Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Durant’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 19



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING
KD, Thunder hit reset button | LeBron feeling fresh as ever | Cousins All-Star testimonials | Larry Sanders has every intention of resuming his NBA career | What makes the Hawks work at the top?

 

No. 1: Reset button pushed in Oklahoma City — The first half of this NBA season couldn’t have gone any worse for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Injuries to superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, for starters, derailed the normal plans. But at .500 near the halfway mark of their season and the main characters finally back in regular form, the Thunder have mashed the reset button with one of their toughest stretches of the season ahead. They are prepared as they could be for the gauntlet, writes Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:

By the time the Thunder put the finishing touches on a 127-99 rout of the Magic — after setting a franchise record with 79 points in the first half — the night was long done for the rotation regulars. But the reality is Oklahoma City’s work, essentially, is just beginning.

“Anytime you get a chance to sit out the fourth quarter, it feels good,” Durant said of the festive atmosphere around the Thunder’s bench down the stretch. “It’s good for us and great to see everyone smiling and happy after a win coming into the locker room.”

Durant, who had 21 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists through three quarters, enjoyed the scene from the bench too much to even think about coming back into the game to chase the two additional assists he needed to secure his first triple-double of the season.

But the reigning league MVP didn’t hesitate to make his strongest point of the night before he exited the visitors’ locker room at Amway Arena: “We have to keep fighting.”

The Magic didn’t put up much of a fight from the outset, which allowed the Thunder to cruise in the second half. That certainly won’t be the case over the course of the second half of the season. After posting their most dominant offensive performances in consecutive wins against Golden State and Orlando, the Thunder improved to 20-20 as they hit the midpoint of the schedule Tuesday in Miami.

The next four games on this five-game trip — at the Heat, Wizards, Hawks and Cavaliers — could either propel the Thunder firmly back into the playoff picture for the first time this season or push them into a sizable deficit that might be too steep to overcome in the ultra-competitive West.

Durant and the Thunder don’t need 20-20 vision to see that though a .500 record might be sufficient to garner the sixth seed in the East, it’ll land you in the lottery in the conference in which they compete. It’s why Durant left Sunday’s game delivering fighting words, considering what his squad is facing.

Now that they’ve endured the worst and have broken even, the Thunder seeks to hit the reset button.

Hampered by injuries to Durant (foot, ankle) and Westbrook (hand) that caused the two catalysts to miss a combined 37 games, Oklahoma City has gone from a team that struggled to find seven healthy players for a game to the healthiest the team has been all season.

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 18



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kobe has thought of retirement | Warriors bounce back | Wiggins keeps rolling | Embiid worrying Sixers | Marshall tears ACL

 

No. 1: Retirement has crossed Kobe’s mind — It’s the word that the rest of the world jumped to as soon as he went to the floor back in April 2013 with the torn Achilles’ tendon. It’s the word that he’s been pushing back against over the long, difficult months of recovery. But now with a 32-minute per game restriction and still the pain that comes with trying to be his old self, Kobe Bryant admitted to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times that early retirement is a long-shot, but still a possibility:

“I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t crossed my mind,” he tells The Times. “Right now I doubt it … but anything’s possible.”
He emphasizes the right now (because, right now, the reality is so muddled and difficult that even the Black Mamba is having trouble wrapping his mind around it.

“My body is hurting like crazy, around the clock, and if I don’t want to do this anymore, I won’t do it,” he says.

Like an aging pitcher, he has been placed on a count, 32 minutes per game, which basically leaves him on the bench for one crucial stretch per night. Like a fragile relic, he also has been forbidden to play the second night of back-to-back games, which means he will miss at least seven more full games this season even though he’s not injured. There has even been talking of completely shutting him down in March if the Lakers fall completely out of playoff contention, which has essentially already occurred.

The most stunning part of these developments is that a man who has spent his entire 19-year Lakers career fighting to play every minute of every game — he even made two free throws after tearing his Achilles’ tendon, remember — has agreed to every current and potential restriction.
“I know everyone is surprised I’m not fighting all this,” Bryant says quietly. “But I’ve changed.”

