Posts Tagged ‘Kings’

Report: Kings nearing deal with Karl

VIDEO: George Karl could be taking the top spot on the Kings’ bench

The Kings appeared to be inching closer to hiring George Karl as coach, with ESPN.com reporting Tuesday that the deal is expected to be finalized for Karl to take over after the All-Star break.

Sacramento has two games left before the break — tonight at Chicago and Wednesday at Milwaukee — and then does not play again until Feb. 20 against the Celtics at Sleep Train Arena, making it the closest thing to the third coach of the season having a chance to get time with the team. Once it became public the Kings were making a hard a hard push for Karl, it always seemed logical  that if he did take the job it would be in that schedule pause.

Karl, who last coached in 2012-13, has been assembling a staff to join him with the Kings, according to ESPN.com, a group that would include son Koby. The elder Karl has for years, since his days with the Nuggets, liked the idea of hiring Koby and working together.

Meanwhile, DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings’ All-Star center, released a statement that denied any role in whether the Kings hire Karl, amid reports his agents made it clear to the Sacramento front office they would be against Karl getting the job. That appeared to have more to do with past issues between Karl and the agency and the state of constant instability surrounding the team than over concerns of  how Karl would fit with Cousins.

“I wasn’t consulted when the decision was made to fire Mike Malone and I’m not being consulted now,” Cousins said in the statement that was released through his agents, not the Kings, as relayed by Yahoo! “I just hope they make a decision soon and stick with it. George Karl is an experienced, proven coach and if that is who they chose to coach this team, I will support it. I do not like all these discussions in the media while we have a coach in place. It is a distraction and not fair to Coach Corbin and this team.”

Cousins is right about the logic — if management was going to give the centerpiece of the roster the power of veto, Malone never would have been fired. But a dissenting voice does not have to come from Cousins himself. Powerful agents are capable of scuttling deals that don’t have anything to do with player contracts or trades, and Cousins’ representative, Dan Fegan, is one of the most powerful in the business.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 9


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Feb. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron calls out Love … and it works | Clippers in a tail-spin | Karl and Kings close on a deal | Dwight Howard the big cheerleader?

No. 1: LeBron calls out Love … and it works — Even when he’s being a bit of a heel, LeBron James gets it right. He called out Kevin Love, who has admittedly struggled with his transition from focal point in Minnesota to third option in Cleveland behind James and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. That he took to Twitter to do it will bother some, okay plenty of folks, with old school sensibilities about how to lead. But it’s hard to argue with the results. Love had one of his best games of the season Sunday in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

LeBron James has nearly 18.7 million followers on Twitter, but a tweet he sent at 11:37 Saturday night was likely, almost certainly, directed at a single person.

His teammate, Kevin Love.

James posted to his Twitter account: “Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN. Be apart of something special! Just my thoughts.”

Those words — “fit out” and “fit in” — were the same Love used to reporters in October when discussing his adjustment to playing for the Cavaliers.

“it’s not a coincidence, man,” James told a few reporters, following the Cavaliers’ 120-105 win over the Lakers Sunday. Love scored a season-high 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

“I lost the Finals in 2007, 2011 and 2014 and that was the same day I came back to Cleveland. Put it together, seven, 11, 14. Coincidence” James said, proving his point.

For reference, it is indeed true that James announced his decision to return to Cleveland via free agency on July 11, 2014.

James was asked about his tweet following Sunday’s game and Love’s big night. James nearly recorded a triple-double with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists — three of those assists went to Love on three-pointers.

“It wasn’t even about this team, it was more about people in general,” James said initially, to a larger group of reporters. “It was just a general thought that I had, and obviously whatever thought I had people try to encrypt it and Da Vinci Code it and all that stuff. It’s just a general thought, that’s all that is.

“And people are always trying to fit out instead of fitting in, instead of being a part of something special. And that’s all that was about.”

In October, Love told reporters that “I’m just trying not to fit in so much” and that nameless Cavs teammates had told him to “fit out and just be myself.”

“Fit in” and “fit out” of course, were written in all caps in James’ tweet.


VIDEO: Kevin Love talks after the Cavs’ win over the Lakers

(more…)

Reports: Kings in ‘serious’ talks with George Karl about coaching position

karl

George Karl ranks sixth all time in NBA coaching victories with 1,131. (NBAE via Getty Images)

Having already made a coaching change once this season, it seems the Kings might be ready to jump back on the carousel.

