Posts Tagged ‘Justise Winslow’

Blogtable: Gameplan for the Miami Heat?

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: Gameplan for the Heat? | Future for Lakers’ Russell? | Lasting memories of NBA summer?


> Say you are Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. What is your plan for training camp now that Dwyane Wade is long gone and Chris Bosh’s status is, at best, up in the air?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMake sure I try out every one of those 18 water slides at the Atlantis Bahamas resort where the Heat will hold training camp? OK, besides that, my plan would focus on sorting through the multiple options in the backcourt, helping Justise Winslow develop a more reliable and rangier jump shot and watching a now-paid Hassan Whiteside very closely for any signs of slippage or distraction. I also might want to turn whatever Plan B is into Plan A, as far as Chris Bosh is concerned. Two consecutive seasons got sideways due to his blood-clots health scares, and Miami needs that resolved one way or the other. It’s a much bigger on-court cloud than Dwyane Wade‘s departure, where the roster at least offers alternatives. Not so much with Bosh.

 

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The first thing is to let go of yesterday. LeBron James and Wade aren’t walking through that door and maybe not Bosh either. Embrace change and begin to emphasize a new philosophy with a new core. The emphasis should be on developing Hassan Whiteside into a star, pump some air in Goran Dragic‘s confidence and stress defense. It’s a new era in Miami and there’s no sense ignoring it.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comPlay fast. Dwyane Wade is a Hall of Famer, but the pace he played at didn’t allow Goran Dragic to be his best with the Heat. Dragic wants to run and he’ll be able to do it more often playing more minutes alongside younger guys like Justise Winslow and Tyler Johnson (and Josh Richardson when he returns from his knee injury). Hopefully, Hassan Whiteside can stay engaged (and more disciplined) for longer stretches than he was last season and can, along with Winslow, keep the Heat in the top 10 defensively. More stops will create more chances to run. The Heat have ranked in the bottom eight in pace each of the last four seasons and it’s time for that to change.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: If I am Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, the one thing I know I’m not going to do is bring up the names Dwyane Wade or LeBron James. No sense in torturing myself as a coach knowing those guys are playing elsewhere. And I have to plan to go to work in training camp without Chris Bosh. Until he is cleared for full activity, I have to plan accordingly. It’s all about the youth movement now. Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson have to continue to develop. As a staff, we have to make sure Goran Dragic and Udonis Haslem lead the way for us and show everyone else what it is we expect from this team from a culture standpoint. We are starting from the ground up, rebuilding this program, so I know I’ve got perhaps the greatest challenge of my career ahead of me.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comBosh is on the books for the next three seasons with a salary that eats up roughly one-fourth of Miami’s cap. If Bosh can play in most of the games at his typical All-Star level then they could be competing for the No. 2 seed in the East. But Spoelstra will have no control over that. Whether or not Bosh can contribute, the Heat are going to have to develop a go-to scorer on the perimeter. Every contender needs one, and Spoeltra must find one – which creates a huge opportunity for Goran Dragic.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Sometimes desperation begets inspiration. Last year during the playoffs against the Toronto Raptors, after Hassan Whiteside went down, the Heat ended up trotting out a lineup featuring Justise Winslow at center, surrounded by a bunch of guards and small forwards. And they were fun to watch! They may not have had enough to beat the Raptors, but it was an interesting lineup with room to grow. So this year I’m guessing they return with Whiteside and then spread the floor with shooters and athletes. Obviously a lot is dependent on the health and return of Chris Bosh, but I’m not writing the Heat off just yet.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry says Warriors not aiming for 74 wins | Winslow’s jumper improving | Gasol nearly signed with Spurs in 2014

No. 1: Curry: ’74 isn’t really a goal’ — The Golden State Warriors are fresh off a record-setting, 73-win regular season and run to The Finals. After adding former MVP Kevin Durant in the offseason to a group already stocked with All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry, the Warriors will get everyone’s best shot in 2016-17. To Curry, surpassing last season’s win total is hardly a goal for these Warriors as they look to atone for their 2016 Finals flub. He said as much in an interview during his Tour of Asia, which Warriors.com was on hand for:

“I think we’ve added some great character guys that will fit right into our identity and who we are as a team. And there’s only one goal this year which is obviously to win a championship so whatever it takes to make that happen, I’m sure we’ll figure it out.

“74 (wins) isn’t really a goal. If it happens, it happens. All of our energy will be spent on getting ourselves ready for a championship run. We want to have a great regular season obviously, we don’t want to have any slip-ups, but I don’t think coming into the season with the goal of 74 is a good focus. It’s about winning a championship.”

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — May 14




NEWS OF THE MORNING
What it takes for Heat | Vogel to Orlando? | Spurs face questions | Mavs eye Howard | Grizzlies talk to Ewing
No. 1: Heat come through when heat was on — Unconventional? Necessary? Desperate? Use your own adjectives. But trailing 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Heat had no more room to back up and, as our own Lang Whitaker points out, they did what they needed to do to survive and force Game 7 on Sunday:

While starting a rookie at center was largely prompted from attrition, it was a couple of veterans who did the heavy lifting for the Heat, helping them even the series with a 103-91 win. When the Heat were looking at a possible end of their season in Game 7 of their first round series against the Charlotte Hornets, Goran Dragic took control, scoring 25 points. Facing elimination again Friday, Dragic shredded Toronto for a career playoff-high 30 points, and chipped in seven rebounds.

“I didn’t want to go home to Europe,” Dragic joked. “I wanted to stay here.”

Dragic got significant help from Dwyane Wade, who finished with 22 points, giving him 110 points in his last four games. While Justise Winslow looked Lilliputian lined up against Toronto center Bismack Biyombo, he finished with 12 points and three rebounds, and more than held his own in the paint.

Miami’s rotation shuffles were mostly due to injuries — Miami center Hassan Whiteside went out during Game 3 with a knee sprain, which made the series “go sideways,” according to Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. But the Heat’s smaller group was also a way to give Toronto a fresh look after five games against the same team.

“It’s just unconventional,” said Wade of the smaller lineup. “And sometimes unconventional works… at this time of the series you need something a little different.”

