Posts Tagged ‘Kobe Bryant’

Blogtable: Statue-Worthy Players

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


BLOGTABLE: MVP Race | Post-All-Star Sloppy Play | Statue-Worthy Players



VIDEO:  Bill Russell statue unveiled in Boston (2013)

> The Hawks this week will erect a statue of Dominique Wilkins outside Philips Arena. In your opinion, who’s next in line to be immortalized in bronze?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d prefer to discuss what the next lofty tribute will be, now that statue-izing has trumped jersey number-retiring and perhaps even Hall of Fame immortalizing. How shall the really, really, really, super-special stars be honored to separate them from the proliferation of bronze figurines standing around outside sports arenas? Naming rights to the buildings themselves? Perpetual blimps that hover over the hero’s city on game days or, heck, why not 24/7/365? How ’bout team nicknames: the Boston Russells, the Chicago Jordans and so on? Maybe we need something on a grander scale, sized like the Collosus of Rhodes or the Statue of Liberty, only it’s Shaquille O’Neal standing astride the I-10 near downtown L.A. As you can tell, I don’t really care who gets the next statue, and no offense to ‘Nique, but we’re rapidly approaching the day when even Paul Mokeski and Chris Gatling get them.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe most obvious answer is Isiah Thomas, leader of the two-time champion Detroit Bad Boys and the best “little man” to ever play the game. But I’m also taking a stand for the pre-MTV generation and saying it’s long overdue for the Wizards to honor Wes Unseld. Go ahead, kids.  Look up those old videos of the 6-foot-7 Unseld using his brute strength and gritty determination to set teeth-rattling picks, rebound and throw some of the best outlet passes to start a fast break ever.  The Hall of Famer played 984 games, all with Baltimore/Washington franchise, leading the team to four Finals and the 1978 title, when he was named MVP of The Finals.  For 13 seasons, Unseld helped put the Bullets on a pedestal in the NBA and it’s time the franchise returned the favor.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Jerry Buss. The statue debate has become particularly passionate in Los Angeles anyway, a new level of status symbol beyond having a uniform number retired, and Buss clearly deserves that ultimate tribute. He was more than an owner. He steered his franchise to the unique glamour personality that lives on today while maintaining a championship level on the court from generation to generation. Buss was such a shrewd businessman and innovator that he became one of the few owners to make the Hall of Fame. It’s not just the Lakers who wouldn’t have been the same without him. Basketball in Los Angeles wouldn’t have been the same. The NBA wouldn’t have been the same. Bronze that man.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Kinda surprised David Robinson and maybe also George Gervin aren’t bronzed already in San Antonio, given what they’ve meant to basketball and the community. I’d vote them, plus Allen Iverson in Philly and Isiah Thomas in Detroit. But we might have to wait until Staples Center makes room in the crowded courtyard for Kobe in 5 years or so.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Tim Duncan, the anchor of five championship teams and at least 16 50-win seasons, is going to be the most deserving once he retires. For now, I’d say it’s either Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing. And since Barkley’s best was split between Philadelphia and Phoenix, a Ewing statue in the Madison Square Garden lobby would be most appropriate.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com​Having grown up in Bad Boys country during the 80s and 90s, I’m going with Isiah Thomas. Getting bronzed in Detroit (Auburn Hills for you sticklers) would be a huge step in a reparations program that should be underway for Isisah getting screwed out of his spot on The Dream Team. It’s tough to make up for one of the most egregious slights in the history of organized sports, but it would be a great gesture. Isiah delivered titles to Detroit during the most competitive era the NBA has ever seen. He went up against the giants from two decades and put the Pistons, Detroit and the entire state of Michigan on the basketball map (how’s that for 80s/90s slang?) and deserves to be recognized for doing so.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI’m not big on this idea that great athletes are automatically deserving of statues. Aren’t there more important contributors to be idolized? But if Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia are building them for their champions from the 1980s, then surely Detroit ought to be designing one for Isiah Thomas.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI am of a younger generation than some of my fellow scribes, so my thoughts will probably swing a bit more current than some others here. I’d like to see a Shaq statue in Los Angeles, and a Kobe one not long after that. Dirk has to get one in Dallas when he walks away, right? But those said, how about the Sixers erecting a statue of Allen Iverson? They’re doing their best to lose games and not be good right now, why not throw their fans a bone and build a monument to The Answer right there outside the stadium, or even downtown somewhere?

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 191) Featuring Dennis Schroder

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — League or peer justice, which one is the right answer for James Harden‘s kick below the belt on LeBron James during the Houston Rockets-Cleveland Cavaliers/MVP showdown Sunday.

The enlightened crowd would obviously go with the NBA reaction, which was to suspend Harden for one game (Tuesday night’s Rockets visit to Philips Arena to face the Atlanta Hawks).

Here at the Hang Time Podcast, we don’t always fall on the right side of enlightenment.

We’d have handled it the old-fashioned way, the way they did in a bygone NBA era where players didn’t hesitate to dole out their own brand of justice when someone felt like they were wronged by someone else. That’s probably why we are not in charge of the NBA’s discipline dispersal, among other things.

It’s probably best that we stick to the discussion of these issues. And these days, there is no shortage of outstanding issues where the NBA is concerned. From the injuries in Chicago to Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson to the ongoing MVP race involving Harden, James, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook to vetting the title contenders in both the Eastern and Western conferences to our opinions on Kobe Bryant‘s latest cinematic endeavor, we cover it all on Episode 191 of the Hang Time Podcast … featuring Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder.

