Posts Tagged ‘Josh Smith’

Rockets gain one, could lose another


VIDEO: Howard return to get back on the court

Dwight Howard returns tonight in New Orleans for the Rockets after a 26-game injury layoff, which is welcome news for a team that somehow stayed among the top-4 in the West without him. Credit their defense, the addition of Josh Smith and of course, those MVP fumes James Harden is inhaling.

“I wish we had more time for him to practice,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “You need practice and rhythm. He’s going to have to do that during the game.”

Howard will help with rebounding and badly-needed interior offense but he can’t play point guard, too, which is a bit troublesome for the Rockets, since they could be without Patrick Beverley until … when, exactly?

Houston won’t know the extent of Beverley’s left wrist injury for another week. Initially diagnosed a sprain, it’ll be up to a specialist to get a more accurate reading on his time off and required treatment. Yahoo reported he could miss the rest of the season although the Rockets weren’t saying Wednesday, saying they needed additional information.

Beverley was the Rockets’ starting point guard although, in a sense, that’s a bit misleading. The ball mainly belongs to Harden in the Rockets’ offense and he dictates what happens next. Still, Beverley’s toughness on defense will be missed and the Rockets must now turn to a committee of replacements to do the job.

But Howard’s return is paramount. His swollen knee is no longer an issue and suddenly, the Rockets have size and a presence near the rim. The Rockets were out rebounded in 16 of those 26 games he missed. Depending on how well Howard adjusts — and he’ll be on a minutes ration initially — he could be the difference-maker for Houston in the playoffs. Especially against the Warriors, who don’t offer much inside.

Remember, in the playoffs last year, Howard was the best player on the floor for Houston. And yes, Harden played that first-round series against the Blazers, which the Rockets lost in heartbreaking fashion when Damian Lillard dropped a buzzer-beating catch-and-shoot 3-point dagger that remains an all-time playoff highlight. Howard averaged 26 points, 13.7 rebounds and almost three blocked shots in those six games.

“I’m just ready to play,” he said. “I haven’t played for a while … anytime you miss a lot of games, you’re anxious to get back on the floor.”

Houston is No. 3 in the West, just ahead of the Blazers, and went 17-9 without Howard. That’s likely where they’ll stay; they’re only 2 1/2 games behind the Grizzlies but there’s just 12 games left. They could be staring at an all-Texas first-round matchup, either against the Mavericks or Spurs.

 

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 194) Featuring Brandon Jennings

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Brandon Jennings created a stir as a teenager when he bucked the system and decided he would create his own path to the NBA, one that didn’t involve a stop in college for one year. Instead of seven months on campus and perhaps a wild ride during March Madness at some traditional college powerhouse, Jennings opted for a year in Italy earning a living as a true professional and learning the ways of the world (basketball and beyond) before coming to the NBA.

Fast forward eight years and Jennings, 25, has a much different outlook on things. If only he knew then what he knows now. The Detroit Pistons’ point guard insists he’d “already have been an All-Star,” perhaps a couple of times.

Wisdom comes with perspective. Both are the byproducts of time and experience. Jennings has accumulated his fair share of it all throughout the course of his intriguing professional career. And there is no better time than now, as Jennings battles back from an Achilles injury, to reflect on his past, examine his present situation and forecast his future.

He does all that and then some on Episode 194 of The Hang Time Podcast, going back to his days as a hoop dreamer idolizing Kobe Bryant in Compton to his life overseas as a teenage pioneer to his entry into the NBA and the trials, tribulations and triumphs as the mature veteran he has become (complete with his mastery of the social media world).

We also salute Steve Nash now that he has officially retired, discuss what’s wrong with the Atlanta Hawks, what’s right with the San Antonio Spurs and more.

You get it all on Episode 194 of The Hang Time Podcast … Featuring Brandon Jennings …

 

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the “OG” and best sound designer/engineer in the business, Bearded Clint “Clintron” Hawkins.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Brandon Jennings goes off for a career-high 21 assists

Morning shootaround — March 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Smith calls Hawks fans ‘bandwagoners’ | Mirotic steps up for banged-up Bulls | Can LeBron’s milestone entice Ray back? | Duncan: No time to panic

No. 1: Smith calls Hawks fans ‘bandwagoners’Josh Smith brought an enormous bundle of skills to Atlanta and hung out his shingle for the Atlanta Hawks for nine years. But he eventually came to represent unfulfilled potential and a little bit of indulged stardom, to the point his services no longer were required. Smith left in 2013 to sign a fat free-agent contract with Detroit and has been a target ever since of however many fans cared to populate Philips Arena. The difference this season is that there are more of them, and their booing rankled Smith, on a mediocre night individually, in his return Tuesday with the Houston Rockets. Here’s Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com:

The interplay between Smith and the Philips Arena crowd was lively throughout the night. Smith, an Atlanta native who played his first nine NBA seasons with the Hawks, was booed loudly whenever he touched the ball. The catcalls grew louder in the third quarter, after Smith drained a 3-pointer that rattled around the rim several times before dropping in. Smith then shushed the crowd by placing his finger over his lips as the Hawks called timeout.