***

No. 2: Warriors reclaim their identity in Houston — One night after they barely showed up to put up a fight in Oklahoma City, the Warriors exploded for a 38-point guard third quarter in Houston and put James Harden under lock and key in what was supposed to be a showdown between Western Conference powers. As Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle noted, there was only one power on hand Saturday night and it was the league leaders:

Just 24 hours after the Warriors allowed season highs in points, field goals and field-goal percentage at Oklahoma City, they didn’t allow Houston to sniff those numbers.

Friday “night, we weren’t ourselves,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “We weren’t focused. We weren’t locked in. It showed in the stats, and it showed in the score.”

With Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala back in the rotation, the Warriors returned to the tenacious switching and gritty rim-protecting unit that has topped the league in defensive rating for most of the season. Houston shot just 42 percent from the floor, and the league’s most prolific three-point-shooting team was limited to 7-of-23 from behind the arc.

The Warriors returned to moving with a purpose and unselfishly passing on offense, getting double-digit scoring from five players, collecting 32 assists and shooting 54.9 percent from the floor. Most importantly, they returned to looking like the best team in the league — moving their record to 32-6 while snapping the four-game winning streak of the Rockets.

“We just wanted to get back to our identity,” Klay Thompson said. “It felt good to get back to what we do best.”

Thompson continued his hot streak, scoring 27 points and becoming the first Warriors guard with five blocked shots in a game since Baron Davis in 2007. Curry overcame six straight generally poor quarters to light it up in the second half and finished with 27 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

David Lee and Marreese Speights combined for 33 points and 13 rebounds off the bench. The Rockets were led by Howard, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds on a night when Thompson caused fits for James Harden, who managed just 12 points (4-for-15).

Wearing their slate-colored, sleeved jerseys — a Saturday tradition — the Warriors won their fourth straight against Houston — the first time they’ve done that since 2006-07 — and secured a season series road sweep of the Rockets for the first time since 1975-76.

***

No. 3: Red-hot Wiggins lights Timberwolves’ fire in Denver — He was feeling a bit under the weather, but that didn’t prevent rookie of the year favorite Andrew Wiggins from continuing on his recent surge. The No. 1 pick in the draft bounced back from a poor shooting night on Friday to lead his Timberwolves to their second win three games in Denver and Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had the details:

This time, they needed veteran guard Mo Williams not for the career-high, franchise-record 52 points he scored in Tuesday’s streak-busting victory at Indiana but for two strategic shots late in a game influenced in many ways by youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Robbie Hummel.

Still ill, but feeling better than he did Friday in a loss at Phoenix, Wiggins scored a career-high 31 points and delivered nine rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots and a steal in a 40-minute that might have left Cleveland Cavaliers fans muttering.

“It’s almost astonishing his confidence level,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. “He just keeps continuing to get better and amaze and do everything, whether it’s offense, blocking shots, rebounds.”

Still just 19, Wiggins did that Saturday despite feeling what he called “just sick.”

“I still am a little, but I feel great,” he said. “We got the win, played hard, executed down the stretch. Nothing feels better than that. … We’ve had games on the line this year where we messed up and we didn’t finish it. Those were growing pains. Now we’re learning. I think we’re getting better every day now, every game. We’ve won two of the last three. That’s great for us.”

***

No. 4: Embiid’s conditioning, attitude have Sixers worried — Even though he has yet to step onto the court this season as he continues to rehabilitate from foot surgery, Sixers rookie Joel Embiid has made quite a reputation for himself as a fun-loving guy on social media. But the team that made him the No. 3 pick in the 2014 Is now concerned that Embiid is not taking his conditioning and his pro career seriously enough, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Embiid has a weight issue. Although the Sixers wouldn’t disclose his weight, a source said he’s close to 300 pounds after being 250 pounds at Kansas last season.

His work ethic is being questioned by some inside the organization.

And a blowup with assistant strength and conditioning coach James Davis is one of the reasons he was sent home during the team’s recent West Coast road trip.

So, who is Embiid?

“He’s a young, 20-year-old kid who is trying to figure his way into being a professional basketball player and learning life,” Sixers forward Luc Mbah a Moute said.

Mbah a Moute knows more about his fellow Cameroonian than anyone here in the United States. He spotted Embiid at a basketball camp in their homeland several years ago. The 28-year-old has mentored Embiid ever since.

“Obviously, you can see some of his immaturity [in] his tweets sometimes,” Mbah a Moute said. “But you can also understand how mature he is in certain situations the way he handled himself. . . . He’s a good kid, man.