***

No. 2: Magic talk with Vogel — Suddenly confronted with an unexpected coaching vacancy when Scott Skiles quit after one season, the Magic are planning to reach out to former Pacers boss Frank Vogel about taking over the job. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel caught up to Magic G.M. Rob Hennigan, who might as well have been talking about Vogel when describing the traits he’s seeking in a new coach:

On Thursday and again on Friday, Hennigan said the Magic would seek to hire someone who places a high value on the defensive end of the court.

“Sort of the fulcrum of what we’re looking for,” Hennigan said Friday, “is someone who puts an emphasis on the defensive end of the floor, someone who puts an emphasis on player development and also someone who puts an emphasis on building lasting connections with the players on our roster.”

***

No. 3: Spurs decisions beyond Duncan — The first question to be asked in the seconds after the Spurs were eliminated by the Thunder was whether Tim Duncan had just walked off an NBA court for the final time after a 19-year career. But as Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News points out, the organization that was shockingly upset after a franchise best 67-15 season has plenty of questions that go well beyond their Hall of Fame big man:

Barring trades, the Spurs will bring back at least seven players from a 67-win team: LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, and Kyle Anderson.

Duncan, Manu Ginobili and the 35-year-old David West hold player options that, if exercised, would add their names to the list. Those decisions don’t have to be made until July.

The Spurs own a team option on rookie guard Jonathon Simmons, which they are likely to exercise.

Depending on how those answers shake out, the Spurs could create salary-cap space to pursue another maximum-dollar free agent. They have already been linked to OKC star Kevin Durant and Memphis point guard Mike Conley.

West, who famously gave back $12.6 million in Indiana last summer to accept a veteran minimum deal with the Spurs, says he has no regrets about that decision.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said West, who remained non-committal about his future. “I needed this for where I am in my career and where I am as a person. It kept me sane. It kept me in basketball.”

Once the free-agency horn sounds July 1, Boban Marjanovic will become the most interesting internal decision for the Spurs’ front office.

He is a restricted free agent, meaning the Spurs retain the right to match any offer he receives, and a provision in the collective bargaining agreement limits the amount he can earn next season to $5.6 million.

Competing teams could choose to structure an offer sheet for Marjanovic with a salary spike in the third year. The Spurs would then have to decide whether to swallow that so-called “poison pill” and match.

***

No. 4: Howard could top Mavericks wish list — The Mavericks have not exactly had a great deal of luck in the past landing big name free agents. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan are just a few names that have slipped away. But now the Mavs might be turning their attention back toward Howard this summer, according to Dwain Price of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

At the top of the Mavericks’ wish list this year is Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, who plans to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent this summer. Howard, it would seem, has absolutely everything the Mavericks need from a center.

Plus, Howard constantly draws a double team, which would allow Dirk Nowitzki to hang out on the perimeter and basically enjoy target practice during the twilight of his career.

Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, Chicago’s Pau Gasol and Atlanta’s Al Horford are the other centers the Mavericks will probably pursue if they can’t land Howard, who is good friends with Mavs forward Chandler Parsons.

The negatives with Howard are many: He wants a long-term contract with an annual salary of around $30 million, he’s a career 56.8 percent shooter from the free-throw line, and, according to his critics, he doesn’t take the game seriously.

***

No. 5: Ewing interviewed by Grizzlies — With general manager Chris Wallace having already been spotted dining out with ex-coach Lionel Hollins, the Grizzlies have also spoken with Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing about their bench opening, says CBS Sports and Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

Ewing, a 53-year-old Hall of Famer, reportedly interviewed for the Memphis job Thursday. He previously talked to the Sacramento Kings about their head coaching job that Dave Joerger filled two days after he was fired by the Grizzlies.

Ewing is a retired player who paid his dues as an assistant yet hasn’t been seriously considered for a head position.

“All I can do is continue to coach, continue to work, be good at my craft, and hopefully, one day, that will help me when and if I get that opportunity,” Ewing once told USA Today after being elevated to associate head coach of the then-Charlotte Bobcats under Steve Clifford.

Ewing started coaching as an assistant for the Washington Wizards in 2002. He spent three years on the Houston Rockets bench. The New York Knicks legend also worked under Stan Van Gundy with the Orlando Magic.

“I know he is an excellent coach, and he has more than paid his dues,” Clifford told USA Today. “If you’re around him every day, you see it. I lean on him for a lot of things, the tough times … He helps me in every imaginable way.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwyane Wade passed Hakeem Olajuwon for 12th spot on playoff scoring list … Hassan Whiteside says he will not play in Game 7 vs. Toronto … Jerry Sloan talks openly about his battle with Parkinson’s Disease … Kevin Durant says beating the Spurs was “not our championship.”… Rockets fans want Kenny Smith as the next coach in Houston … The Spurs will pursue free agent point guard Mike Conley … The Celtics and Danny Ainge ready for this most important draft … LeBron James would have voted for Terry Stotts as Coach of the Year.

Morning shootaround — May 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thunder KO Spurs in Game 6 | Carroll, Deng questionable for Game 6 | Warriors’ Green says ankle improvingWho do Magic turn to next?

No. 1: Thunder become Spurs-like in Game 6 clincher  It may be hard to remember now, but the Oklahoma City Thunder hardly looked like they’d give the San Antonio Spurs a series after Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series. The Spurs won that game by 32 points and looked dominant in every way, shape and form. Yet here we are this morning with the Thunder having ousted the Spurs in Game 6 on Thursday night in a fashion that was more Spurs-like than San Antonio could muster, writes Berry Trammel of The Oklahoman:

The Thunder blasted the Spurs 113-99 Thursday night at Chesapeake Arena to win this Western Conference semifinal series that started with a blowout one way and ended with the same the other way.

And what came in between was even more remarkable. The Thunder became the Spurs. The Spurs became the Thunder.

In winning four of the final five games, OKC went San Antonio-style.

Ferocious defense. Superior passing. Spreading the offensive wealth. Big boosts off the bench.

Those are San Antonio calling cards. But by series’ end, the Spurs were hard-pressed to slow the Thunder, San Antonio’s offense had become isolation-heavy with overreliance on its stars and the bench difference was mighty in OKC’s favor, thanks to the superior play of Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters.