“I mean, those fans are fickle, very fickle and bandwagoners,” Smith said. “It really doesn’t mean anything to me.”

Despite qualifying for the playoffs in Smith’s final six seasons in Atlanta, the Hawks never finished in the top half of the NBA in attendance. This season, the Hawks are faring better at the gate and averaging just more than 17,000 per game, their highest total since Smith came into the league.

Smith was a polarizing player during his nine seasons in Atlanta. Chosen by the Hawks with the No. 17 pick in 2004 draft, Smith dazzled fans with his acrobatics, shot-blocking and athleticism. But despite being only a 28.3 percent 3-point shooter, Smith attempted more than 942 shots from beyond the arc as a Hawk. Toward the end of his tenure, a groan would emanate from the crowd at Philips Arena whenever he elevated for a long-range shot.

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Hawks’ ride a decade in the making


VIDEO: The Hawks are officially the best of the best in the NBA

ATLANTA — They didn’t need the big stage, the bright lights and noise of the building dubbed the “Highlight Factory” in another life.

The Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors could have picked any court, indoors or outdoors, anywhere in this city for a Friday night showdown pitting the two best teams in the NBA against each other for the first time this season, and the results would have been the same. The Hawks’ 124-116 win Friday night at a packed Philips Arena was an absolute masterpiece of basketball that was a decade in the making for the home team.

Ten years ago today the Hawks were in the midst of what would be a 13-69 season, a low-point for a franchise that had seen plenty of dark days, far too many to regurgitate for long-suffering Hawks fans who lived through every painful misstep.

Friday night they delivered in ways that not only stirred the emotions of a fan base and city, they  also checked every basketball box on the way to an unbelievable sense of what might be this morning. At 42-9 and the clear class of the Eastern Conference, the Hawks have become the model for downtrodden teams around the league. They are 14-3 against the mighty Western Conference, have won 35 of their last 38 games, own a 25-3 record on their home floor, and remain on pace for a 68-win season. They are also making a mockery of any doubts about their ability to sustain this beautiful, pace and space game being cultivated under the meticulous and watchful eye of Mike Budenholzer.

It’s hoops karma that took years of hits and misses to get right, a gestation period not everyone could stomach, that has birthed a full-blown movement in a city where this wasn’t supposed to be possible.

Make no mistake, from the heart of the city to the suburbs that sprawl in every direction, it’s real.

I’ve been here for every step, sometimes closer to it than in recent years but always watching, and it is as real as the traffic congestion and late-arriving crowds and finicky fans everything else that comes along with professional sports in this complicated and diverse metropolitan area of 6 million people.

Through the haze of a yet another pair of say-it-ain’t-so moments, courtesy of owner Bruce Levenson and exiled general manager Danny Ferry, these Hawks have provided a storyline that overshadows all of the foolishness.

From their All-Stars, the deserving trio Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, to their equally deserving other stars, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll, to super subs like Dennis Schroder and Mike Scott (all brilliant in their own right at times in the win over the Warriors) the Hawks have stumbled upon the winning formula for capturing the imagination of basketball fans around the globe and most importantly here at home.

“It was amazing,” Teague said of the playoff-like atmosphere. “The crowd was into it. Everybody was into it. Kyle was yelling out. That was a first. It was a good game.”

True to their DNA, seven players scored in double figures as the Hawks bested the one team in the league that can claim a first-class ticket on the rags-to-riches express of the recent past.

“We’ve both been in the playoffs the last few years,” Warriors star Steph Curry said Friday morning, hours before the two best teams in the NBA dazzled the crowd with 48 minutes of the best basketball witnessed in these parts all season. “So it’s not like we’re unknowns. But it’s not the Lakers, it’s not New York or teams that have won championships recently.”


VIDEO: The Hawks pulled away late in the battle of the best Friday night at Philips Arena

That’s what makes this so special for the Hawks — no one saw it coming.

