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Posts Tagged ‘Joakim Noah’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates | Thunder getting overlooked, underloved? | Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage | Long trip leaves Cavs in good place

No. 1: Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates — Your first instinct was to look around for Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. He was the culprit involved in the NBA’s previous most notable shoulder injury, locking up Cleveland’s Kevin Love in the first round last spring and sending the former All-Star forward off to surgery, done for the rest of the playoffs. This time, though, it was Dallas’ JaVale McGee getting tied up with Chicago’s Joakim Noah, with Noah suddenly pulling away and running off the court while shouting anguished expletives. Noah’s left shoulder dislocation was a significant re-injury of the same shoulder he had sprained before Christmas, and according to Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson, it has the frustrated center and his teammates rattled while awaiting the outcome of an MRI exam. Meanwhile, any plans by Bulls management to explore the trade market for Noah, an impending free agent, probably have been diminished:

A Saturday MRI will produce an official prognosis and whether surgery is needed, but the injury likely will have major ramifications for the franchise — and for Noah. The Bulls have gauged the market for Noah in advance of next month’s trade deadline, an option that is in serious jeopardy now.

More powerfully, the Bulls waited two weeks to clear Noah for contact practices and officially rule out surgery for his last injury, which involved a small tear. If surgery is needed this time, could Noah, an unrestricted free agent, have played his last game for the franchise that drafted him in 2007?

“It didn’t look good,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

“It’s devastating,” Derrick Rose said. “He’s a big piece.”

No two injuries are the same, but [Love] took more than four months to return to basketball activity after dislocating his shoulder in last season’s playoffs.

“I’m frustrated for him,” Taj Gibson said. “He felt so good coming into this game. We don’t know the severity of it but the look on his face was just crazy. He had put so much work in to get back to the team.

“It just makes my stomach sick. You’ve been going to war with this guy all kind of different circumstances over eight years, a guy you pride yourself with, especially with practice and he’s one of the emotional leaders, it hits you in the heart. Seeing him on that table like that, I kind of got flashbacks to when Derrick got hurt. You don’t want to see your man go down like that. It’s frustrating.”

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No. 2: Thunder getting overlooked, underloved?— No one would welcome additional, legitimate championship contenders for the Larry O’Brien Trophy this June than the NBA. It just so happens that the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, are as good as or maybe better than they were last season. The San Antonio Spurs have a history of success unrivaled for duration since the Bill Russell-era Boston Celtics. And the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James, who has taken his team to five consecutive Finals. Outside of those three franchises, though, the league’s other 27 teams have more skeptics than supporters when assessing their shot at a spring ring. Royce Young of ESPN.com took a hard look at where the Oklahoma City fit among the top contenders, and wound up re-visiting a familiar topic – media disrespect – with former MVP forward Kevin Durant:

A couple of hours before the Oklahoma City Thunder squared off against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, Michael Wilbon said on “Pardon The Interruption”: “There’s only three teams in the NBA, right now from where we sit, who can win the championship, who can even play for the championship.”

Those three: the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers. “That’s it,” Wilbon said. “That’s the list.”

The Thunder went on to effortlessly roll over the young Wolves 113-93, as expected, improving to 29-12. At the midway point of the season, that puts the Thunder on a 58-win pace, which in the past 10 seasons on average is good for the second seed in the Western Conference, and has been good for the No. 1 seed twice. With a robust margin of victory of +8.2, on paper, the Thunder look like a surefire contending power.

But plenty of people around the league seem to share the same sentiment as Wilbon. It’s Warriors, Spurs and Cavs, and then everybody else.

The question is, where are the Thunder?

“Man, the [media and experts are] always trying to nitpick us,” Kevin Durant told ESPN.com. “I mean, they don’t like us. They don’t like how Russell [Westbrook] talks to the media, they don’t like how I talk to the media. So obviously, yeah, they’re not going to give us the benefit of the doubt.

“Especially since we’ve been together so long. Some of these teams are new, except for the Spurs, who have won. But we haven’t won and we’ve still got the same core, so they don’t expect us to win. It is what it is, who cares about them. They don’t mean nothing, the critics. Their opinions, everybody has one, but we don’t really care about them. Every day we’re just going to keep grinding this thing out. We feel like we can compete with anybody.”

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No. 3: Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage — Change is hard, especially when the state from which one is departing worked so darn well. The Indiana Pacers committed to a pace-and-space attack over the summer, shedding the “smash mouth” style built around center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West that had produced consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals. There were growing pains early – Paul George didn’t like the idea of being stuck as a “power forward” – but George, his teammates and coach Frank Vogel worked out the kinks for a satisfying start. But Indiana has dropped nine of its past 15 games since starting 16-9 and whether in response to opponents’ tactics, George’s sputters after his early MVP form or just lapsing into old habits, the Pacers have slowed down and gone bigger. That had Larry Bird, the team’s president of basketball operations, displeased when he spoke to Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star:

“I just can’t get a handle on it right now because these guys are up and down,” Bird said in a telephone interview just hours before Friday’s game against Washington. “I can’t tell you what is best for us right now. We’ve had success with the small lineup, but we’ve had success with two big guys in there. It’s going to take a little bit more time, but I would like to have won more games up to this point. I don’t think any of us feel comfortable with how we’re playing and the way things are going.”

What Bird does not want the Pacers to do is waver from the new offensive philosophy they developed in the offseason.

“I’d like to see teams match up with us instead of us worrying about who certain guys are going to guard on the other teams,” Bird said. “Let’s see if they can guard us. If you’ve got good ball movement and you’ve got guys hitting shots, it makes it pretty easy.”

After talking with Bird after Thursday’s practice, Vogel returned to the spread lineup to start Friday’s game for the first time since Dec. 31. The results were not what Bird desired. The Pacers fell behind early to the Wizards and struggled throughout in a 118-104 blowout loss. The Pacers missed 14 of their 17 3-pointers and were outrebounded by the Wizards 54-35.

Bird and Vogel have talked almost every day throughout the season. Vogel said their conversations have not changed much, but he mentioned before Friday’s game that every aspect of the team is in flux, from which lineup should start to which players should be on the court in the final minutes of games.

Vogel said he has favored the big lineup because it has a strong defensive rating of 89.4, a statistic that measures points allowed per 100 possessions, entering Friday’s game. The spread lineup’s defensive rating is 106.3.

