Posts Tagged ‘Jordan Crawford’

Clippers’ Jamal Crawford On Quite A Run


VIDEO: Jamal Crawford runs wild in the Clippers’ win over the Thunder

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Jamal Crawford‘s had some big weeks, but he has yet to win the NBA’s Player of the Week award. Jordan Crawford has. So it goes.

Jamal Crawford, though, is having one helluva February and should be a leading candidate for the league’s monthly award in the Western Conference.

Ah heck, who are we kidding? He won’t win it. Just like when the West coaches didn’t put him on the All-Star team last season for what would have been the first time of his career. And like when a panel of genius writers and broadcasters later crossed him over for the 2013 Sixth Man of the Year award and handed it to the clown prince of New York, J.R. Smith.

And now, get this: Crawford’s played so well this season, been so steady, so reliable, so needed that he’d win Sixth Man hands down. But … he’s out of the mix because he’s been forced into the Los Angeles Clippers’ starting lineup way too often — 22 times and counting — as an injury reinforcement.

So, as for the West Player of the Month? LeBron James having his mug being chiseled on the actual Mount Rushmore has better odds. Nah, the monthly honor will probably go to Kevin Love or Kevin Durant. Maybe James Harden or even Crawford’s rather deserving teammate, Blake Griffin. Those four, plus James and Carmelo Anthony over in the East, are the only guys averaging more points this month than Crawford’s 25.2. All-Stars, every last one of them. And not a single one of them’s even hit 30.

Hey, it’s cool. It’s just where would the Clippers be right now without their soon-to-be-34-year-old (March 20) shooting guard with the sick, launch-from-anywhere rainbow 3, and the insanely deft handle?

Not 39-20. Not holding down the No. 4 playoff spot.

“I don’t want to toot my own horn,” Crawford said Sunday night after dropping 36 points, including several timely 3-pointers and a late, backbreaking floater, on the Oklahoma City Thunder. “I think I’ve been a professional, honestly. Starting, coming off the bench, being ready at all times, I pride myself on that.”

Here’s Crawford’s stellar season-to-date statistics: 31.0 mpg, 19.1 ppg, 3.3 apg, 2.3 rpg, 42.1 percent shooting overall, 37.2 percent from deep and 85.9 percent from the stripe.

And here’s his numbers through 10 games in February: 36.5 mpg, 25.2 ppg, 4.0 apg, 2.4 rpg, 48.8 percent shooting overall, 41.1 percent from deep and 90.4 percent from the stripe.

Even better: With Crawford on the floor in February, the Clippers’ offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) soars to 121.6 and when he sits it drops to 102.6 — a 19-point cliff dive.

Crawford’s explosion helps explain the Clippers’ rise as the No. 1 offense in the league this month, boasting an offensive rating of 115.1 and averaging 113.9 ppg, even with Chris Paul reintegrating himself into the lineup and playing only six of the 10 games. L.A.’s playing quicker, getting in transition more and the Thunder win was a shining example with 27 of its 34 fastbreak points coming in a 72-point first half. The Clippers’ pace (possessions per 48 minutes) is at a season-high clip in February, 99.35, compared to December’s previous high of 97.81.

Asked Sunday if he’s considered moving Crawford back to the bench to give some punch to a lacking second unit even with would-be starter J.J. Redick still hurt, coach Doc Rivers literally couldn’t have swatted the question back quicker.

“No,” Rivers said. “That’s not a consideration, I can tell you that. He helps the starters too much. If you’re going to help one group or the other, I’m going to pick the starting group.”

In just the last two games, huge back-to-back road wins at Oklahoma City and New Orleans to get to 16-15 away from Staples Center, Crawford, in his 14th season and somehow on his fifth team in the last six seasons (second in a row with the Clips) —  scored 60 points, buried a dozen 3s, shot 56.8 percent overall and dropped nine dimes.

Really, this run started in January, not February. During the 18 games Paul missed with a separated shoulder from early January to just before the All-Star break, Crawford posted 22.0 ppg, 5.0 apg, 2.7 rpg and shot 39.3 percent from beyond the arc. The Clippers held steady, going 12-6.

Crawford hasn’t missed a game this season. As a starter he averages about 10 more minutes a game, yet in Crawford’s perfect world, Redick would start Wednesday against the Rockets — he won’t, and is out for weeks yet — and Crawford would come firing off the bench.

“J.J.’s our best shooter,” Crawford said. “Whenever he comes back it makes us that much more lethal, it opens up the floor. I can’t wait till he comes back because I get a chance to go back to the bench.”

Is a Most Invaluable Player award something to look into?

What The Contenders Could Use

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The trade deadline is Thursday afternoon, the race for the 2014 NBA championship is relatively wide open, and there are plenty of players available for the right price.

So, the league is seemingly ripe for a ton of action at the deadline. But the whole “the right price” thing could limit the number of deals that are made. Buyers may be hesitant to give up first-round picks for players that they’re only “renting” for a few months, and sellers may prefer to keep their guy if they’re not getting the assets they want in return.

But maybe a deal could be made that turns a contender into a favorite or a tier-two team into a contender.

Here’s a look at what those teams could use — from a numbers perspective – to put themselves over the top (in the case of the contenders) or in the mix (in the case of the next group).

OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions

Oklahoma City (43-12)

OffRtg: 107.6 (6), DefRtg: 99.3 (3), NetRtg: +8.3 (2)
The Thunder are the most complete team in the league, the only one that ranks in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And their bench has been terrific, even with Russell Westbrook‘s knee surgery forcing Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup over the last seven weeks.

The only lineup numbers that look bad are those of their original starting group, which has been outscored by 5.7 points per 100 possessions and which will be back together when Westbrook returns on Thursday. In 280 minutes, the lineup has scored just 97.5 points per 100 possessions, a rate which would rank 29th in the league.

In general, the Thunder have been much better playing small. In fact, they’re a plus-203 in 1,954 minutes with two bigs on the floor and a plus-204 in 694 minutes with less than two. Some added depth on the wings could make them even more potent.

