Posts Tagged ‘Kyrie Irving’

Blogtable: Thompson’s 37 or Kyrie’s 57?

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: Kyrie’s 57 or Klay’s 37? | The rest issue … | Brighter future: Knicks or Lakers?



VIDEORelive Kyrie Irving’s 57-point game

> Klay Thompson’s 37-point quarter, or Kyrie Irving’s 57-point game? In your eyes, which was more remarkable?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ll go with Kyrie over Klay for overall remarkability. Thompson’s 37 points in the third quarter against Sacramento in January was breathtaking, but it was the ultimate “in-the-zone” moment that just happened to last a whole 12 minutes. Irving had 53 minutes with which to work, but he got 11 in the five-minute overtime, 27 after three quarters — and did it in a real statement game not against the Kings but against the defending-champion Spurs on a rare night when they weren’t focused on resting.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comHalley’s Comet or a shooting star? While it was great fun to watch (and I was sitting right there courtside at the AT&T Center last week), Kyrie Irving’s feat does not compare to Klay Thompson. The fact is 22 different players have scored at least 60 points in a game 64 times and Irving didn’t even get there. Thompson’s mind-boggling quarter was unprecedented, probably once-in-a-lifetime brilliance.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Irving, because of the opponent, because it was on the road, because it won a game. Anyone who tries to lessen what Thompson did looks foolish, so thanks for holding the door open. But the biggest threat he faced from the defense was staying out of the way as the Kings rolled over. The Warriors were going to win in Oakland even without a quarter that registered on the Richter scale. Irving in San Antonio was more sustained, with bonus points for coming later in the season as part of the Cavaliers revival.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Getting 37 for a quarter was more remarkable, key word “remarkable.” Not more important or meaningful. Kyrie did his damage against the defending champs, on the road, hitting a massive basket to send the game into OT and then followed up with another hoop that was just stupendous. Yes, cramming 37 points into a quarter comes with a slightly better wow factor, but give me Kyrie’s any time.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Thompson’s 37 was more remarkable, for sure. Players have attempted 13 or more shots in a quarter only 11 times this season, so to make 13 shots is kind of ridiculous. But Irving’s 57 was both more impressive and more important. While Thompson’s 37 was a case of a guy getting ridiculously hot over 12 minutes against one of the five worst defensive teams in the league, Irving’s 57 mixed hot perimeter shooting with an uncanny ability to get to the basket against a top-10 defense. And a performance like that in a playoff-like atmosphere might pay off down the line for a guy (and a team — as constituted) that has never been to the playoffs before.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Both were spectacular and equally remarkable, given the circumstances. But the time-sensitive nature of Klay Thompson’s work stands out to me. If Kyrie was on fire during his 57-point overtime showcase, Klay was a human incinerator during his wicked 37-point quarter. I relished every single second of each performance. And I cannot imagine what either one of them could for an encore to top their respective performances (but go ahead fellas and give it a try in this last month of the season). Still, choosing between the two feels a little bit like car shopping and having to choose between a Rolls Royce Phantom and a Bugatti. You’re riding in high style either way.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Irving scored his under pressure to win a big game on the road. His performance had to mean a lot to LeBron James, based on his own rivalry with San Antonio. If the Cavs go on to reach the NBA Finals, that performance will be viewed as their omen.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: This is like Sophie’s choice. I guess I’ll go Kyrie? Don’t get me wrong — Klay Thompson’s eruption in the third quarter that night was incredible and exciting and a signature moment. But it was also just a moment, one quarter of excellence. To me, Kyrie’s night was just that – an evening of greatness, four quarters (and an overtime) of amazing play. Sure, there were ebbs and flows, but he sustained it all night. Also, he didn’t miss a three the entire game, which was remarkable.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 193) Featuring Kyle Lowry

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It’s been a revealing season for Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors. They’ve been one of the best teams in the NBA and yet an afterthought for some, as teams in Atlanta, Cleveland and Chicago — and that’s just in the Eastern Conference — have garnered more and more of the spotlight.

