Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Love’

Pierce cares not about your hand in his face


VIDEO: Pierce’s big three seals Brooklyn’s win vs. Toronto

BROOKLYN – Nets coach Jason Kidd didn’t think Paul Pierce was going to play Monday night.

Pierce, dealing with an injured shoulder, played. He played 30 minutes, scored 15 points, and hit the biggest shot of the night, a 3-pointer that gave the Nets a three-point lead with 1:14 left and propelled them to a big win over the visiting Raptors.

It was a tough shot, because Kyle Lowry was in Pierce’s shirt with a hand in his face. But Pierce had to take it because the shot clock was about to expire.

And maybe it didn’t matter that Lowry was there, because, according to SportVU, Pierce has shot better on contested jumpers than uncontested jumpers. Among 92 players who have attempted at least 100 of each, only one — the Pelicans’ Brian Roberts — has a bigger discrepancy.

Players who have shot better on contested jumpers

Uncontested Contested
Player FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% Diff.
Brian Roberts 82 213 38.5% 63 128 49.2% -10.7%
Paul Pierce 83 236 35.2% 62 151 41.1% -5.9%
Russell Westbrook 73 203 36.0% 57 138 41.3% -5.3%
Dirk Nowitzki 200 439 45.6% 210 431 48.7% -3.2%
LeBron James 140 370 37.8% 47 117 40.2% -2.3%
Marcus Morris 102 252 40.5% 61 143 42.7% -2.2%
Rudy Gay 87 223 39.0% 105 259 40.5% -1.5%
Evan Turner 107 288 37.2% 88 231 38.1% -0.9%
Rodney Stuckey 67 178 37.6% 55 145 37.9% -0.3%
Jamal Crawford 142 355 40.0% 143 356 40.2% -0.2%
James Harden 141 375 37.6% 69 183 37.7% -0.1%

Minimum 100 of each.
Contested = Any jump shot outside of 10 feet with a defender within four feet of the shooter.

Note: We’re looking at standard field goal percentage and not effective field goal percentage to simply see the effect on a player’s success rate.

That LeBron James has shot better on contested jumpers is more incentive for defenses to play off him on the perimeter, as the Spurs did (successfully, until Game 7) in The Finals.

The league has shot 5.4 percent better on uncontested jumpers this season. But a contest will affect some players more than others. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Roberts and Pierce is the Suns’ Goran Dragic

Players who have shot at least 10 percent better on uncontested jumpers

Uncontested Contested
Player Name FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% Diff.
Goran Dragic 145 279 52.0% 52 178 29.2% 22.8%
David West 142 288 49.3% 35 102 34.3% 15.0%
C.J. Miles 86 191 45.0% 36 118 30.5% 14.5%
Khris Middleton 148 302 49.0% 57 161 35.4% 13.6%
Jameer Nelson 118 312 37.8% 35 143 24.5% 13.3%
Kevin Love 201 473 42.5% 45 152 29.6% 12.9%
Bradley Beal 181 431 42.0% 78 263 29.7% 12.3%
Jerryd Bayless 91 217 41.9% 41 137 29.9% 12.0%
Terrence Ross 107 240 44.6% 59 181 32.6% 12.0%
Randy Foye 150 363 41.3% 39 132 29.5% 11.8%
Tim Hardaway Jr. 121 296 40.9% 30 103 29.1% 11.8%
Josh Smith 126 380 33.2% 28 129 21.7% 11.5%

For some of these guys, the difference is about how well they shoot when they’re left open. For some, it’s about how poorly they shoot when there’s a defender nearby. Josh Smith probably shouldn’t shoot jumpers at all.

Morning Shootaround — March 8


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played March 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers’ woes start from within | Other side to that coin was Rockets’ paybackPhil Jax rumors blow up in New York | Pierce sees Rondo as the next, well, him | Noah bored by whines about “tampering”

No. 1: Pacers’ woes start from within – To hear Indiana coach Frank Vogel, his team’s claim on the NBA’s best record this season put a target on the Pacers’ backs, turning them into every opponent’s favorite target. While that might be true to some extent, the slump in which Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West & Co. find themselves now – after suffering their third consecutive loss in the 112-86 rout at Houston Friday – owes more to what Indiana isn’t doing at either end of the court the way it had through the schedule’s first four months. Only the Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers have avoided a three-game losing streak now, with the Pacers turning to post-game meetings and some mirror-gazing to check theirs, as ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst wrote from Houston:

The Pacers have now lost three in a row for the first time all season and fallen back into a tie with the Heat in the loss column for the best record. But the chase for that top seed, which has been a Pacers priority all season, was not on their minds as midnight passed in that quiet locker room.

“We haven’t talked about the [No. 1 seed] in awhile,” Hibbert said. “We just need to win games at this point. Something has got to change. Something is going to be addressed.”

There were warning signs even when the Pacers were on a five-game winning streak recently as they had to work harder than expected to beat bottom-feeders like the Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks.

“Every team we play is playing above themselves,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Our guys can talk about being the hunted but it’s a different thing to feel it. These teams are coming at us with great force and we’re going to have to rise to the challenge.”

Teams running up the score against the Pacers is not normal. But over the last 10 games their league-best defense has not been league best.

They are allowing 46 percent shooting and 100 points per game in that span. In the first 40 games of the season when they distanced themselves from the rest of the league, they allowed just 41 percent shooting and just 88 points a game.

“We have to get back to what the Indiana Pacers used to be,” George said. “When teams came to play us, they knew it was going to be a long night.”

***

No. 2: Other side to that coin was Rockets’ payback – Twenty-six points isn’t 34, the number Houston’s players had in mind as a way to avenge their 33-point smackdown by Indiana in Indianapolis in December. The Rockets “only” pushed their lead to as many as 32 before settling for the final margin. But as Jonathan Feigen wrote in his Houston Chronicle blog, team and individual payback was very much in play, as the league’s hottest team in calendar year 2014 starts to sniff its potential:

“That’s all we talked about, every time out, every possession, how they blew us out,” Dwight Howard said. “We didn’t want that to happen. We wanted to get payback.”

Yet, as the Rockets put together a stretch [James] Harden would call their best on both ends of the floor, he could have been thinking of much more than just the third-quarter run to a 30-point lead.