Iso ball? That’s been the knock on the Thunder for years. But after the Game 1 blowout, the Thunder out-assisted the Spurs 92-88, including 12-5 in the first half Thursday.

The Spurs’ best offense was isolation with Kawhi Leonard or LaMarcus Aldridge. They are great players, but not as great one-on-one as Durant or Westbrook. The Spurs’ “beautiful game” of passing went by the wayside.

No Spur other than Leonard, Aldridge or Tim Duncan even scored the first 16 minutes.

Bench? By series’ end, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was trying all kinds of combinations, including 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, ex-Thunder Kevin Martin and 40-year-old Andre Miller, none of whom had played in the series since mopup duty in the Game 1 blowout.

Meanwhile, Billy Donovan shortened his bench and got the same quality play he’s been getting from Waiters and Kanter.

It all was a stunning turnaround from Game 1, when the Thunder seemed outclassed. By series end, the Spurs seemed old and tired. All they had left was their pride.

Pride they had. The Spurs trailed by 26 points after three quarters but didn’t give up. Even cut the lead to 11 late in the game.

But it wasn’t enough. Victory was secure. The transformation was complete.

Biyombo critical for Raptors

TORONTO — Sometimes, when you lose a player to injury, you’re left with fewer decisions to make. You just have to roll with what you’ve got.

But Jonas Valanciunas‘ absence in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, as well as Kyle Lowry‘s sixth foul with two minutes left in regulation, gave Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey a big decision to make down the stretch on Monday. And it was about offense vs. defense.

Initially, Casey went with defense, leaving DeMar DeRozan – who had played terribly through three quarters – on the bench. For one defensive possession, a critical stop with the Raptors up two, Casey had a lineup of Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo on the floor.

But after Biyombo grabbed the rebound and the Raptors called a timeout, Casey replaced the center with DeRozan.

“We were trying to create offense,” Casey said Tuesday. “That lineup had been successful for us the game before.”

A DeRozan screen did give Joseph some space for a pull-up jumper to put the Raptors up four. But the Heat smartly went without a timeout, keeping Biyombo on the bench, for the ensuing possession.

They scored, DeRozan kicked the ball into Goran Dragic‘s face, missed a pull-up jumper, and grabbed an offensive rebound tapped back by Patterson. The Raptors took another timeout, and with another offensive possession, they kept DeRozan on the floor.

But after Joseph missed on a drive, there was still plenty of time for the Heat. Once again, they smartly went without a timeout. Dwyane Wade attacked the basket, Biyombo wasn’t there to stop him, and he tied the game with a layup.

Credit Heat coach Erik Spoelstra for not calling timeout those two times and catching Casey with his rim protector off the floor on two crucial defensive possessions. But Casey doubled down in overtime, going with the smaller lineup for all but two seconds in the extra period, where all of the Heat’s first nine points came via drives to the basket or offensive rebounds. Biyombo’s presence was missed, and DeRozan didn’t make up for it on the other end of the floor.

“That was the decision we made,” Casey said. “It didn’t work out.”

Valanciunas’ absence for the remainder of the series means that the Raptors will have to play some minutes with Patterson or Lucas Nogueira at center. But Biyombo can play a few more minutes than he did on Monday, and he could definitely be on the floor down the stretch, when his value on defense is greater than a smaller player’s value on offense.

Casey believes that the first key to protecting the basket is containing the ball on the perimeter. But the Heat aren’t going to stop attacking. Their offense has been ugly for most of the series and they’ve bailed themselves out of some ugly possessions with tough jumpers at times. But they need paint attacks to survive. And those attacks have come more often and more successfully when the Raptors haven’t had a center on the floor.

With either Valanciunas or Biyombo in the game, 22 percent of the Heat’s shots have come in the restricted area, where they’ve shot 61 percent. With neither in the game, 44 percent of the Heat’s shots have come in the restricted area, where they’ve shot 74 percent. They’ve scored more points at the basket in 37 minutes with neither on the floor than they’ve scored in 69 minutes with Biyombo on the floor.

20160511_mia_restricted

The Heat were playing small in overtime in Game 4, using Luol Deng at “center.” And you might ask who Biyombo could guard in that scenario. But Miami provided an easy answer: Justise Winslow, who has shot 2-for-21 from outside the restricted area over his last eight games. Biyombo wouldn’t need to chase Winslow away from the basket and, because the Heat don’t have dangerous perimeter shooting elsewhere on the floor, wouldn’t have to stress too much about an unguarded Winslow freeing a teammate up for a jumper with a screen.

The injuries to Valanciunas and Heat center Hassan Whiteside have turned this series into more of a chess match than it was before. DeRozan could certainly make things easier on Casey by making some shots and/or quicker decisions with the ball. But no matter what is happening on offense in Game 5 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, TNT), rim protection should be priority No. 1 for Toronto.

Blogtable: Your All-Rookie first team picks?

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: State of Cavs as playoffs near? | Outlook on 76ers’ future? | Your All-Rookie team picks are?



VIDEOKia Awards: Karl-Anthony Towns

> It’s awards time. Name your 2015-16 All-Rookie first team.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst:

Karl Anthony-Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

Towns is a no-brainer lock for Kia Rookie of the Year and looks like a cornerstone, franchise-level talent. Porzingis was sensational the first half of the season for the Knicks and displayed an all-around game that augers very well for his future. He not only could score and shoot from multiple places on the floor, he stuck his nose in there and rebounded quite well. Okafor was a one-dimensional offensive player, but displayed the low post skills that made him such a desirable Lottery pick. He’ll have to really dedicate himself to getting in better shape and giving a better effort defensively in future years, but there’s a lot to work with there. Mudiay (and fellow rookie Nikola Jokic) looks like a keeper in Denver and a solid point guard of the future. Winslow was outstanding at the defensive end for Miami and stepped in right away to play big minutes when the Heat was decimated by injury.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