Everybody knows exactly who these two teams are now. Curry and Thompson will be joined at All-Star Weekend in New York by Steve Kerr and his coaching staff. Budenholzer and his staff will coach Teague, Millsap, Horford and the Eastern Conference All-Stars.

They are both legitimate contenders this season, teams with the parts to play deep into the postseason under any circumstance. The similarities, from the sets they run to the style of play in general, are born out of the shared basketball experiences from both Kerr and Budenholzer during their San Antonio days. The locker room vibe and enjoy-the-moment mantra both teams share, however, comes from within.

The Hawks’ unselfish, no-nonsense approach works in a place known for celebrating the flashiest things. Budenholzer’s constant preaching of belief in the system, the process and ultimately one another, has forged a bond between this team and players like nothing we’ve seen from the crew with the second-longest playoff streak in the league behind the reigning world champion San Antonio Spurs.

The fact that both teams embraced the magnitude of Friday night’s game — the first matchup between teams with winning percentages this high this late in a season since 1981 — the way they did, speaks volumes about the approach and foundation laid in both places. It was indeed a measuring stick game for both sides, a chance to prove yet again that what you are seeing is real.

Kerr pointed out the obvious and parallel path for both teams; the cosmic wave they are both riding, the fact that they are getting everyone’s best shot every night, the fun that comes with competing that way every minute of every day, and the responsibility that comes with occupying that real estate at the top of the standings.

It’s foreign territory for the majority of the players on both teams.

You couldn’t tell Friday night.

No one looked uncomfortable in that spotlight, in the moment, certainly not the Hawks.

They rode the emotional wave, battled back from an early deficit and played their game down the stretch to pull away. A lesser might have buckled under the pressure, more talented Hawks teams in the past might not have possessed the mental fortitude to win a game like this one or some of the 41 others they have during this magical season.

“We have confidence in ourselves. We’re not going to back down from any team,” Scott said. “We also want to respect teams. Just like tonight, we respect the (heck) out of Golden State. Great coaching, great players. We played a hard-fought game and came out with the win.”

And they could have done it anywhere in this city that finally has a team it can believe in.


VIDEO: Mike Scott discusses the win over the Warriors and what works for the Hawks

Howard out at least four more weeks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Houston Rockets updated the status of Dwight Howard on Wednesday.

This morning Dr. Walt Lowe of the Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine Institute conducted a bone marrow aspirate injection on Rockets center Dwight Howard’s right knee. Howard will begin rehabilitation immediately and will be re-evaluated in approximately four weeks.

Houston sits in third place in the Western Conference, but is tied in the win column with the sixth-place Dallas Mavericks. The Rockets are 12-5 without Howard (if you include his last game, in which he played less than nine minutes), but have outscored their opponents by just 1.3 points per 100 possessions with him off the floor.

That’s a point differential that suggests they should have gone 9-8 in those 17 games. Twelve of the 17 have been within five points in the last five minutes, and Houston has gone 8-4 in clutch situations without their center.

Now they’re now about to begin a rough stretch of schedule. From Feb. 4 to March 4 (four weeks), Houston will play 11 of its 13 games against teams currently over .500. Seven games in the loss column ahead of ninth-place New Orleans, they’re probably not in any danger of losing a playoff spot, but they can probably say goodbye to home-court advantage in the first round.

Donatas Motiejunas has filled in admirably for Howard, and the additions of Josh Smith and a healthy Terrence Jones give the Rockets more frontline depth than they had earlier in the season. But the Rockets’ margin for error from game to game will be pretty thin for the next four weeks, because there’s no replacing the impact that Howard makes on both ends of the floor.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

January fuels belief in Hawks | Love ready for rough return to Minnesota | Pistons players, fans bracing for Josh Smith’s return | Be careful what you say about DeMarcus Cousins

No. 1: January fuels belief in Hawks — The franchise-record 18 straight wins did it. Finally, the belief in the Atlanta Hawks has officially taken over the city. It’s inspired memories of a great times in Atlanta sports history — yes, there have been great times — a generation ago in another sport (baseball), when the imagination of an entire city became fans of a team that captured its fan base. It feels like 1991 all over again in Atlanta, according to longtime Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley:

Ten years from now, we may recall this January the way we do the summer of 1991, when a team none of us had paid much heed grabbed us by our collars and made us watch. Ten years from now, we may remember these Hawks growing into a colossus – what other word fits an aggregation that’s 32-2 since Thanksgiving? – the way we beheld the Braves’s ascent from worst to first.