“Always wanted to get back against them,” Harden said after scoring 16 of his 28 points in the knockout punch of a third quarter. “The third quarter was probably the best I’ve seen us play offense and defense in one quarter. We were rolling. These last weeks we’ve been rolling on both ends.”

At that moment, as the Pacers called time out the rout was certain, Harden could have been celebrating his own turnaround against the Pacers. When Harden was done for the night before the third quarter had ended, he had made 10 of 17 shots, including 4 of 7 3s. In his seven previous games against the Pacers, he had made 28.4 percent of his shots, just 24.6 percent in his three games against them with the Rockets.

He could have been thinking off the credibility the Rockets had added to their 2014 rise to a 22-6 record, the NBA’s best since New Year’s, a season-best seven-game home winning streak or their 12-2 record since the start of February when the only losses were in the second half of back-to-backs.

Had he thought of it with the pairing of a win against Heat to go with the blowout of the Pacers, he even could have been marking their season-long dominance of the Eastern Conference in Houston, with the Rockets 14-0 against Eastern Conference teams.

In many ways, however, he might have just enjoyed the clearer-than-ever signs of how much the Rockets have progressed in the months in between.

“We’ve been playing well since the beginning of the New Year,” Harden said. “We kind of got a feel for each other now. We’ve gotten better. We’ve gotten healthy.

“When we hold the ball and let them set up defensively, then they’re great. But if we play fast like we did and make plays for each other, it’s hard to beat.”

***

No. 3: Phil Jax rumors blow up in New York — The man had taken sabbaticals before. He roared off on his motorcycle after helping Chicago win its sixth NBA championship in eight years in 1998 and sat out the following season before acquiescing to coach Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant with the Los Angeles Lakers. He stepped away again in 2004-05 to recharge and get healthy, then came back for six more seasons and two more Lakers championships.

But Phil Jackson is going on three years now off the NBA stage and out of the daily sports spotlight, so it’s totally understandable that he might be getting a little restless. That restlessness might or might not – remember, we’re talking both rumors and Jackson weighing multiple options at this point in his life (age 68) – land him in New York, running or coaching the Knicks. Here’s some of what ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne wrote on the topic:

 Phil Jackson is “ready to go back to work,” a source with knowledge of his thinking told ESPN.com on Friday.

The former Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls coach has spent the last couple of years working to improve his health — which included several surgeries and a successful fight against prostate cancer — and writing a book. But the itch to return to the NBA in some capacity is strong.

While Jackson has made it clear to any team that has approached him that he prefers a front-office role that would allow him to shape and mold a franchise the way Miami Heat president Pat Riley has, he is open to the possibility of coaching for a short period of time if it was necessary in a transition period for a franchise with championship aspirations, the source said.

He would not consider any coaching position that did not have a significant guarantee of personnel power as well, sources said.

***

No. 4: Pierce sees Rondo as the next, well, himPaul Pierce, the beloved forward who returned to Boston again Friday in the jarring black-and-white of the Brooklyn Nets, has seen this Celtics movie before. He knows what it must be like for former teammate Rajon Rondo, who is used to better times and has to endure the losing and no longer sees respect or fear in foes’ faces. But Pierce doesn’t worry about the feisty Celtics playmaker because he sees better days ahead, per A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com:

“They’re a young team,” Pierce said. “They got a mix of some veterans, some young guys developing. They’re only going to get better.”

And a significant part of that improvement in Pierce’s eyes, is point guard Rajon Rondo.

Rondo continues to look more and more like the four time All-Star that he is, and not the player on the mend from a torn right ACL injury in January of last year.

On Friday, he had a team-high 20 points to go with nine assists and seven rebounds.

“Rondo is ready to lead,” Pierce said. “He’s leading them right now, moving them into the next generation of Celtics. Their future is going to be very bright.”

But in order to fully appreciate what awaits them at the end of the journey, first they must navigate a path that, for now, will be difficult when it comes to winning games.

Seeing the big picture when he was a young player in Boston wasn’t easy for Pierce who admits Rondo’s better prepared for what lies ahead than he was.

“Rondo understands,” said Pierce, adding “He understands a little more than I did at the time. When I first got here (in Boston), I was in rebuild mode, made the playoffs and went back to rebuild mode. Same with him (Rondo). He came in, we were rebuilding. We went through a phase where we were winning. Now he’s back in rebuild mode, but he’s still young enough to see it out to still be in his prime. I know the Celtics are going to do whatever it takes, to get back to that top level again.”

***

No. 5: Noah bored by whines of “tampering” – So what if it was true that, at some point during All-Star weekend, Chicago center Joakim Noah teased, suggested or even downright pleaded with New York’s Carmelo Anthony to consider signing with the Bulls this summer rather than the Knicks or the Lakers? If that’s “tampering,” the SEC needs to throw a net over the entire NBA for insider trading violations. After the summer of 2010, when Miami’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came together after huddles and strategy sessions great and small … after the Rockets’ Chandler Parsons inundated Dwight Howard with text messages daily leading up to his choice of Houston over the Lakers … the reports that Noah told Anthony he’d be best off by choosing Chicago seem like so much trash-talking or idle banter. Knicks coach Mike Woodson needs to focus on Xs, Os, Ws and Ls, too, more than on some alleged he-said, he-said distraction. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times addressed some of what seems much ado about nothing:

Noah was asked about the Anthony rumor after the morning shootaround and never denied it, but he chalked it up as nothing more than March gossip.

“What are you talking about, the gossip going on?’’ Noah said.

“You want me to address that? I don’t feel like addressing it. I really have nothing to say.’’

When asked if the story was accurate, Noah said, “Doesn’t matter. What does that have to do with our team now? It doesn’t matter.’’

[Coach Tom] Thibodeau did take exception to Knicks coach Mike Woodson telling a radio station that Noah broke league rules and was tampering.

“You know, legally, nobody can recruit anyone,’’ Woodson said.