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No. 4: Long trip leaves Cavs in good place — Fatigued yet fulfilled, the Cleveland Cavaliers returned home in the wee hours Saturday from a long road trip that may have positioned them just right for another push to the Finals. The mood of their leader, LeBron James, was evident in a Tweet James posted upon getting home:

It also was clear in James’ comments after a breezy 20-point victory at Houston to conclude the trip that Cleveland might just be revving up to keep playing for another five months. Here is an excerpt from Dave McMenamin‘s piece for ESPN.com:

After traveling nearly 6,000 miles over the course of a six-game, 12-day trip — enough distance to go from New York to Los Angeles and back again — the Cleveland Cavaliers walked out of the Toyota Center on Friday night having picked up five wins on the journey and a boost of confidence to take into the second half of the season.

“The only thing I care about is how I lead these guys every single night, and I know we can compete with any team in the league and it doesn’t have to be a regular-season game,” LeBron James said afterward when asked if it bothered him that some were judging the Cavs because of that Spurs loss [Thursday]. “I know, you give us four games and it’s time to lock down in a playoff series, we can play and we can beat any team in this league. So that’s my feeling and that’s what I know.”

The certainty in James’ words was significant, as the 5-1 trip seemed to solidify the notion that his Cavs had indeed turned the corner. They won in just about every imaginable fashion — blowing it open late in Washington; thoroughly dominating in Minnesota; toying around with the competition in Philadelphia; coming from behind in Dallas and making big plays down the stretch; and then, in Houston, shooting only 39.1 percent as tired legs resulted in missed jump shots, but determined defense wouldn’t let them lose as the Rockets shot even worse at 35.1 percent.

They’ve now won nine of their past 10 games, heading into a home date with the Golden State Warriors on Monday, and are starting to look like the team that became a juggernaut in the second half of last season through the playoffs, until injuries derailed them in the Finals.

“I think just being on the road, just together for 12 days just brought us together more,” Cavs big man Tristan Thompson told ESPN.com. “And you can see it on the court. There’s more flow. Guys are understanding where guys are going to be at.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Byron Scott is talking about playing the Lakers’ young guys more over the second half of the season, though it’s hard to imagine Kobe Bryant‘s Farewell Tour yielding to any sort of organizational-development agenda. … We can understand why the Brooklyn Nets would be interested in Tom Thibodeau to bail out their dismal operation, but we’re unclear as to why Thibodeau would be interested in the Nets. … San Antonio has been so good for so long, it’s kind of unfair to the rest of the league, according to USA Today. … The first priority with Nene always seems to be, getting him healthy .The second is keeping him that way, because his impact on the Washington Wizards is considerable. … This Miami Heat teams lacks some of the self-assurance and self-awareness that the Big Three edition owned, says one insider. … There are Bulls fans who wish that Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose got along as famously as Butler and his Hollywood buddy Mark Wahlberg.

Noah dislocates shoulder, raising ‘bigs’ questions for Bulls

VIDEO: Bulls center Joakim Noah re-injures left shoulder.

CHICAGO – Joakim Noah grabbed at his left shoulder, ran beyond the baseline and cut loose with anguished expletives. Tied up with Dallas’ JaVale McGee, the Chicago Bulls center suffered a dislocation of his left shoulder in the second quarter against the Mavericks at United Center and once he made a U-turn, sprinted immediately to the Bulls’ locker room. He was done for the night.

The bigger question is how long Noah might be out overall and what that might mean both to his season and any notions Chicago might have about sorting out their multiple-bigs situation at the February trading deadline. It’s the same shoulder Noah hurt on Dec. 21, suffering what then was called a sprain against Brooklyn that cost him nine games.

He only returned Monday against Washington and, in three games back against the Wizards, the Bucks and the 76ers, averaged 3.0 points and 10.7 rebounds. But the season has been a struggle for Noah from the start – he lost his starting spot when new head coach Fred Hoiberg opted to team first Nikola Mirotic, then Taj Gibson at power forward. The 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year was averaging 4.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg and 22.5 mpg, mostly off the bench.

Noah, who will be a free agent this summer, hasn’t been able to showcase his talents. The Bulls are 8-2 in the games he has not played. But even if Chicago were to explore trade scenarios involving Noah, he might be seen as damaged goods if his latest shoulder injury requires surgery or a long layoff. And the Bulls don’t have long-term stability at the center spot, with Gasol saying earlier in the season he would likely opt out of his contract this summer.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A kinder, gentler Bryant? | Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn | Stevens rejoins Celtics | NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio

No. 1: A kinder, gentler Bryant? For the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant‘s farewell tour has become the focus of their season. Which may be a good thing, since the Lakers otherwise haven’t been very good, compiling an 8-30 record thus far. Yet despite all the losses, Kobe seems to be enjoying himself as he plays out the string, and the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan writes, has Kobe’s legendary burning desire to win faded a bit in this his final NBA season?

It was bad to be a trash can if Kobe Bryant was mad.

This was years ago, back when there were championship expectations, but Bryant booted one clear across the Lakers’ locker room at Madison Square Garden after a rough loss.

It was also sometimes bad to be toilet paper, apparently. Bryant angrily called his teammates “soft like Charmin” during a rant at practice in which he didn’t feel challenged. This was a little over a year ago.

The smoldering Bryant is now replaced by a smiling one, even as the Lakers (8-30) pinwheel toward the worst season in their 68-year history.

They played well Friday but lost a tight one to Oklahoma City. The new, lighthearted Bryant showed up again in the interview room, just like the previous night after a close loss in Sacramento.

The losses don’t seem as devastating to him.

“I just hide it a lot better,” he said Friday.

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No. 2: Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn Last summer, Brooklyn center Brook Lopez was one of the most talented big men available in free agency. He eventually re-upped with the Nets, and though the team has struggled this season, Lopez has been a bright spot, averaging 19.8 points to go with 7.8 rebounds. The Nets may face an uncertain future, but as Andy Vasquez writes for the Bergen Record, Lopez says he has no regrets about re-signing with the Nets…

The Nets are in the midst of another disappointing season, certainly far from what Lopez envisioned when he re-signed. But the 27-year-old doesn’t regret his decision.

“No, no, no. I’m happy to be here,” Lopez said Thursday at the team’s practice facility.

“Time and time again I’ve said I wanted to see something built here, I see a special opportunity, a great situation to be in.”

The current situation isn’t exactly a bright one. Brooklyn just lost starting point guard Jarrett Jack for the season with a torn ACL.

Rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who showed promise, is at least another month from returning from a broken ankle that has sidelined him since early December.

While the Nets aren’t mathematically eliminated from the NBA playoffs — it’s not even halfway through the season — they may as well be.

Brooklyn is closer (seven games ahead) in the standings to the awful Sixers than to the final playoff spot in the East (nine games behind).

The Nets don’t have control of their first round draft pick until 2019 thanks to the 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

So the franchise’s best chance is to hope free agents agree with Lopez about there being a special opportunity in Brooklyn.

Despite all the doom and gloom, the Nets do have some things going for them.