We go through all of that and then some on Episode 191 of The Hang Time Podcast … 

 

LISTEN HERE:

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

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

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Morning shootaround — March 2


VIDEO: Highlights from March 2 of all the action around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Harden humbles James, Cavs | Another blow for already bruised Bulls | Blazers’ Lillard back in rhythm | Warriors are true believers after Boston comeback

No. 1: Harden humbles James, Cavs — The real “King James” stood up Sunday. And the crown didn’t fit the head of LeBron James, not on this day and not with James Harden and the Houston Rockets prevailing in an overtime thriller that lived up to every second of the billed MVP battle between the superstars at the center of this epic race. Statement game? Absolutely. Harden said so and our very own Fran Blinebury weaves the tale of the rise of the man who would be (the new) king:

Rough. Tough. Physical. Contentious. Dirty.

“Yeah, it’s like street ball,” said James Harden. “You grew up playing games like that.”

If Harden keeps growing up any faster, they’re going to have to raise the rafters of Toyota Center just so he doesn’t go straight through the roof.

He’s scored more points in a game this season than he did Sunday. Grabbed more rebounds. Dished out more assists. Played more artistically.

But never been more ferocious, more driven.

You’re damn right that 105-103 overtime win means more when it comes against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

As messages go, this one couldn’t have been delivered more emphatically if it had come wrapped around a brick and tossed through a plate glass window or attached to a flaming arrow.

“M-V-P.”

While there may still be a horse race for the award this season, there’s no doubt which thoroughbred is now galloping ahead of the field.

Less than 72 hours after James stated his case by outscoring Golden State’s Stephen Curry 42-18 in a routine win by the Cavs, Harden provided his response.

James scored more points (37 to Harden’s 33), but took far more shots (35 to 18) to get them. Playing without point guard Kyrie Irving, James controlled the ball like a yo-yo on a string and tried to do too much. Playing without center Dwight Howard, as he’s done for much of the season, Harden simply opened his arms wide to embrace all of the things that had to be done.

“Every time you watch [Harden] play, you’re watching history,” Rockets Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon had said a few hours before the tip. “He’s doing something spectacular. Every night the best defensive player on the other team has to guard him and also the game plan of the other team is how to stop him. And he’s still finding a way to be effective and giving them an opportunity to win every time. So he is definitely the MVP.”

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 26


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Feb. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Garnett talks the talk upon return | Timeline for Rose | Sullinger vows to trim down | Carter-Williams caught off-guard | Kobe: NBA was out to get Lakers

No. 1: Garnett talks the talk upon returnKevin Garnett’s return to Minnesota was a success, in regard to the atmosphere in the Target Center and the result on the scoreboard. And Garnett’s impact on the Wolves went well beyond the five points, eight rebounds and two blocks he tallied in less than 19 minutes. NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner made his own return to the Twin Cities and wrote about the conversations Garnett had (and will continue to have) with his new teammates

“Today it was just so over-the-top. I did not know the city missed me like this. I don’t think you could ever wish or ever think that a city loves you like this, but to see it is reality and I am very appreciative.”

That was the storybook of Garnett’s return.

The playbook? That was all the basketball stuff Garnett participated in and, even more so, didn’t participate in. He logged 18:38 in his first game back, about what coach Flip Saunders has in mind for most nights. Which meant that Garnett sat, and often will sit, on the bench for 29:22, watching this team he’s getting to know on the fly.

It went like that all evening. Whoever sat down next to Garnett got an earful of … you name it. Defensive positioning. Ball-skill fundamentals. Fun with phonics.

“That’s what I do,” Garnett said. “I was just trying to give the guys some insight, if not perception. Show ’em what I was seeing. Just slow ’em down a little. Nothing extra or different from what I usually do.”

***

No. 2: Friday could bring surgery and timeline for Rose — The Bulls received brutal news on Tuesday when they learned that Derrick Rose had a torn meniscus in his right knee for the second time in 15 months. But they might not lose Rose for nearly as long this time, and there’s a chance he could return in the postseason. We’ll all know what the timeline is after Rose has surgery, which could come Friday, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune

Thibodeau said surgery hasn’t been scheduled, but sources said while it’s mostly Rose’s decision, it will happen sooner rather than later, likely Friday because of minimal swelling. Team physician Brian Cole, who also repaired Rose’s first torn meniscus in November 2013, will perform the procedure. Rose underwent surgery two days after that injury.

An official timeline for Rose’s return won’t be known until Cole performs the surgery, but multiple sources expressed strong belief that this tear isn’t as significant as the one Rose had in November 2013. Sources added the expectation is that this procedure will remove a small cartilage tear, suggesting a shorter rehabilitation period.

Two other sources said Rose was told after the initial surgery that a future tear was possible, if not likely, and that a second procedure typically involves “cutting” or “snipping” the damage. That generally involves a rehabilitation process of three to eight weeks.

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No. 3: Sullinger vows to trim downJared Sullinger is out for the season with a stress fracture in his left foot and has averaged just 57 games in his first three years in the league. The foot injury isn’t related to the back issue he dealt with as a rookie, unless you choose to blame his weight for both. Sullinger doesn’t think his weight was a factor, but says he plans on using his time off to get in better shape, as Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston writes

“Freak accidents happen. I just have to come back better,” Sullinger said.