“To me, it’s just a bunch of nonsense,’’ Thibodeau said. “We don’t pay any attention to it, just get ready for [the next game]. . . . It’s all nonsense. We’re just concentrating on our next opponent.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Whew! They must be breathing easier in Milwaukee now, knowing that veteran Drew Gooden, on his second 10-day contract with Washington, won’t have vengeance on his mind when the Wizards visit Saturday night for the way the Bucks warehoused him last season (while paying him a whole lot of cash). … If Sam Malone could do it, maybe Paul Pierce could too: Open a bar or restaurant back in Boston when his playing days are over. Pierce was pondering the future Friday night. … Will Saturday’s clash with UNC be Jabari Parker‘s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, or might he return for his sophomore year rather than enter the NBA Draft pool? OK, we’ll play along. … Knicks center Tyson Chandler didn’t really mean to mock Kevin Love‘s defense, Chandler said via Twitter a day later. … Patty Mills listened to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — wise move, Patty — and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Is Aldridge’s pick-and-roll defense a problem for Blazers?


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge talks after the Blazers’ win against the Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – When we looked at the teammates that had defended the pick-and-roll the best on Wednesday, Mo Williams and Robin Lopez were sixth on the list, but the Portland Trail Blazers were nowhere near the top 10 in team rankings.

According to SportVU, the Blazers ranked 26th in pick-and-roll defense through Monday’s games and are up to 22nd after a game against the reeling Hawks on Wednesday. They’ve allowed 1.06 points per pick-and-roll possession overall, even though they’ve been pretty good when Lopez has been the guy defending the screener, allowing just 1.01. That ranks 55th among 134 players who had been the screener’s defender on at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions through Wednesday. Not great, but above-average.

Note: All stats included here are through Wednesday, March 5.

But near the bottom of the list is Lopez’s frontcourt-mate, LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers have allowed 1.17 points per possession when Aldridge has been the guy defending the screener. Of those 134 players who have defended at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions, only one – Trevor Booker – has a higher mark (1.18).

The discrepancy between Lopez’s and Aldridge’s numbers is rather remarkable, because both bigs basically defend pick-and-rolls the same way (though Portland will mix things up a little with Aldridge). While the Pacers drop back with their centers and show high with their power forwards, both Aldridge (most of the time) and Lopez drop back…

20140307_aldridge_pnr

20140307_lopez_pnr

Who are they guarding?

Is it a power forward vs. center thing? The players Aldridge is guarding (Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, etc.) are generally more potent offensively than those Lopez is guarding. And the biggest difference in Aldridge and Lopez’s numbers is the field goal percentage that the screener has shot when he has got the ball…

Pick-and-rolls vs. Lopez and Aldridge

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss BH FGM BH FGA BH FG% S FGM S FGA S FG%
Lopez 948 908 914 1.01 140 347 40.3% 59 131 45.0%
Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 102 249 41.0% 75 132 56.8%

BH FGM, FGA, FG% = Ball-handler shooting
S FGM, FGA, FG% = Screener shooting

But other defenses in the West don’t have the same discrepancy.

When the starting power forwards from the other top 10 teams in the West have defended the screener on a pick-and-roll, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. And when the starting centers on those same teams have defended the screener, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. No discrepancy at all.

The Suns’ pick-and-roll defense has been slightly better when Miles Plumlee has defended the screener than when Channing Frye has, and the same goes for the Warriors, Andrew Bogut and David Lee. But none of the other nine teams has nearly the difference that we see with the Blazers.

The eye test

Watching film, Aldridge doesn’t come across as a noticeably bad pick-and-roll defender. He’s usually in the right position, he doesn’t get caught standing still, or get turned around and lost on possessions (like a couple of bigs in New York).

The Blazers track every defensive possession themselves and say that Aldridge grades out closer the league average on pick-and-rolls (and that Lopez still grades out as better). And when we look at the 57 percent that the screener has shot on Aldridge-defended pick-and-rolls, we’re only talking about 132 shots, not the greatest sample size.

But Synergy Sports grades him as “poor” in regard to defending the roll man. And it’s not hard to find examples (via NBA.com/stats video boxscores) where he fails to close out and lets an opposing big shoot in rhythm…

You can also find examples of him closing out fine, but other West power forwards grade out better via SportVU. The screener takes more shots and shoots them better against Aldridge than any of the other nine guys listed below (from the other West teams at or above .500), even though they’ve all had to defend Aldridge himself, who has attempted almost 200 more mid-range shots than any other player in the league.

Pick-and-roll defense, West power forwards

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss Rk S FGM S FGA S FG% Rk
LaMarcus Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 10 75 132 56.8% 10
Tim Duncan 849 817 854 1.05 8 42 96 43.8% 4
Channing Frye 729 698 755 1.08 9 39 96 40.6% 2
Blake Griffin 925 896 935 1.04 7 46 91 50.5% 7
Serge Ibaka 733 706 687 0.97 2 32 71 45.1% 5
Terrence Jones 584 561 560 1.00 4 30 72 41.7% 3
David Lee 657 629 592 0.94 1 31 77 40.3% 1
Kevin Love 638 609 593 0.97 3 38 71 53.5% 9
Dirk Nowitzki 668 645 659 1.02 5 44 85 51.8% 8
Zach Randolph 794 767 788 1.03 6 48 98 49.0% 6

Right shots, wrong results

Again, we’re only looking at 132 of the 5,350 shots that Portland opponents have attempted this season. And the Blazers do force the right shots.

The intent of their drop-back scheme is to force the least efficient shots on the floor, between the restricted area and the 3-point line. And 45.4 percent of Portland opponents’ shots have come from there. That’s the fifth highest mark in the league, behind only teams that rank in the top five in defensive efficiency. Portland also ranks in the top 10 in percentage of jump shots that they’ve contested.

But their opponents have made 41 percent of those shots between the restricted area and 3-point line, the fourth highest percentage.

Highest percentage of opponents shots from between
the restricted area and the 3-point line

Team FGM FGA FG% Rank %FGA
Indiana 943 2,462 38.3% 7 48.5%
San Antonio 974 2,469 39.4% 15 48.2%
Golden State 964 2,503 38.5% 8 47.9%
Chicago 905 2,377 38.1% 4 47.6%
Portland 994 2,428 40.9% 27 45.4%

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

Whether that’s a case of bad luck or because they don’t really contest that well, that’s still just 0.82 points per attempt, which is fine defensively. The Blazers also rank 11th in 3-point defense and second in defending the restricted area.

