’re still trying to figure everything out, but as long as we keep playing hard the way we are, we’re going to be fine.”

***

No. 2: Tarpley, dead at 50, ‘could do it all’ — He was a child of the ’60s, which meant that Roy Tarpley was a young professional athlete in the ’80s, and while no decade has held exclusive rights to illegal drug use among major sports figures, that one ranks high. Tarpley was the seventh player picked in the 1986 NBA Draft – five spots after Len Bias, the poster guy for squandered dreams and tragic ends even today. Others taken early that day included Chris Washburn and William Bedford, two more whose careers washed out to substance abuse. Other sports had similar tales, and Tarpley’s came to an end with the news Friday that the former Dallas Mavericks forward had died at age 50. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News chronicled the sad news:

Cause of death was not immediately known Friday night, although when the Mavericks arrived in Los Angeles for their game Saturday against the Clippers, several members of the traveling party had been informed that liver failure was at least partly to blame.

The 6-11 Tarpley was the seventh pick in the 1986 draft by the Mavericks out of Michigan. In his second season, he was the NBA’s sixth man of the year before drugs and controversy shrouded the rest of his six seasons in the league.

According to a medical examiner’s report, Tarpley’s death happened at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. It is a sad ending to one of the most gifted players in franchise history. Tarpley had a rare combination of strength and speed that made him one of the best athletes of his era.

“Our condolences go out to the family of Roy Tarpley,” Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban said via Twitter. “RIP Roy. Mavs fans everywhere will remember you fondly.”

Tarpley’s off-court troubles probably followed him into the NBA from the University of Michigan and largely defined his time in Dallas, with the Mavericks assisting in significant ways. When he was right, he was very right; the 6-foot-11 native of Detroit averaged 12.6 and 10.0 rebounds in 280 regular season games over parts of six seasons. In 24 playoff games, his numbers were even better: 17.0 points, 12.8 rebounds and a 20.8 PER. He led the NBA in total rebound percentage (22.6) while winning the Sixth Man Award in 1987-88 and he led in that category again two years later. That’s the Tarpley fans would prefer to remember.

“If Roy had stayed healthy, he could have been one of the top 50 players ever,” said Brad Davis, the Mavericks’ radio analyst and player-development coach who played with Tarpley. “He could do it all, shoot, score, rebound, pass and defend. We’re all sorry to hear of his passing.”

Tarpley would spend most of his career battling personal problems. He was suspended by the NBA after five games in the 1989-90 season after being arrested for driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest. In 1991, he drew another suspension after a second DWI arrest and, a few months later, had a third violation and was banned from the league for violating the NBA’s drug-use policies.

He returned to the Mavericks briefly in 1994 but then was permanently barred in December 1995 for violating terms of his aftercare program.

***

No. 3: Cavs find sunshine through dark clouds — Some of us at Hang Time HQ have chided some of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ knee-jerk critics for ignoring the one thing everyone said that team would need in 2014-15, namely patience. Then again, a stretch of seven defeats in eight games, a four-game losing streak and two weeks without LeBron James – all while nearing the mid-point of January – might be an appropriate time to … PANIC! And yet, there was a calm of sorts about the Cavs after their 18-point drubbing at Golden State Friday and even some rays of optimism, as Cleveland beat guy Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com saw it:

It’s amazing how much the direction of a team can change once its members change the perception of their situation.

Monday in Philadelphia it seemed as low as you could go, with the Cavs blowing an early lead and losing to the laughingstock of the league with Kyrie Irving not making the trip because of a back injury and LeBron James away from the team, also nursing strains to his back and left knee while making a quick rehab trip down in Miami.

Five days later, with the team having pulled off two trades (in essence Dion Waiters for J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, and a couple of first-round picks for Timofey Mozgov and a second-rounder), Irving back in the lineup, and James back with the team for its five-game road trip — and even going through “minor” on-court activities for the first time since sitting out Dec. 30 — there’s some sunshine peaking through the clouds, according to coach David Blatt.

“It’s tough right now and I know it’s tough to see, but when we do get back to full strength, we’re going to be good,” said Kevin Love.

It was particularly noteworthy that Love was waving the encouragement flag because he took only 11 shots — compared to 23 apiece for Smith and Irving — but instead of focusing on his involvement in the offense after the fact, he set his sights on what the Cavs will look like in the near future.