Pressed on what he hoped to get out of recovery, Sullinger added: “A little bit of everything — change the physique, change the way I look. That’s the biggest thing, I think. I’m tired of looking on camera and just seeing how I look, seeing how I play during extended minutes. Conditioning is going to be a big factor. Conditioning is going to be hard because all I can do is ride the bike. We’re going to find ways, we’re going to find ways to get me in the best shape possible.”

Sullinger had pledged to get in better shape this summer and did report for camp looking trimmer, but appears to have added weight during the season.

“I got in better shape, but there’s another level to it,” Sullinger said. “There’s always another level to everything. I just have to take it to another level. This year I came back in a little bit better shape. Obviously, it wasn’t good enough. Now I just have to get back to the grit and grind, kind of break my body down just to build it back up. I think that’s what I’m going to do this summer.”

***

No. 4: Carter-Williams thought he was part of Sixers’ long-term plan — In his first game with his new team, Michael Carter-Williams got a win against his old team, scoring seven points and dishing out eight assists in the Bucks’ 104-88 victory over the Sixers. Before the game, Carter-Williams said that he thought he was part of the long-term plan in Philly, and that coach Brett Brown might have disagreed with Sam Hinkie‘s decision to trade the Rookie of the Year for the Lakers’ top-five protected pick. Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News has the story

He was reflective on his time in Philly, and seemed to be still somewhat baffled at what went down with him getting moved to Milwaukee in a three-team trade in which the Sixers ended up with a first-round pick from the Lakers, which is top-five-protected this season, top-three-protected for the next two seasons.

“I think the ultimate thing that it comes down to is coach Brown coaches and Sam [Hinkie] does the moves,” said MCW. “I think that’s what it comes down to and I think that’s the agreement and that’s all I really know. I think that if it was up to coach Brown, I don’t think I would have been moved, to be honest.

“I was pretty up to speed and pretty involved (disbelieving laughs). As far as I heard I was involved in the long-term plan, especially with me, Joel (Embiid) and Nerlens (Noel). It was really us three that was the core group and were told that we we’re going to be (there) for a pretty long time and we really want to build around. I understand that things change and plans change. I guess that Sam and the rest of those guys thought that to move me was the best move. That’s on them and it is what it is.”

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No. 5: Kobe: NBA was out to get the LakersKobe Bryant certainly isn’t afraid to express his opinion. And you might say that he’s a little bitter about the events of 2011. In an interview/profile in this month’s GQ (Warning: some naughty language within), Bryant tells Chuck Klosterman that the ’11 lockout and subsequent veto of the Chris Paul trade were meant to “restrict the Lakers,” and only the Lakers …

The Lakers are not going to make the playoffs this year, and it seems unlikely that they will challenge for a title next year. So if titles are your only goal, why even play these last two seasons?

I know what Mitch [Kupchak, the Lakers GM] tells me. I know what Jim and Jeanie [Buss, the team owners] tell me. I know that they are hell-bent about having a championship caliber team next season, as am I.

But how could that possibly be done? Doesn’t the league’s financial system dictate certain limitations?

Well, okay: Look at the [2011] lockout. That lockout was made to restrict the Lakers. It was. I don’t care what any other owner says. It was designed to restrict the Lakers and our marketability.

The Lakers specifically, or teams like the Lakers?

There is only one team like the Lakers. Everything that was done with that lockout was to restrict the Lakers’ ability to get players and to create a sense of parity, for the San Antonios of the world and the Sacramentos of the world. But a funny thing happened, coming out of that lockout: Even with those restrictions, the Lakers pulled off a trade [for Chris Paul] that immediately set us up for a championship, a run of championships later, and which saved money. Now, the NBA vetoed that trade. But the Lakers pulled that **** off, and no one would have thought it was even possible. The trade got vetoed, because they’d just staged the whole lockout to restrict the Lakers. Mitch got penalized for being smart. But if we could do that…

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wesley Matthews came up big in a big game for the Blazers … after which the Spurs’ Tony Parker admitted that he’s strugglingEvan Turner messed around and got a triple-doubleGeorge Karl needs a little patienceRajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle had a second angry exchange after the Mavs’ win on Tuesday … Mitch McGary is a hustler, homey … and the Suns will have new uniforms for Thursday’s game against the Thunder.

ICYMI: Rookie Markel Brown showed us that they may have picked the wrong Net for the dunk contest:


VIDEO: Play of the Day – Markel Brown

Morning shootaround — Feb. 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s action from around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Derrick Rose needs surgery again | Rajon Rondo takes a seat in Dallas | Gortat, Wizards are reeling | Lakers can’t win for winning

No. 1: Derrick Rose needs surgery again — He is Gale Sayers, the talented Chicago Bears running back whose career was interrupted and ultimately cut short by knee troubles. That’s who Derrick Rose is, and in a cruel coincidence, both represented Chicago teams, albeit in far different decades. Sayers suffered his torn ACL before modern medical practices made it possible for athletes to recover within a year, yet returned anyway and rushed for 1,032 yards before another knee issue put him on the sidelines for good. This will be Rose’s third knee operation in almost 34 months, and for the second time will be to repair a meniscus tear. The news broke late Tuesday night and as you could imagine, cast a pall on the NBA. For the last three years we’ve only seen glimpses of the player who won the 2011 MVP, and for the last three years the Bulls have had to wait on Rose before attempting to take a realistic step toward a title. Now? Well, after they added Pau Gasol and watched Jimmy Butler blossom into an All-Star, the Bulls had title aspirations this season and merely waited on Rose to be his old self. That wait must continue. A headline in the Chicago Sun-Times summed it up: “Third Time’s The Harm.” Here’s Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago:

“The good news for the Bulls is that they are better equipped to handle Rose’s absence than they have been in years past. Jimmy Butler earned his first All-Star berth this season and has taken his game to another level. Pau Gasol earned a starting nod in the All-Star Game and has been the Bulls’ most consistent offensive player this season. Joakim Noah is playing the best basketball of his season after struggling with the lingering effects of offseason knee surgery.