They should have about $40 million in cap space next summer, enough to offer two max salaries to free agents.

Barclays Center is still the league’s newest arena and the team’s state-of-the art Brooklyn practice facility opens next month. And then there’s the lure of the nation’s largest media market.

“The opportunity to play in New York, first and foremost,” Lopez said, when asked how he’d pitch the Nets. “The facilities we have. I think, for me, it’s all about potential.”

That potential starts with Lopez and Thaddeus Young, 27, two nice players with several prime years remaining in their careers. Both are having seasons worthy of All-Star consideration.

Meanwhile, Hollis-Jefferson was better than expected when he played. And the Nets have an intriguing young prospect in Chris McCullough, who has spent the season rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered at Syracuse a year ago.

Add the right pieces and the Nets could be a good team next season. And Lopez said that matters more than anything.

“At the end of the day, it’s about winning, regardless of where you are,” Lopez said.

“Whether we’re luring free agents or want people to stay or whatever it is, you’ve got to be able to show them that there’s opportunities here for that. We have to have the right product on the court.”

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No. 3: Stevens rejoins Celtics Before joining the Boston Celtics, coach Brad Stevens led Butler University to several memorable NCAA Tournament appearances. And with his former Butler player Andrew Smith in the hospital battling cancer, Stevens recently missed a Celtics game in order to spend time with Smith. Stevens rejoined the Celtics on Saturday and, as the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn writes, says the last few days helped put things into perspective…

Celtics coach Brad Stevens returned to the team Saturday, conducting a rather important practice at the University of Memphis in his quest to end the team’s recent doldrums.

He returned from his trip to Indiana with a heavy heart. He acknowledged visiting former player Andrew Smith, who has been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but wouldn’t offer specifics on his condition, only to say he felt compelled to visit him immediately.

Stevens left the club in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, missing the team’s 101-92 loss to the Bulls.

“It’s very tough, not as tough on me as it is certain on [Smith and his family], but certainly emotionally, very challenging,” Stevens said following practice at the Larry Finch Center. “It certainly puts things in a lot of perspective. The conditions [of Smith] were worsening. I’ll let [his family] talk about his condition. I’m glad that I went.”

Stevens returns to a team that has lost four of five games and fallen out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics have been abysmal shooting from the field in their past two losses — 36.5 percent from the field, 25.5 percent from the 3-point line — and are playing with wavering confidence.

“We could have controlled things to give ourselves a little bit better chance,” Stevens said of the Chicago loss. “I told [the players] this today. We’ve got to get better in a lot of areas. But we usually play hard.

“Sometimes we play a little haphazard but we usually play hard, so we need to bottle that up and play a little more controlled at times.”

Isaiah Thomas, who has made just 11 of 37 shots in the last two games, took full responsibility for the Bulls loss, saying his poor body language and frustrations spilled over to his teammates. Stevens didn’t fully agree.

“I think it says a lot about him from an accountability standpoint,” Stevens said of Thomas. “And at the same time, that’s an overreaction too, because we don’t feel that way. He’s going to have his moments. Other guys are going to have their moments. Other guys are going to have bad moments. We just all have to be in this thing together. We need to improve.”

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No. 4: NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio — The NBA has become a global league, followed worldwide and played by athletes from all corners of the earth. Australia, in particular, has become a hotbed of hoops, with its own popular domestic league and several NBA players who originated Down Under. As Roy Ward writes in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australians in the NBA are looking forward to trying to find Olympic glory this summer in Rio…

The 82-game NBA season engulfs the lives of all players and Australia’s basketballers are not immune from this.

But on planes, buses or in down time, the country’s leading players admit their thoughts turn to the Rio Olympics and the glass ceiling that sits in front of a first men’s Olympic medal.

Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Cameron Bairstow, Aron Baynes and Joe Ingles are all in thick of the action this season while Dante Exum continues to rehabilitate his reconstructed knee.

In Europe, in US college basketball and in the NBL sit the rest of the Boomers aspirants with the final 12-man squad not due to be announced until later in the year.

Since the team qualified for Rio in August last year, they have made public their goal to win the gold medal in Brazil despite Team USA’s long-running dominance in the men’s competition.

What adds credence to the Boomers’ brave stance is Bogut, Mills, Dellavedova and Bairstow are playing on NBA championship contenders while Bogut, Mills and Baynes have won NBA championship rings since 2014.

“There is a lot going on here but while it’s not the every day to day focus it’s always in your mind that it’s coming up and that all the boys are playing well, not just in the NBA but in Europe and the NBL,” Dellavedova said.

“We are all very excited and keep in regular touch through group message, we are going to catch up at All-Star break.

“We are all very excited, focused and committed to trying to do something really special at Rio and we realise the time is now for that.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks got a career night from Al Horford last night in a convincing win over the Bulls … Some changes may be in store for the D-League Showcase … Chicago is hoping to get Joakim Noah back from injury this weekRobin Lopez is starting to focus on his offensive post playIsaiah Canaan pays attention to advanced stats … Powerball fever may have been sweeping the nation the last few days, but don’t expect Dirk Nowitzki to get excited about it …

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry questionable for Warriors next game, Green is a go | Butler wants nothing to do with Jordan comparisons | Heat starters finally in positive territory | Z-Bo remains a bright spot for Grizzlies | Kupchak knows Lakers can’t move on until Kobe does

No. 1:Curry questionable for Warriors’ next game, Green is a go — The Golden State Warriors are justified in their concern for reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry, who is battling a shin injury that could allowed him to play all of 14 minutes in the team’s past three games. Curry is questionable for the Warriors’ game against Charlotte tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). It’s a good thing the Warriors have Draymond Green healthy and fully engaged. He’s doing everything humanly possible to compensate for Curry’s absence, doing his “Dray-Magic” routine on the regular. As Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group suggests, Green’s heroics know no bounds:

In the wake of the latest and most monstrous triple-double of his career — 29 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists against the Denver Nuggets — Draymond Green seemed more delighted by the little challenge he won with coach Luke Walton.

It came in the first quarter of the Warriors’ early blitz. Green already had buried his first three 3-point shots as the Warriors raced out to an 11-2 lead in the first 2:18. During a Nuggets timeout, the Warriors huddled at the bench and, well, here’s Draymond to tell the rest:

“I was able to get it going and my teammates started to look for me. Then Luke drew up a play for me (during the timeout) and told me I wasn’t going to make it on the fourth one. So I had to knock that one down.”

And of course, he did. Nailed it. Nuttin’ but net, followed by a smile and a knowing smirk at the guy striding in front of the bench. Drain-mond. Trey-mond. Call him what you will, but make sure you call him unique and oh-so special, a man you can dare to do something and he’ll damn near kill himself trying.

