Posts Tagged ‘L.A. Lakers’

Morning Shootaround — April 9

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

News of the morning

World Peace not surprised by quick recovery | Favors hitting stride at right time | Riley wants to keep Heat stars together 10 years | Thompson taking leadership role on Cavs | Nowitzki: ‘Big summer’ ahead for Mavs

World Peace expects to start vs. HornetsJust a dozen days ago, Lakers forward Metta World Peace was thought to be lost for at least the first round of the playoffs (provided L.A. got in) if not for longer. But the man who always has something to say on Twitter has gone through a miraculous recovery from torn meniscus surgery and expects to play tonight against the Hornets. Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News has more on World Peace, his recovery and his teammates’ reaction to it all:

One teammate uttered the words “bionic nan.” Kobe Bryant has taken to calling Metta World Peace “Logan,” the character in “Wolverine.”

Whatever Metta Madness is flowing through his veins, it looks like World Peace will return to the Lakers lineup tonight, 12 days after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

A medical miracle? Not really, World Peace said. He was itching to play the moment he was asked by Dr. Steve Lombardo if he could put weight on the leg, and he hopped out of bed and did so only hours after the operation.

“As long as he didn’t have to stitch anything together, I couldn’t do anything to (further damage) it,” World Peace said Monday after going through 3-on-3 workouts. “I was in great shape. The doc said he was surprised my knee was in such great shape playing 14 years in the NBA and always in a defensive stance.

“When I heard all that, it wasn’t like I was trying to come back to be a Superman. I figured I’ve just got to play through pain and it will get better as time goes.”

“It’s unbelievable,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s different. I’ve never seen this before.”

World Peace said his recovery was so swift because of his diet and offseason workouts.

“I think the way I eat prepares me for a challenge like this,” World Peace said. “Even when I sprained my ankle most people would have been out a couple games and I came right back against New Orleans.

“You can take a lot of medicine, but when you eat right and you’re injured that swelling is minimized. Right after surgery (Lombardo) was amazed how the swelling didn’t even exist.”

Favors heating up as Jazz find rhythmWhen the Jazz opted to part ways with Deron Williams at the trade deadline during the 2010-11 season, they instead changed directions of the franchise as they plucked Derrick Favors from the Nets (as well as a future first-round pick — which became Enes Kanter). Favors has had periods of fits and starts with Utah during his 2 1/2 seasons there, showing flashes of the talent that made him the No. 3 overall pick. Particularly on defense, Favors has always been a steady contributor for the Jazz, but his offense and post moves have lacked behind. But lately, as Utah is making its push for the postseason and the No. 8 seed in the West, Favors is getting it done, writes Steve Luhm of the Salt Lake Tribune: 

When Derrick Favors arrived in Utah, he was a teenage NBA rookie who had just been traded by a team which repeatedly reassured him that he wasn’t going anywhere.

Favors was confused, bewildered and a little disillusioned after being the centerpiece — at least from the Jazz’s perspective — in the blockbuster trade that sent All-Star Deron Williams to New Jersey.

Coach Tyrone Corbin remembers when the quiet, stone-faced Favors joined the Jazz in 2011.

“Scared,” Corbin said. “He was a scared 19-year-old … that was surprised he got traded and didn’t know what to think of it, what to think of us or where to go next.”

Told of Corbin’s description before Monday morning’s practice, Favors smiled.

“I wasn’t scared,” he said. “I would say I was just mentally exhausted from the whole thing. Everything I went through in New Jersey and then I was traded here, I was just mentally exhausted.”

When he returned to Utah for the 2011-12 season, Favors “started feeling more comfortable because I knew there weren’t going to be any trade rumors. I knew I was going to be here.”

Favors played well, but Corbin continued to bring him along slowly. He made nine starts in 65 games during the lockout-shortened season.

This year, Favors continued to come off the bench as part of Corbin’s big-man rotation that also included Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter, another developing youngster.

Still, Favors averaged only 22 minutes a game — at least until March 27.

In the second quarter of a game against Phoenix, Kanter was likely lost for the season with a dislocated shoulder.

Favors seized the moment.

In the next six games, he averaged 12.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 27 minutes.

In Sunday night’s 97-90 win at Golden State, Favors finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds in 30 minutes. His blocked shot with 40 seconds left helped preserve the critical victory.

“He’s grown all year,” said teammate Mo Williams. “He’s getting to the point where he’s turning the corner. … He’s doing great things for us down the stretch.”

Riley hopes to keep Heat stars together 10 yearsMiami Heat president Pat Riley was the man who, back during the 2009-10 season, put together a squad that amassed just 47 win and lost in the first round of the playoffs. After that season, though, Riley constructed the big rebuild of the Heat by re-signing Dwyane Wade while adding in Chris Bosh and LeBron James to create the superteam that Miami has come to know and love. That long-term vision is apparently on Riley’s mind again as he is working on constructing a way to keep the Bosh-James-Wade trio together beyond the summer of 2015-16, which is when all three players have player options on their deal. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald has more:

While the rest of the NBA community is busy speculating about the future of LeBron James and how the Heat plans to navigate the new salary cap, Pat Riley is thinking long-term about how special the run of this Heat team can become.