The Bulls are deeper and more talented than they have been in years, but the larger issue for them might be the mental impact Rose’s latest setback has on the group.

As much as the Bulls thrive in the underdog role, they understand what Rose’s absence means. The idea that they could win an NBA championship without Rose leading the way while playing at a high level like he did against the Cleveland Cavaliers before the All-Star break seems far-fetched at best, impossible at worst.

From a broader perspective, the latest Rose setback could have some larger ramifications on the organization. The tension surrounding Thibodeau and the Bulls’ front office remains at an all-time high. There is a widespread belief around the league that if Thibodeau and the Bulls don’t make a deep run in the Eastern Conference playoffs, then the two sides may agree to part ways at the end of the season. Or they could seek a trade with another team to get compensation to allow Thibodeau out of the final two years of his contract.

With Rose possibly out for the remainder of the season, it’s hard to see the Bulls being able to make a deep run without their former MVP.

With that in mind, if Rose does have to miss the remainder of the year, it would also likely mark the end of this particular championship window for this group. No matter what happens with Rose in the coming days, his uncertain health status continues to linger over everything the Bulls do. So does Thibodeau’s uncertain status in Chicago.

(more…)

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 190) Featuring Carmelo Anthony

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The best and craziest seven days of most any NBA season is the Friday of All-Star Weekend through the 3 p.m. trade deadline the following Thursday.

New York did its part, hosting a frigid but fantastic 64th All-Star Game in the way only New York can. And the trade deadline, the busiest in league history with a whopping 39 players involved in transactions, certainly did not disappoint.

Now that the dust has cleared a bit, we can get back to the business of one of the most intriguing NBA regular season in recent memory. And we do so on Episode 190 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring (recently shut down for the season) New York Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony.

Heat All-Star Chris Bosh (blood clots on his lungs) has also seen his season come to an end, joining Anthony and Kobe Bryant as top shelf stars who will watch the remainder of this season in fine threads. Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant‘s (another foot procedure) could be in jeopardy. And yet there is still an endless supply of story lines to sustain us for the remainder of this season (postseason included, of course).

We dig down, as always, here at headquarters, trying to make sense of it all — including all of that trade deadline wackiness that we’re sure you are still trying to make sense of (here’s a cheat sheet for you, NBA.com’s Trade Tracker, complete with analysis of each and every deal that went down).

Enjoy all of that and more on Episode 190 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Carmelo Anthony …

 

LISTEN HERE:

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

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

(Nobody does Twitter like the Zen Master):

 

Morning shootaround — Feb. 23


VIDEO: Highlights of Sunday’s action from around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Everybody is knocking the Knicks these days, even Phil | Emotional Heat rallying behind Bosh, Dragic | Westbrook takes control in Oklahoma City | Fire still burns for Scott (and Bryant) in Lakers-Celtics rivalry

No. 1:  Everybody is knocking the Knicks these days, even Phil — You, too, Phil Jackson? As if the Knicks didn’t have it bad enough this season, now their boss is taking shots at them. In the aftermath of Sunday’s woeful performance at Madison Square Garden against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the critics were out in full force on social media and everywhere else. And that includes Jackson, who took to Twitter to level the team he’s been charged with fixing. Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com provides the dirty details:

 

The Knicks lost by 18 points to the Cavs on Sunday to extend their losing streak to seven games. New York is an NBA-worst 10-45.

Sunday’s loss to Cleveland might have hit Jackson a little harder than others.

J.R. Smith — the ex-Knick Jackson traded away in a salary dump last month — torched the Knicks for 17 points and four assists in the blowout. Smith hooked up with Iman Shumpert — the fourth-year guard Jackson sent to Cleveland in the same trade — for an eye-popping alley-oop in the fourth quarter that is sure to make all the highlight shows.

The Knicks, on the other hand, couldn’t muster any highlights for their home crowd. They fell behind by 19 in the first quarter and shot just 37 percent from the floor overall, including 3-for-19 (16 percent) from beyond the arc.

New York is well on its way to establishing the worst record in franchise history (the previous mark is 21 wins).

It’s been a nightmare season for Jackson, who stated publicly at the beginning of the season that he believed the Knicks were a playoff team.

***

No. 2: Emotional Heat rallying behind Bosh, Dragic — Chris Bosh‘s season is over. His Miami Heat teammates digested that blow during an exhausting long weekend (from the trade deadline through a weekend loss to the New Orleans Pelicans). And now they have begun the process of trying to recover emotionally from the news that the blood clots in Bosh’s lungs will change all of their lives to welcoming new point Goran Dragic and trying to salvage this season with a playoff berth. They will find out what they are made of this season, what with all of the adversity they will have dealt with by the regular season’s end. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald provides some perspective:

After an emotional 55-hour whirlwind in which Miami split back to-back games, acquired a former third-team All-NBA point guard and learned that All-Star forward Chris Bosh will miss the rest of the season with blood clots in his lungs, most Heat players resisted any temptation to exhale or enjoy a lazy Sunday morning.