Towns already was pushing for consideration as an all-NBA center on my ballot, and Timberwolves fans are understandably nervous — after years of letdowns and washouts — that so much has gone so right with this kid. I liked Porzingis from the first game I saw him play in the Las Vegas Summer League, and his demeanor kicks his potential to another level. Jokic and Booker managed to develop nicely in difficult situations and Winslow struck me as a no-nonsense, mature rookie even before he benefited from all those mature Miami vets. In a bumper crop of newbies, I had guys like Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay, Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky, Detroit’s Stanley Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell and Utah’s Trey Lyles in my next five, with Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor and Miami’s Josh Richardson slipping in the rankings only for lack of game appearances.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

Does anybody need to justify KAT? He’s been the Kia Rookie of the Year since opening night. Porzingis has faded down the stretch, but showed all he needed to justify being the No. 4 pick and a foundational piece if the Knicks ever get around to rebuilding correctly. Jokic has been a double-double machine in Denver while playing low minutes. Booker came on in the second half to show star potential and now gives the perennially rebuilding Suns reason to get better by dealing away one of their other guards. Winslow was a solid defender right from the start and has shown steady improvement in his shooting to make him the first-round pick the Heat wanted.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

 

Towns, Porzingis and Jokic should be automatics to underline what was expected to be and then turned out to be an unusually good year for rookie big men. Along those lines, I will be interested to see the real outcome — after the real vote, not the NBA.com brilliance — for Jahlil Okafor in particular. He was one of the three or four best rookies when he played, but the season-ending knee injury after 53 appearances will almost certainly cost him. How much is the question.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets

Admittedly, the last two on this list helped themselves in the final two months of the season, while there are two tough omissions: Nikola Jokic and Justise Winslow. Towns and Booker have the most star quality of the bunch.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

 

It was a great rookie class in regard to production, potential and depth. Towns is already one of the best centers in the league and will be a difference-maker on both ends of the floor for a long time. Porzingis tore up whatever timeline we had for him and looks like he, too, will be an impact player on both ends. Jokic is a skilled big in the mold of Marc Gasol, Booker was the Suns’ best player when Eric Bledsoe got hurt, and Winslow was one of the best wing defenders in the Eastern Conference and helped unlock the Heat’s successful small-ball lineups before Chris Bosh‘s absence forced them to play that way full-time. Jahlil Okafor had the numbers to earn consideration, but was a disaster defensively.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets

KAT should be a unanimous Kia Rookie of the Year winner for the job he’s done all season in Minnesota. Porzingis showed enough flashes to project as a future All-Star in New York, provided he continues to develop his frame and game. Okhafor’s off-court issues stained what was an otherwise solid first year. Booker and Mudiay could both see All-Star nods in the future. Booker looked like a long-lost Splash Brother the second half of the season and Mudiay played beyond his years from the start. Miami’s Justise Winslow and Detroit’s Stanley Johnson are my sixth and seventh men. They could easily have been in that first five had they been Drafted into situations that required them to play larger roles.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philaelphia 76ers
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

 

Towns has a chance to be the NBA’s best player in a few years. Porzingis could join Chauncey Billups as the best teammate to ever play with Carmelo Anthony. Turner, who went No. 11, may turn out to rank among the three best players in the Draft. The disappointment is D’Angelo Russell, who may yet be a star. Amid this terrific class he has, in Year One at least, been a relative disappointment.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Filled out my ballot yesterday, and that’s the order I submitted to the NBA.  No surprises, I don’t think, other than maybe Jokic, who has mostly stayed under the radar but has been rather productive. For me the two toughest omissions were Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay, who was basically thrown out there from the start of the season and competed all season, and Phoenix’s Devin Booker, who has impressed me all season, but particularly the last few weeks as he’s played an increasingly larger role for the Suns.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Johnson heading to Miami | They the North | Rivers wants replay challenge system | Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line

No. 1: Johnson heading to Miami The Miami Heat are in the mix to finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams, but for the most part sat out the trade deadline, not making any major moves. Instead, it appears they managed to pick up a seven-time All-Star yesterday without having to move any assets: After accepting a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Joe Johnson will be signing with the Miami Heat, according to multiple reports. As Ethan Skolnick writes in the Miami Herald, Johnson’s relationships with Miami’s players probably had a lot to do with his decision

Dwyane Wade made it clear. If his contemporary and friend Joe Johnson accepted a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Wade would be “blowing up his phone” to recruit him to Miami.

Johnson, after initial resistance, did take that buyout.

It appears that Wade got his man.

According to several league sources, Johnson, a seven-time All-Star, has chosen to join the Heat after he is expected to clears waivers Saturday night. Johnson was pursued by nearly all of the NBA’s top contenders, including LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, with James even saying “he knows we want him” while speaking to reporters at Friday’s Cavaliers shootaround in Toronto.

But, according to sources, Cleveland, with its crowded backcourt and wing rotation, wasn’t one of the finalists. Johnson narrowed his choices to Miami, Oklahoma City and Atlanta due to the possibility of greater playing time, and the chance to prove worthy of another contract this season, even after earning nearly $200 million in his career.

Also helping Miami? His relationships with many of the Heat players. That started with Wade, with whom he became close when they were U.S. teammates in the 2008 Olympics.

While Johnson isn’t quite what he was — and got off to a terrible start with the broken Nets in the 2015 portion of the 2015-16 schedule — he has played extremely well since New Year’s, averaging 13.4 points and 4.4 assists and shooting 46 percent from three-point range. Miami is last in the league, shooting 32.1 percent from three-point range, and its two most reliable three-point shooters, Chris Bosh and Tyler Johnson, might both be out for the season, Bosh with a blood clot and Johnson with a surgically-repaired shoulder.

Joe Johnson has had an odd career arc, going from underrated to overpaid to somewhat underrated again. He was the player the Heat most feared in the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals, because of his ability to post up, catch-and-shoot, play isolation and made critical plays down the stretch.

The question wasn’t whether the Heat would be interested. It was whether Miami could make it work, while also meeting another aim — staying under the luxury tax, to avoid being classified as a “repeater” team, and dealing with the punitive tax multipliers.