If you want to know why Walton has been such a wonder as Steve Kerr‘s interim replacement, it’s stuff like this. He’s not so far removed from his playing days that he hasn’t forgotten how to play the game within a game, the mind game that gently goads a player to a new level of greatness.

Whatever competitive buttons he’s pushing with Green, he’s hitting all the gobble holes in the pinball machine. Draymond is lighting up everywhere and giving multiple replays. It makes you wonder what Walton might do next to keep his most versatile player at this astonishing level of play.

Hey, Luke, how about this one? Tell Green he’s played OK so far this season, but add that he’s probably reached his ceiling, and that there’s no chance he could ever become the NBA’s MVP. Yep, that might touch off a fresh bell or whistle.

One could argue fairly convincingly that through 33 games, Green has been the best all-around player in the league — and the most valuable — even over teammate and defending MVP Stephen Curry. True, he’s not off the charts in any one statistical category. He’s averaging 15.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.4 assists. But as a composite, those numbers are pretty untouchable. And he’s shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc, up eight percentage points from his career best last year (33.7) .


VIDEO: Draymond Green racks up his league-leading 6th triple-double

(more…)

Stats preview: Bulls at Thunder


VIDEO: Dennis Scott and Greg Anthony preview the Bulls-Thunder matchup.

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the league’s five-game Christmas Day slate with a key stat for each team, along with an explanation of what it means. Here’s a look at the day’s second game, Chicago at Oklahoma City (2:30 p.m. ET, ABC), the only Christmas matchup of a top-three offense vs. a top-three defense.

Chicago Bulls (15-11)

The stat: No team has regressed more offensively than the Bulls, who have scored 6.3 points per 100 possessions fewer than they did last season.

20151224_chi_regression

20151224_chi_basicsThe Bulls were the league’s best defensive team over the five years that Tom Thibodeau was on their bench. But over the same timeframe, they ranked 17th in offensive efficiency. Thibodeau was fired this summer and new coach Fred Hoiberg was brought in to improve the offense.

But the offense has gone in the wrong direction. The Bulls have taken a lower percentage of their shots from the restricted area, where they rank last in field goal percentage. They’ve also taken a lower percentage of their shots from 3-point range than they did last season.

The four Bulls who have taken the most shots are all below the league average in effective field goal percentage. Derrick Rose ranks 206th in effective field goal percentage among 209 players who have attempted at least 150 shots. Nobody in the league who has shot as much as Rose has shot worse.

The Bulls have also suffered big drop-offs in offensive rebounding percentage (with Joakim Noah playing fewer minutes) and free throw rate (with Rose registering a career low in that category).

Chicago has scored 102.8 points per 100 possessions over the last six games. That’s its best six-game stretch of offense this season, but it ranks only 17th over that time. And entering Friday’s game in Oklahoma City, the Bulls have lost three straight games to teams below them in the Eastern Conference standings.

More Bulls notes from NBA.com/stats

Oklahoma City Thunder (20-9)

The stat: Kevin Durant has shot 46.4 percent from outside the paint, the best mark among players who have taken at least 200 shots from there.

20151224_okc_outside

20151224_okc_basicsIf you wanted to make the argument that Stephen Curry isn’t the best shooter playing on Christmas Day, you have at least one data point to help your cause.

Durant is one of only three players who has shot 50 percent or better on at least 100 mid-range shots. And he ranks eighth in 3-point percentage among players who have attempted at least 100 threes. He ranks fifth in field goal percentage among players who have attempted at least 100 pull-up jumpers and 10th among players who have attempted at least 100 catch-and-shoot jumpers.

Though he missed a six-game stretch in November with a strained hamstring, the Thunder star has played almost as many games (23) as he did last season (27), so it should be no surprise that OKC is one of the league’s most improved teams. The Thunder are actually the only team that’s at least four points per 100 possessions better than they were last season in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

The Thunder have scored 113.4 points per 100 possessions with Durant on the floor and just 101.9 with him on the bench (in part because they don’t stagger the minutes of Durant and Russell Westbrook much). It’s amazing how much a 6-foot-11 guy who’s been the league’s best shooter from outside the paint can help your offense.

Durant needs to put together a bit of a free throw streak to be on pace to become the third player in NBA history to have multiple 50-40-90 seasons (50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line). But he’s already having the best jump-shooting season of his career.

More Thunder notes from NBA.com/stats

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Data curated by PointAfter

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win | Suns throw in towel against Denver | Hawks starting to soar | Butler wants to lead Bulls

No. 1: Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win Wednesday night the Dallas Mavericks visited Brooklyn, which meant the return of Deron Williams to the borough where he formerly played. But with Williams out injured, leave it to the 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki to post a performance worthy of the Big Apple. Not only did Nowitzki pass Shaquille O’Neal for sixth all-time in scoring in the NBA, but he also hit the game-winner in overtime to give the Mavericks the victory. And as Eddie Sefko writes in the Dallas Morning News, in some ways it was business as usual for Nowitzki

“Way back when I was a skinny 20-year-old, bad haircut, bad earring, not the most confident guy,” he said, before stopping, clearly thinking about the enormity of having only five players ahead of him on the all-time scoring list.

“Sounds pretty good, huh?” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”

And the way he passed Shaquille O’Neal on Wednesday couldn’t have been more fitting. He nailed a midrange jumper early in the second quarter against Brooklyn, took congratulatory hugs from teammates and coaches, then, a couple hours later, slipped to the basket for the winning layup in a 119-118 overtime victory that the Mavericks needed a lot more than Nowitzki needed any milestone.

Along the way, the Mavericks needed a lot of help from a guy who’s only 23,607 points behind Nowitzki on the scoring list.

J.J. Barea had a career-best 32 points, including several key 3-pointers, paying big dividends for coach Rick Carlisle starting him in place of the injured Deron Williams.

“I think the coach threw me in there early to give us a little energy early and I got in a rhythm and was able to help my team out big time,” Barea said. “I wanted to get to 30 (points in a game) before I finished my career.”

But even he knew this night was not about him, even though he’s never had a better statistical night. He hit his first eight shots and finished 13-for-20 and also dished out 11 assists.

“I’ve been through all the battles with him and seen him break all kinds of records,” Barea said. “But this one is amazing.”

Nowitzki started fast with six points in the first six minutes. Early in the second quarter, he got the ball on the left wing and wasted no time, pulling up and nailing an 18-footer for the record.

“It was a special moment for me,” he said. “I saw the whole team getting up and everybody gave me a hug and I’ve obviously been blessed in this organization for a long, long time.

“There have been a lot of great players who didn’t score as many points because they were cut short by injuries. I’ve been lucky. And we got the win. It would have felt really salty flying home with a loss.”