Indiana (41-12)

OffRtg: 102.4 (18), DefRtg: 93.8 (1), NetRtg: +8.6 (1)
The Pacers are, statistically, the best defensive team since the league started counting turnovers in 1977. And that may be enough to win a championship.

But they’re a below-average offensive team and only seven of those have made The Finals in the last 30 years. The Pacers turn the ball over too much, don’t get to the rim enough, and aren’t a great 3-point shooting team.

George Hill is a key cog in that No. 1 defense and the starting lineup scores at a top-10 rate, but Indy could certainly use a more potent point guard, or at least a third guard that can create off the dribble. Their bench is better than it was last season, but it still struggles to score.

Danny Granger has a large expiring contract, but acquiring a player on a deal that goes beyond this season could compromise the Pacers’ ability to re-sign Lance Stephenson this summer.

Miami (38-14)

OffRtg: 109.8 (1), DefRtg: 103.4 (16), NetRtg: +6.4 (5)
Is the Heat’s defensive drop-off a serious problem of just a case of them being in cruise control most of the season? Their ability to flip the switch on that end of the floor will depend on Dwyane Wade‘s health and Shane Battier‘s ability to play more minutes than he has been of late. As much as rebounding is an issue, so is defending the perimeter. And if there was a way they could add another shooter/defender on the wing, it would help.

Rebounding is an issue. The Heat have rebounded better (on both ends) with Greg Oden on the floor, but he’s played just 78 minutes all season and compromises their offense to some degree. So he’s probably not going to neutralize Roy Hibbert in a matchup with the Pacers.

San Antonio (39-15)

OffRtg: 107.5 (7), DefRtg: 100.4 (5), NetRtg: +7.1 (3)
The numbers look good on the surface. Only the Thunder rank higher than the Spurs in both offensive and defensive efficiency. But their defense has failed them, allowing 111.5 points per 100 possessions, as they’ve gone 2-8 in games against the other teams over .600 (every team on this list, except Golden State). Last season, they allowed just 101.8 in 22 games against other teams over .600.

Injuries have played a role in their defensive decline and if the Spurs are healthy, they’re still a great team. But there’s no getting around that, going back to Game 3 of the 2012 conference finals, they’ve lost nine of their last 11 games against Oklahoma City and could certainly use more athleticism up front with that matchup in mind.

Houston (36-17)

OffRtg: 107.7 (5), DefRtg: 102.1 (9), NetRtg: +5.6 (6)
If there’s a fifth contender, it’s the Rockets or the Clippers, two more West teams that rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor. Houston is actually the only team that ranks in the top five in both effective field goal percentage and opponent effective field goal percentage.

Their defense hasn’t been very consistent though, and it’s allowed 106.1 points per 100 possessions in 22 games against the other eight West teams over .500. And that’s why they might want to hold onto Omer Asik. One of their biggest problems defensively is rebounding, especially when Dwight Howard steps off the floor. Only the Lakers (15.8) have allowed more second-chance points per game than Houston (15.1).

Portland (36-17)

OffRtg: 108.7 (2), DefRtg: 105.7 (23), NetRtg: +3.1 (10)
Diagnosing the Blazers’ issues is pretty easy. You’re simply not a contender if you rank in the bottom 10 defensively. The worst defensive team to make The Finals in the last 30 years was the 2000-01 Lakers, who ranked 19th and who, as defending champs, knew how to flip the switch. They ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency in the postseason.

Not only are the Blazers bad defensively, but the their bench is (still) relatively weak. Lineups other than their starting group have outscored their opponents by just 0.2 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark among the teams on this list (even Golden State). So they’re going to be tested with LaMarcus Aldridge out with a groin strain. They’ve been outscored by 8.3 points per 100 possessions with Aldridge off the floor.

L.A. Clippers (37-19)

OffRtg: 108.7 (3), DefRtg: 102.2 (10), NetRtg: +6.5 (10)
The Clippers are very similar to the Rockets. They rank in top 10 defensively, but have struggled on that end of the floor against good teams. Furthermore, though Howard and DeAndre Jordan rank in the top four in rebounds per game, their teams rank in the bottom 10 in defensive rebounding percentage.

Blake Griffin and Jordan rank 2nd and 3rd in total minutes played, and the Clippers basically have no other bigs that Doc Rivers can trust for extended stretches in the postseason. Though the Clippers’ injuries have been in the backcourt, they’re more in need of depth up front.

Golden State (31-22)

OffRtg: 104.2 (12), DefRtg: 99.5 (4), NetRtg: +4.7 (7)
The Warriors and not the Suns (31-21) are the last team on this list because they have a much better defense and a higher ceiling. They also have a much easier schedule, which could allow them to get into the 3-5 range in the West, going forward.

Golden State’s issues are pretty simple. Their starting lineup has been terrific on both ends of the floor, but their bench … not so much. Things have been a little better with Jordan Crawford in the mix; They’ve scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions with Stephen Curry off the floor since the Crawford trade, compared to the putrid 86.7 they were scoring without Curry before the deal. But one of their most important defensive players – Andrew Bogut – is banged up and their D falls apart when Andre Iguodala steps off the floor.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 31


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving: ‘I’m pretty happy’ in Cleveland | Miller, Nuggets to mend fences? | Warriors get big boost from Green, Barnes

No. 1: Irving tries to quell rumors of his desire to leave — Every week on ESPN.com, NBA reporter Chad Ford does a weekly chat with fans about various league topics. The issue of Kyrie Irving‘s long-term future with the Cleveland Cavaliers came up in the discussion, and Ford said that Irving has been “telling people privately he wants out of Cleveland.” After Cleveland’s 31-point loss in New York last night, Irving addressed the concerns about his future, writes Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal:

Kyrie Irving said he enjoys being in Cleveland and playing for the Cavaliers, but stopped short of saying he’ll take a max contract offer if he’s presented with one this summer.

“There’s been so much so-called reports coming out that I don’t want to be here. That’s what you guys get paid to do, but that’s just so much negative attention,” Irving said following the Cavs’ 117-86 loss to the Knicks. “I know we’re struggling, but it’s not about me. It’s about our team. It’s about us fighting every day for each other and me fighting for my teammates.