Ten years from now, we may look back on games like Friday’s in the manner we pressed that September series against the hated Dodgers into our memory books. Ten years from now, we could point to Friday as one of the moments when we knew – knew, as opposed to hoped – that all things were really and truly possible.

For the first time in 33 days and 17 games, the Hawks faced a fourth-quarter deficit. (That’s among the astonishing stats of this or any millennium.) Nothing was coming easy against an excellent Portland team, and matters were getting more difficult by the minute.

The splendid forward LaMarcus Aldridge was en route to scoring 37 points. The Hawks were missing free throws. DeMarre Carroll, their best perimeter defender, was too sore to play. Thabo Sefolosha, his replacement in the starting five, lasted 141 seconds before tweaking a hamstring. A team that has become a beautiful machine had developed a cough, and you couldn’t see all of the above and not think, “This could be the night the streak ends.”

But no. Five points down after three quarters, the Hawks won 105-99. Over those final 12 minutes, they outscored the Trail Blazers 15 baskets to seven, outshot them 71.4 percent to 30.4 percent. In their stiffest test since MLK Day, the Hawks played their best offense and their best defense in the fourth quarter, which is the time to do it.

We’ve spent the past month trying to identify the reasons the Hawks have done nothing but win, and here’s another: They trust themselves and their system. They know Mike Budenholzer’s offense will avail them of good shots if only they go where they’re supposed to go. They know they’re good enough shooters to make those shots. They also know – here’s the part that’s different from last season – that they can guard the opposition better than they’re being guarded.

There’s power in such faith. There’s the power that flows from believing you’re going to get better looks over 48 minutes than the other team, that you pass and shoot and defend too well to be cornered for long. At halftime the Blazers had made 55.1 percent of their shots to the Hawks’ 44.4 percent – and Portland’s lead was a skinny point. By game’s end the Hawks had shot the better percentage and driven the ball often enough to earn twice as many free throws. (Not a small consideration on a night when you miss eight of 22.)

Down to cases. On the first possession of the fourth quarter, Dennis Schroder drove for a layup. The 21-year-old had some moments when he looked his age, but he changed the game when it needed changing. He found Mike Scott on the left wing for the tying 3-pointer and found Kyle Korver at the top for the trey that made it 81-76. The Blazers would never lead again.


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore stepped up in a major way for the Hawks as they snagged their franchise-record 18th straight win

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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 184) featuring Vince Goodwill Jr.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If you want to know the fastest way to spoil something special in the NBA, just check the chemistry.

No championship team operates without good chemistry. No team harboring championship dreams, even the ones boasting the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant (the last two men to earn MVP honors, can overcome bad chemistry.

That would explain the presence of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder being involved in the three-team trade with the New York Knicks that went down Monday, a somewhat shocking player and asset swap that sent Dion Waiters from the Cavs to the Thunder, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks to the Cavs. The Knicks piled up more Draft picks and cap space that will help them continue the Phil Jackson-led chemistry tweak going on in New York.

They are all chasing the same thing the Detroit Pistons discovered when they waived veteran forward Josh Smith before Christmas and promptly ripped off five straight wins. They are searching for that cosmic mix that Vince Goodwill Jr. of The Detroit News describes on Episode 184 of the Hang Time Podcast.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the new best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Andrew Merriam.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: The Detroit Pistons are on a roll right now that no one saw coming

Blogtable: Rondo or J-Smoove?

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


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



VIDEOGameTime’s crew discusses how Josh Smith will help the Rockets

> Dallas trades for Rajon Rondo; Houston grabs Josh Smith. Who made the better move here and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAny team that switches out its point guard on the fly is determined and committed to change, so Dallas acquiring Rondo is both the bigger and the better move. Smith to Houston is a nice bit of accessorizing, as I see it, but the Rockets’ fundamental approach doesn’t change. Plus, their investment in the Detroit discard isn’t so great that they wouldn’t cut him loose if the negatives start to outweigh the positives. Good for both clubs, escalating the arms race in the West, but the Dallas did the more-real deal.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s far, far too early to tell.  The Rockets made the bigger gamble with a player in Smith who has more physical skills, but greater potential to blow up in their faces. Rondo upgrades Mavs offense at the point, but hasn’t helped plug a leaky defense