Lowry, of course, is used to being overlooked and underrated. He’s dealt with it his entire career.

And that won’t change just because he earned his first All-Star nod this season and is the catalyst and leader, on and off the floor, for one of the top teams in basketball. In fact, we’re certain that Lowry and the Raptors will have to continue to scrap for anything they get … which exactly the way Lowry likes it.

We dig deep on his journey — past, present and future — on Episode 193 of the Hang Time Podcast … Featuring Kyle Lowry.

We also discuss the hottest topics of the day, including Dwight Howard‘s looming return in Houston, the University of North Carolina math being applied in Braggin’ Rights, our dime store March Madness predictions, the NBA’s version of March Madness, Wednesday’s monster mash between the top of the heap Warriors and Hawks, what happened to Rick Fox‘s beard and LeBron James‘ headband (did they go off to the same remote island?) and so much more.

You get it all on Episode 193 of The Hang Time Podcast … Featuring Kyle Lowry …

 

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.


VIDEO: The Game Time crew talks to Kyle Lowry after his triple double

Morning Shootaround — March 16


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron questionable for second return to Miami | Thunder get big win vs. Bulls | Garnett hosts his Brooklyn friends

No. 1: LeBron questionable for second return to Miami — That emotional return to Miami the first time around for LeBron James might not have a second act. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ superstar is questionable for tonight’s game after taking an awkward fall on his right leg in Sunday’s win over Orlando. The Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving to carry the load if LeBron cannot go. But as NBA.com’s John Schuhmann points out, the Cavs are just 2-9 without LeBron this season and have been outscored by 7.9 points per 100 possessions with him off the floor. But missing another game in this particular season wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for James. Joe Vardon of the Plain Dealer explains:

James has already missed a career-high 11 games this season due to injury. Additionally, both he and the Cavaliers have expressed a desire to rest James for some games leading up to the playoffs in April.

But a rematch with the Heat in Miami, where James won two titles in four years and where he was received warmly when the Cavs played there Christmas Day, was not one James planned to skip.

James’ first game in Miami this season was emotional for him and included a video tribute and standing ovation from the home fans.

He cut a video testimonial for Bleacher Report about the emotions of playing against former teammates Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, and others.

On Sunday night, James agreed the next South Beach visit would have a much different feel.

It’d be really different if he didn’t play.

“For me to be able to just finish the game, you know, the way I fell, the way I took that fall, it just goes to my training, the way I approach the game off the floor,” James said. “That time I was able to stay on the floor with my teammates.”

James scored four points and dished out three assists while playing 10 of 12 minutes in the fourth quarter.

It’s also worth noting that James’ best, most athletic dunk was in the final period, when he reached the ball high above the rim as he glided past defenders and crushed it with his right hand with 5:31 left.


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about how he’s feeling after the Cavs’ win in Orlando

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The kings of late-clock situations


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving’s Big Night

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – As Kyrie Irving went off for a career-high 57 points on Thursday, he got some help from LeBron James in the Cavs’ 128-125 overtime win in San Antonio.

James’ 31 points included three 3-pointers (on three attempts) in the fourth quarter and overtime. The second one gave them the Cavs lead for good in the middle of OT, and the third was the dagger with 32 seconds left.

All three of those threes came in the last six seconds of the shot clock, when James is used to shooting. For the second straight season, James leads the league in shots taken in the last six seconds of the clock, according to SportVU.

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Most of the guys on the list above haven’t shot particularly well in the last six seconds of the clock. As was noted in last week’s story on the Warriors’ pace, shooting and efficiency go down with the expiration of the shot clock.

But there are some guys who have shot well late in the clock. Stephen Curry has an effective field goal percentage of 65.7 percent on shots in the last six seconds of the clock, highest among 173 players who have attempted at least 50 late-clock shots. He’s actually shot better in the last six seconds of the clock than he’s shot in the first 18. Of 188 players who have attempted at least 300 *initial-possession shots, only 24 have shot better in late-clock situations.

* Initial possession = Not after an offensive rebound.