VIDEO: Arena Link — Dirk Nowitzki

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No. 2: Suns throw in towel against Denver The current Phoenix Suns feel light years removed from just two seasons ago, when they unveiled a small ball lineup that raced through the Western Conference and nearly earned a playoff berth. These days they are in flux, with forward Markieff Morris recently assigned to the bench. Last night the Suns lost at home to an undermanned Nuggets team, as Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic, while Morris evoked Robert Horry … and not in a good way…

In one of their more advantageous scenarios of the season, the Suns posted another dreadful loss with play so frightful and no signs of stopping. The bow on Wednesday night’s stocking of coal came when Markieff Morris added to a season of distraction by harkening back memories of Robert Horry’s towel toss at Danny Ainge by tossing a towel toward coach Jeff Hornacek in Wednesday’s fourth quarter.

The Suns lost 104-96 at Talking Stick Resort Arena to a Denver team playing a night after losing at home to the last-place Los Angeles Lakers and was missing five players (two starters) with no backup point guard available.

That is not all that surprising any longer for a team that has gone 5-14 since Nov. 22. How the Suns fell behind by 22 points, rallied to lead by three, started each half with new lineups and lost is now of less interest than Morris’ towel toss.

Much like Horry on a 10-21 Suns team in 1997, Morris was upset about being pulled from the fourth quarter from a 12-19 Suns team. With 9:47 to play and Denver leading 84-75, Morris was taken out of the game and he threw the towel while barking at Hornacek. Hornacek picked up the towel and threw it back Morris’ way with his own upset words for him.

“He’s mad about not playing,” Hornacek said. “I look at the stat sheet. He’s a minus-13 in 12 minutes. So there, I took him out. … He thinks he’s better than that. Show me.”

Hornacek said the Suns staff will discuss possible discipline for Morris, who has created a stir since the offseason when he asked to be traded after his twin, Marcus, was dealt. Markieff did not arrive in Phoenix until it was required for training camp. He lost his starting job earlier this month.

In January, Marcus also engaged in a shouting match during a game with Hornacek. He apologized publicly and to Hornacek after the game.

“That’s between me and ‘H’ (Hornaceck),” said Markieff, who made 2 of 8 shots and had one rebound Wednesday. “It’s not for media. It’s something between me and him that happened. We’ll talk about it.”

***

No. 3: Hawks starting to soar They won 60 games a season ago, including a 19-game win streak, but thus far this season, even with a winning record, the Hawks have mostly flown under the radar. That may be changing now. Wednesday night the Hawks got their fifth win in a row with a convincing home victory over the Detroit Pistons, and the Hawks are now in second place in the Eastern Conference. As Brad Rowland writes for Peachtree Hoops, the Hawks hacked Andre Drummond and got a big night from Jeff Teague to get the win…

The game was highly competitive early on, with Detroit taking an 18-14 advantage after a 7-0 run. That momentum would not last particularly long, however, as Mike Budenholzer employed the aforementioned “Hack-a-Drummond” strategy freely from that point forward, and that seemed to turn the tide. Dennis Schröder exploded for seven straight points to end the opening quarter (11 in the period), and in a flash, the Hawks were in control.

The “big” spurt was yet to come, though, and it appeared to close the second quarter. Atlanta raced to a 26-9 run to end the half, with Jeff Teague taking things over, and he finished with 13 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds before the break. That big run netted the Hawks a 61-45 lead, and on the defensive end, Atlanta was quite effective in holding the Pistons to just 33% shooting (27% in the second quarter) in addition to the poor free throw shooting from Drummond.

To begin the second half, the Hawks quickly increased the lead to 22 points, but the margin settled into the mid-teens for much of the remainder of the contest. In truth, Atlanta didn’t play particularly well down the stretch, including a third quarter in which they allowed 50% shooting to Detroit, but the Pistons were never able to seriously challenge on the scoreboard until the closing minutes.

Detroit managed to climb within an 8-point deficit within the final two minutes of game action, using an 11-4 run to force a timeout from Budenholzer with 1:52 left in the game. Though it wasn’t pretty, the Hawks managed to salt the game away for good using a Jeff Teague basket (that was actually a goaltend from Andre Drummond) to push the lead back to 10 with 41.1 seconds remaining and that was the end of the threat. From there, Atlanta put away a 7-point win and the winning streak reached five games in pleasing fashion.

It was a big night from Teague, and that was the biggest individual story. He has struggled, at least relatively, to this point in the season, but this may serve as a “breakout” from the 2015 All-Star, as he finished with 23 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds while keying everything Atlanta did offensively. In support, Paul Millsap added 18 points and Al Horford chipped in with 15 points in his own right, but this night was about Teague and a strong team effort on the defensive end.

***

No. 4: Butler wants to lead Bulls As the Chicago Bulls try to right the ship and find some offense to go along with their defensive prowess, reports of unrest continue. According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, as the Bulls consider roster moves, some players aren’t thrilled with Jimmy Butler‘s attempts to position himself as the leader of these Bulls…

While Jimmy Butler won the self-appointed leadership role unopposed, not everyone associated with the Bulls is a supporter.

One source told the Sun-Times that there are several players that often simply laugh when told of Butler’s latest thumping-of-the-chest leadership proclamations, and while Derrick Rose seems to be completely detached from the situation, his camp is very annoyed by all things Butler these days.

A veteran that is behind the Butler push, however? Well, it just so happens to be the one player in the locker room with two championship rings.

“I don’t mind those comments,’’ big man Pau Gasol said, when asked about Butler declaring himself the leader throughout this season. “I think those comments are positive. Those comments and attitudes don’t raise my eyebrows. I think it’s good certain guys want to take ownership and say, ‘Hey let’s go.’ ‘’

Gasol said that Butler worked his way into that role of leader, and was obviously paid like it this offseason, when the Bulls gave him a five-year, $92.3 million contract extension.

“I don’t disagree with it,’’ Gasol said. “I think Jimmy is obviously one of the main guys here.’’

He’s more than that. He’s the future. His deal is guaranteed through the first four years, with a player option of $19.8 million following the 2019-20 season.

Basically, last man standing of all the veterans on the roster.

Gasol has a player option at the end of this season, and there continues to be more whispers that he’s done with the Bulls experiment, while Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks each come off the books when this season comes to an end.

Rose and Taj Gibson are free agents after next season, while the Bulls own the $5.175 million option on Mike Dunleavy for the 2017-18 season.

The likes of Gibson, Noah and Gasol might not even see the end of their current contracts, as several sources indicated that the Bulls are taking calls on all three players as the trade deadline draws near.