Reports from various sources say the Sacramento front office is engaged in serious discussions with George Karl to take over as head coach of the slumping team.

From Marc Stein of ESPN.com:

Despite the fact that team owner Vivek Ranadive recently signed Tyrone Corbin to a contract through the end of this season, a nose-dive record of 1-10 over the past two-plus weeks has the perennially befuddled franchise getting itchy on the trigger finger again.

But sources say Ranadive is increasingly intrigued by the idea of bringing Karl in immediately after initially pledging to give Corbin the rest of the season to make his case.

From Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports:

Karl has professed to the Kings that he would concentrate solely on coaching and not front-office moves, a source said. He has also told the Kings that he is a huge fan of All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins.

The Kings do have some concern that Karl could get interest from the Orlando Magic for their coaching opening as well, a source said.

Karl, who ranks sixth all time in NBA coaching victories with a 1,131-756 record, is a fan favorite for the various reclamation projects he’s undertaken in his career and has let it be known that he’s interested in a return to the bench.

Back in December when the Kings fired coach Michael Malone, Karl tweeted: “I want to thank all the @SacramentoKings fans & supporters for their kind messages. It has not gone unnoticed.”

When the Magic fired coach Jacque Vaughn earlier this week, Karl tweeted: “It’s no secret I would love the opportunity to coach one more time. Love the skills and speed of the Magic and the great young players in the league!”

Evidently the possibility of Karl getting snapped in Orlando has lit the fire under Ranadive and could be bringing things to a boil.

Going into Saturday night’s game at Utah, the Kings are 17-31 record, the fourth-worst record in the Western Conference. The are 6-18 under Corbin.

NBA postpones tonight’s games in New York area due to weather conditions


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The NBA has postponed the New York Knicks-Sacramento Kings game and the Brooklyn Nets-Portland Trail Blazers game tonight due to blizzard conditions expected in the New York area.

The Kings-Knicks game has been rescheduled for Tuesday, March 3 at 7 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden. The Blazers-Nets game has been rescheduled for Monday, April 6 at 7 p.m. ET at Barclays Center.

The Trail Blazers-Nets game was originally scheduled to air tonight on NBA TV but has now been replaced by the Minnesota-Oklahoma City game at 8 p.m. ET.

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…)

Rockets likely lead contenders for recently waived Josh Smith


VIDEO: Where might Josh Smith wind up next?

The only way Josh Smith could be more of a target is if he had a glow-in-the-dark bullseye painted on his back.

After all, when the Pistons waived him Monday, he was on pace to become the first NBA player to shoot less than 40 percent from the field and 50 percent from the free-throw line while taking at least 12 shots per game.

However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a line of prospective employers from coast-to-coast as soon as the 11-year veteran hits the free-agent market when he clears waivers on Wednesday.

Here’s a look at the leading candidates:

Rockets — Probably tops on the list. Houston general manager Daryl Morey went after Smith in the summer of 2013, but could not close a sign-and-trade with Atlanta to get a deal done. With Terrence Jones sidelined, the Rockets still have the need for him at the four as a rebounder and long defender and Smith’s penchant for those wild 3-pointers might get lost in Houston’s long distance barrage. Smith could easily envision himself playing for a true title contender this season if he joins a lineup with his good buddy Dwight Howard and NBA leading scorer James Harden. Howard and Smith became close when they played on the same AAU team. Howard was also best man in Smith’s wedding. According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets would offer their $2.077 million bi-annual exception. Likely preferred destination.

Mavericks — That in-state Texas rivalry between Dallas and Houston that has already seen Chandler Parsons head north over the summer and then the Mavs win out last week in the Rajon Rondo Derby is only likely to get hotter. With Brandan Wright sent to Boston in the Rondo swap, the Mavs definitely have a need for a big body up front to come off the bench. There’s another personal connection here. Smith and Rondo played on the same Oak Hill Academy high school team. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News caught up with Mavs coach Rick Carlisle: “My opinion on Josh Smith? He’s a player whose ability I respect a lot,” Carlisle said. “And he’s had enough big games against us. He’s the kind of guy who can put a team on his back and beat you. He’s done it to us a lot of times. So I don’t know details of what happened there. But he’ll be picked up soon, I know that.” The all-in-for-this-season-Mavs should never be counted out.