“Yes, I’m in Cleveland. I enjoy myself. I enjoy going out and competing at the highest level for the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about me and it’s not about this controversy, ‘Do I privately want out when my contract is up?’ I’m still in my rookie contract and I’m happy to be here. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to be here for a long time. I’m not saying anything to tell the future, but I’m pretty sure the relationship I have with Dan Gilbert and management extends off the court. I enjoy being here.”

When told he can sign a lucrative contract this summer, Irving said, “I’m aware of that,” but stopped short of saying he’d sign here long term.

“It’s still too early to say. I’m still trying to get through this season,” he said. “Everybody is trying to antagonize this team and put it on me. I’m here for my teammates, I’m here for Coach [Mike] Brown and the coaching staff and I’m going to play my heart out every single night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.”


VIDEO: Cavs GM Chris Grant talks about the state of the team at midseason

***

No. 2: Miller, Nuggets may try to mend fences — Ty Lawson has a shoulder injury. Nate Robinson has a sprained ACL. Those two facts leave the Denver Nuggets’ point guard depth in a precarious state and could lead to exiled guard Andre Miller returning to the fold. Miller hasn’t played in a game for Denver since an Jan. 1 incident in which he yelled at coach Brian Shaw during a game. Christopher Dempsy of The Denver Post has more on what’s next for Miller and the Nuggets.

The Nuggets’ situation at point guard has thinned to the point of extinction if Ty Lawson is not able to play Friday night against the Toronto Raptors. The paucity of players at that position has the Nuggets considering all of their options … perhaps including asking exiled playmaker Andre Miller to play.

In addition to Lawson, backup point guard Nate Robinson was diagnosed with a sprained ACL in his left knee, suffered Wednesday night against Charlotte.

“We will explore whatever we need to explore to help us out in this situation,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said Thursday. “We have 15 players on the roster.”

Miller is one of those players, but he hasn’t played since the incident Jan. 1 when he yelled at Shaw during a game. Miller has been excused from all team activities ever since and the Nuggets are actively trying to trade him, though nothing is imminent. The NBA’s trade deadline is Feb. 20.

But the Nuggets need bodies at Lawson’s all-important position, and Miller is one right in front of them.

“He’s one of the 15 guys on the roster,” Shaw said. “So, yeah, it’s an option that probably will be explored.”

It is a longshot, to be sure.

Miller has been away from the Nuggets for a month, and outside of an injury there has been no move by either side to orchestrate a return to the team. Shaw and Miller still have not talked to each other since the incident, but Shaw insists he would have no problems coaching him if the situation were to arise.

Nothing like that would even take place without an extensive conversation among all levels of team management. General manager Tim Connelly recently has been out of the country.

“I’ll get together with the front office and discuss whatever options we may have,” Shaw said.

***
No. 3: Warriors’ x-factors prove difference vs. Clippers — Over their last nine games, the Golden State Warriors had a 3-6 mark and suffered losses to contenders such as Oklahoma City and Indiana to go along with ones to Denver and Minnesota, among others, as well. Last night’s romp of the L.A. Clippers seemed to be just what Golden State needed and the combination of Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes provided a key spark that the Warriors will need more of throughout the season, writes Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News:

In a blast from the recent postseason past, Barnes exploded for a few dunks and knifing drives early against the Clippers as the Warriors built a large lead.

If Barnes finds a comfort zone and plays like that for the rest of the season … the Warriors will be a much deeper, much more dangerous team.

But generally this season, the Warriors’ second unit has been broken offensively without Barnes at electric top form — and he has looked harried and uncertain.

They’re the Warriors’ double X-factors. Barring a major trade, they’re the franchise’s best hope for this season and largest open question.

For now, coach Mark Jackson is giving both his full support, and he makes it clear that though they’re both bench players, they play two different roles.

Heading into Thursday’s game, Green was averaging just over 19 minutes a game, up from 13.4 minutes as a rookie.

Barnes was averaging 29.3 minutes, after averaging 25.4 minutes his rookie season.

The first Warriors reserve player to get into the game was Barnes — for Klay Thompson. The second was Jordan Crawford — for Andre Iguodala.

The third reserve to check in was Green — for David Lee.

And almost immediately after getting into the game, Barnes started rocketing to the basket for easy baskets; he had 10 points at halftime — his first double-digit game since Jan. 15, eight games ago.

“When you believe in somebody that doesn’t mean you just believe in them when they’re rolling,” Jackson said before the game. “The Harrison Barnes that showed up 12 games in the playoffs started the whole year — that guy didn’t play 82 nights.

“We believed he had that in him and I still do. So he will play his minutes, he will get his calls, he will get his touches, and he’s going to be just fine.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Durant says he plans to play until he’s 40 … How will Lance Stephenson react to his All-Star Game snub going forward? … The Philippines wants to naturalize Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee for their national team … Famous NBA fan Jimmy Goldstein got a picture of David Stern’s retirement party cake. Pretty cool

ICYMI(s) of The Night: The Cavs-Knicks game at MSG became the J.R. Smith highlight show with two big dunks and a crossover on Tristan Thompson that’ll live on for a while …:


VIDEO: J.R. Smith drives on Anthony Bennett and finishes with a jam


VIDEO: Off the outlet pass, J.R. Smith gets fancy in transition with a reverse slam


VIDEO: J.R. Smith crosses up Tristan Thompson, then hits a jumper

Warriors Bolster Their Beleagured Bench … And More, Possibility


VIDEO: Nuggets hold off Warriors in shootout

OAKLAND – They added a backup, and one who will play behind the best player on the team at that, an obvious and important perspective. The Warriors got a Jordan, but not Michael. A Celtic, but a 2013-14 model.

The Golden State move to improve the bench was acquiring Jordan Crawford from Boston on Wednesday, along with MarShon Brooks, as part of a three-team trade that also included Miami. Splashy it was not, not after weeks of talks around the league that included the likes of Andre Miller and Kirk Hinrich, players with bigger names and longer resumés. Neither was it the direct hit of getting a dependable distributor to run the offense when Stephen Curry sits or to ride together in the same backcourt and allow Curry to play off the ball.