So, in terms of defending shots, the Blazers do a pretty good job, despite the Aldridge pick-and-roll issue. They rank seventh in opponent effective field goal percentage. But they rank 19th in defensive efficiency, mostly because they force the fewest turnovers in the league, just 12.3 per 100 possessions. And they force only 11.3 with their starting lineup on the floor.

In part, that goes back to their pick-and-roll defense. Not only do the bigs drop back (which means that ball-handlers don’t have to pick up their dribble and make a pass as often), but the guards (especially Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews) don’t apply much pressure up front and can get caught on those screens. No Blazer ranks in the top 80 in steals per game.

Still, the Blazers are OK when Lopez defends pick-and-rolls. And it may be that his ability to stop the ball-handler and stay in contact with the roll man that allows his teammates to better defend their own guys. If Aldridge is a step slower, that can have a domino effect two or three passes away.

Trending up?

The Blazers actually have the No. 1 defense since the All-Star break. That number has been schedule-aided though, as they’ve played the Jazz, Lakers, Hawks, and two games against the depleted Nuggets. It also may have been aided by Aldridge’s absence in the first five post-break games, as they found some defensive success playing smaller and quicker.

Aldridge is back and we’re going to find out if the Portland defense is really improved over the next 10 days, when five of their six games are against teams that rank in the top 12 offensively (and the other is against the improved Grizzlies).

A five-game trip begins against the fourth-ranked Dallas offense on Friday and we’ll see how well Aldridge contests Nowitzki.

Stars rose up as key players went down

A lot of the credit for the Suns' success goes to Goran Dragic. (Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

A lot of the credit for the Suns’ success goes to Goran Dragic. (Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – One injury to the wrong player can be devastating to a team’s aspirations. See the Thunder during last year’s playoffs once Russell Westbrook went down.

The Lakers weren’t winning the title this season with or without Kobe Bryant, but they certainly aren’t dragging up the rear in the Western Conference with him.

But this post isn’t about sob stories. This season’s injury stories, three in particular — OK, four, keep reading — are about inspiration and not desperation, about three young stars (no, four!) rising to the occasion and pushing their teams when the receding tide could have drowned the whole thing in the deep blue sea of lost seasons.

Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin made history in February, along with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, as the first quintet to average 30 points or more in any month going back to 1962. Durant, Love and Griffin rose to extraordinary heights as their teams lacked a key component due to injury, and in Love’s case two.

In good conscious we could not limit this discussion to three. Yes, the Spurs were terrific without Tony Parker after the All-Star break, but that’s just the Spurs being the Spurs. And Portland did a fine job recently without LaMarcus Aldridge. No. 4 is the Phoenix Suns’ non-All-Star point guard Goran Dragic, who was playing fabulously before backcourt mate Eric Bledsoe went down with a knee injury, and he’s been downright nasty ever since.

How Dragic isn’t in the MVP discussion even as a footnote is criminal. A team destined for 25 wins already has 35 and is in the heat of the ferocious West playoff chase, and Dragic is the reason why. The West coaches couldn’t give The Dragon his due. It’s the least we can do.

So here’s how the three superstars — and Goran — did it:

Love’s Quest

The skinny: First, let’s not kid ourselves. The Timberwolves are nowhere near out of the woods. Their inability to win close games during the first couple months of the season and overall inconsistent play sabotaged their hopes of finally contending for a playoff spot. Then injuries dropped their second- and third-leading scorers, 3-point-bombing shooting guard Kevin Martin (on Feb. 7) and low-post monster center Nikola Pekovic (on Jan. 27), respectively. Stick a fork in ‘em? Not exactly.

What happened?: Love went nuts. In February, he averaged 34.0 ppg, a franchise record for any month. He grabbed 14.1 rebounds to lead the league. He became the first player since Moses Malone in March 1982 to average 34 and 14 in one month. Without Pekovic, who missed 13 games, and Martin in the lineup, the Wolves went 4-3. Whole again, the they’re 2-0 in March to get back over .500 at 30-29 just when it seemed like they were sunk.

The outlook: It might not be sunshine and daffodils, but the storm clouds are parting. Minnesota enters Wednesday’s home game against stumbling New York 4.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. It’s a lot of ground to make up, but the Wolves have an upcoming schedule that should make them salivate: the Knicks, Detroit, Toronto and Milwaukee at home, then at Charlotte and back home for Sacramento before things turn decidedly tougher against West foes. Take care of the six in front of them and who knows?

Banking on Blake

The skinny: The Clippers were 23-12 even though they hadn’t played terrific basketball adjusting to new coach Doc Rivers and meshing in new players. But my oh my, what would they do now without point guard and floor leader Chris Paul? On Jan. 3 at Dallas, Paul went down in a heap and came up with a separated right shoulder. The prognosis was negative: four to six weeks. He missed 18 games.

What happened: Griffin when nuts. In Paul’s absence, the power forward from Oklahoma averaged 27.5 ppg on 55.4 percent shooting. He grabbed 8.2 rebounds and dished out 4.4 assists. He became a vocal leader on the floor, taking over a role that Paul had dominated, a development that should aid the evolution of this team. The Clippers emerged from their CP3-less stretch with 12 wins and six losses to get to 35-18. They maintained position to seize a top four seed. Griffin didn’t miss a beat once Paul returned on Feb. 9, averaging 30.0 ppg and 10.7 rpg for the entire month.

The outlook: The Clippers are 7-2 since Paul’s return and have won five in a row to get to 42-20. They’re in a virtual tie with Houston for the No. 3 seed. The schedule plays out pretty favorably throughout March, and if L.A. continues to come together and avoids any more injuries, they could make a serious run over the next three to four weeks.

Overserved on KD

The Skinny: The Thunder were rolling along and put a Christmas Day whipping on the Knicks behind a triple-double from Russell Westbrook. Then came the stunning news that he needed a third surgery on his troublesome right knee. OKC had just racked up 21 wins in 25 games with Westbrook, and now this. OKC announced he would be out all the way through the All-Star break. Now the question was whether the Thunder could hold onto a top-four seed?

What happened: Durant went nuts. In 27 games without his sidekick, Durant racked up 35.0 ppg on 52.7 percent shooting overall and 39.9 percent from beyond the arc, plus 7.5 rpg and 6.3 apg. He was so good as OKC won 20 of those games and took over the top spot in the West that he was widely considered the clubhouse leader for the MVP trophy. And why not? At 43-12 when Westbrook made his return on Feb. 20, nobody was doing it better.