To stay under the tax, when it was roughly $218,000 from the line, Miami would have needed Johnson to wait to start a new Heat contract for at least another 10 days. But, with the Johnson commitment, the team began exploring options that would allow him to come sooner, and still stay under the tax. That could include waiving a current player, such as injured point guard Beno Udrih, but it would only help if another team claimed him. Miami has also explored adding outside shooter Marcus Thornton, whom it nearly signed this summer, signing Gerald Green instead; Thornton was recently traded from Houston to Detroit but, after that trade was negated by the league, was waived by the Rockets.

There was no official update on Bosh on Friday, and he didn’t speak to the media at the team’s annual gala Thursday night. But teammates are proceeding as if he won’t return this season. But now, if he doesn’t, Miami appears to have an opportunity to remain highly competitive in the Eastern Conference, with a lineup of either Amar’e Stoudemire or Hassan Whiteside at center, Luol Deng (coming off four straight double-doubles) at power forward, and either Johnson or Justise Winslow at small forward, with Wade and Goran Dragic in the backcourt. Johnson, who is 6-foot-7, could also play some power forward in smaller lineups, or some shooting guard, occasionally pairing with Wade in the backcourt.

***

No. 2: They the North The Toronto Raptors entered this season with high expectations, fueled by last season’s 49-win team and the addition of free agent DeMarre Carroll. Yet even with Carroll missing most of the season with injuries, the Raptors have met those expectations, and entered last night’s game against the Eastern Conference champ Cleveland Cavaliers looking to make a statement. They didn’t disappoint, as Kyle Lowry was up to the challenge, scoring a career-high 43 and leading the Raptors to a come-from-behind 99-97 win. As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst writes, it was a much-needed win for the Raptors, who still have plenty to prove

Trying to play it cool in the wake of one of the greatest moments of his career, Kyle Lowry went straight Bill Belichick.

“We’re moving on to Detroit,” Lowry said with a straight face, in reference to the Raptors’ next game, after his Toronto Raptors upended the Cleveland Cavaliers 99-97 after a furious fourth-quarter comeback Friday night. “It’s just a win.”

The Raptors do not have a storied history or much of an inventory of unforgettable moments outside the Vince Carter early years file. As such, it was not much of a stretch to say Lowry’s 43 points, a career high, against the Cavs rank as one of the greatest shows in team history.

Lowry’s stepback jumper over Matthew Dellavedova with 3.8 seconds left, the winning points, was unequivocally one of the best moments of Lowry’s career. It was his first game winner since he tipped one in at the buzzer when he was at Villanova. It was a moment to celebrate under any circumstances. If Lowry did so, though, it was in private.

“I will maybe enjoy it for a few minutes,” Lowry said.

Here is why.

There isn’t a day or so that goes by in which the Raptors don’t remind themselves of the past two seasons. Their first-round playoff exits, despite home-court advantage, hang over them like a cloud, amplified by the two Atlantic Division banners hanging above their bench that can feel like a needless, pointless taunt.

As masterful as Lowry was Friday — his relentless attacking and aggression wore the Cavs’ defenders out — it only briefly covered up the sting of his wilting a year ago. He refuses to let the way his body betrayed him with back and leg injuries be driven from his mind. Lowry was almost helpless in his team’s four-game sweep by the Washington Wizards last year. Injuries or no, it is a black stain on his record that doesn’t easily come off.

That’s what inspired him to report to this season in tremendous shape, and it is what won’t allow him to accept February success as anything but that.

“I know this sounds boring, and you’re going to get tired of hearing it,” Lowry said. “But we have to just focus on the process. We’ve been here before.”

Lowry has twice taken down the Cavs this season. Back in November, he scored six points and had two assists in the final five minutes of a quality win. In this one, with DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph battling illness and DeMarre Carroll recovering from knee surgery, the Raptors appeared to be toast without Lowry. They were almost toast anyway; the Cavs held the lead for most of the first 44 minutes.

For the Cavs, it was infuriating to watch, with Lowry getting to the line 15 times and thoroughly outplaying Kyrie Irving, who had just 10 points and one assist.

“We’ve got to get somebody who can guard him,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.

***

No. 3: Rivers wants replay challenge system The Los Angeles Clippers have developed a reputation as a team unafraid to let referees know when the disagree with a call. But Clips coach Doc Rivers has an idea that might simplify the appeals process. As Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, Rivers is in favor of an NFL-style replay challenge system

While the NBA has instant replay, it currently doesn’t allow coaches to challenge a ruling on a play. Rivers said the NBA has discussed the subject of a coach’s challenge during competition committee meetings in recent years, but it has not come close to being approved. NFL coaches are allowed two challenges per game before the snap of the ball at any time before the two-minute warning of each half or overtime period.

“I would throw it out [a challenge flag] with both hands like a shot. That’s why I couldn’t shoot,” Rivers said Friday morning during the Clippers’ shootaround for the Sacramento Kings game. “It’s a tough one to me. It’s not like officials are trying to make mistakes, but they do at the end of the games.”

A controversial call during the Clippers’ 87-81 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday sparked Rivers’ call for a challenge system.

With 30.4 seconds left and the Clippers down 85-81, Los Angeles forward Jeff Green was called for an offensive foul on a made basket after driving into defender Danilo Gallinari. The NBA admitted on its “NBA Officiating Last Two Minute Report” on Thursday that the referee made a mistake on the offensive foul call on Green. Green potentially could have had a made basket with a free throw. Rivers described it as a “horrible call, which the league acknowledged.”

“I’ve been pushing for a [challenge] flag for a year now,” Rivers said. “We should have a challenge flag. That is the third time this year [against the Clippers] that [the NBA] has come back and said it was a bad call. It doesn’t do anything for us.”

One of the games Rivers noted was a 100-99 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 21 that he said included three missed calls late in the contest. The Clippers (37-20) are in fourth place in the Western Conference standings and 3 ½ games behind the third-place Thunder (41-17).

“The league has done a great job of transparency and that has been phenomenal,” Rivers told Yahoo Sports. “But the problem with it is you don’t get anything from it if you’re the [losing] team. … The one thing I keep saying and make the point of is the refs are trying to make it right, too. It’s not like we’re mad at refs. We just want to get it right.”