But Curry gets almost all of his work done early in the clock. Of those 188 players, Curry has taken the lowest percentage of his initial-possession shots in the last six seconds of the clock. The anti-Curry is Norris Cole, who has attempted 25.3 percent of his initial-possession shots in the last six seconds, playing for two teams that rank in the bottom five in pace.

Irving, meanwhile, is one of six guys with an effective field goal percentage of 50 percent or better on at least 100 late-clock shots.

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You could say that he’s the King of Late Clock.

Morning shootaround — March 13


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving proves his worth to Cavs | Wall felt disrespected by Grizzlies | Jackson: Knicks’ season ‘a project gone awry’

No. 1: Irving dominates — and proves he’s a worth sidekick to LeBron — The NBA world is abuzz this morning about Kyrie Irving‘s 57-point masterpiece of a game in the Cavs’ OT win over the Spurs last night. (If you missed it, you can watch every single one of his buckets right here). Not only did the win help keep the Cavs in the chase for the No. 2 spot in the East, it also proved, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, that Irving is turning out to be a more-than worthy sidekick to LeBron James:

Before Kyrie Irving could become the hero and score the last nine points of regulation, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to force overtime, and before Irving could top even that by scoring 11 of the Cavs’ 18 points in OT to earn the 128-125 win in what had to be the league’s best regular-season game this season, James needed to remind all of his guys that even when down double digits in the lion’s den, they had the power to make something happen.

“LeBron told us in the timeout, ‘Win, lose or draw, still fight to the end,'” Tristan Thompson said. “And guys believed.”

Spend enough time in the Cavs’ locker room and you’ll hear a version of James’ message uttered on a daily basis. Guys will chirp, “Stay with it,” as a sort of catch phrase that’s become an inside joke (they usually pronounce it more like, “Stayyyy wittttt it”), quoting a recurring piece of advice imparted by assistant coach James Posey.

“Coach Pos started it,” James said. “You know, stay with it, and that’s what we’ve got to do. No matter what’s going on throughout the game, no matter what’s going on throughout the season, we’ve got to stay with it, stay with our process, stay with what we need to do, both offensively and defensively, on the bus, on the plane, whatever the case may be. We’ve always got to stay with what we’re trying to build around here, and that’s championship DNA.”

To build that DNA, first the Cavs had to draw blood from a champion.

There was room for only one truly transcendent star on this night, anyway, and it was Irving.

Once James got his teammates to believe, he showed how strong his belief was in them right back. Rather than being the one to get the last shot and try to, with one flip of the wrist, exorcise the AT&T Center demons that have haunted him the past nine months when his hopes for ring No. 3 died, James took the ball out of bounds and passed to Irving for the final shot of regulation.

The historical significance of the performance was baked in, as Irving topped his own NBA season-high mark of 55 points while simultaneously edging James’ Cavs franchise record of 56 points and also managing to tie Purvis Short’s record of 57 points for the most points ever scored by a San Antonio opponent. And, to give context to just how well the Spurs played and still lost, it was just the second time in the Popovich-Duncan era that San Antonio shot 56 percent or better at a team (it shot 56.3 percent Thursday) and didn’t win.

But he didn’t want any part of it. “I don’t want the game ball,” he told a team attendant afterward. Nor did he seem to be too keen on setting aside any keepsake from the night — Mike Miller was the recipient of his autographed, game-worn sneakers, which Miller toted out of the locker room with a smile on his face. Irving did say he planned to go to Disney World on Friday, but those were plans he already made before going bonkers on the Spurs, what with the team heading to Florida for an Orlando/Miami back-to-back.

What Irving got out of this night was an ascendance to James’ level and an acceptance from the four-time MVP that he doesn’t just have a young, talented guy out there by his side, he has a partner. When Irving scored 55 points against Portland earlier in the season, James was out with a sore wrist. When he scored 57 against San Antonio, it came on a night when James scored 31 and the two of them combined to score Cleveland’s final 27 points (20 for Irving, seven for James).