“At the end of the day, it’s tough for him being in a situation where people can’t really see who he is as a person.”

***

No. 5: Bucks lose Marshall for season with torn ACL — The overachieving Bucks, who have already lost rookie Jabari Parker for the season, suffered another setback when it was determined that guard Kendall Marshall has a torn ACL and will be done until 2015-16. Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has the report:

For the second time in just over a month, the Milwaukee Bucks have lost a player to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Backup point guard Kendall Marshall is the latest, having suffered the season-ending injury to his right knee in the second quarter of the Bucks’ victory over the New York Knicks in London on Thursday. Rookie forward Jabari Parker tore the ACL in his left knee Dec. 15 in Phoenix.

The diagnosis was confirmed Saturday morning after Marshall underwent an MRI, and he said he expects to undergo surgery in two to three weeks after the swelling subsides.

“I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was something serious,” Marshall said Saturday as the Bucks returned to the practice court in preparation for Monday’s game against the Toronto Raptors at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. ” I could feel it buckle, pop and it was a pain that I’d never felt before.

“I hate to see injuries in sports, period. Our bodies are how we make our money; they’re our job, they’re our profession. At the end of the day, though, injuries are a part of our profession as well.

“That’s part of the risk so you have to be understanding of that and understanding of the process and be ready to get back.”

The 6-foot-4 North Carolina product had emerged as the Bucks’ backup point guard, and was averaging 4.2 points and 3.1 assists — second on the team to Brandon Knight’s 5.1 — over 28 games. Marshall also had posted career bests of 45.5% shooting from the floor and 88.9% from the free-throw line while also connecting on 39.1% of his three-pointers.

The timing of Marshall’s injury couldn’t have been worse considering the team waived No. 3 point guard Nate Wolters on Jan. 9 in order to be able to sign forward Kenyon Martin. That leaves Jerryd Bayless as the backup with O.J. Mayo and Giannis Antetokounmpo as other potential ball-handlers.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With Austin Rivers on board, now the Clippers have their eyes on Tayshaun Prince…Now that he’s back in the lineup, it didn’t take long for Lance Stephenson to get right back to being Lance Stephenson... The Wizards big men show they can deliver too… Stephon Marbury says there was a time when he considered suicideKevin Durant made a dream come true for a young heart transplant patient.

ICYMI of The Night: Stephen Curry’s sick no-look pass demonstrates why he’s one of the best point guards in the game …:

VIDEO: Curry’s assist of the night

Morning shootaround — Jan. 17


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blatt’s curve ball works wonders for Cavaliers | Russ goes wild on Warriors | Raptors are no match for Hawks | Kawhi’s comeback sparks Spurs

No. 1:Blatt’s curve ball works wonders for Cavaliers — Give David Blatt credit for recognizing a crisis and figuring out his own way of handling it, so to speak. All the denials in the world won’t make the Cleveland Cavaliers’ issues go away. The only thing that will quiet the current storm surrounding this team is winning. And the Cavaliers, after a 1-7 slide and six straight losses without LeBron James in the lineup, are suddenly on the other side, winners of two straight games after their Los Angeles sweep. They wrapped it up with Friday’s win over the Clippers. But the best move Blatt made came before Thursday’s win over the Lakers, when the coach threw a curve ball of his own into the mix and changed the tenor of things for all involved. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group explains:

Blatt has acknowledged that he’s continuing to make adjustments and admitted to having room to grow in his first year as an NBA head coach. Part of coaching is about feel and instincts, gauging what the team needs at that moment in time.

The best call Blatt made to get his team in the proper mindset against the Lakers was tricking his team into thinking they had practice the day before.

“(Bowling) didn’t seem to affect too many people’s jump-shots. This man (J.R. Smith) was throwing a six-pound ball around,” Love revealed. “Those events are fun. We were able to go out there and bowl, eat bad food and enjoy ourselves. It had us loose for the game.”

Loose hasn’t been a word affiliated with the Cavaliers of late; tense, or uptight would probably be better descriptors. There is a lot of pressure placed on this organization — from ownership, to management, on down to the players. It has been a tough road thus far.

Over the past month, the Cavaliers have either played a game off a single-day rest or participated in back-to-backs. It’s been that long since they’ve had two days or more off in between games. It’s good to get away sometimes.