Noah’s value has taken a hit this week with a small tear in his left shoulder, and the center told reporters on Wednesday that he is looking at a two-to-four week window now. Not the best news for a player that was starting to look like his old self.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA debuted a new public service announcement campaign against gun violenceSteph Curry says he’s the best player in the worldKobe Bryant and Kevin Durant exchanged shoes after playing against each other … Mark Cuban says Rick Carlisle’s threat to trade players was a motivational moveAlan Anderson looks to be out for a few more weeks. Meanwhile, John Wall has his own set of injury issuesNik Stauskas says he’s the hardest working guy on the Sixers … The Houston Rockets are trying to help former players stay on top of their health

Blogtable: Butler’s desire to lead is __?

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: Who is the best frontcourt? | Butler’s desire to lead is __? | Christmas Day Gift



VIDEOJimmy Butler reacts after loss to Nets

> Jimmy Butler’s desire to become the leader of the Chicago Bulls is ___.

David Aldridge, NBA.com: Understandable, but a little premature. He had a great season last year, but Chicago still has a lot of guys with pelts whose opinions should be heeded first: Noah and Gasol come to mind. And while Derrick Rose‘s game has deteriorated, and while he’s not the most vocal guy, he still has to have some sway in the locker room. It will be Butler’s team very soon, but a max contract does not automatically make you the team spokesman.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comUnderstandable, for two reasons. One: Everything Butler has achieved in basketball, he has identified and seized. Having reached All-Star/max-contract status, it seems only logical he would reach next for something intangible and team-focused. Two: Chicago’s roster has a leadership void. Derrick Rose‘s personality meant he would only be a leader-by-example in the best of times, and Rose’s play is a nightly reminder that these aren’t his best of times. Pau Gasol is too centered and mature, maybe, to bring the histrionics that sometimes are required of locker-room leaders. Joakim Noah has been the Bulls’ heart but his role has been diminished, coming off the bench. Unfortunately for the Bulls and Butler, grabbing at leadership rarely works. At its best, it gets bestowed upon someone by ready and willing followers. That hasn’t happened with Butler and this bunch, and it remains to be seen whether it will.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Admirable.  But if you have to say it, you’re not actually getting it done.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comAdmirable. Great. All the positive adjectives. How could there be something wrong with wanting that role? He’s got the credibility on the court to back it up. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some rough moments and it doesn’t mean he has to be the leader, as opposed to one of them. The players will decide whether he is worth following, but trying to assert himself in that job is fine.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com Ambitious? Look, I like the kid. He’s come a long way, and he’s the best player on the Bulls and perhaps Top 20 in the game. But leadership is new to him; he even admitted as much. Eventually I think he’ll learn how and when to criticize and what buttons to push. He’s going about it clumsy now, but he’s the future of the Bulls and he’ll figure it out.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: … off to a rough start. The Bulls’ 15-11 record actually belies how mediocre they’ve been. Fred Hoiberg was supposed to improve the offense, but no team has regressed more on that end of the floor. So it’s easy to understand Butler’s frustration. But calling out your coach after a game, when you have other veteran leader types in the locker room, might not be a good look. And Monday’s loss to Brooklyn is a good indication that what he said didn’t exactly galvanize his team and get them on the right track.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Righteous. Locker room leadership has been a casualty of the current hoops culture, where guys are always trying to keep the peace and avoid internal conflict at all costs. Listen, a little creative friction in a group dynamic can be healthy, if everyone involved is mature enough to handle the truth. I don’t have a problem with what Butler said, where and when he said it and with him refusing to back down after his words created negative headlines. The Bulls need a leader. They need someone to step into the void and speak on what ails them. Who better than their best player and driving force?

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com… to be commended and encouraged. He isn’t happy to have just surpassed expectations on his way to earning a big contract. Butler wants everything — just so long as he understands the responsibility of backing up his words with actions, whether on the court or in the locker room with his teammates.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Misguided? Admirable? Necessary? The thing is, all of those answers may have a bit of truth in them, at least to some degree. Clearly, someone on that team needs to take the lead, as right now they seem to be in a downward spiral that just won’t end. The season is still on the early side, sure, and the Bulls are still four games over .500, but they have the pieces and the defensive ability to be so much more, not a team that loses home games to the Brooklyn Nets. Maybe Jimmy Butler is the man that can lead them to where they need to be.

Blogtable: Who is the best frontcourt?

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: Who is the best frontcourt? | Butler’s desire to lead is __? | Christmas Day Gift



VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard is a nominee for Kia Western Conference Player of the Month for Decemeber

> Klay Thompson says he and Steph Curry are the best backcourt in the NBA today. My question for you, then, is who’s the best frontcourt in the NBA today?

David Aldridge, NBA.com: I’ll go with the Spurs (Leonard, Aldridge, Duncan) in a photo over Cleveland (James, Love, Mozgov). The addition of Cousin LaMarcus puts San Antonio’s three over the top; his offensive repertoire is just as effective as Love’s, and while Kevin is a better rebounder, LaMarcus is, to me, a little better defender (not that either is a lockdown guy). Duncan’s a Hall of Famer, to be sure, but at this stage, it’s Leonard whose game is otherworldly. We’ve seen Kawhi, in consecutive Finals, be able to slow LeBron’s normal dominance while also producing himself at the offensive end. (Of course it’s a team effort guarding James; no one player does it alone. But like Joe Dumars was the head of the Pistons’ defensive snake against Michael Jordan, Leonard is the effective first line against James.) The Warriors’ threesome of Barnes, Green and Bogut is in the conversation, too.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comCleveland. And since I didn’t see the adjective “starting” anywhere in the question, I’m going to fine-tune my answer as LeBron James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson rather than Timofey Mozgov, because that’s the Cavaliers’ best finishing frontcourt. Thompson is a mobile beast on the offensive boards. Love is much more his old self this season and, uh, no other frontcourt in the league can throw LeBron at the opposition.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: San Antonio. A legend, an MVP candidate and just a guy named LaMarcus.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe Bulls. This isn’t the best time to say so, with Joakim Noah just sidelined, but what depth. And that’s with Jimmy Butler starting at shooting guard. When Butler moves to small forward, the Chicago frontcourt can beat opponents in so many different ways.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com The Spurs with Aldridge, Leonard and Duncan. I realize Duncan is a part-time player from November through mid-April, but we saw last spring in the playoff series against the Clippers how he can still transform  when money’s on the line. Aldridge is an All-Star and Kawhi might be the best two-way player in basketball and could finish in the top 5 in MVP voting if he keeps this up.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Warriors — Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut, with Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli off the bench — have a case for having the best frontcourt, too. It’s hard to argue against LeBron James, Kevin Love and a whatever rebounder/defender you want to put out there with them. But right now, the best frontcourt belongs to the Spurs. Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan (still) are impact players on both ends of the floor, while LaMarcus Aldridge is a guy you can run the offense through. And then you have Boris Diaw‘s passing and David West‘s rebounding coming off the bench.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Klay Thompson was right, by the way. The top honors in the frontcourt resides in San Antonio, where the rise of Kawhi Leonard, the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge and the eternal force that is Tim Duncan overshadows the rest of the contenders. No team covers the frontcourt bases the way the Spurs’ trio does, on both ends of the floor. The best power forward of all time paired with arguably the best two-way player in today’s game and a 7-foot double-double machine thrown in for good measure makes this an easy pick.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Clearly that honor goes to the retro-frontcourt of the Spurs. Which is why their anticipated conference final against the Warriors would be ideal: Would the traditional big lineup of Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard prevail against the perimeter-driven champions of Curry and Thompson? My hunch is that the winner would be the team most able to adapt to the opposing style, because neither the Warriors nor Spurs are going to be able to have it their way throughout a seven-game series.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogIt’s easy to try and get cute with this answer. I mean, you can argue that the Sacramento Kings have two gold medalists in their frontcourt, while the Atlanta Hawks have a couple of All-Stars out there. Any frontcourt with Anthony Davis involved has to be rated highly, no? But of course, the easy answer and the answer that might be overlooked, at least initially, is in this case probably the right answer: The frontcourt of the San Antonio Spurs, with Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, is nothing short of tremendous, all the way around.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 31