Instead, they convened at AmericanAirlines Arena for a voluntary on-court session designed to expedite the acclimation of new Heat point guard Goran Dragic, in advance of Monday’s home game against Philadelphia.

“One of my biggest priorities will be to make Goran feel comfortable as soon as we can,” coach Erik Spoelstra said Sunday afternoon at the Heat’s annual Family Festival. “That’s why we came in… [for] an optional workout that most of the guys showed up to.

“We’ve had to do this already, three, four, five times, where we’ve had to try to get organized with a different lineup, and we’ve become pretty efficient in fast-tracking that process. How long that will take for him, I don’t know, but it’s a priority for me. He’s a high-IQ player. He’ll be able to pick thing up quickly, find out where he can be aggressive and help the team, and that’s what [Sunday] was about.”

Dragic bemoaned his Heat debut Saturday in which he scored 12 points (all in the second half) and shot 4 for 11 with one assist and one turnover in 33 minutes in Miami’s 105-91 loss to New Orleans.

“It was tough. Sometimes you didn’t know where to go,” he said.

Spoelstra noted that “much of our plan early in the season was built around either Chris Bosh or Josh [McRoberts] having the ball in their hands and facilitating the next action. Obviously, that is a big change now.”

On Saturday, Spoelstra at times experimented with a smaller lineup with Luol Deng, Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers paired with one natural power-rotation player.

“It gives us an opportunity to make some plays off the dribble,” Spoelstra said. “As we move forward, we’ll find out if that’s something I go to more. It wasn’t necessarily successful [Saturday]. The alternative wasn’t necessarily successful, either, so I can’t really gauge that right now. But I can certainly see that being a strength of ours, having three guys that can make plays.”

Dragic was often at his best for Phoenix when he pushed the ball and played at a faster tempo. He now joins a team that was last in the league in average possessions per game. So does Spoelstra want to play faster?

“The team will tell us ultimately, but we want to play to his strengths,” Spoelstra said. “We have to defend. We have to be able to play off of misses.”

Regarding the Heat’s pace, Dragic said: “I talked with coach, and I want to play a little bit faster. But it takes time, of course, because last year with LeBron [James], all those guys played fast, but with all the situations with the injuries, coach put that system in that’s slow. Everyone needs to adjust. First of all, I need to adjust to all the players because I’m new here.”

Wade said Sunday he would be “fine” with running more: “When a team misses, let’s get out and see if we can get in transition and get some easy buckets. I need some easy buckets, especially right now to get my rhythm back.”

Wade loved the trade for Dragic but admits “I have to get used to a guy that can create so much attention by putting the ball on the floor. I’m normally that guy.

“It was different when LeBron was here because I was in a different place on the court. Now I have to kind of get used to playing with him and vice versa. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to take some trial and error, but I think we can make it up with his ability to attack and finish. It’s going to be good for us. He’s dynamic.”

***


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook’s not a point guard, huh?

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No. 3: Westbrook takes control in Oklahoma City — The question has lingered for years, whose team is it anyway in Oklahoma City? Kevin Durant is the MVP, the star of stars. But Russell Westbrook has always been their emotional leader, the guy who makes them go, even when Durant is on the floor and healthy. Now that Durant is sidelined again with foot soreness, Westbrook has taken complete control of the situation and is driving the Thunder up the standings. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman has more:

A fabulous first quarter was quickly coming undone.

Six empty possessions, marred by four missed shots and two turnovers, to start the second quarter were all Scotty Brooks needed to see. All the momentum the Thunder had constructed in closing the opening period on a 24-6 run was being squandered before his eyes. An 18-point lead had been trimmed to 12.

And so Brooks did what any sensible coach would do.

He reinserted Russell Westbrook.

And Westbrook proceeded to do what he’ll need to do for at least the next week while Kevin Durant recovers from a second surgery on his troublesome right foot.

He dominated play.

Westbrook scored a game-high 21 points, tied his career high of 17 assists and added eight rebounds to lead the Thunder to an authoritative 119-94 win over Denver on Sunday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“He was nearly flawless,” Brooks said.

With four new players added at this year’s trade deadline and, more importantly, news of Durant being out at least one week after undergoing surgery Sunday to place a new screw in his foot to alleviate chronic soreness, Westbrook will have to be at his best in the weeks ahead.

If Sunday was any indication, Westbrook is up for the challenge.

One night after posting 33 points and 10 assists in a win at Charlotte, Westbrook was even better against the Nuggets.

He made 8 of 12 shots and turned the ball over only twice, the first of which didn’t come until 9:41 was left in the third quarter.

“I’m just trying to do a better job of leading, man,” Westbrook said. “That’s my job is to integrate the new guys and lead them into the direction of where we want to go.”

Westbrook was sensational in that second quarter.

That’s when he racked up 10 of his assists after retaking the floor with 8:40 left in the period. It was in that stretch that Westbrook put on the kind of rare passing display that the best point guards regularly use to dominate a game without even shooting.

“I just don’t dominate the game scoring,” Westbrook said, smiling.

Westbrook hooked up with five different teammates during those final nine minutes, making each of them threats and the Thunder a nightmare for the Nuggets to defend.