Blatt took the same tone.

“I think you see we’re a better team today than we were yesterday and we were a week ago,” Blatt said. “I’m not even going to talk about the guys that aren’t playing, because we’re a better team today.”

The signs are more encouraging than sappy stuff like playing tough teams close – Houston, the Warriors – without their best player. There are no guarantees, but at least there have been some changes and the LeBron arrow is pointing up:

The new faces are already making their presence felt, whether it was Smith’s 27 points against the Warriors (“I told you coming in; I had nothing but a good feeling about J.R. joining our team,” Blatt said), or it was Mozgov’s nine points and eight rebounds in his debut and his reaction to how he was received (“The guys meet me so good,” the Russian-born Mozgov said in endearing broken English, “make me be the part of the family on the first day. … So, I love it”), or Shumpert’s competitive side relishing the fact he was leaving a sinking ship for a team that’s playoff-bound (“I didn’t want my season to end early,” Shumpert said).

There are no “gimme” games in the Western Conference, but Sacramento should be a winnable game on Sunday; and then, if James comes back just slightly ahead of his two-week rest schedule he could be in the lineup Tuesday in Phoenix, and if that happens you get the lame-duck Lakers next, and possibly have picked up a full head of steam going into the trip finale Friday against the Clippers.

***

No. 4: Rock bottom in 5 seconds for Nets — Realists in this league have a saying they occasionally invoke: “You are what your record is.” Pessimists around the Brooklyn Nets woke up Saturday believing that their team is about 10 games worse than its record, though, because the 16-19 Nets somehow blew a game against the 6-29 Philadelphia 76ers Friday night at the Barclays Center. The blog TheBrooklynGame.com had an intriguing snapshot of the team hitting rock bottom – actually, it was more of a film analysis, second-by-second, of Brooklyn’s best last chance in the game. It began with coach Lionel Hollins‘ admonitions that the Nets really aren’t a good team and then dissected an inbounds play that led to center Brook Lopez launching a prayer from beyond 3-point range on a failed attempt to win or tie:

With may-day approaching after three failed screens and little misdirection, Lopez shot up towards [Alan] Anderson, extending his left arm away from Nerlens Noel to catch the ball, as the only player left who had a chance.

The option was doomed from the start. The seven-footer, who has never made a three-pointer in the regular season, caught a wide pass from Anderson one-handed, spun counterclockwise to the middle of the floor, performed a ball-fake against the long and talented Noel to no avail, and flung a contested, fallaway three-pointer wide right, officially listed at 27 feet away but might as well have been from the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk.

“We’re honestly playing down to these teams these last few games,” Lopez said. “We’re better than this, and we’re doing it to ourselves. And we have to be better than this for the entirety of the game.”

It should’ve never come down to Lopez taking that final shot, because it never should’ve come down to a final shot at all.

“When we executed and made good decisions, and defended, and rebounded, we were ahead. Soon as we relaxed and made some bad decisions on offense, made some bad decisions on defense, they came back.”

Now, the Nets can only look ahead, and the road is ugly. 13 of the team’s 17 games before the All-Star break (and the trade deadline) come against teams slated to be in the playoffs, and that’s not including tomorrow night’s contest against the Detroit Pistons, who had won seven straight games before barely losing to the Atlanta Hawks, the Eastern Conference’s best team, Friday night.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Phoenix Suns considered Brandan Wright the “best backup center in the league” even before they acquired him from Boston. … Skip the soap-opera stuff, Mark Jackson‘s return to Golden State scarcely could have been more moving. … Don’t assume the Boston Celtics are done, even after they spend the weekend working out the kinks of their Jeff Green-to-Memphis trade. … No Kobe, no problem for the Lakers, who got a big boost off the bench from new guy Tarik Black. …

Curry closes on James in final All-Star voting update

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The King is still on top … but just barely.

LeBron James remains the overall leader in voting for the 2015 All-Star Game in the latest results released today, with 971,299 votes. But Golden State’s Stephen Curry is right on his heels with 958,014 total votes. In the third and final 2015 All-Star voting update, James and Curry remain atop their respective conferences, as they have been from the start.