Grizzlies — While two straight losses still have Memphis sitting as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, the grit and grind Grizzlies are always looking for ways to juice up their offense and get easy baskets. Smith’s size could fit in on an already bruising front line with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and when motivated to run the floor, he can finish and take some of the pressure off to toil through the shot clock for buckets.

Heat — The season-ending injury to Josh McRoberts has Miami crying out for help on the front line and in terms of raw talent, packages like Smith don’t often drop down your chimney at this time of the year. The Heat don’t have that “you’re joining a title contender cachet” as the top three pursuers in the West. But the thought is that Smith could join a lineup that really needs him and he’d be asked to play in a system suited to his skill set and not necessarily one where a squeeze would be needed to make him fit. Miami hopes to get a $2.65 million disabled-player cap exception with McRoberts headed for knee surgery. The Heat would figure they could keep the wild side of Smith’s game under wraps with the influence of team president Pat Riley, coach Erik Spoelstra and the on-court presence of veterans Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade among others.

Clippers — When asked about his interest in Smith at the team’s shoot around in San Antonio Monday, coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers simply said: “I don’t know.” The Clippers have been searching for help at the three all season, but would have only have the minimum to offer Smith. Since they are at the 15-man roster limit, they would have to waive a player before they could sign Smith. The personal connection in L.A. is assistant coach Mike Woodson, who was the head man in Atlanta when Smith had his most productive NBA seasons with the Hawks.

Kings — ESPN.com reported last summer that Sacramento tried to trade for Smith, offering various packages that included names such as Jason Thompson, Derrick Williams and Carl Landry. At the time it was said to be Kings owner Vivek Ranadive that wanted Smith to team up with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay in would certainly have been an oddly-matched Kings’ frontcourt. Sacramento could only afford to offer the veterans minimum of $1.4 million. But the biggest handicap the Kings have compared to the other Western is not being a contender.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 22


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron’s influence rubs off on Waiters | Jordan goes above and beyond for the Clippers | What happens when attack mode goes wrong for Westbrook, Thunder?

No. 1: LeBron rubbing off on Waiters? — A few weeks ago, folks questioning whether or not the Cleveland Cavaliers as presently constituted could reach its full potential this season. How quickly that narrative changes when things go well, and when LeBron James spreads his gospel of playing the right way to the likes of Dion Waiters and others. LeBron’s influence on Waiters, one of the targets of criticism when things go awry in Cleveland, was on full display in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Joe Vardon of The Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

Waiters contributed 13 points in the fourth quarter, doing so one game after he didn’t play a single minute in the second half of a win Friday.

“I mean, he’s learning every day,” James said of Waiters. “He’s a young guy. He hasn’t experienced much in this league. For him to have a game like he did today, we needed it. We needed a spark off the bench. He was aggressive, he was decisive with what he wanted to do, and it was a huge, huge boost for our bench.”

In typical Waiters fashion, when the 23-year-old was approached after the game by reporters, he was several feet from his locker and on his way out of the locker room with the hope that he wouldn’t have to talk after the game.

When James’ prediction about being a scapegoat was brought up to Waiters Sunday, he said: “I don’t remember all that, though. I remember that but I don’t remember that.”

As only Waiters could.

Waiters, the former No. 4 overall pick for Cleveland in his third season, has gotten himself in trouble for wanting to shoot too much off the dribble instead of getting shots within the flow of the offense.

He’s been dinged for not paying attention defensively. He landed in hot water by skipping the national anthem in early November and originally citing his Muslim faith as the reason, then clumsily clarified his reason a few days later.

Sources said that Waiters was unhappy on Dec. 11 in Oklahoma City when Blatt chose to start Matthew Dellavedova in place of the injured James.

In Cleveland’s 95-91 win over Brooklyn Friday night, Waiters scored four points in seven minutes; Blatt left him out in the second half to ride the hot hands of Mike Miller and Shawn Marion.

It’s been a season of adjustments for Waiters, who was moved to the bench in favor of Marion after just three games.

“I was really happy to see what Dion did tonight, and believe me, it had very little to do with the points that he scored,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said Sunday. “When he’s engaged and when he is playing freely and when he’s not allowing himself to be disturbed by other things, Dion can really play basketball and I thought he did a great job tonight.”

Waiters’ locker at The Q is next to James’ locker.