VIDEO: Top plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Joakim Noah said he never asked to come off the bench | Brook Lopez is strictly a post player but an all-around person | Billy Donovan finds the right fit in OKC | A Q and A with Gordon Hayward

No. 1: Joakim Noah said he never asked to come off the bench — The Bulls are looking a bit different under new coach Fred Hoiberg than they did under Tom Thibodeau. Specifically, Joakim Noah isn’t starting. As the Bulls try something new, there was a bit of a mixup. Did Hoiberg tell Noah to be a sixth man, or did Noah volunteer? The center set the record straight, when asked if he took himself out of the starting lineup: “No.” Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago has further details:

The topic has been hovering around the Bulls since training camp, as Hoiberg explored all his options and ultimately decided to insert second-year big man Nikola Mirotic into the starting lineup on opening night instead of Noah. The story line came back to light on Thursday when a Hoiberg Q-and-A with Grantland’s Zach Lowe was posted. In the exchange, Hoiberg said Noah was the one who started the conversation about coming off the bench this season.

“Jo actually came to me and talked to me about that,” Hoiberg told Lowe. “He said, basically, ‘I’ve always played well with Taj [Gibson].’ He said he thought Niko and Pau played very well together, so let’s go that route. It was actually Jo that started the whole conversation. He came to me. That says a lot about him.”

Before the Bulls’ 98-94 overtime loss at Detroit on Friday, Hoiberg said he didn’t feel a need to clear the air with Noah.

“Did he specifically say I want to come off the bench? No. Nobody wants to come off the bench, but it’s the decision that we came up with,” Hoiberg said. “He’s been great. He’s been as enthusiastic as anybody over there on the bench when he’s not in the game, and he’s always going to bring it when he’s on the floor, so no, things are fine.”

For his part, Noah has never seemed outwardly angry about what’s going on and doesn’t want to rock the boat as a team leader.

He has struggled in his first two games off the bench to find his rhythm, though, failing to register a point. Noah does have 15 rebounds and six assists in his first two games and appears to be feeling good after struggling with the effects of offseason left knee surgery a year ago.

“I just want to do what’s best for the team,” Noah said. “I think we’re 2-0 right now. We still have a lot of room for improvement. What I said doesn’t matter. I think right now we’re doing what’s best for the team, and we just got to keep building off that.”

***

No. 2: Brook Lopez is an all-around person — The Renaissance man of New York works in Brooklyn and stands over seven feet tall. They don’t come more educated or diverse than Brook Lopez, the Nets’ center who might be one of the bright spots for the rebuilding team this season. The former All-Star opened up recently about his upbringing, his twin brother Robin (who plays across town with the Knicks) and his passion for many things. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York was there to write it all down:

He reads. He writes. He sketches. He loves Batman comic books, Disney movies and Michael Jackson’s music.

He already has pitched an animated television pilot, politicked to play a Wookiee in a future Star Wars picture and hopes to pen an action-adventure novel someday.

Oh, and you likely didn’t know, Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez is also learning to play the piano and speak Japanese.

Yes, Japanese.

“I always go to Japan in the offseason, so I’m trying to get better at it,” Lopez told ESPN.com recently, noting that he’s also working on learning “the Kanji,” Chinese characters that are used in the modern Japanese writing system.

“I know some words. I’m getting there.”

Basically, if Lopez isn’t the most fascinating man in the NBA, he’s certainly up there. His best competition might be his own 7-foot twin brother Robin, who now plays for the rival New York Knicks.

Brook Lopez made up his mind pretty early on — he was going to follow in his mother’s footsteps.

“I can remember in second grade coming back from school and telling my mom, ‘You know what, before I play in the NBA, I want to go to Stanford,'” Lopez said. “Because of her, I had everything figured out.”

To her comic book aficionado sons, Deborah Ledford might as well have been Wonder Woman, raising the four of them — Alex, Chris, Brook and Robin — as a single mother on a high school mathematics teacher’s salary.

“She sacrificed so much for us,” Brook said. “She’d always be driving Alex and Chris around, getting them to basketball practice, and then she’d go pick them up and get Robin and me to wherever we needed to be. She was constantly chaffeuring us around. And then she’d get groceries for us and come back with bags upon bags upon bags, just loads and loads, and they’d last for like…two days.”

At 6-feet, Ledford had flirted with swimming in the 1968 Olympics before not making the squad and eventually attending Stanford herself.

“Our mom used to read to us every night,” said Chris, who has lived with Brook in New Jersey ever since he was selected by the Nets with the No. 10 overall pick in the first round of the 2008 NBA draft.

“And she just went through a plethora of children’s books and stories, so that was instilled in us from an early age.”

The Lopez’s maternal grandmother, Inky Ledford, had a massive library of children’s books at her Fresno, California, home — and the boys were frequent visitors.

***

No. 3: Billy Donovan finds the right fit in OKC — Well, here we are, one week into the NBA season and Billy Donovan hasn’t changed his mind and gone back to the University of Florida. That’s what happened years ago when he took the Orlando Magic job and then called it quits just, oh, 10 seconds later. Anyway, you can hardly blame Donovan for waiting until the right gig opened up. And when you have the chance to coach Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in their primes, that qualifies as the right gig. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel has more:

 He was hired to lead an even stronger NBA club — the Oklahoma City Thunder. This time, he’ll coach three players with All-Star Game credentials: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

“This opportunity came across that was very unique in my opinion,” he said. “If it didn’t, I’d still be at Florida.”