NBA All-Star 2015The top ten vote-getters remain unchanged. Joining James in the East are Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, with a backcourt of John Wall and Dwyane Wade. Along with Curry in the West are Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol and Kobe Bryant in the backcourt alongside Curry.

There was some movement in this latest round of results. Toronto guard Kyle Lowry was a big gainer, passing Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving for third among Eastern guards, but with 406,974 votes, Lowry is still over 100,000 votes behind Wade for a starting spot.

Washington’s Marcin Gortat passed Chicago’s Joakim Noah to move into sixth among Eastern Conference big men.

The Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks still don’t have a player in the top ten; Hawks forward Paul Millsap is 13th overall among Eastern Conference forwards.

This is the final voting update before the All-Star starting lineups are announced live on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 22, during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by Autotrader.com at 7 p.m. ET, featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny Smith. Balloting concludes on Monday, Jan. 19.

This year, for the first time ever, fans have the power to vote for any active player in the NBA using the new online ballot. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.

Blogtable: Bulls bound for Finals?

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: Person of the Year? | Rondo or J-Smoove? | Bulls bound for Finals?



VIDEOJimmy Butler has emerged as a go-to scorer for Chicago this season

> Chicago is on a roll and appears to be making a beeline to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Is this the season the Bulls return to the NBA Finals? If not, tell me who’s gonna stop them?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comThis is the best Bulls team since Michael Jordan retired for the second time, as far as depth and potential, so there’s no reason – on paper – that it shouldn’t get to The Finals. Cleveland, more than its general meshing, has a problem in Anderson Varejao‘s injury that might not get fixed until the offseason. Toronto, in postseason savvy, is a step behind Washington. And the Wizards, for all the confidence they gained last spring, would have trouble defending against this more-potent Chicago lineup. Atlanta? I respect the Hawks, but one-trick ponies have trouble in seven-game series. So the biggest question for Chicago remains Derrick Rose‘s long-term health and availability. Which means the “who” who might stop the Bulls must be … uh, trainer Jeff Tanaka? (Just kidding, Jeff)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With Jimmy Butler stepping up his game this season, the Bulls have an improved offense and appear to have the pieces. But their defense has lost some of its teeth and Derrick Rose’s continued health still nags. I’m not ready to make Chicago the favorite. Have to like what the Raptors have done with best record in the East even with DeMar DeRozan out. Most efficient offense in the league and no-nonsense bulldog point guard in Kyle Lowry, who won’t go down easy. And let’s not write off the Hawks as just being the same old Hawks.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThey were my pick at the start of the season to come out of the East, and to win the whole thing, so I’m not going to change now. Certainly not with the big jump from Jimmy Butler and the rejuvenated Pau Gasol. Rose’s health history obviously makes it something of a risk pick, and it is tough to push all my chips in with that medical chart, but, yes, the Bulls are the team to beat.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIf they stay healthy, the Bulls have pole position in the East. They’re not a perfect team, but they bring more size, experience, defense and coaching to the playoff table than anyone else. The Raptors and Wizards haven’t done anything yet, the Hawks are a few stars short of going deep into May, and let’s not get started about the Cavaliers. If Jimmy Butler we see now is the Jimmy Butler we’ll see in the spring, then the East is theirs to lose.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The top four teams in the East – Toronto, Atlanta, Washington and Chicago – all have the potential to be a top-10 team on both ends of the floor. Toronto’s depth gives them an edge in the regular season, but Chicago — with its combination of talent (especially on the frontline), system, experience and coaching — is best set up to win in the playoffs. Health and durability through heavy regular-season minutes will always be a concern and it would be tough to pick them against the field, but the Bulls should be the slight favorite to be representing the Eastern Conference in The Finals.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAll of the components are there for the Bulls to finally make that long awaited return trip to The Finals. The Cavaliers were supposed to be the team that could roadblock the Bulls, but they aren’t that team in their current state. The Wizards have the talent to give Chicago a major test, yet they still cannot boast as deep or as balanced a roster as the Bulls can when fully healthy. The Raptors and Hawks would provide a stern playoff test, but both would come up short in three extremely important categories (size, seasoning and star power). The Bulls have everything you need, including Derrick Rose in uniform and not street clothes. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau knows that his team’s time is now. Chicago’s championship window is open now and it must take advantage of it.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe biggest concern for the Bulls is their own ligaments, tendons and muscles. Given the recent history of injuries among their best players, this is no small threat. If they are healthy, then they are it in the East. If they’re vulnerable physically, then the race becomes a scramble with anyone currently in the top five (plus Miami, which still has hope of pulling things together) having a shot at reaching the NBA Finals. Whereupon that team will be destroyed in five games or less.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I will recuse myself from answering the Atlanta Hawks because of inherent legacy fandom. (Even though I think the Hawks could knock off Chicago this season.) But I will say this: Why is everyone writing off the Cavaliers? I mean, I understand that it’s fun to watch a burgeoning empire stumble out of the gates, but the story this week about the team possibly not believing in Blatt reminded me so much of the first months of Erik Spoelstra’s tenure in Miami, when sources said the team may not have been buying into what he was selling. But the Heat stuck with it and I think we can all agree that things worked out pretty well there. The Cavs may have posted more misses than hits to start the season, but I think it’s short-sighted to write them off today. Cleveland still should be running with the Bulls by the end of the season.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe’s fire still burning | Free speech in New York | Pistons fading fast | KG tries to take a bite out of Noah