But it was good. The Warriors essentially gave up nothing, sending only Toney Douglas to the Heat and got the chance for something. Crawford in particular, and maybe Brooks, will be a scoring punch for the bench that ranks last in the league in points. The move may also provide an energy infusion after a half-season of Douglas, who averaged 11 minutes per game and shot 37.2 percent, seeming lost as a regrettable free-agent signing.

In a Western Conference race so tight that the little things could turn into a big difference, the Warriors just got a lot of little things. They needed bench help in general and in the backcourt in particular, and got Crawford averaging 13.7 points and a career-high 5.7 assists as he served as Boston’s injury replacement at the point for the injured Rajon Rondo. Golden State was 26th in the league in free-throw accuracy at the time of the trade, and it got Crawford, who is shooting 87.3 percent this season and owns an 82.7 career mark. Those numbers give the Warriors another option for late-game situations.

Plus, the Warriors did it without surrendering players on rookie deals, a goal, or future first-rounders. Amazingly, they still have other options at their disposal. With five weeks before the trade deadline, they have one trade exception worth $11 million, another at $4 million and approximately $2.2 million of spending room before reaching the luxury tax. And, if necessary, general manager Bob Myers said, owner Joe Lacob is willing to cross the tax line for the right deal.

Little things. Little things that potentially become big things.

Myers, when asked if he would have been worried going into the playoffs with a shallow bench, Douglas not contributing and Curry (38 minutes a game) and Andre Iguodala (33 minutes a game) starting at small forward while playing back-up point guard, he said:

“We’re worried all the time. We’re always trying to get better. I’m worried tonight. I’ll be worried tomorrow. That’s what we do. We’re always trying to get better. But specifically to your question about the backup point guard, we did need to address it. We felt like with (Nemanja) Nedovic, (Kent) Bazemore and Douglas, somebody would step into that role and for a variety of reasons, it didn’t happen or hasn’t happened yet. We felt we needed to make a move … ”

The bench has been a problem all season, magnified by the memory of the reserves as a critical part of the success a year ago, and the reality that Douglas and Marreese Speights haven’t come within a hemisphere of replacing Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry. Now comes the chance at a recovery. Crawford and Brooks will join the lineup soon, the Warriors estimate Jermaine O’Neal is two or three weeks away from returning from wrist surgery, and Festus Ezeli, another important 2012-13 reserve now missing, is expected back possibly in February but probably on March.

Report: Warriors Get Celts’ Crawford, Heat Get Douglas In Multi-Team Deal


VIDEO: The Starters crew break down the Celtics-Warriors-Heat trade

From NBA.com staff reports

The Golden State Warriors have been the hottest team in the league lately, with 11 wins in their last 12 games (and a 10-game win streak just a week or so ago). But as our own John Schuhmann has pointed out, Golden State has lacked in guard depth all season long, forcing it to play point guard Steph Curry and playmaking forward Andre Iguodala major minutes to offset that shortcoming.

But that changes with reports of a three-team trade between the Warriors, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat that will send Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks from Boston to Golden State for future picks. The Celtics will end up with Joel Anthony and some future Draft picks from the Heat, and the Heat get Toney Douglas from Golden State. Rumors of the trade were first broken by veteran NBA reporter Peter Vecsey and have been confirmed by Yahoo! Sports.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

As part of a three-team deal, the Boston Celtics have traded guards Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks to the Golden State Warriors, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Warriors will send guard Toney Douglas to the Miami Heat, and Miami sends center Joel Anthony and a future first-round pick and second-round pick to the Celtics, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Miami will send a first-round pick it owns from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Celtics, but that pick becomes two second-round picks should the Sixers miss the playoffs in 2013-14 and 2014-15. The Heat will save $11.5 million in salary and luxury tax with the unloading of Anthony’s contract. Anthony has appeared in just 12 games for Miami this season, averaging a little more three minutes.

Gary Dzen and Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe provide some additional context on the deal:

In a separate move, the Celtics assigned Rajon Rondo, out since last January with a knee injury, to their Maine affiliate in the NBA D-League. Rondo is expected to test his knee there before returning to the Celtics, possibly as early as Friday.

“Rajon is progressing terrifically in his rehab and this is the next step,” Celtics boss Danny Ainge said. “This is a brief assignment so that Rajon can participate in a workout this afternoon with the Red Claws and he will be called back up to the Celtics upon the conclusion of the workout.”

Rondo’s impending return and Boston’s rebuilding plans made Crawford expendable. When Rondo returns, he’ll join a backcourt rotation of Avery Bradley, Jerryd Bayless, and Phil Pressey.

Crawford, who is making $2.16 million this season, averaged 13.7 points, 5.7 assists, and 3.1 rebounds in almost 31 minutes per game this season will the Celtics. Brooks has seen very limited action since being traded to Boston over the summer.

After figuring heavily in Miami’s rotation three seasons ago, the 6-foot-9-inch Anthony was averaging 3.1 minutes per game for the Heat this year. He is owed $3.8 million in salary next season.

Goal For Celtics, Lakers Should Be Same

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant's return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant’s return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Lakers and Celtics own one of the most glorious rivalries in all of sports. Through the decades they’ve battled one another with teams as different as their respective coastlines.

Yet this version of the Lakers just might be better off accepting the Danny Ainge philosophy: “Making the playoffs is not a goal.”

The Celtics’ president of basketball operations said he needed to explain that a little bit, so I will, too.

Yes, the franchises’ strategies seem completely at odds. Ainge made the tough call to finally bust it up and trade Kevin Garnett and Boston’s beloved Paul Pierce and start from scratch, even with a new rookie coach. Ainge’s commitment to recovering All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo is even in question. The Lakers meanwhile locked up their living legend, Kobe Bryant, for another two years and $48.5 million.

But just as Ainge is looking forward, it’s Kobe’s next two years I’m looking at, not this one. It’s during this time that I implore Kobe to not go nuts trying to sneak into the postseason as he did a season ago. But, as was predictable, that will be difficult.