By the time he was done, Westbrook had scored or assisted on 29 of the Thunder’s 31 points in the period. The Thunder ended the frame on a 31-18 run and took a 25-point lead into the locker room.

Westbrook attempted only two shots in the second quarter. Both were 3-point tries. And he made both.

“I think it’s great not just for myself but good for the rest of my teammates,” Westbrook said of his playmaking. “I think they feel comfortable about their game. I can get mine and take shots when I have the opportunity. But I think it’s great for them to have open shots and open looks and feel great about their game. And as you see it works out for us.”

***

No. 4: Fire still burns for Scott (and Bryant) in Lakers-Celtics rivalry — Don’t tell Lakers coach Byron Scott the NBA’s bi-coastal cold war is over. He is still caught up in the Lakers-Celtics rivalry from decades ago, the one he played a major part in as a player.  When two of the most storied franchises in all of sports are down and out simultaneously, the folks on the inside have to find motivation wherever they can get it. For Scott, whose star Kobe Bryant is down for the season, that means keeping the fire burning in terms of his disdain for the Celtics. Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com explains:

The players and coaches that made the Lakers-Celtics rivalry one of the most storied in sports history are nearly all gone now.

The only one left, on the court anyway, as the two teams met at Staples Center on Sunday was Byron Scott, whose disdain for the Boston Celtics as a Los Angeles Lakers player in the 1980s has carried over to his time as a Lakers coach.

“Probably not,” Scott said Sunday when asked if he could have coached the Celtics. “Seriously. Probably not, coached or played for them. I couldn’t be like Rick Fox and played for both.”

When they reminisce about great Lakers and Celtics games in history, Sunday’s game will be nothing more than a forgotten footnote. A momentary blip in the radar as both teams attempt to quickly rebuild into the championship contending teams again.

The only two that probably felt like Sunday’s game had any added significance was Scott and Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations.

“It’s probably more of a rivalry between Danny and me than the guys in the locker room,” Scott said. “He’s in the front office sitting there probably saying if we don’t win another game, let’s beat them. The guys in the locker room probably don’t understand the history of the rivalry between these two franchises and that’s unfortunate. … It’s the best rivalry in all of sports.”

The chances of the Lakers and Celtics ever rekindling the decade-long magic they had in the 1960s and 1980s are pretty slim in the current NBA. It’s more likely they could get together for a three-year reunion like they enjoyed from 2008 to 2010.

“Guys jump up and move around so much so often nowadays, Scott said. “They don’t have the same type of loyalty that we used to in those days with one organization.”

The one player who does is Kobe Bryant, who is going into the last year of his contract with the Lakers next season, which will give him an unprecedented 20 seasons with one team.

Bryant told the “Grantland Basketball Hour” on Sunday that he isn’t looking for a Derek Jeter-like farewell tour next season and isn’t even sure if next season will be his last. Scott this week even raised the possibility of Bryant playing a season or two past his current deal depending on how he looks.

No matter what Bryant decides to do after next season, he will play a big role in the Lakers’ plans at recruiting free agents this summer and getting them to believe that the Lakers are not far from becoming a contending team again if they came on board.

“I think Kobe still has that pull and it’s an attraction for guys,” Scott said. “I think this organization speaks for itself as far as what we’re all about and that’s an attraction in itself.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Portland Trail Blazers’ fourth quarter troubles could be paralysis by analysis … Don’t look now, but the Indiana Pacers are warming up at just the right time … Every move made and the analysis to go with it from NBA.com’s Trade Tracker … The new-look Pistons look ready to rock

ICYMI:  Admit it Knicks fans, this is one of those times when you actually miss J.R. Smith …


VIDEO: J.R. Smith goes showtime at the Garden

Morning shootaround — Feb. 21


VIDEO: Highlights of Friday’s 26-team extravaganza around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors whip the champs | Atlanta’s kryptonite … the Raptors | Statement game for Cavs | Kupchak: Kobe not the Lakers’ problem

No. 1:  Warriors whip the champs — Watching the craziness of the trade deadline and refraining from diving in might have been the right call for the Golden State Warriors. The best team in the league didn’t feel the pressure to get involved on the busiest deadline day in NBA history. If Friday night’s whipping of the San Antonio Spurs is any indication, we know why. They are rock solid up and down the roster and continue to play like a team destined for big things in the postseason. Beating the champs was just business as usual for a team that has soared this season. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains:

After the 110-99 victory Friday, the Warriors collectively shrugged at the significance of defeating their nemesis in a season during which they’ve sustained excellence and focused on fine-tuning for the playoffs.

“For us, we’ve been playing so well this season that we can’t really get distracted by the opponent as much as what we’re trying to do,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said.

“It wasn’t just, ‘We’re beating the Spurs.’ It was, ‘We’re back to how we’re playing.’ ”

Curry, in an MVP-caliber performance, dazzled with 25 points and 11 assists. Klay Thompson added 20 points, and Andre Iguodala scored 14 off the bench as the Warriors improved to 43-9.

The league-leading Warriors showed deference in pregame comments about the Spurs. Coach Steve Kerr, who has borrowed elements of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich‘s offense, called them “the gold standard.” Iguodala said San Antonio was Golden State’s “big brother.”

The Spurs cruised to a win at Oracle Arena in November, but the Warriors exacted a measure of revenge in dominating them this time.