No. 1: Lakers get triple-double from Koke, beat Raptors — The showcase is not over for Kobe Bryant and perhaps the Los Angeles Lakers. That was clear in Sunday’s win over the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors, who saw Kobe school them for a triple-double (which including his career 6,00th assist). Even after all of these years, Kobe can still dial up a performance for the ages. Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times explains:

His game was nearly flawless, his numbers showed a triple-double and he became the first player in NBA history with 30,000 career points and 6,000 assists, gliding over the latter plateau with a third-quarter pass to Wesley Johnson that led to a successful 12-footer.

“It’s a huge honor. It means I pass more than people say,” Bryant said after accumulating 31 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds at Staples Center.

The most important number could not be overlooked amid the backdrop: 36 years old.

Bryant shoved the momentum firmly toward the Lakers with a three-point play, making a 15-footer while moving left and getting fouled by James Johnson with 2:23 left in overtime.

Before shooting the free throw, Bryant took a long walk toward the other basket and pounded his chest with his right fist before heading back to the free-throw line.

“It’s crazy,” said Wesley Johnson, who had 13 points. “Especially seeing how he’s doing it. He’s still going at it. It’s not like he’s slow-footed or he still can’t get to the rim. He’s starting to play like his old self. This is definitely going to be something to tell my kids.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant drops a triple-double on the Raptors

***

No. 2: Fisher fine with Stoudemire speaking his mind — Derek Fisher has more important things to worry about than the opinions of his players. The New York Knicks’ rookie coach has a season to worry about, a career even. Plus, he’s clearly a patriot and a believer in the freedom of all people to speak their mind, and that includes the sanctity of the locker room. That’s why Amar’e Stoudemire is free to weigh in on things in New York without retribution. Barbara Barker of Newsday has more:

“I think it shows some leadership from Amar’e, that he’s expressing how he feels about the team and his teammates and where we are as a group,” Fisher said. “I think it’s correct in terms of the assessment. And guys sometimes do that.

“It’s their locker room, so it’s more about how they feel than about how I feel about it. As long as guys continue to do the best they can, which I think Amar’e is trying to do, then sometimes you know some things may need to be said.”

Stoudemire ripped the Knicks after scoring a season-high 20 points against OKC. The problem was that no one else on the team scored more than 11 as the Knicks made only 38.7 percent of their shots in a 105-78 defeat.

“They played like they wanted it more,” Stoudemire said of the Thunder. “At this point, I don’t see how a team wants it more than we do. It’s unacceptable. We should be in desperation mode. We’re a team that’s fighting for a win. Right now, we got to have a higher sense of urgency and more enthused and mentally involved.”

***

No. 3: Warriors hand reeling Pistons eighth straight loss — The alarm in Detroit should have gone off by now. The reeling Pistons have lost eight straight games under Stan Van Gundy, the franchise honcho and the coach. This team is worse than its immediate predecessor, meaning whatever changes Stan Van was going to implement have yet to take hold. How bad is it? Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News tries to make sense of it all:

With his young center playing lifelessly and picking up his fourth foul early moments of the third quarter, Stan Van Gundy was incredulous, yelling “Fight! Fight!”, as the game predictably slipped away.