***

No. 4: Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line Shooting a 3-pointer used to be something of a novel concept around the NBA, a high-risk, high-reward chance at a bonus point on a field goal attempt. But these days some teams (e.g. the Warriors) throw up threes like they’re layups, and as ESPN’s Tim McMahon writes, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wonders if perhaps moving back the 3-point line would open up the floor even more …

Mark Cuban has a suggestion to reintroduce the midrange shot to the NBA game: Move back the 3-point arc.

“It’s getting too close,” the Dallas Mavericks owner said Friday night of the 3-point arc, which is 23 feet, 9 inches at the crest and 22 feet in the corners, where there is no room to move it back. “Guys are shooting a foot behind it anyways. … That’s something we should look at. It’s worth looking at.

“I don’t think the number of shots would decline, but I think it would reward skill and open up the court some more. So guys would still take [3-point] shots if it’s seven inches back or whatever, but at the same time, it opens up the court for more drives, more midrange game.”

The midrange jumper has become an endangered species of sorts, while NBA players are firing 3-pointers at record rates. The single-season record for 3s is 55,137; according to ESPN Stats & Information, teams are on pace to hit 58,477 this season.

Cuban thinks moving back the 3-point arc is an idea the NBA should consider, not to discourage the deep ball, but to improve the spacing of the game.

“I think it’d open it up more so guys with different skill sets could play,” Cuban said. “It would open up play for more drives. Guys with midrange games would be rewarded and that would stay in the game. There would be more diversity of offensive action in the game.

“You’d see a little bit of decline in the 3. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that we shoot so many 3s, but it’s worth it in the D-League to see what happens [with a deeper 3-point line].”

Cuban quickly dismissed a question about whether the NBA would benefit from adding a 4-point line, perhaps 30 feet from the basket.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jerry Colangelo says it’s too soon to come to any conclusions about the 76ers … Is Gregg Popovich mellowing? … Dwight Howard has parted ways with his longtime agent Dan FeganTiago Splitter had successful hip surgery … Vince Carter’s eponymous restaurant is closing

Morning shootaround — Jan. 12


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Is Calipari still on Nets’ wish list? | Warriors go to old trick to stop Heat | Irving just trying to ‘fit in’ with Cavs | Pacers’ Miles enjoying role with team

No. 1: Nets may not be looking Calipari’s direction — Almost immediately after the Brooklyn Nets cleaned house on Sunday by firing coach Lionel Hollins and reassigning GM Billy King came word that Kentucky coach John Calipari would perhaps be interested in filling the coach’s chair. The price for getting Calipari out of Lexington, though, was thought to be at least $120 million (per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports) with other privileges thrown in. But maybe, the Nets are going in a completely different direction than Calipari? ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst reports that based on who is making the decision about the next GM and coach for the Nets, Calipari may not be the guy the team looks to next:

Quietly, members of owner Mikhail Prokhorov‘s inner circle have reached out to possible general manager candidates to gauge their interest and seek insight on how the Nets might pry themselves out of a brutal situation they find themselves in, sources told ESPN.com.

Meanwhile, on a completely separate tack, Kentucky coach John Calipari’s emissaries have been putting out the word that if he were ever going to leave Lexington, it would take certain historic conditions, sources said. He would require total control as coach and team president as well as an astronomical guaranteed cash figure, they said.

Wes Wesley, Calipari’s coaching agent, has told plenty in power across the NBA that it would take an offer of no less than “$120 million guaranteed” to get Calipari’s interest, sources said. It has not been clear how many years that would entail or whether it would require him to coach for the entire contract. One of Calipari’s perceived selling points, sources said, is the horde of former Kentucky stars who are scheduled to become free agents over the next three to four years whom Calipari could recruit again to a new NBA home.

Calipari responded on Twitter on Monday, saying he isn’t going anywhere.

Those who have spoken to the Nets recently believe the search for replacements will be led by Dmitry Razumov, Prokhorov’s right-hand man, and Irina Pavlova, who runs the U.S. wing of Prokhorov’s investment vehicle. It was Razumov, for example, who was the driving force in hiring Jason Kidd in 2013.

There is also a growing belief within the league that Prokhorov is leaning more on Sergey Kushchenko, a legend of Russian sports. Prokhorov relied on Kushchenko to be the president of Russian basketball power CSKA when he owned that franchise and more recently tapped him to run the Russian biathlon team, a passion for Prokhorov leading into the Sochi Olympics.

The point is that Nets CEO Brett Yormark, who is one of Calipari’s closest friends, is not currently seen as a major driving force in deciding on the new leadership of the Nets. Yormark leads the Nets’ business operation, and he has done deals with Calipari in this capacity. Kentucky played at Barclays Center as part of an event last month, and there’s another deal in place for the Wildcats to play in the newly renovated Nassau Coliseum, owned by Prokhorov and operated by Yormark, next fall.

***

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Dec. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jordan pays tribute to Kobe | Cavs right ship with team meeting | Spurs find ways to win | Report: Burks opts for surgery

No. 1: Jordan pays tribute to Kobe Kobe Bryant is in his 20th season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, so its easy to forget that Bryant was actually drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, and later traded to the Lakers. Bryant returned to Charlotte last night on his farewell tour for his final game in the Queen City, and while Hornets owner Michael Jordan couldn’t make it in person, the Hornets welcomed Kobe with a video message from Jordan before the game. As ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, Kobe appreciated the tribute…

Bryant said he spoke with Jordan on Sunday and knew the video would be shown.

“It was awesome. It was awesome,” Bryant said. “He and I — as he said in the video — we talk pretty often. But it was pretty funny to see some of the reactions of my teammates. I was sitting next to Julius Randle before the game. He was like, ‘Yo, that’s amazing!’ I was like, ‘What?’ [He said] ‘That was Michael Jordan!'”

Bryant added, “We talk fairly often. I know he’s enjoying a little vacation time. I told him I was a little jealous. He said, ‘You’ll be here soon enough.'”

While Jordan transitioned into an ownership role for an NBA team, Bryant said he doesn’t expect to follow the same path.

“No, he and I differ entirely when it comes to that,” Bryant said. “He’s a mathematician. He loves math. He loves numbers, loves dealing with numbers. I don’t. I could care less. I suck at math. So from that perspective, I’m not going to be looking at cap numbers and all that other stuff. I just have no interest in it.”