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe Mavericks. I get why a lot of teams were running at Smith — only because he was low-cost, low-risk. But I like a lot of the reasons of Dallas getting Rondo. He will move the ball, critical for a team that already has Monta Ellis in the backcourt and Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons needing/deserving the ball up front. He has playoff experience. He has a desire to stay after becoming a free agent. And the Mavericks didn’t have to give up much to get him.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comRondo gets the nod, only because there doesn’t appear to be any chance of a downside. He upgraded the point guard spot and does exactly what the Mavericks need him to do — find Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons, Monta Ellis or Tyson Chandler. Rondo can’t shoot but in this offense he can hide pretty well. Smith is being celebrated in Houston partly because he came cheaply. His bad habits can hurt Houston a lot more than Rondo’s can Dallas. For all of his skills, there’s a very high “heartbreak” quotient with Smith.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comHouston, because there was a lot less risk involved in waiving Tarik Black than in trading three rotation guys and two draft picks for an experiment that might not work. Rondo helps the Mavs a little bit defensively. But he isn’t a good offensive fit next to Monta Ellis because neither player is an off-the-ball floor spacer. Smith isn’t a great fit offensively in Houston, either, but Houston had more need for help at his position. And, as previously noted, the Rockets didn’t give up nearly as much to get him (though Black is young and serviceable).

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI honestly liked both moves for the teams and players involved. Rondo, however, gives the Mavericks a makeover at the most crucial position in the game. The Mavericks get a seasoned play-caller with not only a championship pedigree, but also an understanding of what it takes to work in an ensemble cast. The Mavericks are clearly all in for this season. You don’t trade for a player like Rondo unless you are serious about winning it all. And to get through the Western Conference playoff grinder, there is no doubt you have to be as aggressive as possible in searching out and securing the services of true difference makers — like both Rondo and Smith.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comGive Rondo some time to adapt and strengthen his confidence, and he will make a huge difference to the Mavericks. They will appreciate him in the most important games — and in the playoffs especially. His talent for raising his play on the biggest stage is exactly what is needed for a contender. Smith, by comparison, has shown no such big-game ability.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHouston. I understand why Dallas felt like adding Rajon Rondo was a given — his resume and talent should be attractive to any NBA team. When you have the best offense in the NBA, like Dallas had at the time of the trade, changing your starting lineup and trading away your best backup big man (Brandan Wright) is the kind of move a fearless owner like Mark Cuban thrives on making. I’m just not sure it makes your team better. But for Houston, picking up Josh Smith — a very good forward who can help you on both sides of the ball when deployed correctly — without having to give up any pieces of your rotation is a no-brainer. Now we get to see if Kevin McHale is a Josh Whisperer and can carve out a role that fits Smith’s unique skill set.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 27


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets | Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win | Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk | Bucks looking for different advantages

No. 1: Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets — There’s no place like home for the holidays … as long as you have a home. After being waived earlier this week by the Detroit Pistons, Josh Smith agreed to a free-agent deal with the Houston Rockets. Friday night he made his debut for the Rockets in Memphis against the Western Conference power Grizzlies, tallying 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in Houston’s 117-111 overtime win. As Jonathan Feigen writes in the Houston Chronicle, Smith provided the Rockets exactly what they were looking for when they signed him…

The Rockets had no intention of relying so heavily on forward Josh Smith with the ink on his contract barely dry.

They did not even intend to play him so long into the night.

The Rockets knew they wanted Smith the minute the Detroit Pistons cut him loose.

They needed him as soon as they plugged him into the rotation.

With the Grizzlies defending Smith with Vince Carter, the Rockets went to him again and again down the stretch Friday night, not only helping key a comeback to a 117-111 overtime win but offering a glimpse of the sort of talent they had plugged into the mix.

“They think big of my talents,” Smith said. “This is a team that instills confidence in all of its players.”

With the two-season disaster in Detroit rapidly behind him, Smith had 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in his Rockets debut, tacking on the game-winning free throws in overtime when he grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds and then knocked down a pair of free throws for a four-point lead.

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No. 2: Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win — The Orlando Magic are still in the nascent stages of their rebuilding plan, and as such still have lessons to learn. Last night, hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were without an injured Kyrie Irving, the Magic learned an important truth: You come at the King, you best not miss. With Orlando leading the Cavs 64-62 in the third quarter, Magic forward Tobias Harris and LeBron James got tangled under the basket and exchanged some heated words. Whoops. As Chris Haynes writes, Harris woke a sleeping giant, helping push Cleveland to the win…

James looked out of sorts. Disinterested. He had three turnovers in the first 10 minutes.

Orlando was up 64-62 in the third quarter and a coasting James was 5-for-13 from the field. The Magic was on pace to steal one. Harris, acting as the catalyst, had 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

Then things suddenly changed.