VIDEO: Relive some great moments from Kyrie Irving’s big game vs. the Spurs

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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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Westbrook’s face fixed, will sit Sunday; Irving out; Bosh goes home

VIDEO: Westbrook hurt in loss vs. Blazers

There are sports injuries too gruesome to watch in replay – Joe Theismann’s, Shaun Livingston’s and Paul George’s leg fractures all spring quickly to mind – and then there are those you have to look once, twice, even three times to comprehend.

Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook‘s fracture to the zygomatic arch bone in his right cheek qualifies as one of the latter. Westbrook got kneed in the face by Thunder teammate Andre Roberson on an inbounds scramble late in their club’s loss at Portland Friday in a game that saw him record his third straight triple-double. Westbrook, already on the floor, lay on his stomach momentarily. After he got up, photos showed an odd indentation or depression in his face. Royce Young of ESPN.com passed along the day-after basics following surgery Saturday to repair Westbrook’s face:

He has been ruled out for Sunday’s game at the Los Angeles Lakers and will be re-evaluated next week to determine when he can return to play.

Westbrook had his third consecutive triple-double against the Blazers, scoring 40 points with 13 rebounds and 11 assists. He had a historic February, averaging 31.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 10.3 assists, numbers that only ever have been totaled by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.

Kevin Durant is set to be re-evaluated for a minor procedure he underwent last Sunday and could return as soon as this coming week. In seven games without Durant in February, Westbrook averaged a triple-double — 31.2 points, 10.0 rebounds and 11.3 assists.

Westbrook, 26, is averaging 26.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 8.1 assists in 45 games this season. He missed 14 games in November because of a fracture in his right hand.

Newly acquired D.J. Augustin will start in place of Westbrook on Sunday against the Lakers.

Young also had speculated on what this injury might mean to Westbrook’s well-known sense of fashion:

But here’s the really pertinent stuff:

Meanwhile, Cleveland also will be without its All-Star point guard Sunday at Houston. Kyrie Irving continued treatment Saturday on the left shoulder strain that caused him to miss the Cavaliers’ game at Indiana Friday, his team announced, and will not join the team for its matinee clash with the Rockets. Irving’s status will be updated Tuesday morning prior to the Cavs’ home game that night against Boston.

Craving some good news on the NBA health front? The Miami Heat and their veteran power forward, recovering rather nicely from the condition that ended his 2014-15 season, were happy to oblige late Saturday afternoon:

One Stat, One Play: A defensive lineup in Cleveland


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Cavs Starting 5

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Thursday’s Warriors-Cavs game on TNT (8 p.m. ET) is a matchup of the two best starting lineups in the league.

Golden State’s starters have been fantastic all season, leading them to a league-best 44-10 record and top-two rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Cleveland’s starting lineup has been together for just six weeks, but it’s been the league’s best lineup that has played at least 200 minutes.

20150226_lineups

Like the Warriors’ starters, the Cavs’ group has been great on both ends of the floor. But the defense has been more important. Cleveland has been a bottom-10 defensive team all season, but they rank 13th since LeBron James returned from his two-week break on Jan. 13.

James has come back with more energy on both ends of the floor. And the addition of Timofey Mozgov have given the Cavs some much-needed rim protection.

Since he arrived from Denver, opponents have shot just 45.0 percent at the rim when Mozgov’s been their to defend it, a mark that ranks sixth in the league and is down from 48.8 percent in his 35 games with the Nuggets.

And Mozgov’s presence has allowed his teammates to defend the perimeter better. Cavs opponents have shot less and worse from 3-point range since James’ return, especially against the Cleveland starters.

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The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at a defensive possession where the Cavs are active, aggressive on the perimeter, and on a string, forcing a 24-second violation out of the Washington Wizards.

The Cavs still have a long way to go defensively. They still rank 22nd through Wednesday. But with how good their offense has been (it ranks No. 1 since James’ return), a little improvement on defense can go a long way.

There are a lot of reasons to watch Warriors-Cavs on Thursday. And the success of both starting lineups should have you tuning in right at 8:00.

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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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