Bryant again was warmly received by a road crowd that chanted his name at numerous points throughout the game, including when the buzzer sounded.

“It’s been like that every city, fortunately,” he said. “Here it’s a little bit different because this is the city that drafted me, so my journey started here. As brief as it was, it still started here. That has a little more value to it.”

But perhaps no stop means as much — or carries as much personal history for Bryant and his team — as the stop Wednesday, when Bryant will play his final game in Boston against the archrival Celtics, a team Bryant faced twice in the Finals. The Lakers lost in 2008, then won in 2010.

“Love-hate fest sort of thing,” he said of what he is expecting from the crowd. “I’m bringing my family down because my kids have never even been to Boston. They’ve never even been to Boston. I’m looking forward to them getting a chance to see the city a little bit and then just experience the green. It’s just a different green. I want them to be able to see that.”

Bryant also said he misses playing the villain, which meant being booed at road arenas.

“Yeah. It was just so natural to me for so many years,” he said. “It became something that just felt comfortable. It felt a little awkward at first, to be honest with you, to get this praise, but I’m glad they didn’t do this many, many years ago because it’s like kryptonite. It would’ve taken away all my energy and all my strength because I relied a lot on being the villain. Sometimes, the best way to beat the villain is to give them a hug.”


VIDEO: Jordan Honors Kobe

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Nov. 28


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors just keep winning | Jackson returns to OKC | Heat embracing life after LeBron | Davis goes down

No. 1: Warriors just keep winning The Golden State Warriors went into Phoenix Friday night with their historic season-opening winning streak on the line. Seventeen wins in a row? No problem, apparently, as the Warriors cruised to a 19-point win, 135-116, and keeping their streak alive. This included a typically impressive 41-point effort from Stephen Curry, who didn’t even get off the bench in the fourth quarter. What made this win even more outrageous, writes ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss, is that the Warriors didn’t even play particularly well, and yet they still won easily …

Here’s an illustration of what’s terrifying about the 17-0 Warriors, aside from the fact they’re 17-0. On Friday night, Golden State was torched on defense, ceding 116 points on 92 shots to the host Phoenix Suns. The Warriors were sloppy on offense, lousy with unforced errors, coughing it up 23 times. A bad game for them, in a few respects.

Still, they won by 19, 135-116. Also, they didn’t even need to play Stephen Curry in the fourth quarter. As in, the game ceased being competitive after three stanzas. The Suns were done. An unholy torrent of 3-point shooting had snuffed them. In his three quarters, Curry delivered 41 points and nine 3-pointers. The team set a record, splashing 22 from deep.

The Suns went small, attempting to best Golden State at its preferred style. What resulted was an aesthetically pleasing, fast-forwarded look at basketball. Phoenix already had dug a hole by then and couldn’t keep pace with Golden State in rhythm, hitting so many 3s. The Suns had a great night beyond the arc, draining 10 3-pointers on 26 attempts. Other teams just aren’t supposed to top that figure by 12.

Golden State, despite all the “streak” questions, continues to focus on process. Interim coach Luke Walton said, “We turned the ball over too much, we still have to get better at that.” Breakout All-Star candidate Draymond Green, who claimed a triple-double Friday, said, “I don’t think our performance was great tonight. You can’t let fool’s gold fool you.” It makes sense. The Warriors hit some 3s they won’t usually hit. They need to tighten up, fix certain things that might hurt them later.

If it’s fool’s gold though, what glitters still has to make other teams shiver with woe. Curry was brilliant, which would seem redundant, possibly even boring, if not for his propensity to unveil a new trick every game. This time, with Ronnie Price attempting to pressure him, Curry evoked three gasps on one play from the “away” crowd. First, with a behind-the-back dribble that left Price grasping. Then, with a pump fake that sent Price flying. And finally, the punctuating swish. Gasp. Gasp. Gasp. Cheer.

“Afterward, it felt like a neutral site game at that point,” Curry said of what his play did to the crowd.

So when will the Warriors lose? It could be sooner rather than later because of an injury to Harrison Barnes. While subbing at center, Barnes’ ankle gave way when he landed on Markieff Morris. The team says it’s a sprain and that X-rays are negative. Still, the expectation is he will miss some time, and Golden State will be without its dominant “death lineup” of Green-Barnes-Andre IguodalaKlay Thompson-Curry. That could end the streak, as could the basic law of averages. No team goes undefeated, no matter how great.

***

No. 2: Jackson returns to OKC It may not have been on the level of, say, LeBron James returning to Cleveland with Miami for the first time, but Friday night saw a significant homecoming nonetheless. Last season, former Thunder guard Reggie Jackson made his displeasure at his back-up role known, and was traded to Detroit, where he signed a long-term deal and has become an integral part of their core. With the Pistons in Oklahoma City last night, the Thunder seemed happy to get the big win, 103-87, and make something of a statement along the way, writes The Oklahoman‘s Erick Thorne

Former Thunder guard Reggie Jackson didn’t leave Oklahoma City on the best of terms.

Kevin Durant wasn’t afraid to say it.

“It was tough. I didn’t like some of the stuff he said in the media and how he went about it,” Durant said Friday before the Thunder’s 103-87 win over Jackson’s Detroit Pistons. “… But at the end of the day you’ve got to respect a guy who wants that opportunity and I can appreciate a guy who wants that opportunity.”

The Pistons were able to offer Jackson the opportunity he wanted to become a starting point guard, and rewarded him with a five-year, $80 million contract in July. Jackson was dealt to the Detroit in February after not being able to agree with the Thunder on a contract extension and following a report that his agent requested a trade out of OKC. The trade landed the Thunder Enes Kanter, as well as Steve Novak, Kyle Singler and D.J. Augustin.

Jackson, who called Friday night’s tilt against the Thunder “just another game,” was asked if he had any regrets about how his tenure in Oklahoma City ended.

“I don’t look back to last year,” Jackson said. When asked if there was regret that the Thunder didn’t get over the top, the one thing Jackson said he does look back on is “four years and I don’t have a ring.