The outlook: A return to the NBA Finals. The team is built for it barring anything else going wrong with Westbrook’s right knee. His triple-double in 20 minutes Tuesday night revealed an explosive player at his best. He’s regaining his shooting touch and continues to talk of being a smarter player after having sat out all but two of 11 playoff games last season and a large chunk of games this season. Any notion that Westbrook somehow detracts from Durant should finally be dead and buried.

Fire-breathing Dragic

The skinny: Remember when the Suns traded Marcin Gortat to Washington like a week before the season started and everybody rolled their eyes at the obvious tank job taking place? Recent times have gotten a bit ragged for Dragic and his mostly unknown teammates, castoffs from other clubs, but nothing can take away the effort that’s propelled them to a 35-25 record and the eighth seed in the hotly contested West. And to be there with Bledsoe out with a knee injury since Dec. 30 is beyond amazing.

What happened: Dragic went nuts. Since Bledsoe left the lineup, Dragic has averaged 22.3 ppg on 52.9 percent shooting overall and 46.3 percent from deep. He’s become one of the game’s premiere rim attackers, either running the break or capable of getting to the basket coming off screens seemingly at will. He takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Without him, the Suns would be where we all thought they’d be: deep in lottery position.

The outlook: Bledsoe is practicing and could be back soon to give this club a real boost headed into the final 20 games. The Suns’ playoff hopes are on life support, but if they can survive the next three games against Oklahoma City, Golden State and the Clippers, they’ve got a favorable 11-game stretch through the end of March that includes eight East teams (none against Indiana or Miami), plus the Lakers. The Orange can still crush this.

A 5-Horse Race For West Seeds 6 – 8?


VIDEO: Kevin Love has 33 points and 19 rebounds to lift the Wolves over the Nuggets

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – A five-horse sprint to capture playoffs seeds 6 through 8 could be the most heated Western Conference race of the stretch run.

At the top of the standings, Oklahoma City and San Antonio are battling it out for the top seed while the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston and Portland are jockeying for seeds 3 through 5.

At the bottom it’s an ever-tightening battle for survival, not just to get into the playoffs, but if at all possible to seize the No. 6 seed and go for broke against anybody other than the Thunder or Spurs.

Entering Tuesday night’s games, No. 6 Golden State and No. 7 Phoenix both have 24 losses and are separated by one game in the win column. No. 8 Dallas and No. 9 Memphis both have 25 losses and are separated by two games in the win column. Dallas has the same number of wins as Golden State  and Memphis has one fewer win than Phoenix.

Got it?

In simple terms, seeds 6 through 9 are separated by 1 1/2 games.

And don’t totally dismiss the No. 10 Minnesota Timberwolves just yet. Fueled by Kevin Love‘s breathtaking February and the return of Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, the Wolves are making a desperate attempt to get back into playoff contention, but still remain five games behind Dallas.

All five teams have 23 games or fewer remaining. All have attractive stretches where they can potentially make up ground in a hurry, but all also have pitfalls where the dream can just as quickly come to a crashing halt.

Below is a breakdown of the five teams in contention. How many home games does each have? How many games against the West? The East? Against Indiana and Miami? Where must each team take care of business? And where must each simply survive?

Take a look:

No. 6 Golden State Warriors (36-24)

> Games left: 22 (13 home, 9 road)

> Next game: Tonight at Indiana (7 p.m. ET, League Pass)

> vs. West: 15 (7 vs. current playoff teams)

> vs. East: 7 (1 vs. Indiana, 0 vs. Miami)

> vs. winning teams: 11 (Indiana, Phoenix, Dallas 2, L.A. Clippers, Portland 2, San Antonio 2, Memphis, Minnesota)

> Moving time: Five-game homestand from March 18 – 30 (Orlando, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Memphis, New York)

> Must-haves: March 9 vs. Phoenix; March 11 vs. Dallas; March 28 vs. Memphis, April 1 at Dallas

> Must survive: March 9 – 16 (vs. Phoenix, vs. Dallas, at L.A. Clippers, vs. Cleveland, at Portland)

> Wild card: The offense has struggled, but can they rely on their No. 1 defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) in the West to win pressure games?

==========================

No. 7 Phoenix Suns (35-24)

> Games left: 23 (9 home, 14 away)

> Next game: Tonight vs. L.A. Clippers (9 p.m. ET, League Pass)

> vs. West: 14 (10 vs. current playoff teams)

> vs. East: 9 (0 vs. Indiana, 0 vs. Miami)

> vs. winning teams: 12 (L.A. Clippers 3, Oklahoma City 2, Golden State, Toronto, Minnesota, Washington, Portland, San Antonio, Dallas, Memphis)

> Moving time: March 12-21 (vs. Cleveland, at Boston, at Toronto, at Brooklyn, vs. Orlando, vs. Detroit)

> Survival time: March 9 at Golden State, March 23 at Minnesota, March 28 vs. New York, March 30 at L.A. Lakers

> Wild card: Eric Bledsoe is practicing. Will he return and, if so, can he and Goran Dragic recapture their early-season magic?

==========================

No. 8 Dallas Mavericks (36-25)

> Games left: 21 (12 home, 9 away)

> Next game: Wednesday at Denver

> vs. West: 18 (9 vs. current playoff teams)

> vs. East: 3 (1 vs. Indiana, 0 vs. Miami)

> vs. winning teams: 12 (Portland, Indiana, Golden State 2, Oklahoma City 2, Minnesota, L.A. Clippers 2, San Antonio, Phoenix, Memphis)

> Moving time: First four of a season-long eight-game homestand March 17 – April 1 (Boston, Minnesota, Denver, Brooklyn)

> Must-haves: March 11 at Golden State; March 12 at Utah; April 1 vs. Golden State; April 12 vs. Phoenix; April 16 at Memphis

> Survival time: Wednesday – March 16 (at Denver, vs. Portland, vs. Indiana, at Golden State, at Utah, at Oklahoma  City) and March 25 – April 3 (vs. Oklahoma City, vs. L.A. Clippers, vs. Sacramento, vs. Golden State, at L.A. Clippers)

> Wild card: Dirk Nowitzki, 35, will be solid, but can Monta Ellis, in the playoffs just twice in his career, elevate his game another rung?