After the Lakers pulled out an 88-85 win at Charlotte on Saturday night, their first W following three consecutive Ls with Kobe back from his awful April Achilles injury, No. 24 went all anti-Ainge, tenfold.

“I want to win a championship,” he told reporters. “I want to be playing in June.”

The inconvenient truth — and it’s really no secret to most — is that these Lakers are no closer to contending for a championship than Brad Stevens‘ plucky squad. They don’t defend or rebound well and they’re not exactly an offensive juggernaut either (ranking 20th in offensive efficiency). Tuesday night’s narrow win at Memphis, a struggling team playing without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, made the Lakers 2-4 with Kobe and 12-13 overall. Essentially the same record as the 12-14 Celtics.

Ainge views the Celtics’ applaudable start (and his comments came when they were 10-14, still a better mark than most expected) as a byproduct of a laughable Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division, which they somehow lead and therefore occupy the No. 4 seed. Boston is 9-7 against the East and Ainge cringes thinking about making the playoffs with a losing record in this anomaly of a season and losing out on Draft position, in this coveted Draft.

The Lakers, predicted by most to miss the playoffs with or without Kobe, should view their 12-13 mark as a byproduct of a rugged West. L.A. is 5-3 against the East and 7-10 in its own conference after nipping the depleted Grizzlies.

It can even be argued that when Rondo, Boston’s last remaining player from its recent glory years, returns from his ACL injury that he will join a more talented collection of teammates than the ragtag bunch Kobe inherited. That’s bad news if you’re in the West.

Think about Kobe’s crew: Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Jordan Hill and conflicted pal Pau Gasol, the only other remaining member of the 2010 title team. Jordan Farmar (a role player on the ’10 team left before re-signing this season) could return from injury soon and Steve Blake will be back in a month or so. No one can be sure about Steve Nash. To think this crew can leap into the West playoff fray with any hope of advancing would seem reckless California dreaming.

Rondo, if he’s not already traded, will join Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk. Depending how Ainge proceeds with the roster, Brooklyn would seem the only hope from keeping his team built for the lottery from maddeningly backing into the division title.

Ainge knows, and Kobe should, too, that the 2008 and 2010 Finals aren’t walking through that door.

But Kobe doesn’t do lowered expectations, not when he’s got five rings and hungry for a sixth. But for this one season, making the playoffs at all costs can’t be the goal.

“We will get better,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the 122-97 loss at OKC, Kobe’s third game back. “Just check in on us in a couple weeks and see where we are.”

It’s hard to see these Lakers in the top eight, whether in a couple weeks or a couple months. The roster presents little opportunity to make a blockbuster, game-changing-type trade. If L.A. did sneak into an eighth or seventh seed like last season, it would only serve as first-round fodder for the Thunder or Spurs, while valuable ground would be lost in the race that matters more — Draft slotting.

L.A. has already accomplished its two prime goals for this season: Kobe is back, and his autograph is fresh on a new contract. Now general manager Mitch Kupchak and D’Antoni must make sure that his raging competitive drive doesn’t take him off the cliff of physical limitation. They must evaluate their young talent and determine who can help most over a two-year championship push.

Then, with a stroke of Laker luck, nab a difference-maker in the Draft and follow with smart free-agent acquisitions to form a solid nucleus for Kobe’s sunset drive.

These are the goals. Making the playoffs is not.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 12


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rose suffers minor injury | Bennett tunes out his critics | Brown gets new view of Spurs’ dominance | Crawford impressing in Boston

No. 1: Rose suffers minor hamstring injury — The Bulls and star guard Derrick Rose are still trying to work their way back into their dominant form of a few seasons ago. Last night’s win over the Cavaliers was a big step in that direction as Rose and Co. romped past the Cavaliers to get Chicago back to .500. But in the process, Rose sustained what he termed a minor injury to his hamstring late in the game, writes Sam Smith of Bulls.com:

There are a lot of sentences with “Derrick Rose” and “injury” that are no laughing matter. The one Monday late in the Bulls 96-81 pulling away victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers made you smile.

Because this time Rose was joking about it.

Whew!

Rose sustained what he and the Bulls afterward termed a minor strain in his right hamstring, apparently on an impressive transition drive late in the game that split the Cavs’ defense and put a knife in their spirits. It was part of 9-1 run featuring Rose and Mike Dunleavy that broke open the game after the Cavs got within 78-75 with 4:55 left.

“Right away,” Rose said with a smile when asked if he knew it was a hamstring issue and not a knee problem. “I think I’ve been in the training room long enough, around trainers long enough, to know everything about my body.

“It’s irritating,” Rose added with a laugh, “but just getting them (injuries) out of the way early. I should be fine.”

Rose laughing and smiling. That’s good.

“I really don’t know (what happened),” said Rose. “I remember running down the court, really didn’t feel anything until I came down. Then went back to the bench (as the Cavs called time out). They were asking me about it. Coming back in, there was a play where someone knocked the ball out of bounds (good Rose defense on Irving funneling him to Gibson who blocked his shot). They said I wasn’t moving good enough to be on the court. They subbed me out.

“It had to be on the drive,” Rose thought. “Stuff happens. I’ve just got to play through it and come back healthy. I should be ready (for the Raptors Friday). It’s nothing big at all. I’m still able to walk around, move around the way I want to. Just a little sore.”

“He’ll be evaluated further,” added Thibodeau. “When he gets reevaluated tomorrow (Tuesday), we’ll have more information. It appears to be minor.”

Rose then went out for Hinrich with 3:15 remaining and the Bulls leading 83-76.

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No. 2: Rookie Bennett tuning out his critics — The No. 1 pick of the 2013 Draft, Anthony Bennett, hasn’t had the best start to his NBA career. Heading into last night’s game against the Bulls, he was a putrid 1-for-21 from the field (4.8 FG pct.) and registered a DNP-CD against Chicago due to concerns over a nagging shoulder injury. The rookie has been the target of some criticism around the web and in the media, but luckily, the Cavs’ veterans and coaches aren’t letting him listen to the noise. USA Today‘s Sean Highkin has more on Bennett:

Bennett entered Monday’s game against the Chicago Bulls having made one field goal this season, in his fifth game. But despite the early struggles, the former UNLV star is staying patient.