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Dec. 15


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sacramento fires Mike Malone | Kobe more like Mike than ever | Stephenson on the move already? | Cavs getting healthy at the right time

No. 1: Sacramento fires Mike Malone — Christmas promises to be interesting in Sacramento, where the coaching search is on now that Mike Malone has been fired and replaced by Ty Corbin just 24 games into this season. The production on the floor (11-13) apparently did not meet the internal expectations for a team that was trying to dig its way out of the lottery mix in the Western Conference. TNT and NBA.com’s very own David Aldridge provides some context:

The Kings, 11-13 and losers of eight of their last 10 games, had high expectations of making the playoffs this season, having signed free agent point guard Darren Collison last summer, giving forward Rudy Gay a contract extension and building around Cousins, who got a max deal from owner Vivek Ranadive last summer. Ranadive and management believed Sacramento could compete now for a playoff berth.

Sacramento got off to a good start this season. But after Cousins came down with the ailment late last month, the Kings slumped. They are currently a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the west.

Sources indicated management was not happy with the team’s style of play or the direction of the team under Malone, who was hired in 2013 and went 28-54 in his first season.

***

No. 2: Kobe more like Mike than ever — The pursuit of Michael Jordan, at least on the all-time scoring list, is over for Kobe Bryant. He handled that business Sunday in Minnesota, pushing past MJ for third on the list with a 26-point outing in a win over the Timberwolves. After years of fighting the comparisons, Kobe is looking more like Mike than ever, so says Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times:

It wasn’t as climactic as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook to make him the league’s all-time scoring leader. It wasn’t as uncontroversial as Karl Malone’s steady stroll to second on the list, one pick-and-roll at a time.

It wasn’t even guaranteed to be the biggest Bryant news event of the past week, his “soft like Charmin” rant at practice taking plenty of spins in the national sports cycle a few days earlier.

But it finally happened, 1,269 regular-season games into a career that began with a trade, Charlotte to Los Angeles, and filled with individual visions of topping Jordan in championships and accolades.

“He knows how much I’ve learned from him, from the other legends, and him in particular,” Bryant said after dunking his feet into his postgame ice bath. “That’s the most important thing to me, I think, is playing for the respect of the greats and feeling like I’m a part of that culture, part of that brotherhood.”

***

No. 3: Hornets’ Stephenson on the move? — Independence day for NBA teams eager to fix free agent mistakes has come. Today marks the fist day teams can move players signed to new contracts over the summer. And the player whose name has surfaced prominently in those discussions is Lance Stephenson. The Hornets’ swingman could be on the move, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, who reports that the Hornets are exploring all of their options:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Hornets, just 23 games into the Stephenson era, have already begun the process of searching for potential trade partners that would be willing to take the talented but enigmatic former Indiana Pacer off their‎ hands.

Although sources say no deal involving Stephenson is imminent, Monday is the first day that players signed to new contracts in July are eligible to be dealt, which typically triggers what teams leaguewide regard as “trade season” over the next two months leading into the annual February trade deadline.

One factor that could ultimately lead to a deal, despite Stephenson’s ragged and discouraging start, is the fact that the three-year, $27 million deal he received over the summer from Charlotte owner Michael Jordan is only guaranteed through next season. The third year of the deal is not guaranteed, which theoretically enhances Charlotte’s chances of finding another team willing to gamble ‎on the mercurial swingman.

Sources say that the Hornets are not in a move-him-at-all-costs mode with Stephenson but made it clear that Charlotte is ready now to abandon the experiment if a palatable deal presents itself.

Stephenson has quickly proved to be a poor fit alongside the Hornets’ established core twosome of Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, shooting 38.9 percent from the floor overall and 8-for-48 percent on 3-pointers during Charlotte’s 6-17 start.

***

No. 4: Cavaliers getting healthy at the right time — The Cleveland Cavaliers are getting better and better, literally. They are getting healthy at just the right time. The Christmas rush is upon us all and this is important a time for contenders as any in the early part of the NBA season. The Cavaliers struggled with different injuries, bumps and bruises to kick off this season. But now they are on the mend and ready to chase that top spot in the Eastern Conference standings, writes Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

All but one player fully participated in Sunday’s practice. LeBron James — having missed the Oklahoma City game Thursday with a sore left knee — said he went through the entire practice with the exception of the final drill.

Coach David Blatt pulled him out of that as a precaution.