==========================

No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies (33-25)

> Games left: 23 (9 home, 14 road)

> Next game: Wednesday at Brooklyn

> vs. West: 14 (6 vs. current playoff teams)

> vs. East: 9 (1 vs. Indiana, 2 vs. Miami)

> vs. winning teams: 13 (Chicago, Portland 2, Toronto, Miami 2, Indiana, Minnesota 2, Golden State, San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas)

> Moving time: Saturday – March 19 (vs. Charlotte, vs. Portland, at New Orleans, at Toronto, at Philadelphia, vs. Utah)

> Must-haves: March 15 at Philadelphia, March 19 vs. Utah,  April 13 at L.A. Lakers, April 14 at Phoenix, April 16 vs. Dallas

> Survival time: March 19-30 (at Miami, vs. Indiana, vs. Minnesota, at Utah, Golden State, at Portland)

> Wild card: Assuming 3s aren’t going to start falling from the sky, can Memphis keep turning up its defensive intensity? Overall, the Griz’s D ranks just behind the … Timberwolves?

==========================

No. 10 Minnesota Timberwolves (30-29)

> Games left: 23 (14 home, 9 road)

> Next game: Wednesday at New York

> vs. West: 13 (7 vs. current playoff teams)

> vs. East: 10 (0 vs. Indiana, 1 vs. Miami)

> vs. winning teams: 12 (Toronto, Dallas, Houston 2, Phoenix, Memphis 2, L.A. Clippers, Miami, San Antonio, Chicago, Golden State)

> Moving time: Wednesday – March 16 (vs. New York, vs. Detroit, vs. Toronto, vs. Milwaukee, at Charlotte, vs. Sacramento)

> Must-haves: March 19 at Dallas, March 23 vs. Phoenix, March 24 at Memphis, April 2 vs. Memphis, April 14 at Golden State

> Survival time: March 31 – April 11 (vs. L.A. Clippers, vs. Memphis, at Miami, at Orlando, vs. San Antonio, vs. Chicago, vs. Houston)

> Wild card: Can everybody stay healthy down the stretch run?

Nuggets Stage A Wild Finish Vs. Wolves


VIDEO: The Timberwolves hang on for a close win against the Nuggets in Denver

The numbers were wacky across the board in Denver Monday, where the Minnesota Timberwolves hung on to beat the Nuggets 132-128. Consider:

  • Denver scored 45 points in the fourth quarter (and lost). In fact, it was the Nuggets’ first loss at home in 53 such games when scoring at least 110 points.
  • Minnesota went to the foul line 64 times and made 52, the most points on free throws since Phoenix sank 61 in an April 9, 1990 overtime game vs. Utah.
  • In the fourth quarter, the Wolves were 20-of-26 on foul shots. For the entire game, the Nuggets were 16-of-25.
  • Kevin Love’s 33 points and 19 rebounds left him with an NBA-best 50 double-doubles. He has scored at least 20 points in 15 consecutive games.
  • Denver had four players score 20 points or more. With 12-of-33 shooting from 3-point range, the Nuggets outscored Minnesota by 24 points from the arc.

But the most amazing quirk or stat might have been this one: Denver hit four of its 3-pointers in the final 23.4 seconds to make things much closer than they’d been (and explain a bunch of those Minnesota free throws). Per research by the Wolves’ staff, it marked only the seventh time in the StatsCube database (dating to 1996-97) that a team hit four from the arc even in the final minute.

Perhaps the most famous of those came in 2004 when Houston’s Tracy McGrady went off for 13 points in 32.3 seconds (really, you need to watch the video). The only other time such a deep, late scramble resulted in a victory came in Paul Millsap’s breakout overtime game against Miami in 2010.

Here is the short list of such finishes since 1996:

  • Denver vs Minnesota, 3/3/2013, 4-of-6 3FGAs, :23.4 sec.: L, 128-132
  • Houston at Phoenix, 3/9/2013, 4-of-4, :32.3: L, 105-107
  • Utah at Miami, 11/9/2010, 4-of-5, :28.7: W, 116-114 OT
  • L.A. Lakers at New York, 2/28/2005, 4-of-4, :45.0: L, 115-117 OT
  • Sacramento at Portland, 2/5/2005, 4-of-4, :56.0: L, 108-114
  • Houston vs. San Antonio, 12/9/2004, 4-of-4, :35.0: W, 81- 80
  • Atlanta at Toronto, 2/12/2003, 4-of-5, :39.0: L, 96-97

MVP Ladder: Masked LeBron Still The 1!



VIDEO: The man in the mask, LeBron James, resembles the superstar who worked 52 games this season without the mask

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Mask or not, LeBron James is ready for a three-peat run with the Miami Heat. If we’ve learned anything about the reigning two-time NBA and Finals MVP over the past few seasons, it’s that when he’s ready to take his game to the next level it’s hard for anyone to match him.

James has lifted the Heat back up the past month and put them right back into position as the best team in the league, the records say otherwise but we all know the Heat would be favored against anyone in a best-of-7 series if we started the postseason right now. James also holds on to the top spot in the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder this week, his jaw-dropping work all month punctuated by a wicked performance in the mask Thursday night against the New York Knicks on TNT.

Shaquille O’Neal (in 2003) and Wilt Chamberlain (in 1966) are the only players to put together a month worth of work like LeBron has produced for the Heat (30 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and shooting better than 57 percent for a calendar month), winners of six straight games. That’s elite historical company by any measure.

Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Paul George and Steph Curry round out the top five of the Ladder this week with Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves joining the party at No. 9.

Dive in here for more on who made the cut on this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!


Sizing Up Love: Dunks, Data Or Victories?


VIDEO: Kevin Love executes perfect pass and dunk after practice in Phoenix

When taking the measure of an NBA superstar, what’s your preferred yardstick: Highlight videos or cold, hard analytics? Something visceral and dazzlingly in the moment, or something statistical, built on percentages and decimal points?

Minnesota’s Kevin Love had you covered both ways Thursday.