Donovan, who won back-to-back national championships at UF, said other NBA teams had reached out in the ensuing years. Reportedly, Cleveland (pre-LeBron’s return), Minnesota and Detroit were among the suitors.

He insists that there was no grand plan to leave the Gators for the pros.

“I’ve always believed you wake up and where you are that day, you do the best job you can,” he said. “Then if opportunities open up, they open up. It wasn’t anything about having a plan.”

The OKC job surprisingly opened after Scott Brooks was fired with another year on his contract.

Donovan was lucky because a lot of terrific college coaches – from Rick Pitino to John Calipari – usually are stuck with bad teams.

“The one thing for me..I knew it was a good team, but you have to feel good about it. Happiness inside a job has to do with the people you work with everyday,” Donovan said.

Especially if those people are named Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka.

Donovan’s no dummy. He’s also aware of the pressure coaching the contending Thunder, particularly since Durant can become a free agent this summer.

Durant says he “enjoys” being around Donovan, who seems to be adjusting well to life as an NBA coach.

“I’m working equally as hard or harder as I was in college,” he said. “It’s just things are a little bit different.”

***

No. 4: Gordon Hayward opens up with Q and A — The Utah Jazz are off to a decent start, which includes a blowout victory in Philadelphia, and one of the intriguing players is Gordon Hayward, naturally. After having his big contract matched by the Jazz two summers ago, Hayward was a borderline All-Star last season and hopes to take the next step this season. He discussed that and more when he sat for a quick interview with Scoop Jackson of ESPN:

Scoop: How big of an adjustment can it be to inherit that “No. 1 option” role for a franchise?

Hayward: It’s just a learning curve, honestly. I think it’s one of those things where, you know, if you play one way probably the first three years in the league and then you are asked it do something different. It’s just a role change, something you have to get adjusted to. You know, defenses are now keying on you and playing things differently to where you are at all of the time. That’s a huge step and something, like I said, that I was able to kind of learn and do for two years.

Scoop: Have you ever walked into an opponent’s locker room before a game and seen your name at the top of the white board just to see their defensive strategies they have planned for you?

Hayward: I have not [laughing]. I’ve never seen that. Or a scouting report on me or on our team.

Scoop: You have to sneak and do that. It’s one of those “No. 1 option” things.

Hayward: I should definitely do that.

Scoop: Do the media and other players underestimate you?

Hayward: I don’t think they do anymore. I think they probably did when I first came in the league — 100 percent did. But this is my sixth year, and I think they definitely respect me as a player now.

Scoop: I’ve heard you referred to you as “the Jazz’s version of LeBron James” in that you do everything for the team. When you hear that, how does it make you feel?

Hayward: It’s definitely pretty humbling to think that someone would say that, but I think it’s just something where I just try to be an all-around player and try to do a lot for the team. And yeah, I think LeBron’s a guy that obviously does that for his team no matter which team he’s on, and he’s probably one of the best ever to do that. So, but for me, if I’m not scoring I need to be assisting or making plays for other people or rebounding or just doing whatever I can to get guys in position where they can be successful.

Scoop: Do you think of yourself in that vein? In that, you “have to be LeBron” for this franchise?

Hayward: I think so. I think that it is a lot of responsibility but something that they have trusted me with and I definitely have to be active and have to affect all parts of the game in order for us to be a successful team. I’ve never been a guy that’s going to go out and just affect one part of the game. I think that I’ve always been somebody that tries to affect multiple parts of the game, and I think we have a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things, so it’s not just me. We’re a versatile team. I’m excited about where we can go.

Scoop: Utah went 19-10 after the All-Star break while holding opponents to a league-low 94.8 points per 100 possessions. Was that just a good two months or was that indicative of what this team had become?

Hayward: Yeah, I think that’s definitely our identity and definitely what’s going to have to be our identity moving forward if we want to be successful, especially in the West. Defense is something that can go with us wherever we are at. We are going to have times when people’s shots are off and we’re just not feeling it offensively, but if we continue to play defense like we did at the end of the year — something that I think we are very capable of doing — we can always stay in games and give ourselves a chance.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jodie Meeks will be out for a while in DetroitSteph Curry is about to be immortalized in wax … The Suns were “equipped” to show their respect for Steve Nash, whose jersey has been retired … There was a Mother Nature problem in San Antonio so Tony Parker had an excuse to miss practice.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 23


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clarkson injured in finale | Noah OK with bench role | Johnson unlikely to start for Pistons | Why ‘Jimmer Mania’ never caught on in NBA

No. 1: Clarkson injured in preseason finale; Scott expects Bryant to go in opener — The Los Angeles Lakers are just days away from a fresh season that, hopefully, can help them erase last season’s disastrous campaign. One of the few bright spots from last season was point guard Jordan Clarkson, an eventual All-Rookie First Team performer. Clarkson will be counted on heavily this season, which made last night concerning for the Lakers. He left the team’s preseason finale against the Golden State Warriors with a right shoulder sprain that will require an MRI today. Lakers stalwart Kobe Bryant missed the preseason close-out game, but on a bright note, he’s expected to go in the season-opener.

Here’s a look at how/when Clarkson’s injury occurred …


VIDEO: Jordan Clarkson injures his shoulder vs. Warriors

ESPN.com’s Baxter Holmes has more on what’s next for Clarkson and Bryant:

Lakers coach Byron Scott said he still expects the 37-year-old Bryant, who is in his 20th season with the Lakers, to play in the team’s regular-season opener Oct. 28 against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center.

“There’s no doubt in my mind [that he’ll play in that game],” Scott said before his team faced the Warriors on Thursday. “Talking to him [Thursday], he said he’s just gearing up for Wednesday. I said, ‘Good, because that’s what I’m gearing up for as well.’ There’s no doubt in my mind. It will take a whole lot to keep him out of that game.”

However, starting guard Jordan Clarkson’s status for the opener is now in question after he left Thursday’s game in the second quarter with what the team called a sprained right shoulder. Clarkson did not return to the game and was scheduled to receive an MRI on Friday.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Scott said, although Clarkson said he expects to play Wednesday.

Scott said he first noticed Clarkson was favoring his shoulder early in the game, and so Scott asked Lakers trainer Gary Vitti to examine Clarkson.

“[Vitti] basically told me [Clarkson’s shoulder] came out and went back in, whatever that means,” Scott said.


VIDEO: Jordan Clarkson talks about his shoulder injury after Thursday’s game

*** (more…)


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