The Warriors shot 17 for 33 from 3-point range. Curry and Thompson combined to hit seven 3-pointers, but the barrage didn’t end there as Iguodala was 4 for 6 from long distance and Draymond Green 3 for 6.

“We’re not going to make it like that (win) is a big deal,” Green said. “It’s not like we really made a statement to anyone that no one else didn’t know.”

On defense, the Warriors clamped down as the Spurs committed 16 turnovers playing in their second game of a back-to-back. San Antonio needed more than four minutes to score its first field goal in the second half as the Warriors added to their halftime advantage to take a 14-point lead.

By the end of the quarter, it became clear that a rout was in store for the Spurs as the Warriors bench came alive. David Lee then had a stretch where he threw down a dunk, came up with a steal and dished off an assist to Iguodala for a 3-pointer that gave the Warriors an 83-68 lead. Curry and Iguodala followed with back-to-back 3-pointers that sent the Warriors sideline and crowd into a frenzy.

“It’s pretty simple for us,” Kerr said. “Defend like crazy, take care of the ball, move the ball. When we do that, we have enough weapons where we’re going to score enough points.”

***

No. 2: Atlanta’s kryptonite … the Raptors — No one has toppled the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks more than once this season, until Friday night. The Toronto Raptors popped them for the third time, this one an ugly home loss coming out of the All-Star break, a 1-2 matchup that made the challenger look like the kryptonite that could potentially derail the hawks’ postseason dreams. Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains just how ugly it was Friday night at Philips Arena as the Hawks laid a royal egg in their stretch run opener:

Say this for the Atlanta Hawks: They don’t stink often, but when they do, they reek to high heaven. They lost Friday to Toronto by 25 points — the final was 105-80 — after trailing by 35, and full credit to the Raptors. They were primed. They became the first team to beat the Hawks three times. (Toronto was also the first to do it twice.)

And now you ask: Should Hawks fans be concerned? And the answer is: Nah.

This was almost a set-up game. The Hawks had spent the All-Star break living the All-Star life, to which few of them were accustomed. They had eight days to lose the rhythm that had carried them to 19 consecutive victories and 35 of 37, and they didn’t just lose it: They buried it at the bottom of the deepest ocean.

Speaking of oceans: As the saying goes, the Hawks couldn’t throw the ball in one. They missed 59 of 88 shots, 30 of 38 3-pointers. (It was their worst shooting night of the season.) Kyle Korver, on pace to have one of the greatest shooting seasons ever, had one of the worst games — and not only at shooting; he also had two egregious turnovers — in the history of the sport. When last did you see an All-Star actually throw up his hands in self-disgust?

They also missed seven of 21 free throws, including a Paul Millsap air ball. Holy moley.

The third quarter was comic. The Hawks missed 16 of 19 shots, including all eight of their treys, and made nine turnovers, off which the Raptors scored half of their 28 points. Five Hawks shots were blocked. Five Toronto shots were, too. In one screwball stretch, the visitors had three layups blocked — and still they stretched a four-point halftime lead to 19.

“They gave it to us good tonight,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said, and here we note that his team had done something similar in Toronto last month, winning 110-89 on Jan. 16. That loss sat poorly with the Raptors.

“They were really ready to play,” Al Horford said. And his team? “Some of it has to be rust,” he said. “We threw the ball all over the place.”

Budenholzer: “I don’t think we played with the energy and activity we’ve gotten accustomed to night after night.”

When last the Hawks looked this awful, it was on the night after Christmas. They lost 107-77 here to Milwaukee after a two-day break. Then they won the next 19, going undefeated in January. That streak began, as fate would have it, in Milwaukee. And where do the Hawks play Sunday?

In Milwaukee. Just sayin’.

***


VIDEO: Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel provides a Chris Bosh/Heat update

***

No. 3: Statement game for Cavs — Don’t let the record or their place in the Eastern Conference standings fool you, the (LeBron James-led) Cleveland Cavaliers are a legitimate championship contender. Everyone knows that by now. Don’t believe it? Just watch a few minutes from their demolition of the Washington Wizards from Friday night. It was all Jason Reid of The Washington Post needed to see to be convinced that the Cavs truly are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference:

History tells us it takes star power to win championships, and no one possesses more than the game’s best player. With the long all-star break over, James is back at work and focused on playing in the NBA Finals for the fifth consecutive season. It appears the Cleveland Cavaliers can help him get there.

Their slow start a distant memory, the surging Cavaliers rolled again Friday night, dismantling the listless Wizards, 127-89.

While dominating Washington and moving ahead of it in the conference standings, Cleveland won for the 15th time in 17 games. It was a familiar story, James shining as the catalyst and producing 28 points, five rebounds and six assists. The Cavaliers led by as many as 40 points, overwhelming the Wizards in another sharp performance.

Although Washington still was without injured guard Bradley Beal, you got the sense that Cleveland, which only would be seeded fourth if the playoffs began today, is the team to beat in the East. There’s much to like about the Cavaliers.

Everything revolves around James, who, in his 12th season, is as great as ever. But the four-time NBA most valuable player also was outstanding while the team struggled early in his return to Cleveland after a four-year run with the Miami Heat. What’s different now? A lot.

Increasingly, guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love — the other members of the Cavaliers’ Big Three — have become more comfortable playing alongside James. It was silly to think that the all-stars would immediately click after James and Love arrived in the offseason. This isn’t fantasy basketball. The awkwardness apparently behind them, though, the high-profile co-workers are getting it figured out.