The fun stuff occurred after the Timberwolves’ practice in the Phoenix Suns’ gym at U.S. Airways Center, as the Wolves – after beating the Suns Tuesday, 110-101 – stuck around for a few days before heading to Sacramento for their game Saturday against the Kings. In an homage to LeBron James‘ impromptu dunk show after Miami’s practice on the same court earlier this month, a shirtless Love fired a ball off the side wall, caught it on the bounce and threw down a reverse, two-handed slam.

All of it, right down to the barechestedness, was just like LeBron. Only this time it was captured by teammate Ronny Turiaf on rookie Gorgui Dieng‘s cell phone.

Now it’s time for the math: The gap in the Wolves’ schedule allowed for some numbers-crunching that showed how much impact Love and his All-Star season has had on his Minnesota teammates.

If the 6-foot-10 power forward’s 26.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game aren’t enough, or his 38.4 percent 3-point percentage, a 28.3 PER rating, those 48 double-doubles (one triple-double) and 20 games scoring 30 points or more, consider how much better the other Wolves players are when Love is on the court with them than when he’s not.

Point guard Ricky Rubio, for instance, has an offensive rating of 109.8 and a defensive rating of 102.2 in the 1,603 minutes he has played alongside Love this season, a net rating of plus-7.6. In the 188 minutes Rubio has been out there without Love, those stats drop to 97.6 and 105.9, a minus-8.3.

Shooter Kevin Martin has had the same pattern: 107.1/102.8/plus-4.3 with Love, 100.7/108.2/minus-7.5 without him.

So has center Nikola Pekovic, at 109.7/102.8/plus-6.9 vs. 95.0/103.2/minus-8.1.

And Corey Brewer, 110.1/103.0/plus-7.0 vs. 95.2/101.7/minus-6.6.

And J.J. Barea, 105.3/100.1/plus-5.1 vs. 91.3/104.5/minus-13.1.

Love’s own on/off numbers for the Wolves: 113.8/104.8/plus-9.0 in 1,956 minutes played vs. 99.5/107.9/minus-8.4 in 784 on the side.

Love’s impact shows up in other ways. Martin, for example, has hit 43.9 percent of his field goal attempts with the big guy around to draw defenders but just 33.7 percent when he’s not. Rubio, Pekovic, Brewer, Barea and Chase Budinger also have shot better with Love on the court.

Only Turiaf of all the Wolves players, curiously, has been more efficient and/or productive with Love out of the game. Maybe that has something to do with some overlap in where they’re at their best.

So which is it that impresses you more: The grainy dunk-show video in all its individual glory, or the hardcore data tied to teammates?

Or are you old school, focusing on Minnesota’s 28-29 record and dreary spot (10th) in the Western Conference standings and withholding your ooh‘s and aah‘s until Love makes his impact felt with a playoff berth? Fair enough.

Clippers’ Jamal Crawford On Quite A Run


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is a Most Invaluable Player award something to look into?

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 23



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Granger to discuss buyout | Young feels left out | Nick Young not sure about opt out | Villanueva seeks buyout | Love records first triple-double

No. 1: Granger to discuss buyout – It’s no surprise that the Philadelphia 76ers and newly acquired Danny Granger are in talks to buy out his contract. The Sixers have the second-worst record in the NBA at 15-41 and have little use for Granger, who could aid many teams’ playoff push. Rumors have already emerged that the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls would have interest in the former All-Star. But the situation is not so simple because if Granger is bought out he would lose his Bird rights, which allows him to sign for more money this offseason, potentially as part of a sign-and-trade out of Philadelphia. Here’s more on the situation from John Gonzalez of CSN-Philly:

“We’re going to speak with him,” Hinkie said. “He’s coming in, like all the players are, they’ll come in, [take] physicals, we’ll meet with them, we’ll talk with them. Danny I hold in really high esteem. It’s going to be interesting. I think we’re going to just sit and talk like men and say ‘What is it that you want out of the rest of this year?’

“You want to talk about shell-shock, he’s been in one place his whole career, and he’s had a heck of a career already, and I think has a good bit to go. So we’re going to sit and talk to him about what it is he wants and the kind of role he sees on our team and vice versa. Where that goes, I don’t exactly know.”

Granger, who will turn 31 in April, is in the final year of a $14 million contract and will become a free agent this offseason. The former All-Star played just five games for the Pacers last year after suffering a left knee injury. He started just two of 29 games for Indiana this season, averaging 8.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 22.5 minutes.

Given how Hinkie put the situation — that he and Granger would sit down and “talk like men” — someone asked whether it was possible that the Sixers might “buy out” Granger. Here, again, Hinkie had a vague but interesting answer.

“I think there’s a chance for us to have a discussion,” Hinkie replied. “How that goes, I don’t exactly know. He hasn’t come, but we’re organizing a flight for him to be here soon.”

***

No. 2: Young feels left out – Staying in Philadelphia, forward Thaddeus Young is having a career year and he feels like he was left out of the trade-deadline action. His name was in rumor discussions, but many reported that the asking price given by the Sixers was too high for potential suitors to sustain interest. Now stuck in a situation without Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner, Young decided to speak out, as reported by Bob Cooney of Philly.com:

“Come on,” he said with a smile. “I know y’all want to talk.”

Young doesn’t hide on or off the court. Thursday’s trades that sent away fellow starters Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes left him as the elder statesman of the team, and the lone remaining vet left to endure what is sure to be gut-wrenching end of the season.

“This situation, I don’t know how much worse it can get, but there’s a lot of great guys in this locker room who can play,” he said dutifully. “Hopefully, we can just go out there and get better as a team and continue to play hard.”

“I am not going to lie, a little bit,” he said of feeling left out on trade day. “Certain things don’t always happen in your favor or it doesn’t happen the way everybody else thinks it should play out. It’s been a very tough year so far, but you try to make the best of the situation.”

***

No. 3: Nick Young not sure about opt out – Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak recently guessed that guard Nick Young would opt-out of his $1.2 million player option after the season in hopes of finding a more lucrative deal on the open market. Young’s agent Mark Bartelstein says not to be so sure, as reported by Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

This week, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak credited Young for having a “great year,” averaging 16.9 points per game and showing a better commitment toward defense. Kupchak then added, “my guess is he’s going to opt out” of his $1.2 million player option in hopes of securing a longer and lucrative deal.