One has to wonder if it was then, or at any point in the game where Van Gundy’s thoughts drifted to what could have been, had he taken over the team he watched give the Pistons (3-14) their eighth straight loss and 11th and 12, the Golden State Warriors.

But the Warriors (14-2) weren’t offering Van Gundy total control this past offseason, and now he has total responsibility to fix this mess, one displayed on a Sunday afternoon for all to observe at The Palace, a 104-93 loss to perhaps the best team in the Western Conference.

Of all the control he has, Van Gundy can’t control the Pistons going 16 of 53 inside the paint, as they made seven of 27 in that range in the first half. As a whole, the Pistons shot 36 percent, a season low.

For the sixth time this season, they scored 40 or less before halftime — and for the umpteenth time, getting back on defense became a chore they were unable to finish.

“When you shoot 30 percent from the paint…if you look at the stats, three feet and in, we’re third in attempts,” Van Gundy said. “And last in field goal percentage. We barely finish over 50 percent of our shots, we’ve got a real problem.”

Whether it was because the hot shooting Warriors can beat you from the perimeter or an indication of his long-term plan, Greg Monroe went to the bench in favor of Kyle Singler. But aside from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope catching fire, scoring 23 while going 12-of-22 from the field, he still hasn’t found the right mix of players or the right scheme to turn this anemic offense around.

“If we had an answer, we’d change it,” said Monroe of the team failing to convert inside. “It’s really no other answer when you’re talking about layups and shots in the paint. I’m probably the culprit of it all.”

***

No. 4: Bite-gate is latest dust-up for KG and Noah — For once the Chicago Bulls can talk about something other than Derrick Rose after a game. Kevin Garnett made sure of it with the latest and perhaps strangest move of his colorful career. Apparently KG didn’t get enough of those Thanksgiving leftovers. He was busy trying to get a bite of Joakim Noah‘s hand during the Bulls’ win over the Nets Sunday. According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, it’s the craziest thing Noah has seen in his colorful career, too:

Joakim Noah just smiled and shook his head in disbelief.

“Kevin Garnett tried to bite me. That’s crazy man. It’s unbelievable,” Noah said. “I don’t even know what to say.”

But then Noah said more about the incident, which rapidly circulated via social media following the Bulls’ victory over the Nets.

“I’m happy he didn’t connect,” Noah said. “If somebody tries to bite you, I think it’s a little bit more than trying to get in your head. It’s pretty amazing.”

The two players share a colorful and intense rivalry. Noah has alternated between praising Garnett’s intensity and admitting he respects him to bewilderment.

“I have fun playing against him when we win,” Noah said. “We’ve been doing some winning against him lately.I know how competitive he is and I know it drives him crazy to lose like that. I’m not worried about Kevin Garnett. I’m just worried about us, staying healthy and getting better. That’s really all I care about.”

Garnett laughed when questioned about the incident.

“I know how to bite somebody,” he said. “Obviously I was messing around in that moment. If I wanted to bite him, I’d have just … shout out to Mike Tyson …”


VIDEO: Kevin Garnett appeared to bite at Joakim Noah during Sunday’s game

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Slimmer and fitter Marc Gasol pushes the Memphis Grizzlies to the top …  The New Orleans Pelicans are taking a look at Dante Cunningham …  Steve Nash and Byron Scott have yet to discuss the Lakers’ situation and that’s apparently fine with Scott … Don’t forget about Dwyane Wade

Morning shootaround — Nov. 14


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rose says hamstring injury is ‘minor’ | Bryant says he’s ‘jealous’ of Duncan’s stability | Jackson relishing role in OKC | No finger-pointing so far on Knicks

No. 1: Rose says hamstring injury is ‘minor'; Noah lays into media — Chicago Bulls fans held their collective breath (again) last night when Derrick Rose exited the game with what was initially thought to be an ankle injury. Although the Bulls won 100-93 against the Toronto Raptors, the topic after the game was obviously Rose and his injury — which ended up being a hamstring injury. ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell has more on Rose’s status and how the injury may not be that serious:

“I guess it’s cramps in my hamstrings,” Rose said. “But I think it’s minor, and they decided to pull me out.”