“But like I said, I’m focused on the season so I can reflect in the summer,” Jackson said.

When asked if the trade was beneficial for both Jackson and the Thunder, Durant said he never really thought about it that way.

“We’ve got a really great team, we’ve got some great guys back. Reggie’s doing well in Detroit,” Durant said. “We had a rough ending last year with Reggie, but I can just think about when he first got here how hard he worked, how great of a teammate he is, and every guy wants an opportunity.”

***

No. 3: Heat embracing life after LeBron — It’s going on two seasons now since LeBron James left South Beach to return to his native Ohio. And while last season the Heat battled injuries and a major mid-season trade, this year the expectations are higher for the Heat, including from the Heat themselves. As Michael Lee writes for Yahoo, the Heat are actively looking at their legacy in the post-James era …

“I expect to be in the playoffs every year from now on,” Chris Bosh told Yahoo Sports. “We want it. After my ordeal last year, it’s a lot easier grinding it out, having a good time, playing out your dreams. It’s tough, but it’s a lot of glory in it. That’s what we’re about. People remember your name. And for me personally, it’s a chance to write our legacy without Bron, to be honest.”

LeBron James was better off without Miami than the other way around in their first season apart. While James flourished in his return to Cleveland, making his fifth consecutive NBA Finals run, the Heat floundered through an injury-plagued campaign in which trouble lurked around nearly every corner. Despite unearthing a rebounding and shot-blocking gem in Hassan Whiteside and trading for Goran Dragic, a third-team all-NBA guard two years ago in Phoenix, the Heat were doomed to the lottery once Bosh’s season came to an end. But the playoff reprieve had a surprise on the other side as Miami landed a seemingly ready-made contributor in promising rookie Justise Winslow, a defensive menace who won a national title at Duke and was available with the 10th overall selection in the draft.

The Cavaliers at full strength don’t appear to have a capable challenger to supplant James’ reign, but the Heat are certainly one of the more intriguing candidates in a much-improved Eastern Conference. Miami usually finds a way to avoid the recidivist rate of most non-playoff teams, making repeat trips to the lottery once in Pat Riley’s 20 years with the franchise and winning a championship within four years of its past two lottery appearances.

“If you’re not going to win a championship, that whole run through June sucks anyway,” Dwyane Wade said earlier this season. “We weren’t going to win a championship last year, so it wouldn’t matter if we went out in the first round or April 17, when our last game was. That’s kind of what I think at this point in my career. I don’t play to get into the first round of the playoffs. We’re still a young team, together trying to grow. We have a lot of potential and we see that.”

The Heat have the sort of talent that has the potential to be sensational or go sideways.

Wade and Bosh, neighbors and partners on two championship teams, are still capable of special nights but both are north of 30 and can no longer consistently carry teams as they have in the past. Dragic, whom Miami awarded with a five-year, $90 million extension last summer, is still navigating how to be aggressive while serving as the point guard on a team with multiple offensive options. Veteran Luol Deng, 30, has a résumé that includes two all-star appearances, but Tom Thibodeau may have squeezed out the best years of his career in Chicago. Amaré Stoudemire, 33, signed with the Heat believing they gave him the best chance to grab that elusive title, but he is being used sparingly to save him for the postseason.

“If we would’ve been together in our 20s, it would’ve been a real problem,” Stoudemire told Yahoo about teaming with Wade and Bosh, “but as we’ve gotten older, we’ve found ways to still be successful.”

***

No. 4: Davis goes down The New Orleans Pelicans may have gotten off to a slow start under new coach Alvin Gentry, as they’ve suffered through injuries to nearly everyone, but they got their biggest scare yet last night, when young franchise player Anthony Davis went down with a knee injury following a collision with Chris Paul and had to be carried from the floor. Davis eventually returned to the bench, though not the game, and the Pelicans weren’t thrilled with the injury itself, writes John Reid of NOLA.com …

Davis did not return to play after he was taken to the locker room to be treated. The Pelicans were assessed three technicals following the play in which they apparently thought Paul took a cheap shot to cause the injury.

Pelicans officials said Davis suffered a right knee contusion and he initially was listed as questionable to return. Late in the fourth quarter, Davis returned to the bench, but did not get back in the game.

Davis was in obvious pain after it appeared Paul knocked knees with Davis, who was trying to defend him in transition.Davis fell holding his right knee in pain.

”I wouldn’t had put him back in, it’s not worth the risk,” Alvin Gentry told reporters after the game.

It appeared Paul didn’t avoid trying to collide into Davis near the midcourt lane after Clippers forward Josh Smith blocked Ish Smith‘s layup attempt with 2:48 remaining in the third quarter.

When Gentry was asked what he thought about the play, he said he didn’t have anything to say about it.

”You saw it, so make your own judgement,” Gentry said. ”When you are a great player, they are going to come at you. We just have to match the physicality and find a way to stay off the injured list.”

After the game, Paul admitted that he drew the foul on the play.

”We (Davis and I) knocked knees and I hope he is alright,” Paul said.

Davis’ status for Saturday night’s game against the Utah Jazz has not been determined. Before the injury occurred, Davis played 28 minutes, scored 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting and grabbed six rebounds.

Gentry said they will know more about Davis’ status after he gets evaluated by the Pelicans’ training staff on Saturday. It is the third injury Davis has suffered after the first 16 games.

Davis missed two games earlier this month with a right hip contusion. On Nov. 18, Davis missed the Oklahoma City Thunder game because of a left shoulder injury.

”It’s part of the NBA, he’s hurt and we’ll see where he goes,” Gentry said. ”If he doesn’t play, then we’ll put somebody else in and they’ll have to step up. That’s what it is.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: According to a report, Jahlil Okafor‘s recent incident in Boston wasn’t his late-night altercation … Luke Walton might get credit for the Warriors winning streak after all … No better how bad things get for the Lakers this season, Kobe Bryant won’t be getting benched … If O.J. Mayo and DeMarcus Cousins had a verbal spat earlier this week, Mayo isn’t talking about itJ.R. Smith was thinking of Shaquille O’Neal when he went one-on-one against Frank Kaminsky.