“It’s OK,” James said of his knee after practice. “It responded well to the flight back home so I’m happy about that. I’ll get my treatment tonight and get my treatment tomorrow [before] the game.”

Guard Dion Waiters participated in Sunday’s practice, but Matthew Dellavedova wasn’t ready. He was relegated to light shooting and movement drills. On Friday, both players became ill in New Orleans and were held overnight for tests.

Waiters had abdominal pain and Dellavedova an extreme case of vomiting.

“We don’t know whether it was a virus or food poisoning,” Blatt said. “But the effect of it we know, and it was not pretty.”

The team is listing Dellavedova as questionable for Monday’s home game against Charlotte.

Mike Miller is close to returning to action after sustaining a concussion during the road win over the Knicks on Dec. 4. He is in the fourth of five stages in the league’s concussion recovery protocol.

“We were able to get him out there today for some 3-on-3 here after practice,” Blatt said. “And tomorrow we’ll evaluate his response to that and know where to go for the next step.”

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Kevin McHale has nothing but love for Trevor Ariza … The Wizards are as good as they’ve been in a decade, in so many ways … Warriors needed overtime for Sweet 16 … Tobias Harris has emerged as the Magic’s go-to-guy …  Chris Bosh calf injury is latest blow for injury-riddled Miami HeatDerek Fisher says Knicks players are more focused on the future than this season? … Steve Kerr says the Warriors are not chasing a 72-win season …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Duncan’s triple-double lifts Spurs | Cavs overcome to win sixth straight | Thunder’s playoff chase is on

No. 1: Duncan still getting it done for Spurs — Kobe Bryant isn’t the only NBA silver fox still getting it done. Tim Duncan’s got a few tricks left his bag, too. His triple-double helped lift the Spurs in a huge road win against Memphis on Friday. Did someone say old man River Walk … ? The Spurs aren’t going anywhere as long as Duncan can still do things like this. Dan McCarney of the Express News puts it all in context:

The Spurs overcame several shaky moments and the loss of Tony Parker to a mild hamstring strain to outlast Memphis at FedEx Forum behind Tim Duncan’s triple double.

Duncan had his first triple-double since 2010 and fourth overall — eighth including playoffs — with 14 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. He is the second-oldest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, trailing only Karl Malone’s at 40 with the Lakers in 2003.

The Spurs (14-5) never trailed as they took a big early lead and then repeatedly held Memphis (15-4) off down the stretch. They did so in large part to a season-high 14 3-pointers, which helped the Spurs manage an early turnover spate and, of course, Parker’s departure.

Parker left in the second half after scoring 14 points. His availability for Saturday’s home game against Minnesota was not immediately known.

Cory Joseph picked up the slack with 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, while Manu Ginobili had one of his best games of the season with 17 points, six rebounds, seven assists and five 3-pointers. Danny Green added 16.

It was Memphis’ first home loss since February of last season, a span of 22 games. The Spurs have now won 15 of the past 17 meetings, including the postseason, since Memphis’ upset in the first round of the 2011 playoffs.


VIDEO: Tim Duncan dials up a time machine performance against the Grizzlies

***

No. 2: Cavaliers overcome all obstacles to win sixth straight — Nothing was going to keep the Cleveland Cavaliers from a sixth straight win. Not the Toronto Raptors, rush hour traffic in Toronto, a star-studded crew in town for a tribute to Nelson Mandela or any other obstacles standing in the way of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and the hottest team in the Eastern Conference … right now. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group explains:

Kyrie Irving said legs were a little tired. James Jones said there was some fatigue.

The Cavaliers went to the buzzer with the New York Knicks the night before, escaping with a road win. The Toronto Raptors were waiting at home for the Cavaliers, having not played since Wednesday.

Cleveland experienced complications getting out of New York and arriving in Toronto in a timely fashion. The team landed on Canadian soil at approximately 3:30 a.m. It took another 45 minutes to an hour for them to make it to their hotel.

On back-to-backs, there are no shootaround sessions, but there was a pregame team walk-through centered on how to stop the Raptors, the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Most of the players said securing an eight-hour sleep day was virtually impossible. The Raptors looked to be in good shape.

“It’s only tough if you make excuses about it,” the Cavs’ LeBron James said.