“Coming in No. 1 in the draft, everybody has high expectations,” Bennett said Monday. “But in this situation, I don’t have to produce right away. There are a lot of other young talented players in my position that can help me along the way, so I’m just here for the learning experience. Later on in the season, hopefully I can do my thing.”

Bennett, an undersized power forward, is competing for minutes in the frontcourt with veterans Andrew Bynum and Anderson Varejao as well as promising third-year forward Tristan Thompson.

“We have that luxury, we don’t have to play him (right away),” Brown said. “So we’re just helping him along slowly, and we know that once he figures it out he’s going to be great.”

Veteran point guard Jarrett Jack also preached patience.

“This kid is, like, 19,” Jack said. “How many people realized who they were or what they were doing at 19? How critical all of us could probably be of them, not just professionally but also socially. I’m sure there’s a laundry list of things people could dig up.

“But I mean, that’s the part about this business, is that people get to come to your job and critique you. That doesn’t really happen anywhere else. Imagine being a doctor trying to perform surgery, and I’m standing in there like, ‘Oh, that was terrible.’ And you’re 19 on top of that. So that’s just a part about this business that you have to learn.”

After Bennett’s fourth consecutive game without a made basket, he tweeted that he was going to take a break from social media. “Going ghost for a bit, think it’s be best for me at this point,” he wrote in a tweet that has since been deleted.

“I just ignore everything,” Bennett said on Monday. “My focus is on the team right now. I can tune it out. I just thought it was the best decision for me, to stay away from my social media. I don’t even know the last time I’ve been on Twitter. I deleted it (from my phone).”

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No. 3: Brown gets good look at familiar system — Sixers coach Brett Brown honed his craft as a member of the San Antonio Spurs organization for 14 seasons as an assistant coach under the legendary Gregg Popovich. Brown knows all too well how efficient the Spurs’ system is at churning out wins season after season and, in his first season as a coach against it, got an even better look at just how brutally efficient it is in Philly’s loss to San Antonio last night, writes Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

he Spurs were off on another one of their patented tears early in Monday’s 109-85 victory at Philadelphia.Tony Parker was going all Cuisinart on the 76ers’ young defense, slicing and dicing his way to the basket. Danny Green was knocking down 3-pointers like it was June in Miami. The ball was ping-ponging around the Wells Fargo Center, moving almost audibly, the way it does when the Spurs’ offense is humming.

Somewhere, Sixers coach Brett Brown had seen all this before.

“It’s a machine,” said Brown, a Spurs staff member for 11 seasons before taking the Philly job last summer. “That thing just moves along and chugs along, and they’ll bang out another 50 (wins) this year and be amongst the NBA’s best again.”

Though Popovich looked forward to dining with Brown after arriving Sunday night, the game wasn’t one he had circled on his calendar.

It’s no fun, he said, coaching against a close friend.

“You have a weird feeling either way,” Popovich said. “If you win, you sort of feel bad. If you lose, you’re sort of happy for the other guy. Which is also a weird feeling.”

It was an odd feeling, too, for Spurs backup guard Patty Mills, who also played for Brown on the Australian national team. Before the game, Mills joked he had nothing to say to his former coach.

“He’s the enemy now,” Mills said.

And a dangerous one, if you had asked the Spurs beforehand.

The Sixers (4-4) are clearly rebuilding, with Brown saying before the season he counted about six sure NBA players on his roster. But Philly was good enough to shock defending champion Miami on opening night and good enough to beat Derrick Rose-led Chicago after that.

It quickly became clear Monday the Spurs weren’t about to join the list of elite teams to be ambushed by the 76ers.

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No. 4: Crawford shows off his ‘steez’ in Celtics’ win — Throughout his NBA career, Jordan Crawford has mostly been viewed (and used as) a scoring option off the bench — nothing more and nothing less. The Celtics swingman has found a new life and role under coach Brad Stevens, who has made Crawford his starting point guard of late and is enjoying the spoils that come with that (four straight wins) while Crawford gets to show off his multi-faceted game, writes Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

Jordan Crawford can’t hide it.

Even when he’s placed at point guard, handed the keys to the Celtics offense and asked to color within the lines, he can’t hide it.

Jordan Crawford can’t keep his “steez” — the word he uses to describe his style, his “steelo” — holstered for too long. After his 10 assists in last night’s 120-105 C’s win over Orlando, the man renowned more in other NBA stops for his willingness to shoot from angles unknown even to Pythagoras was asked about his court vision.

“Y’all just now noticing that, huh?” replied Crawford, the steez dripping from each syllable.

“I was blessed with court vision. When a teammate’s open, you find him.”

He’ll tell you he’s just a basketball player, but he’ll say it in ways far cooler than we could. He’ll tell you that people who’ve criticized his game just don’t look past his manner to see the real Jordan Crawford.

Brad Stevens seems to get him. Instead of reining in Crawford and using him as a potentially explosive scoring weapon off the bench, the new coach has made the hyperactive kid the hall monitor. Stevens has empowered Crawford, making him the starting point guard four games ago.

What’s not debatable is that Jordan Crawford is looking better and better with the ball. He shot early when the openings were there, scoring 12 of his 16 points in the first half and taking just five shots in the second.

He still sometimes dribble-dribble-dribbles a bit much, but there isn’t a coach who wouldn’t take 10 assists and no turnovers.

“He’s really doing a great job,” said Stevens. “He’s got a lot of confidence out there. He’s always been a guy that had good confidence about him, but I think the thing that I’ve been most pleased with through really the entire time I’ve been around him is his consistency.

“That’s an area in which you have to really embrace if you’re going to be a good point guard, because everybody’s depending on you to be reliable on a day-to-day basis.”