Chemistry off the court is just as important as on the court. Or in a bowling alley.

“I was happy,” Kyrie Irving said after registering 22 points. “One thing that’s never seen on camera and I consistently say it, this is the closest team that I’ve been on. We always have fun whether we’re getting ready for a game or a practice or we go bowling, it’s a team activity that we just personally enjoy.

“We enjoy being around one another and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Obviously there’s things we’ve got to fix out there on the court, but relationship- wise, we couldn’t be any better.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving and the Cavs lit up Staples Center two nights in a row

(more…)

Reports: Lopez to OKC deal heats up

brook

One-time All-Star center Brook Lopez is averaging 14.6 points and 6.3 rebounds this season (NBAE via Getty Images).

If a rumored three-team NBA trade were to shrink to the more common two-team transaction, it might lose some claim to “blockbuster” designation. But it still could alter conference standings and generate headlines.

At the very least, it could keep social media abuzz. While Tweets a-plenty early Friday noted that the Charlotte Hornets’ involvement in a multi-team trade – center Brook Lopez going from Brooklyn to Oklahoma City, with Lance Stephenson winding up with the Nets – was dead, the Lopez-to-Thunder part remained very much alive as the morning played out.

Either Charlotte didn’t like what it purportedly would have reaped from the alleged three-teamer (guards Jeremy Lamb and Jarrett Jack) or Brooklyn reconsidered the acquisition of Stephenson.

But a deal that lands one-time All-Star Lopez in OKC still was looking probable. As our own John Schuhmann explained, moving Lopez as part of its rebuild while opening opportunities for Mason Plumlee are rock-solid motives for Brooklyn. And the Thunder seem committed to the idea of adding Lopez’s size and offensive game as a formidable third option alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Rapidly, it appeared that the move was getting down to the details, as reported by Yahoo! SportsAdrian Wojnarowski:

The Thunder and Nets are discussing a larger package for the one-time All-Star center that includes guard Jeremy Lamb and center Kendrick Perkins from the Thunder, league sources said. Young Thunder forward Grant Jerrett has also been discussed as part of the package, sources said. More players need to be included to make the deal fit into the salary framework of a trade.
The Nets have been working to find a third-team to take Perkins and his expiring contract, sources said. The Nets are willing to take a player back owed longer-term money whom they believe can help them.

There had been discussions on Lopez with Charlotte, Denver and the Los Angeles Lakers, but those didn’t gain traction, league sources said.

As for third-team options to slide into Charlotte’s vacated spot, Minnesota seemed interested:

Stay tuned. The Yahoo! report suggests the Nets want Lopez offloaded by the end of the weekend.

Update: The Nets seem to have hit the “snooze” button on whatever alarm clock they had set for this one:

One Stat, One Play: Iso-KD


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Iso-KD

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Over the last few years, and particularly in last year’s Finals, the San Antonio Spurs have provided the blueprint for how basketball is supposed to be played. They moved the ball better than any team in recent memory.

Come October, much of the league was talking about ball movement. Along the same vein, isolation basketball is looked upon as a bad thing. But an isolation can be very effective when you put the right player in the right position.

According to SportVU, Kevin Durant led the league last season by scoring 1.08 points per isolation, more than the Spurs scored per pick-and-roll possession (1.07).

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With his skills and size, Durant is near impossible to stop one-on-one. And with Russell Westbrook alongside the reigning MVP, the Thunder don’t need to move the ball much to have an effective offense.

OKC is one of three teams – San Antonio and Miami are the others – that ranked in the top 10 in offensive efficiency each of the last four seasons (2010-11 through ’13-14), and they’ve done it while ranking in the bottom 10 in assist rate each year.

League-wide, there wasn’t any correlation between ball movement and offensive efficiency last season. There were bad offenses (like Charlotte and Philadelphia) that moved the ball a lot and good offenses (like OKC and Phoenix) that didn’t.

With Durant out for 23 of their 37 games and Westbrook out for 14, the Thunder have been a bottom-10 offensive team this year. And even with both of those guys back, their last three games have been pretty ugly. In fact, their offensive efficiency in their last three games (87.2 points scored per 100 possessions) has been almost as bad as their worst three-game stretch with their two stars out (83.2).