***

No. 3: Thunder playoff chase is on with full cast — Even if takes Russell Westbrook doing the heavy lifting by his lonesome for a few more games, the Thunder’s playoff chase is on. And that means every win counts, even the ones over a bad 1-18 Philadelphia team, each and every win matters. Kevin Durant struggled in his second game back but Westbrook took matters into his own hands and led the way, with a huge boost from the bench, to help the Thunder get a must-win in their effort to climb the charts. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman has more:

Against the Sixers, Durant looked rusty and the Thunder played extremely sloppy. But overall, OKC brought the required energy. It played with a desperate attitude at the right times. And against hapless Philly, that was about all that was necessary for a 103-91 victory, improving the Thunder to 6-13 on the season and dropping the Sixers to 1-18.

“Today was the first win,” Durant said, as if confident it could be the start of a needed hot streak.

OKC, though, got it despite Durant’s lowest scoring output since April 2009.

After dropping in a three on the game’s first possession, the four-time scoring champ went ice cold. He made only three of his 11 shots in 29 underwhelming minutes, looking sluggish on defense and committing a pair of strange turnovers. He was out of rhythm and, following suit, his team looked a bit out of sync.

But the Thunder got another strong effort from its improving bench and an energy boost from the energizer bunny.

With the Sixers threatening the Thunder’s lead throughout the second half, Russell Westbrook shouldered the load. Sensing the struggles of his superstar running mate, Westbrook made it a point to take over offensively.

In the third quarter alone, Westbrook scored 11 of his game-high 27 points – putting his head down and getting to the rim on numerous occasions. He had 14 free throws in the game and 10 in the second half.

“Just trying to attack, man,” Westbrook said.

His mid-game attitude change seemed to coincide with a back-and-forth trash-talking battle with second-year Sixers guard Michael Carter-Williams. The two chirped at each other in a similar way during a game in OKC last season. Then Westbrook went on to drop a triple-double in an easy win.

Carter-Williams came at Westbrook again on Friday. And the results weren’t much better.

“That just added a little bit more fuel to the fire,” Durant warned. “Young dudes in this league tend to bark a lot. I think (Russ) put him in his place, let him know who the best point guard in the league is.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Magic Johnson agrees with LeBron, it’s time for pro athletes to speak up …   … Kobe swears he wasn’t recruiting Rajon Rondo, they were just talking hoopsJohn Starks, yes John Starks, says it’s time for better execution for the Knicks …

ICYMI of the Night: The old man gets his revenge in Smitty’s Top 5 Plays Under The Rim. Andre Miller in the house, as they used to say back in his day … 


VIDEO: Smitty’s Top Plays 5 Under The Rim

 

 

Morning shootaround — Nov. 16


VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron loves seeing the Hawks| Knicks ready to fight for Marc Gasol? | CP3 rescues the Clippers | Rockets talking mental toughness

No. 1: LeBron loves seeing the Hawks — Perhaps this is his way of taking out his frustrations on the San Antonio Spurs. Since he couldn’t do it against the real Spurs, LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers went in on the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night in record fashion. LeBron, as Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group makes clear, loves seeing the Hawks:

LeBron James’ body language spoke volumes Saturday night.

Consider what was said in the second quarter of the Cavaliers’ 127-94 thumping of the Atlanta Hawks.

Cleveland was on its way to a 71-point first half, had drained its first 11 three-pointers, and would end the half with assists on 22 of 25 field goals. James wasn’t sprinting so much as he was gliding around the court, tossing one-handed, no-look, razor-sharp passes into traffic for layups.

The way he was moving around the court, his leg churning like pistons and eyes up, looking for open teammates with a little grin on his face – was a look seldom (if ever seen) on James since he returned to the Cavaliers.

He looked like he was having fun.

“I have fun every time I step out on the basketball court – win, lose, or draw,” James said. “I have a love for the game, I have fun, I show it on my face sometimes more than others. Inside, the kid is always excited to put another uniform on and go out and play.”

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No. 2: Knicks ready to fight for Marc Gasol? — Leave it up the Knicks, a team struggling in every facet in this early season, to worry about free agency before Thanksgiving. They are already poised to pick a fight with the reigning world champion San Antonio Spurs … for Marc Gasol, who by the way is busy leading his Memphis Grizzlies to the top of the Western Conference standings right now. Those little details won’t stop Knicks Nation from dreaming about what could be. Frank Isola of the Daily News has more:

Phil Jackson has made a career out of taking pot shots at the San Antonio Spurs so even if the Knicks president doesn’t respect Greg Popovich’s club he should fear them.