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game that Rose told him he was fine and that he thought he had just tweaked the hamstring.

Thibodeau thought an MRI on the hamstring was likely for Friday, but Rose was hopeful he wouldn’t have to have one. He said he would receive ice and muscle stimulation treatments, and left open the possibility he might be able to practice Friday.

“I don’t think it’s that serious,” Rose said. “Just ice it, stim, see if I can practice [Friday] and give it a go Saturday.”

The injury occurred with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Rose turned over the ball and fell to the floor before walking gingerly back to the bench. He isn’t quite sure how it happened.

“I don’t know, man,” Rose said. “Just missing two years, now you’re just going to fall for no reason I guess, man. Just trying to work every day, put in consistent work every day. And don’t lose any confidence with these setbacks.”

Rose’s teammate Joakim Noah delivered an impassioned defense of the point guard after the game and said he was upset with the way the media portrayed Rose’s statements earlier this week when the former MVP admitted he was thinking about the future as it pertained to if and when he played in certain games this season.

“We’re a group that’s gone through a lot,” Noah said. “Just looking at [the situation] as a teammate is just frustrating because I feel like sometimes he’s portrayed as something that he’s not. You don’t come back from the injuries that he’s coming back from without an unbelievable commitment … just watching the league and the power that [the media] have. Sometimes you guys can really portray somebody as something he’s not, and to me that’s a little disappointing just because I know how much he cares about this game.

“I see it every day. I think we’re all in this together. This is not a one-man team. But at the end of the day, we need him; we need him, and I don’t want to see him down. I know sometimes it’s frustrating, you’ve got injuries, you’ve got tweaks. Every time something happens to him, people act like it’s the end of the world, and that’s f—ing so lame to me. Relax. He’s coming back from two crazy surgeries, obviously we’re being conservative with him, and when things aren’t going right, he’s got to listen to his body more than anybody. So everybody needs to chill the f— out. I’m sorry for cursing but I’m really passionate. I don’t like to see him down and he doesn’t say that he’s down, but I just don’t like it when people portray him and judge him because it’s not fair to him. It’s not.

“We’re going to be just fine. We’re going to be just fine. We just got to take it — everybody just needs to chill out. Chill out.”


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew discusses Derrick Rose’s injury

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Report: Bulls’ Rose set to return tonight; Noah (flu) a game time decision

HANG TIME BIG CITYDerrick Rose appears set to return to the Bulls’ line-up tonight against the Orlando Magic (8 p.m. ET, League Pass). Rose sprained both ankles last Friday in a loss to Cleveland, then missed Chicago’s win on Saturday night against Minnesota, an absence he termed as mostly precautionary. But at shootaround in Chicago today, Rose went through the entire session and, according to ESPNChicago.com, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose was “probable” for tonight. Joakim Noah, meanwhile, missed the shootaround with flu-like symptoms and will be a game time decision.

Rose told reporters that his recovery from the sprains has been steady. As ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell writes

“I’m feeling good,” he said. “Every day it’s improving. [I’ll] come in early tonight and really stretch and get treatment, try to go over everything [in] every area and try to give it a go tonight.”

The Bulls and Rose want to take a cautious approach regarding his health because there are so many games left in the regular season.

“It is [frustrating] but there’s nothing I can do about it,” Rose said. “I’d have something to worry about if I just twisted it by myself, nobody was around, but I came down on somebody’s foot and that was the reason why I sprained it. [The injuries] are just basketball related, something that’s just going to happen. It’s a basketball injury, so I just got to get used to it. I think it’s part of the process, you just got to keep going through it with a positive mindset.”

Morning shootaround — Oct. 23


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Love seeking more play in paint | Report: Noah’s knee may be season-long ‘issue’ | Howard gets a little wistful | Lakers’ Hill returned because D’Antoni left

No. 1: Love looking for more touches in paint — A cursory glance at last night’s box score from the Cavaliers’ game against the Grizzlies in Memphis shows Kevin Love had a decent night for Cleveland — 12 points (on 4-for-9 shooting), eight rebounds, an assist and two steals in roughly 23 minutes. After the game, though, Love told Chris Haynes of The Plain Dealer that he’s looking for more touches in the interior than out on the perimeter to fully get his game back on track for the looming 2014-15 season:

In two consecutive games early in exhibition play against the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks, Love appeared to have found his groove, scoring 50 points in total while shooting 17-of-23 from the field.