But Durant is once again leading the league in points per isolation, tied with Derrick Rose at 1.25. He’s played just 14 games, but he’s isolated on a greater percentage of his half-court touches (8.2 percent) than he did last season (6.9 percent).

20150115_iso_2014-15

The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at a Durant isolation from last year’s playoffs.

Most of Durant’s isolation touches came via a pin-down screen or a straight post-up. A lot of times, he catches the ball 20-plus feet from the basket. But when he screens for Westbrook, the play can be impossible to guard. And if the defense chooses to switch it (to keep Westbrook out of the paint while still staying attached to Durant), it can set up a favorable matchup for the Thunder, who scored 1.20 points per possession on Westbrook/Durant pick-and-rolls last season.

Garnett head-butts Howard, ejected


VIDEO: Garnett get ejected after altercation

It’s already been a season when Kobe Bryant called Dwight Howard “soft” on opening night and Kevin Durant ramped up the derogatory level a few weeks later when he labeled the Rockets’ center with an expletive.

Here comes All-Star trash-talker Kevin Garnett to take the antagonism to another level, first throwing the basketball, then head-butting Howard in the first quarter Monday night at Brooklyn.

Howard responded by throwing a right hand at Garnett, but his arm appeared partially held, though he did connect with K.G.’s face.

It was Garnett paying the price with an ejection from the game, but you can be sure fines and possibly suspensions — will Howard be said to have thrown a punch? — coming from the league office tomorrow.

What exactly is it about Howard that brings out the mean streak in everybody?

Morning shootaround — Jan. 12


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Jan. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavaliers lack effort in latest setback | What makes Kerr tick? | Trail Blazers enjoy “Lillard Time” every time | Clippers’ bench struggling to find its way

No. 1: Cavaliers lack effort in latest setback — LeBron James can’t get back fast enough for the Cleveland Cavaliers, losers of five straight games after a humiliating loss to the Sacramento Kings Sunday night at Sleep Train Arena. If LeBron’s two-week absence from the lineup has shown us nothing, it’s that these Cavs (even with All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) are nowhere near the championship outfit they were billed to be over the summer. Yes, it’s just one game and one without the team’s best player in uniform. But as Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group points out, the shocking lack of effort in this latest setback is something for Cleveland fans to worry about:

What happened at Sleep Train Arena on Sunday night was disturbing.

The Sacramento Kings were not supposed to manhandle the Cleveland Cavaliers that way, resulting in a 103-84 rout.

Cleveland (19-19) had just come off of a game where they fought tooth and nail with the Golden State Warriors until things unraveled late in the fourth quarter.

They showed life, promise and the willingness to never quit. But on Sunday, it was an inexcusable amount of exertion placed forth and that simply will not do.

“It wasn’t a good performance by us, honestly,” head coach David Blatt said. “You can’t sugarcoat that…That was not the performance we hoped for.”

When the Kings built a significant lead, shoulders started to slump, heads were hung down and tempers flared. Players started to behave out of character. Not pleased with the lack of calls, Kyrie Irving chased down referee Leroy Richardson as both teams were headed to the locker room for halftime.

Teammates intervened before the All-Star could pick up a cheap technical and it would have been his first ever technical, a sign of how irate he was at the time.

“The emotions,” Irving said. “Like I said, I’m usually composed, but my emotions just got the best of me going into halftime.”

DeMarcus Cousins talked trash and he backed it up, bruising the Cavaliers’ frontcourt for 26 points and 13 rebounds. Rudy Gay dissected Cleveland’s defense with an array a midrange jumpers to end with 23 points on an efficient 9-for-14 shooting.

Sacramento, a team that was six games under .500 entering the game, made it look easy and that’s because it was easy.

“We didn’t have the best effort,” Kevin Love admitted. “We missed some good shots but all in all, it wasn’t there for us tonight.” He later said, “In anything that you do, that’s unacceptable. We have to compete and compete every single night.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving discusses the Cavs’ loss in Sacramento (more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Loss to Rockets have the Heat, Bosh falling in the East standings | Change in ownership looming, Hawks sell themselves on courts | Reality bites the Wolves