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Until the playoffs draw closer in Clipperland, don’t expect to see Antawn Jamison in games anytime soon … The Hawks’ Kyle Korver is closing in on the all-time record for games played with at least one made 3-pointer … The Pelicans are expected to bring back former big man Lou Amundson … ICYMI, great story detailing some of the little-known facts about Michael Jordan‘s ‘flu’ game in the 1997 Finals

ICYMI Of The Night: Somewhere in the greater Milwaukee area, Bucks guard Brandon Knight likely knows exactly how Marvin Williams feels after getting dunked on so viciously last night …


VIDEO: J.J. Hickson goes up strong, posterizes Utah’s Marvin Williams

Celtics Preparing For One Last Run?



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We always seem to find coach Doc Rivers and his Boston Celtics in this position at the end of a season.

Perhaps it has something to do with the exhausting effort the Celtics put in each and every season, or the grueling emotional fallout from coming up short of their ultimate goal (it’s always championship-or-bust in Boston, even when the rest of us understand that it’s not possible). Rivers always seems spent when the ball stops bouncing, like he’s not sure if he has another season in him, regardless of his contract situation.

The way he and Kevin Garnett acknowledged the end in that Game 6 loss to the New York Knicks last week, it certainly felt like the end of an era was near. But maybe not. Celtics boss Danny Ainge spoke publicly on a radio show in Boston about both Rivers and Garnett coming back for another go at it next season.

They’re both under contract and even with the inevitable changes that are sure to come in the offseason, Ainge is counting on those two franchise pillars to be in place. At least that’s what he said on the radio, as Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com details here:

“Doc is always unsure [about his future],” Ainge said. “Coaching is very, very draining. Every year with Doc, he’s had to go home and sort of recharge and ask himself that question, ‘Is this something that I’m passionate about and want to continue doing?’ I understand that. And we sorta give him time to unwind and relax, and after a couple of 92s on the golf course, he usually comes back.”

Pressed further on what he believes Rivers will do next season, Ainge added, “I think Doc will be coaching the Boston Celtics.”

Rivers signed a five-year, $35 million contract extension with the Celtics following the 2010-11 season. That hasn’t stopped his name from dancing in rumors about other vacant jobs, and a report by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith suggested there were whispers around the league about a potential deal that could land Rivers, Garnett, and Paul Pierce with the Los Angeles Clippers as part of a blockbuster swap.

Said an amused Ainge: “Hey, listen, those things are silly. Those are a waste of time to even acknowledge.”

Pressed on Smith’s suggestion that there could be lingering friction between Ainge and Rivers, Ainge added, “Well, you’d have to ask Doc what he thinks, but what I think is that I have the best coach in the NBA and I’m not the least bit tired of hearing his voice. We have a great relationship from what I feel, and what I perceive, and so I have no idea where that’s coming from. But it’s certainly not coming from my side of the table.”

Ainge has every reason to support his coach. Rivers has held the Celtics together through some absolutely tumultuous times over the past couple of seasons, given the injuries to both Garnett, Rajon Rondo and others as well as the roster shuffling that has gone on since the Celtics played in The Finals in 2010.

There is a genuine love between Rivers and his veteran leaders. It’s a bond that will be extremely difficult for Ainge to break up. And make no mistake, there will come a time when the remaining nucleus of the Celtics’ championship crew of Garnett, Pierce and Rondo will no longer be a viable unit.

The Celtics’ vets aren’t getting any younger. And even with an influx of youth (Jeff Green and Avery Bradley) and fresh faces (Jason Terry and Jordan Crawford), the playoff load was just too much for Garnett and Pierce to handle without Rondo around to help direct the traffic.

“We need more,” Rivers said. “It’s like that little girl on the commercial said. ‘We need more, we need more because we need more.’ We need more, because we do. The key for us is do you want to take away to get more. And that will be a decision that make … later.”

Rivers is fiercely loyal to the players who have sacrificed for the greater good in Boston. So it won’t be easy for him to part ways with Pierce either, especially with Pierce’s history with the franchise.

“He’s one of the greatest Celtics ever to ever play. He’s done so much for this franchise,” Rivers said. “Listen, we live in a day and time when guys are changing teams like socks. And Paul has chosen to stay here throughout his career, when clearly he had all rights to leave. And he chose to stay here. I have so much respect for him for that. When I first got here we were really rebuilding. Its’s funny, we made the playoffs that first year and I remember telling him that ‘we’re going to change our team and things may not go very well for a year or two.’ And they didn’t. And Paul, he never wavered. I give him that and just an amazing amount of respect. He wanted to get it done here. He made that choice … [where] other guys are running around trying to find it.”

Ainge will ultimately have to make the decision on when the Celtics’ Big 3 era officially comes to an end. Ray Allen‘s departure last summer didn’t do it. Neither did Rondo’s season-ending knee injury nor the deflating end to this season.

If Rivers and Garnett do indeed return, whether Pierce stays on or not, the Celtics are poised to make at least one last run together before the inevitability of it all finally catches up to them.

Knicks, Celtics Seeking Better Execution

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NEW YORK – The final score of Game 1 of the first round series between the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics was 85-78. So you’ll have to excuse these teams if they both feel like they can play better in Game 2 on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, TNT).

Thoughts of improvement start with the Celtics, and with the 21 turnovers they committed on Saturday. Smarter execution, like not trying to make post entry passes from 25 feet away, will at least get them more shots at the basket.

Of course, they still have to make those shots. And the onus is on reserve guards Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry to give the Celtics something off the bench. The trio shot 0-for-7 in Game 1 and, more important, was an incredibly awful minus-15 in the six minutes all three were on the floor together.

“They missed wide-open shots,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Monday, adding that he wouldn’t hesitate to go back to that three-guard unit again. “That group, when they’re on the floor, they have to produce offensively. They’re not going to ever be a great defensive group, and they didn’t do that. And it hurt us.”

Turnovers and missed shots were often a result of bad spacing. The same mismatches and double-teams that the Celtics took advantage of in the first half were there in the second, but poor spacing and execution made it more difficult to get good shots out of those situations.