The Knicks’ main free-agent target, Marc Gasol, is also being targeted as a possible replacement to Tim Duncan assuming Ol’ Man Riverwalk retires this summer. The Knicks will be players for the Memphis center mainly because of the first three rules of real estate — location, location, location — and because Gasol is familiar with both Jackson and Derek Fisher since older brother Pau spent the best years of his career with the Lakers.

Otherwise, staying in Memphis will be appealing to Gasol, whose team is a legitimate championship contender. The Grizzlies can offer Gasol the most money, and he has grown to love the city, having lived there since high school when Pau broke in with the Grizzlies.

Coincidently, Pau considered the Spurs this past summer but took more money to join the Chicago Bulls, much to Jackson’s chagrin. When Pau signed, Jackson tweeted a photo of lightning striking the city of Chicago. He might end up tossing his iPhone in the East River if Marc signs with the Spurs, arguably the best run franchise in all of pro sports. They also have the nucleus to remain a contender for years to come.

Signing with the Knicks strictly for basketball reasons is a tougher sell, although his Spanish teammate, Jose Calderon, will be a key part of the recruiting pitch. History, however, is not on the Knicks’ side. The last major free agent to make a significant impact was Allan Houston all the way back in the summer of the 1996. Back then, Jeff Van Gundy was winning big as the head coach, and Jim Dolan was learning to play the guitar, not running the Garden. Crazy coincidence, no?

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No. 3:CP3 to the rescue for Clippers — It’s an act Chris Paul will probably have to perform more often than he wants to this season, rescuing the Los Angeles Clippers from despair the way he did against the Phoenix Suns. But that’s the burden he signed on for when he became the face of the franchise. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times explains:

After taking four days off to collect themselves after a difficult loss to San Antonio, Chris Paul made sure the Clippers played better basketball.

Paul took over the game in the third quarter and then saved the Clippers from imploding in the fourth, pushing Los Angeles to a 120-107 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night at Staples Center.

Paul scored a season-high 32 points on 10-for-13 shooting, including five for six on three-point shots. He had nine assists and five rebounds in helping the Clippers score a season high in points.

When the Clippers’ 26-point lead was cut to 11 points late in the fourth quarter, Paul went to work.

He scored seven consecutive points in the fourth to help the Clippers pull out a victory in which six players scored in double figures.

He made two free throws, a three-pointer and a jumper.

The Clippers outscored the Suns, 42-20, in the third quarter in opening their big lead.

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No. 4: Rockets talking mental toughness — The Houston Rockets have clearly turned a corner on the court from last season. They look every bit as fit to chase a championship as we thought they should have and would have a year ago. But the real test is about the mental toughness needed to win it all. And the Rockets are working on that, as should be expected after a narrow escape against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. Jenny Dial-Creech of the Houston Chronicle explains:

After barely pulling out an 88-87 win over Philadelphia on Friday night, the Rockets practiced Saturday in preparation for their third set of back-to-back road games this season.

On Sunday, the Rockets will play at Oklahoma City and on Monday they will travel to Memphis.

“We already know these are two playoff teams,” guard Jason Terry said. “Both of these teams, barring they stay healthy, will be in the playoffs this year. Oklahoma is a tough team. We know their system very well.

“Memphis is a division opponent. It is sort of a rivalry. You have to say that because they are in the division so you never want to lose division games. It will be a tough challenge because they have two great big men that are the toughest two tandem in the league and you have a great, young point guard in Conley who pushes the tempo and is always on the attack.”

Terry said that headed into the road trip, he felt the Rockets were mentally stronger than ever thanks to the close call against the Sixers.

“We grew as a team,” he said. “On this journey that we go on through the regular season, there are going to be times where your mental toughness is tested and (Friday) was one of those times. We got back late from Mexico City. We didn’t practice. We came right back here and the game came so fast against a team that lost by 50 the night before. They were ready, they were hungry, they challenged us and we weathered the storm. I learned a lot about us, about our mental toughness. It’s good to see, and it’s good to see early on in the season. It won’t be the last test, but we passed the first one.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Magic finally get Victor Oladipo back in their starling lineup … The Chicago Bulls love what Pau Gasol brings to the Windy City  … Bradley Beal targeting a return to practice this week with the Wizards … Warriors coach Steve Kerr is keeping his (starting lineup) options open … The Milwaukee Bucks’ dedication to defense is paying off