Young politely declined to address Kupchak’s foreshadowing. But Young’s agent, Mark Bartelstein told this newspaper it’s presumptuous to think Kupchak’s prediction will pan out.

“Nick wants to be a Laker,” Bartelstein. “But his focus right now is to get healthy, get back on the court soon and finish rest of the season. That’s a conversation Mitch and I will have, but it’s too early at this point to talk about what he’s going to do.”

If Young exercises his player option, he secures his standing with the Lakers for one season albeit with money perhaps below his market value. If Young opts out of his current contract, he could secure a longer and more lucractive deal with the Lakers. But that scenario could prompt the Lakers to allow Young to sign with another team considering the team’s hope to maintain financial flexibility.

Considering his scoring output ranks second only behind Pau Gasol, is Young at least leaning toward opting out of his contract?

“No. Look, Nick’s play speaks for itself,” Bartelstein said. “He’s proven that he’s worth more than what his contract entails when he signed with the Lakers. But again, we’re not focused on that right now. He’s focusing on getting healthy and continuing to play well.”

.***

No. 4: Villanueva seeks buyout – It seems everyone is in the market for a buyout. This time it’s Detroit Pistons power forward Charlie Villanueva. The nine-year veteran out of the University of Connecticut is currently in the middle of the worst shooting season of his career with percentages of 38.5 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from 3-point (but this doesn’t stop him from shooting nearly three 3-pointers per game). He spoke about his frustrations in Detroit with David Mayo of M Live:

Charlie Villanueva said he already has made the difficult transition from frustration to accepting his exclusion from the Detroit Pistons’ rotation, and if he happens to be playing elsewhere by the end of the month, he would accept that too.
“Nobody wants to accept that, you know?  But what can I do, other than work hard and keep working?  That’s all I can do is keep working.  If my name isn’t called, I can’t do nothing about that,” Villanueva said.
It’s still possible that he and the Pistons could agree on the buyout of the remainder of his salary, which could allow another team to pick him up by March 1 and still have him eligible for postseason.
If that opportunity arises, “we could look at it, for sure,” Villanueva said after today’s shootaround before a 7:30 p.m. home game against the Atlanta Hawks.
“I want to play.  If it’s not here, then I’m still young, I’ve still got a lot of years of playing left.  I just want to play,” he said.
He hasn’t gotten that chance regularly for three seasons, under three different head coaches, which has left him “past frustration.”
Villanueva has appeared in 14 games this season and played 125 minutes.
“It’s hard because I love this game, I’m very passionate about this game, so it’s hard not to let my frustration out,” he said.  “But you’ve just got to come to grips with it.  They made their decision.  It is what it is.  So there’s nothing I can do about it.  There’s nothing I can do about it.  It doesn’t matter what I do in practice.  It doesn’t matter what kind of work I put in.  It doesn’t matter.”
John Loyer‘s promotion to interim coach after Maurice Cheeks was fired last week brought with it a restoration of the Will Bynum-Andre Drummond pick-and-roll combination.
That pairing worked best last year when coupled with either Villanueva or Austin Daye, forwards who offered perimeter shooting options.
Bynum said several weeks ago that he clamored to see the trio restored, to no avail.
“I’m no coach,” Villanueva said.  “I’m not gonna say nothing about it.  But amongst players, we talk amongst ourselves and, I mean, has it been looked at?  No.  I feel like it’s something that can definitely work.  But again, I’m no coach.”
A buyout could prove too expensive for Villanueva to accept.  He makes about $105,000 per game, so even if the Pistons bought him out after this three-game homestand with 25 games remaining — they currently have 28 games left — Villanueva would have to balance their offer against his $2.6 million remaining salary at that stage.
For all the criticisms, Villanueva has been a good soldier during his three years of inactivity.
“My situation ain’t so bright right now,” he said, “but I’m still living my dream.”

***

No. 5: Love records first triple-double – Kevin Love put on a show Saturday in Utah to record 37 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists to notch, surprisingly, his first career triple-double. This performance could act as ignition for a run by the Timberwolves, who sit 6.0 games out of the Western Conference playoff picture. Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on Love’s career game:

With his top two centers and starting guard Kevin Martin all out injured Saturday, Wolves coach Rick Adelman asked Love for as much as he could conceivably give him, within the bounds of reason, of course.

That turned out to be a 37-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist triple-double reached before Love sat down for the final nine minutes after he had propelled his team to a 21-point lead and its third consecutive victory.

“Just do more,” Love said.

That was the challenge that faced the All-Star forward and all of his teammates with Nikola Pekovic, Ronny Turiaf and Martin out. Love responded by scoring 22 points in the third quarter alone, when the Wolves stretched a 10-point halftime lead to as many as 21. Love made five of his six three-pointers in the third quarter.

“He’s unbelievable and because he does it all the time, sometimes we don’t realize how big it is,” teammate Ricky Rubio said.

“He put up video-game numbers. It’s just fun to play with him.”

“He was incredible, that third quarter was incredible,” Adelman said. “To get a triple-double in three quarters, that’s pretty darn good. I think he really realizes now that he can go out there, not have that many points and in a four-minute span just explode.

“That’s what we need. That’s what we needed at the start of the third quarter. He certainly dominated the game, but that third quarter was incredible.”

Love tied [Kevin] Garnett’s franchise record for consecutive 30-point games by reaching his fourth in a row, and he extended a streak of 25-point, 10-rebound games to nine, the NBA’s longest single-season mark since former Utah star Karl Malone did so in 10 consecutive games in the 1991-92 season.

“That’s good company to be in, especially when you do it in a game where you win,” said Love, who reached a career high in assists while still playing fewer than 35 minutes. “I just go out and play. I’m not looking for assists or rebounds or stats. I’m just going out there and playing hard.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Celtics coach Brad Stevens received his first NBA technical and ejection. … The Hawks sign Dexter Pittman to a 10-day contract. … Four players scored over 30 points in the Pacers-Bucks game. … Nene dunked a game-winner with .3 seconds left for the Wizards.

ICYMI of the Night: The Sacramento Kings have been one of the most fun teams to watch in the NBA this season, despite their lack of wins. This off-the-backboard alley-oop from Isaiah Thomas to Derrick Williams proves the point:


VIDEO: Backboard Jam