The Celtics held their largest lead (seven points) late in the third quarter, but really set a bad precedent at the start of the half when Jeff Green – who was the star of the first half – took two contested mid-range shots early in the shot clock.

***

Though Game 1 was the lowest scoring game of the playoffs thus far, Carmelo Anthony‘s 36 points were the most any individual has scored this postseason. But Boston defended Anthony about as well as you can, making him take 29 shots to get those 36 points. In five games against the Celtics this season, Anthony has shot 37.1 percent and scored 137 points on 132 shots from the field.

Still, Doc Rivers believes there’s room for improvement in regard to Anthony’s scoring as well. And it’s more about his team limiting its own mistakes than defending Anthony differently.

The Celtics defended Anthony very well in the Knicks’ half-court offense, but got in trouble in transition and off loose balls…

Carmelo Anthony’s offense, Game 1

Situation FGM FGA 3PM 3PA EFG% FTM FTA AST TO PTS
Half-court 6 19 0 2 31.6% 4 4 1 3 16
Other 7 10 4 4 90.0% 2 2 0 0 20

EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

Anthony shot just 6-for-19 in half-court situations, and the Celtics even contested a few of those makes – including the 20-foot baseline dagger with 1:21 left in the fourth quarter. But Boston knows it can’t let Anthony loose when its defense isn’t set up.

Two of Anthony’s threes came when he brought the ball up on a secondary break, got an early high screen from Tyson Chandler, and walked into a open shot. A third came off a deflection that the Celtics couldn’t corral. And the fourth came as a trailer on a fast break. He had two other buckets (in the first quarter) when he brought the ball up himself and immediately looked for his shots.

The league’s leading scorer will probably shoot better in half-court situations on Tuesday, but the Celtics can prevent a major scoring barrage by just being more careful and aware.

“Every time we made a mistake, an offensive rebound, a turnover, he scored,” Rivers said. “And those were his easy baskets. We have to take those away.”

***

Like the Celtics, the Knicks know they can do better offensively. They ranked third in offensive efficiency this season and scored an incredible 115 points per 100 possessions over their final 18 games. But on Saturday, they were held to just 85 points on 88 possessions.

It’s easy to say that the ball needs to move better and that the Knicks should have more than 13 assists. Yes, there was too much iso-ball in Game 1, but most of it was a result of the Celtics’ defense taking away New York’s initial actions. And the Knicks are fortunate to have two players – Anthony and J.R. Smith – who can save a broken possession by getting a decent shot up in the final seconds of the shot clock.

Still, the Knicks can improve offensively by just getting up the floor quicker. The Celtics scored on just 35 of their 89 possessions on Saturday, but the Knicks had just seven fast break points. And as noted above, Anthony got his best looks in transition, not necessarily on fast breaks, but when he took advantage of a defense that wasn’t yet set.

Game 2: Knicks-Celtics’ Changes Afoot

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NEW YORK – They say that every game in a playoff series has its own personality. And a couple of rotation changes should give Game 2 of the Knicks-Celtics’ series (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET, TNT) a new look.

The Knicks hope to have Pablo Prigioni back from a sprained ankle for Game 2. And if they do, he will start and join Raymond Felton in the backcourt. The Knicks went 15-1 with the two point guards starting together in the final month of the regular season.

The Knicks have been incredibly efficient offensively, scoring almost 120 points per 100 possessions in 298 minutes, with Felton and Prigioni on the floor together. And after a game in which they scored 85 points on 88 possessions, they could certainly use an offensive boost. After assisting on just 13 of their 32 buckets in Game 1, the team hopes that Prigioni will bring better ball movement.

But the lineup change could have an adverse effect on the other end of the floor. Woodson said Sunday that if Prigioni is back, Felton will guard Paul Pierce to start the game (the original plan had Prigioni been healthy in Game 1), with Iman Shumpert defending Jeff Green.

Shumpert was guarding Pierce to start Game 1, and the Celtics posted Pierce on three of the first four possessions. When the Knicks doubled the post, the Celtics got a jumper for Kevin Garnett and a layup for Avery Bradley.

Mismatches on Pierce were a big part of the Celtics’ offense all day Saturday. Later in the first quarter, they ran the same play several times to get J.R. Smith switched onto Pierce at the foul line. And they had some more success with Pierce posting Jason Kidd on a few possessions midway through the second.

With their lineup change, the Knicks will be handing the Celtics a mismatch from the start. And Boston will obviously go to Pierce in the post early and often. New York will send double-teams, and it will be up to Pierce’s teammates to make them pay.

Green was a pretty good corner 3-point shooter (45.7 percent) in the regular season, but didn’t attempt any shots from the corners on Saturday. As a team, Boston was just 1-for-5 from the corners, an obvious area for improvement in Game 2.

***

Doc Rivers plans on making some rotation changes of his own. He went only eight deep in Game 1, using just three guards — Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry — off the bench. The trio combined to shoot 0-for-7.

Rivers said Sunday that we could see a big man off the bench — presumably Chris Wilcox or Shavlik Randolph — on Tuesday. If it’s Wilcox, it will be the first playoff appearance of his 11-year career.

We’ll have to see if that results in less minutes for Brandon Bass or if Rivers plans on playing with two bigs more than he did in Game 1. The Celtics were a plus-1 (and particularly strong on the defensive glass) in 21 minutes with both Bass and Garnett on the floor on Saturday, and a minus-8 in 27 minutes with one of the two on the bench.

The Celtics weren’t very good defensively, allowing 104.7 points per 100 possessions, in 396 regular season minutes with Bass and Wilcox on the floor together. And the Garnett-Wilcox pair played just 73 minutes.

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Rivers also wants to see a bigger role for Crawford. Amazingly, Crawford didn’t take a single shot in his 10:46 on Saturday. And it surely goes without saying that it was the first time in the gunner’s career that he’s played at least 10 minutes without taking a shot.

The Celtics probably don’t want to get to the point where Crawford’s shooting determines the outcome of any particular game, but he can help make the Knicks pay for double-teams on Pierce if he’s aggressive and looking to make plays for his teammates as well as himself. He can also take some of the ball-handling duties from Bradley.