No. 1: Loss to Houston has Heat dazed — Funny how the NBA grind goes sometime. The Rockets went into their game with Miami wobbly from a 28-point thumping against  the Pelicans that was so bad, Rockets coach Kevin McHale benched his entire starting five at one point and remarked afterward: “I wish we never played again … we’re falling apart.” Then on Saturday they turned around and beat Miami by 36. The NBA season is weird that way. The other interesting subplot in this game involved Chris Bosh, who weighed a free agent offer from the Rockets last summer before returning to Miami. It was a hectic period for Houston. Essentially, they lost Chandler Parsons in free agency because they were chasing Bosh, who was born and raised in Texas (Dallas). With Bosh, the Rockets envisioned a starting five of Parsons, Bosh, James Harden and Dwight Howard and figured to make a much more serious run in the West. As it was, Bosh took the max offer and stand in South Beach. Well, things worked out well financially for Bosh, but here in Year One without You Know Who, the Heat have lost four straight and are in eighth place in the East, one game ahead of the Pacers for the final playoff spot. Their ninth set of back-to-back games will conclude Sunday against the Nets. Bosh is among those wondering where the next winning streak will come. He could’ve taken less money and won more games in Houston but refuses to re-think his choice. Jenny Dial Creech of The Houston Chronicle has more:

“I wanted to see if I could have that increased role and still be successful and it’s out there in front of me and it’s out there in front of this team so I just have to make sure I do my part and make sure we don’t lose track of whats important, as far as our effort and energy on the court,” Bosh said. “We have to continue to bring it, no matter what happens.”

Bosh’s role has increased and he has been relied on to bring more offense to the Heat. He went from averaging 16.2 points per game last season to 21.4 this season.

With the added offensive responsibilities comes better defense. Bosh said teams play him differently this year and he is trying to use that competition to become a better player in his 12th season.

“That’s all I’m trying to concentrate on, most of the time,” Bosh said. “It’s different every night and I have to read and react very quickly throughout the course of the game and figure things out.”

***

No. 2: Change in ownership is coming, and so are Hawks — Well, look who’s in first place in the East all of a sudden. An unexpected season in Atlanta just turned up a notch when the Hawks went to Portland and had their way against the Blazers. They led for much of the night and kept holding off Portland and suddenly you must ask yourself: Are the Hawks for real? It looks that way. Not only are they leading the East, the Hawks have beaten some of the best teams in the West, including the Clippers, Mavericks, Rockets and now Blazers to win 18 of their last 20, including four straight. Paul Millsap scored 27 points and pretty much secured a spot on the All-Star team with another solid night and the Hawks once again used an offensive system built on finding the open man to confuse Portland,which was 18-2 and 9-0 against East teams at home. This comes on the heels of news that current Hawks ownership has agreed to sell 100 percent of the team. This might be the first time the Atlanta Spirit group agreed on anything. Since forming and buying the Hawks, the multi-layered group has clashed on issues. But after seeing the purchase price for the Bucks and Clippers, the owners have agreed to cash out in unison, which will only help hike the purchase price. The identity of the next owner remains to be seen but there is a chance the Hawks could change hands this season. And when that ownership swap happens, only then will the fate of Danny Ferry be decided. That’s the weird part about the Hawks and their first-place status. The guy who built them is in exile after a tumultuous summer, choosing to take a leave of absence. But you have to think Ferry will have an excellent chance to slide back into his office, given how the Hawks have played lately. We should also add that Jeff Teague is averaging 24 points and 8 assists over the last four games. Anyway, while it’s hard to single out one player on the Hawks who’s responsible for what we’re seeing, Millsap is having a strong season here in his walk year. The Hawks would love to extend not only him, but Al Horford, who’s deal has one more season left. Tony Jones of The Tribune has more on Millsap, the former Jazz forward:

The points. The rebounds. The career high numbers in assists and steals. The All-Star recognition of last season and the realization round the NBA that he’s one of the best power forwards in the league. None of it matters much to Paul Millsap. It’s nice and all and yes, he’s opened eyes since leaving the Utah Jazz two summers ago. But Millsap has been and always wants to be known for winning, and this may be his best chance.

As the calendar turns to 2015, Millsap and the Hawks have a common goal: Taking the Eastern Conference.

“We feel like we have a shot,” Millsap said. “We know that last year didn’t end up the way we wanted. We thought we should’ve won that seventh game at Indiana (in the first round of the playoffs). We want to go farther this year.”