Midway through the third, Harris was facing up James on the baseline and to create some separation; he flung his elbows around in the vicinity of James’ face. James backed up to avoid the connection, but he took exception and said something to Harris.

The two jawed back and forth at one another and had to be separated. While walking away, Harris yelled, “Stop flopping.”

“He barked up the wrong tree,” the Cavs’ Dion Waiters said of Harris after the game.

A sleeping giant was awakening.

Two possessions later, James stole a crosscourt pass and shot out on a one-man break. Orlando’s Elfrid Payton managed to get a hold of James from the back and James took him along for the ride to finish the left-handed layup, plus the foul.

The four-time MVP proceeded to trot past Orlando’s bench to have a few words before taking his foul shots. Just like that, James was awakened.

“That’s the best player in the world,” the Cavs’ Kevin Love said. “That’s something you don’t want to do.”

From that point on James dominated Harris, going 5-for-7 in the final 17 minutes. He scored 15 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth. After that alteration with James, Harris only scored one point. He finished with 17 points on 6-for-12.

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No. 1: Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk — Much was made earlier this season of Kobe Bryant‘s pursuit of Michael Jordan and the third spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Last night there was another repositioning of the list, though a few spots down from Kobe and MJ. Dallas’s Dirk Nowitzki moved into 8th on the all-time scoring list, passing Elvin Hayes in a 102-98 Dallas win over the Lakers. As Dirk joked after the game, he’s now got Kobe squarely in his sights, writes ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon

“I told [Kobe] that I was going to catch him,” Nowitzki said after his Dallas Mavericks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 102-98 with Bryant resting and watching from the bench. “But that’s going to be tough.”

Nowitzki now stands eighth among scorers in NBA history, five spots behind Bryant, after passing Hall of Fame forward Elvin Hayes on Friday night.

Nowitzki needed six points entering the game to pass Hayes, who finished his career with 27,313 points, and did so on a midrange jumper off a feed from Monta Ellis on the opening possession of the second half.

Nowitzki, who has been battling a stomach illness for about two weeks, finished the game with 14 points in 24 minutes, giving him 27,322 points in his career.

“I’m fortunate to have great teammates to put me in position to keep scoring, even as I’m older,” said Nowitzki, a 36-year-old who has spent his entire 17-year career with the Mavs. “It’s been fun. Still competing at a high level and hopefully will win a lot more games these last couple of years, which really means more to me right now than all the points. But it’s definitely been a fun ride.”

Hayes is the second top-10 all-time scorer passed by Nowitzki this season. Nowitzki bumped Hakeem Olajuwon to No. 10 on the list in a Nov. 11 win over the Sacramento Kings.

Nowitzki, who is averaging 18.5 points per game this season, likely will pass Moses Malone (27,409 career points) in early January to move into seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

With 32,365 points and counting, Bryant is almost certainly out of reach for Nowitzki. However, Nowitzki should pass Shaquille O’Neal (28,596 points) next season and has a chance to move into the top five by passing Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) before he retires.

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No. 1: Bucks looking for different advantages — The Milwaukee Bucks were purchased by a collection of investors led by some New York financial titans in 2013, and since then they’ve been attempting to build a stronger infrastructure for the franchise, in some ways by utilizing some creative thinking. One way they’ve done that: Spending money on people who do things NBA teams have traditionally undervalued, or perhaps not valued at all. For instance, as Kevin Randall writes in the New York Times, the Bucks recently hired a “facial coding expert”…

So in May, the team hired Dan Hill, a facial coding expert who reads the faces of college prospects and N.B.A. players to determine if they have the right emotional attributes to help the Bucks.

The approach may sound like palm reading to some, but the Bucks were so impressed with Hill’s work before the 2014 draft that they retained him to analyze their players and team chemistry throughout this season.

“We spend quite a bit of time evaluating the players as basketball players and analytically,” said David Morway, Milwaukee’s assistant general manager, who works for the owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. “But the difficult piece of the puzzle is the psychological side of it, and not only psychological, character and personality issues, but also team chemistry issues.”

Hill contends that faces betray our true emotions and can predict intentions, decisions and actions. He employs the psychologist Paul Ekman’s widely accepted FACS, or Facial Action Coding System, to decipher which of the 43 muscles in the face are working at any moment. Seven core emotions are identified: happiness, surprise, contempt, disgust, sadness, anger and fear.

Before the 2014 draft, Hill spent 10 hours with Milwaukee’s team psychologist, Ramel Smith, watching video of various college prospects and picking apart the psyches of potential picks. The Bucks had the No. 2 selection over all as well as three second-round picks, one of which they traded.