He was also a blistering nine-of-12 from three-point range in that two-game span.

The All-Star power forward had it going. But aside from those two games, Love averaged 8.5 points, shot 29 percent from the field and was 1-for-11 from beyond the arc.

Love averaged 3.8 three-point attempts per game, an adequate amount for the former All-Star Weekend three-point champion.

Though he has still found ways to be productive for the Cavaliers, after the 96-92 loss preseason finale loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, he told Northeast Ohio Media Group that he needs more looks inside to get his game back.

“My entire life I played the game from inside-out,” Love explained to NEOMG. “So the more touches I can get inside to get myself going, the better. I’m not accustomed to starting out a game shooting a three, so it’s just something that I see.

“I’m 26-years-old and I’ve been playing basketball for quite a long time. Just finding ways to mix it up. If anything, keeping it around the basket a little bit more and the offense will allow me to get offensive rebounds. That will be tough for teams with Andy [Varejao] and myself and Tristan [Thompson] in there.”

His long-ball threat is a valuable weapon; the reason head coach David Blatt is utilizing him in that fashion. Love says the offense calls for him to be out on the perimeter, but he says he has to make sure he remembers to go inside more.

“Yeah, the offense is built that way but I just have to make a conscious decision to get myself in there,” Love said. “There are a lot of times where I just find myself fading to the three-point line. For me, it’s a mentality and that’s easy to fix.

“We’ve been putting in stuff like different pin-downs, cut-across and cross-screens to get me open in there. You’ll see a lot more of that during the season. That’s always how I played and I know that coach wants me to play that way, as well.”


VIDEO: Marc Gasol powers the Grizzlies past the Cavs

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Opportunity knocks for Teague, Hawks


VIDEO: The NBA TV crew believes Jeff Teague and the Hawks are poised for big things this season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Jeff Teague is a man of few words.

He chooses his wisely and knows that two sometimes do the job better than a few. But the Atlanta Hawks’ point guard isn’t shy about his team. Not after what the Hawks did last season, sliding into that eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and then scaring the daylights out of the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in an entertaining seven-game series that served as yet another showcase for Teague.

He’s one of the league’s best young point guards who never seems to find his way into that conversation. With top 10 rankings in several key statistical categories, you could make the case that Teague should be included in any conversations about the top current point guards in the Eastern Conference, at least.

Teague, however, is content to let his play speak for him and keep his focus on the opportunity that awaits the Hawks in a revamped Eastern Conference. With an All-Star in Paul Millsap and a returning All-Star in Al Horford and coach Mike Budenholzer‘s system as their frame, Teague says that team people enjoyed watching last season and during that playoff series against the Pacers is back and ready for more.

I caught up with Teague Monday and pressed him for more than a few words …

NBA.com:  The lasting image of this team for many people is what we saw of you against the Pacers in the playoffs. How is this team any different without any big offseason moves to speak of?

Jeff Teague: It’s definitely different right now because we have everybody healthy. So it’s definitely going to be a little different. Having Al back  and in there to be a rim protector changes things for us. We’re definitely going to be better defensively with Al back in the mix. And just getting more comfortable with the system and having Thabo [Sefolosha] and Kent [Bazemore], who are really active defenders, come over really makes us a different team, a better team. For the offensive part, we’re still going to be exciting.

NBA.com: Is that the biggest change you’ve experienced since you’ve been with the Hawks, going from the previous systems to the one Bud brought here?

Jeff Teague: I just think this is a fun way to play basketball. We enjoy playing with one another. And the fans, if you watch the game it’s enjoyable. You don’t have to see one guy take all the shots or dominate the ball and post it up and do that all night. There’s going to be a lot of movement in this system, a lot of ball movement and plenty of guys touching the ball. It’s a beautiful game when it’s played that way. And it’s enjoyable for everybody, the guys on the floor and the folks in the stands. (more…)