On Friday, Irving supported James with a 25-point, seven-assist effort. Love contributed eight points, six rebounds and toughness. The Wizards could have used some of that.

“We’ve lost that edge of nastiness that we played with,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “We came out and felt, again, we’re going to warm our way into this game. They had other ideas. They hit us in the mouth right from the jump ball, and we couldn’t recover from it.”

Yep. That pretty much sums it up.

For Cleveland, James, Irving and Love, as expected, have provided the foundation to potentially build something great this season. Cleveland’s in-season remodeling has paid off, too.

***

No. 4: Kupchak: Lakers will begin anew, with Kobe — Even if it is for just one more season, perhaps Kobe Bryant‘s final season, the Los Angeles Lakers will start over again next season with their biggest star in the middle of the mix. So says Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, who made it clear that the plan is to build for the long-term future after this dismal season ends. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times explains:

As bad as the Lakers are this season, Kupchak said they aren’t going to tank the last 28 regular-season games just to be ensured of getting that top-five pick.

“I just don’t know how you send that message to a coaching staff or players,” Kupchak said. “That’s not just something that we want people to think that we would do.”

The Lakers will get Bryant, who had season-ending rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder, and rookie Randle, who is recovering from a broken right leg, back next season.

But Kupchak is not sure how much longer Bryant, 36, will play. Bryant is due to make $25 million next season.

Kupchak acknowledged the All-Star, who will be embarking on his 20th season in the NBA, is nearing the end of his career.

That means at some point the Lakers will have to start preparing for the future without Bryant.

“So at some point we have to start a new run,” Kupchak said. “That’s definitely going to include Kobe next year. Beyond that…. So to jeopardize the next five or seven years and bring in old veterans that make a lot of money just to win one more year because that’s Kobe’s last year or could be his last year, I’m not sure that fits into doing things the right way.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mavericks swingman Chandler Parsons injured his ankle Friday night … Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose apologized for the “travel issues” that dogged him after the All-Star break … Miami Heat star Chris Bosh is in “great spirits” but his season could be over due to blood clots in his lungs

ICYMI: Who says DeMarcus Cousins can’t thrive under George Karl? He looked just fine Friday night


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins goes to work in George Karl’s debut as head coach in Sacramento

Pelicans’ Davis (shoulder) out, Nowitzki in for All-Star Game

A right shoulder sprain will keep Davis out of All-Star 2015.

A right shoulder sprain will keep Davis out of All-Star 2015 (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images).

Who’s got next?

Pelicans forward Anthony Davis became the third member of the fan-voted Western Conference starting five to pull out of the 2015 NBA All-Star Game due to injury.

Davis, who is recovering from a right shoulder sprain suffered on Saturday night in Chicago, sat out Wednesday night’s home loss to the Pacers, then released the following statement:

“After careful thought and consideration, I’ve decided I will not be participating in this year’s NBA All-Star competitions.  I want to thank the fans for voting me into the All-Star game and I am sorry I will not be able to play. 

While I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to compete this weekend, I’m still very excited about the opportunity to be a part of the All-Star events in New York and celebrate our game with some of the NBA’s greatest figures.

“More than anything, I am anxious to get healthy and back on the court with my teammates after the All-Star break.”

The injured Kobe Bryant of the Lakers and Blake Griffin of the Clippers have already been replaced on the West team by the Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins and Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard.

UPDATE: Shortly after the Davis announcement, the NBA announced that Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki has been named to replace the New Orleans big man.

Harden, Thompson to start for West All-Stars

Steve Kerr will go with a three-guard lineup during All-Star 2015.

Western All-Star coach Steve Kerr will go with a three-guard lineup during All-Star 2015.

It turns out that Steve Kerr did not need the wisdom of Solomon to avoid splitting the baby.

The solution to his problem about what to do with a logjam in the West backcourt was a simple one: He’ll employ a three-guard lineup that puts the Rockets James Harden and Warriors Klay Thompson alongside Stephen Curry.

The “Splash Brothers” teamed up to score 39 points in the Warriors’ 94-91 win over the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Wednesday night just a short time before learning they’d be starting together in the 2015 NBA All-Star Game on Sunday.

As the leading vote-getter in the fan balloting, Curry was set to start, but a bit of debate and dilemma opened when the injured Kobe Bryant was scratched and speculation swirled if Kerr would give the starting nod to his own player Thompson and snub the NBA’s leading scorer in Harden.

But the announcement that the Clippers’ forward Blake Griffin underwent surgery for a staph infection in his elbow and would also miss the All-Star Game gave Kerr the wiggle room he needed.

Thompson and Curry will become the Warriors’ first duo of All-Star starters since 1967, when Rick Barry won the MVP at the Cow Palace and started alongside Nate Thurmond.

Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle had the reaction to the decision:

“For our coaching staff to be handling the Western Conference and to be rewarding us for the wins we’ve had in the first part of the season, I think it’s only right that coach gets to pick his guy and reward Klay for what he’s done this season,” Curry said.

“It’s a cool honor for Klay to have with his head coach manning the team and having both of us in the backcourt.”

Kerr has known for weeks that he needed to name replacements, and he said he lied about not considering his options eight straight times before finally making the announcement after Wednesday’s game.

Joining the three guards in the West starting lineup will be center Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies and forward Anthony Davis of the Pelicans.