Millsap is a walking nightly mismatch. Yes, he’s undersized as a 6-8 power forward. But he now possesses three-point range, and the ability to take bigger guys out with him on the perimeter. He’s never stopped rebounding the ball. Him and Al Horford are difficult to contain on the interior.

“When I first came to the team, my relationship with Paul was just a normal teammate to teammate kind of thing,” said Gordon Hayward. “But once I started playing more, and me and Paul started talking more, I got to know him a lot better. We got a lot closer. I’ve always admired how hard he works.”

Millsap figures to be a hot commodity once July rolls around. And with the way he’s played the last two years, deservedly so.

“I just try to stay in the moment,” Millsap said. “We have a great team, and we have an opportunity to do some special things as a team this season. That’s all I’m focused on right now.”

***

No. 3: Reality bites the Wolves after 11th straight loss — You’re tempted to yell “tim-berrrrrrrr” at the Wolves, but that would suggest they’re falling from a high perch. The reality is the Wolves were never high to begin with, and right now this young and injured team is clearly struggling. Not only are they playing a batch of rookies and second-year players, they’re missing three starters and playing in the West. That’s a recipe for what you’re now seeing, nights when the Wolves are barely competitive. For the second time in five days, they lost to the Jazz, and Utah isn’t exactly a powerhouse. All of a sudden, coach Flip Saunders is talking possible lineup changes, but is there really any way to fix the Wolves this season? Eventually they’ll get Ricky Rubio, Nik Pekovic and Kevin Martin hack from injuries, so that’ll help a little. But probably not a lot, not in the deep and very dangerous West. Basically, this season is shaping up to be as expected, with Minnesota playing young players and giving them room and time to grow, while taking it on a chin hard enough to land another high lottery pick next June. It will be considered a successful year if these young players are more consistent by February and March and making fewer mistakes. Until then, there will be more nights like Saturday, when the Wolves, who have only won once since the day after Thanksgiving, giving up 15 rebounds to guys like Trevor Booker and a career high 13 points to guys like Rudy Gobert. Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune explains:

Saunders vowed lineup changes and other corrective measures to help right a listing ship. It’s one that tilted even further toward the horizon Saturday. Saunders lamented his young team’s lack of energy and willingness to compete against a Utah team that, while also undermanned, has won six of nine games.

“Energy comes from within,” Wolves rookie Andrew Wiggins said. “No one can tell you to play hard. You have to want to play hard.”

“They beat us on energy plays and they ripped in and took our hearts away,” Saunders said.

The Wolves also had no answer for Jazz point guard Trey Burke, who shook Friday’s 2-for-19 shooting performance (including 0-for-11 on three pointers) against the Hawks and scored a season-high 28 points.

“He’s be first team all-league if he played against us every time,” Saunders said of Burke. “Maybe I should’ve drafted him based on how he’s played against us and in this arena.”

“Like I told our guys, don’t think it can’t get any worse,” said Saunders. “It definitely can.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Byron Scott wants Kobe Bryant to shoot more, not less … Kobe took a shot at the AAU system, but didn’t KD and CP3 and LeBron go through that very same system? … Knicks still contemplating whether to shelve Carmelo for the year  …

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Jazz center Rudy Gobert made one of the best blocks of the season on Shabazz Muhammad…


VIDEO: Block of the night
 

Durant to return to Thunder lineup tonight


VIDEO: Kevin Durant was on fire before going down with a right ankle sprain Dec. 18

UPDATE, 11:41 a.m. ET: Following OKC’s shootaround in Phoenix, coach Scott Brooks has confirmed that Kevin Durant will play tonight against the Suns

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin Durant is expected to finish the 2014 portion of this NBA season in uniform and not in street clothes. The reigning NBA MVP is set to return to the Oklahoma City Thunder lineup tonight for a matchup against the Phoenix Suns (8 p.m. ET, League Pass), according to a report from ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

The Oklahoma City Thunder intend to bring back star forward Kevin Durant ‎from a six-game absence Wednesday night when they host the Phoenix Suns, according to sources.

Sources told ESP‎N.com that the Thunder have been operating under the premise that Durant would re-enter the lineup against the Suns after the club responded to the Dec. 18 sprain he suffered in his surgically repaired foot by taking it slowly.

Thunder coach Scotty Brooks is expected to formally announce Durant’s return to the starting five after Wednesday’s morning shootaround barring an unforeseen setback. Durant completed his first two full-speed practices since the injury Monday and Tuesday.