A vexing player at the top of the draft was Dante Exum, a point guard from Australia who was projected to be taken among the top four selections. Smith had done player personality analyses but wanted to validate them by having Hill present his player assessments first. The Bucks selected Jabari Parker with their top pick, and Exum fell to Utah at No. 5.

“Nothing against Exum, but emotional resiliency, stability and an immediate, assured presence were all key considerations in support of selecting Parker,” Hill said.

Until he sustained a severe knee injury on Dec. 15, Parker was among the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. Exum is averaging 4.9 points and 2.0 assists coming off the bench for the Jazz.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jared Dudley couldn’t miss last night in Atlanta. Like, literally, he couldn’t miss … Kenneth Faried was basically unstoppable for Denver last night … After passing him on the all-time scoring list, Kobe Bryant said Michael Jordan urged him to now go after Karl Malone … Did Kevin Garnett play his final game in Boston? … Quincy Acy got a one-game suspension for his Christmas Day scuffle with John WallDajuan Wagner is in the early stages of mounting a comeback

Morning shootaround — Dec. 26


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe is growing old before our eyes | LeBron has bittersweet return | Warriors have a ‘jolly’ Christmas?

No. 1: Lakers move on without Kobe for nowKobe Bryant did what many did on Christmas Day: He sat around and watched a basketball game. The Lakers played the Bulls without their leader and leading scorer and it was what you would have expected: Not much of a contest. And the biggest news of the game was on the Laker bench. Kobe complained about “old age” and sat for another game, and at this point, this pattern could repeat itself throughout the season. Kobe said “my knees are sore, my Achilles are sore, both of them. Metatarsals are tight, back’s tight. I just need to kind of hit the reset button.” Oh,  if only the Lakers could do the same. They’re now 9-20 after losing by 20 to the Bulls and ex-Laker Pau Gasol. Kobe is a very old 36 and in his 19th season, and given how the Lakers are losing even when he’s in the lineup, you must seriously wonder about the wisdom of playing him heavy minutes, anyway.

Here’s Mark Bresnahan‘s report from the Los Angeles Times:

Most of the talk centered around Bryant, who said there was only a “slim” chance he would return Friday against Dallas. He worked with a team physical therapist for an hour and a half Thursday morning, “taking care of every part of my body,” he said.

“It’s tough with our health team here, trying to find new ways of doing it because there’s really no blueprint for playing this long, at this position at least, in the NBA. We’re really trying to figure new things out, trying to see what’s out there, trying to see what works, what doesn’t work. It’s constantly experimenting.” On the court, Bryant said he would try to find areas that were best for him efficiency-wise.

“It’s habit for me to move around and be active offensively all over the place from different spots on the floor,” he said. ” I don’t think my body can hold up to that anymore.” He seemed especially disappointed to sit out a Christmas Day game, let alone in Chicago against Gasol, his former teammate and still good friend. He did have a pledge, though.

“I’ll get back to being healthy, like I was at the start of the season,” Bryant said. “We’ll probably cut down the minutes.” Bryant is averaging 35.5 minutes per game, only one below his career average.

His scoring has been solid — 24.6 points per game — but he’s only 8% below his career accuracy before the season.

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No. 2: LeBron has a bittersweet trip down memory lane – Well, that was interesting. The Cavaliers-Heat game was all about one man’s trip to his second home and the reception he would get. LeBron James heard the good and the not so good when he was honored with a video tribute and a standing ovation, and then treated like any other visitor to American Airlines Arena, where he hoisted a pair of trophies as a member of the Heat. Now, of course, he’s back with the Cavaliers and emotions tugged at him on Christmas Day. He was with his pal Dwyane Wade although on the other bench, and his current team never really had much of a chance to straighten their disappointing season out, losing 101-91. It must be weird being LeBron right now. He’s back in Ohio and with the team he broke in with. He has rejoined the hearts of Cavaliers fans. He has a ton of money, his good health and soon a newborn girl. He has a pair of championship trophies. But he cares deeply about his place in the game, from a historical perspective, and knows that he’ll never be considered the greatest to ever play unless he multiplies his trophy collection. That might not happen this season because the Cavaliers are 16-11 and showing no signs of turning it around anytime soon. Anderson Varejao is out for the season with a torn Achilles and Kevin Love remains in a fog. LeBron’s dreamy return home is laced with issues, writes Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:

It’s tempting to read too much into this, and maybe we shouldn’t. OK, we should. And we will. Did anyone think it was odd that LeBron James had more camaraderie, more genuine interactions with the former teammates that were all around him Thursday than his current ones? Think about that for a minute … when you’re the most prominent player in the game and you spend for years with people and make four trips to the NBA Finals with them and win two championships, those bonds “last forever” as James said before his return to Miami on Christmas Day. This is especially true when one of those players, Dwyane Wade, has been your friend and rival — like a brother to you — for virtually your entire basketball career.

Those bonds can’t be formed in your new city (not even if it’s your old city, and not even if it’s your hometown) over the course of 28 regular season games. But man, oh man, James and his new teammates in burgundy and gold uniforms look more like strangers than teammates. They’re all lost, and nobody has directions.

That’s a problem.

It’s a problem that cuts much deeper than the inconsequential 101-91 loss that James and the Cavs suffered at the hands of Wade and the Heat on Thursday. And it speaks to something very interesting about the dynamic that James left behind in Miami and the one that he voluntarily rejoined in Cleveland.

The NBA always has been, and always will be, a player’s league. The best coaches are the best coaches because they usually have the best players. Carmelo Anthony isn’t so great and has virtually no chance to win on any given night because he is surrounded by bad players. That part of the game is easy to figure out.

But there’s something else that gets often overlooked, something that we shouldn’t need help recognizing after witnessing the championship blueprint set forth by San Antonio Spurs all these many years. While it may be true that you cannot win without good players, it’s equally true that you can’t win without a strong, winning culture and foundation.

That was the fundamental reason James left Cleveland in the first place and decided that he needed to be a part of what Pat Riley had built in Miami. More than anything — more than teaming up with Wade and Chris Bosh, more than flexing his free agent muscle — it was about immersing himself in an organization with strong leadership, an unconditional partnership between the coach and the GM and an owner who let people do their jobs. Four Finals trips and two championships later, it worked — for all parties involved.

Now the Heat are below .500 and just trying to tread water in the woeful Eastern Conference. But if you thought that James was going to leave behind a steaming pile of rubble — a team lacking discipline and any discernible style or direction — think again.

That’s James’ new team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Every game for us is a learning experience,” James said. “We’re not that good right now.”

They’re 17-11 and once they figure out how to replace the injured Anderson Varejao, chances are they’ll walk backwards into the Eastern Conference finals by accident. James is right about not being very good right now, but he missed something.

They don’t even seem to know what they’re trying to be.

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No. 3: Maybe the Warriors should take their angry pills — Understand that nobody should ever promote violence in the NBA or anywhere for that matter. We strive to be a peaceful band of citizens, loving our fellow man and promoting a sense of brotherhood whenever given the chance. Especially on Christmas Day; what evil person would ever stoop to doing anything dastardly? Well, whenever the Warriors and Clippers play, it’s usually a contest that takes on a bit of an edge. They have a history, let’s just say. And they’re both very, very good here in the early going, and want the same thing: The Western Conference championship. There’s a decent chance that the road through the West will wind through one either LA or Oakland, and maybe both, with all due respect to San Antonio and OKC and Portland and Houston. The Warriors are the hottest team in the NBA while the Clippers, after a brutal schedule and a stumbling start, are starting to gather themselves and play in a manner that satisfies coach Doc Rivers. So when they met on Christmas Day, a pair of forces colliding at the Staples Center, something had to give. Blake Griffin, as he usually does against the Warriors, refused to shake hands or even offer a fist bump with any Warrior before the tip. And the pro-Clippers crowd was loud from the jump. The Clippers were in full message-sending mode and it showed when they clobbered the Warriors, which annoyed one Golden State player in particular. Draymond Green, who’s having a fine season, thought the Warriors were simply too soft and nice.

Here’s Rusty Strauss of the San Francisco Chronicle on the state of mind of Green and the Warriors:

“I don’t think we were intense as far as having that fire, but I don’t think they were, either,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “I don’t know what the cause of it was. Maybe everybody was a little too jolly. But it was too nice. It was too boring. I’m sure it wasn’t the prime time game everybody expected.”.

More Green: “There was no, ‘I don’t like you’ and ‘You don’t like me,’ ” Green said. “There are some guys on that team that I really respect, but there was no fire, no dog. It’s no secret that we don’t like them. They don’t like us. I don’t know why the game was that nice, trying to act like we like each other when we don’t. It was a boring game.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall and Quincy Acy exchanged Christmas Day pleasantriesJosh Smith excited to join the RocketsNBA Christmas ratings are friendly …