‎After Monday’s session, Brooks told local reporters: “He was very lively and active on both ends of the floor. He’s progressing well.”‎

Durant suffered a right ankle sprain Dec. 18, injuring the same foot he had surgically repaired after a Jones fracture was discovered during training camp. Durant missed the first 17 games of the season and has played in just nine of the Thunder’s 32 games this season.

With Russell Westbrook and Durant missing significant time due to injury early this season, the Thunder have struggled to claw their way into the West’s playoff mix. Win or lose against the Suns, the Thunder will finish the calendar year outside of the top eight in the West. At 15-17, they are 10th in the standings and two games out of the No. 8 spot.

 

Morning shootaround — Dec. 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cavs concerned about Blatt | Durant goes through full practice | D-League stint helped Muhammad’s career | Gordon nearing return for Pelicans

No. 1: Report: Blatt not reaching Cavs — Followers of recent NBA history will note the situation emerging today in Cleveland with LeBron James is, perhaps, somewhat similar to what James went through when he joined the Miami Heat four years ago. According to ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein, the Cavaliers are concerned that coach David Blatt is not effectively reaching not just LeBron, but the Cavs at large. When James was with the Heat, there were concerns about whether or not Erik Spoelstra was the right man to lead the team’s Big Three — concerns which eventually faded after four straight Finals trips and two championships. Still, the Cavs are concerned about the Blatt-James dynamic, writes Windhorst and Stein:

There is a growing level of worry within the Cleveland Cavaliers organization about first-year coach David Blatt and his ability to reach the team, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com that there is rising concern in team circles about the level of response that Blatt is getting on the floor, with Blatt himself acknowledging that the Cavaliers “lost our energy and we lost our competitiveness” in Sunday night’s embarrassing home loss to Detroit.

The Cavs would prefer not to be forced into evaluating their new coach just 30 games into Blatt’s NBA career, cognizant that the job has quickly evolved into a much different one — afterLeBron James stunningly decided in July to return to his home-state team in free agency — than it was when Blatt was hired from Israeli power Maccabi Tel Aviv in June with no NBA experience.

But the Cavs’ effort level, especially defensively, is eroding noticeably, raising the volume of questions about just how much the locker room is listening to the 55-year-old Boston native, who has enjoyed tremendous international success but began this season as a relative unknown to NBA players.

Blatt denied Monday that he didn’t have the team’s attention.

“Absolutely I do,” Blatt said. “We just didn’t play well (Sunday). I don’t think it was an issue outside of that. A couple games ago we were (17-10). I know some other pretty good teams in the NBA that didn’t have that record.

“We have not played perfectly this year, I don’t claim that. On the other hand, we’re doing pretty good. We lost a couple games, we’re down a few of our main players and last night did not look good and we did not respond well to it during the game. I recognize that. And certainly when that happens I’m every bit as much a part of that as everybody else, but it has nothing to do with questions along the lines of what I’ve heard. I just don’t think that’s right or fair. I really don’t.”

When asked Monday whether Blatt was the right coach for the Cavaliers, James wasted no time in saying that he’s content with Blatt and that everybody is still in the process of getting to know one another.

“I think my relationship with the coach continues to get better and better every day,” James said. “This is two months of us being together. I don’t know him fully. He doesn’t know me fully. He doesn’t know any of the guys fully and that’s to be expected. It’s our first year together. But he has our attention.”

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has proved in the past that he’s unafraid to make coaching changes, dismissing Mike Brown this past May with three fully guaranteed years left on Brown’s contract in his second stint as Gilbert’s coach. Yet it should be noted that Blatt was hired in the summer largely at Gilbert’s behest after Cleveland made unsuccessful runs at a number of high-profile college coaches, including Kentucky’s John Calipari, Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie, Kansas’ Bill Self and Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg.‎

Blatt was indeed asked Sunday at his postgame news conference whether he is worried that he might be losing control of the team. He responded: “I’m not concerned about that at all. I’m more concerned with how we’re playing.”

Whispers about the lack of attention that various Cavs players are paying to Blatt during some timeout huddles, as well as their apparent preference to communicate with Cavs assistant and former NBA player Tyronn Lue, have been in circulation for weeks.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the LeBron James-David Blatt dynamic

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