Speaking with reporters at the Heat’s “Family Fest” on Sunday, Riley pointed to models of success the NBA considers some the best in its history as the ultimate goal for the Heat while also reminding the city to enjoy this “special time.”

“I just want to keep helping them, keep bringing in more pieces that are going to complement them and hope we can have one of those 10-year rides, you know,” Riley said. “You think about every team, through the Celtics in the ’60s and the Lakers in the ’80s and the Bulls and then again the Spurs, those guys have been together eight, nine, 10 years and if we can keep this group together for eight, nine, 10 years, then we’re all going to have some fun.”

And then a piece of advice.

“So, don’t ever take it for granted,” he said.

Thompson taking on more leadership with CavsMuch was expected from Tristan Thompson, the No. 4 overall pick of the 2012 Draft, last season. But Thompson’s first NBA campaign was mostly a disappointment as he finished as an All-Rookie Second Team member. But this season, Thompson has found more of a groove on the court — the season-ending injury to Anderson Varejao freed up more minutes for the youngster — and has become a true building block for Cleveland’s future. As well as his increased on-court production, Thompson is emerging as a spokesman of sorts for the Cavs, something All-Star teammate Kyrie Irving has shied away from. Jason Lloyd of the Akron-Beacon Journal has more:

The evolution of Tristan Thompson as both a man and basketball player has dramatically progressed over the course of the last week. The Cavs will say he has always been one of the team’s leaders, but never so publicly as recently.

Thompson defended his coach as a father figure last week and called any speculation about Byron Scott’s precarious future “bogus.” Then he responded with two sensational performances in victories over the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic.

As Kyrie Irving continues to shrink away from any public platform, Thompson is embracing his role as a spokesman — and he’s backing it up with his play on the court, too.

“Just being myself, just being a natural leader and speaking up if I see something is wrong,” Thompson said after the victory Sunday against the Magic. “Just recently y’all have been coming to me, and I’ve been speaking, so I guess you can say I’ve been a leader.”

Because of the position he plays and his immense talent, Irving remains the floor leader. But twice in the past week Irving has been given the opportunity to take a stand publicly and twice he declined.

Asked after a dreadful loss to the Brooklyn Nets if the players had given up, Irving passed and said he wouldn’t answer for anyone else, then embellished the point of his recent shoulder injury as proof he hasn’t quit.

Asked prior to the game Sunday against the Magic about the speculation surrounding Scott, Irving again passed on the chance to support his coach.

“Until that time comes, I’m not really worried about it,” Irving said. “To even imagine that, I’m not going down that road. I’m focused on finishing the season with him and that’s all that matters right now.”

Thompson was so bothered by the speculation that he went into Scott’s office last Thursday and explained to his coach why he said, “All the rumors about coach Scott, hot seat and all that crap, that’s bogus. It’s up to us to go out and compete and play hard because we’re the ones out there. When he was out there playing, he won championships. It’s up to us to go out there and play.”

Scott conceded that he was touched by Thompson’s defense but told him to worry instead about his performance on the court.

“I told him, ‘You don’t have to fight my battles,’ ” Scott said. “Any coach would say, ‘I really appreciate the support from a guy like that.’ Then to go out and play the way he’s played has been fantastic. Hopefully he can continue to play that way.”

Nowitzki: ‘Big summer’ looms for MavsThe Dallas Mavericks’ immense letdown of a season is something that apparently is more than a little on Dirk Nowitzki‘s mind. The Mavs’ superstar chimed in on it yesterday in an interview with USA Today’s Sam Amick and, now, is getting the message out to the local writers, too. Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News has more on Nowitzki and his thoughts on what will undoubtedly be a summer of changes for Dallas:

Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t want it to end like this.

Slugging it out for the eighth seed — or more likely missing the playoffs — is bad enough once. Or twice.

In the autumn of his NBA career, he wants more. And while he has no problem putting pressure on ownership to find some high-quality warriors to play alongside him, Nowitzki also is OK taking on his share of the workload off the court.

He’s ready to hit the recruiting trail.

“I’ve said it all year long — this is a big summer for us,” Nowitzki said. “We have to get better. We have to get some guys in that can get us back to the top level. We want to be a top-four seed in the West. That was always our goal, to play for the top. So this is a big summer. If [owner Mark Cuban] needs me to recruit and do all that stuff, I’m more than happy to.”

The Mavericks followed up their championship in 2011 by barely squeezing into the playoffs last season. They will probably miss the playoff this season for the first season since 1999-2000.

“I don’t know if it was necessarily Cuban’s plan to go for eight, nine one-year players,” Nowitzki said. “Once you let the championship team go, there were some consequences and obviously some risks that go with it.”

And Nowitzki has made it abundantly clear to Cuban that another season like this one isn’t something he’s interested in.

“My last couple years, I’d love to contend,” he said. “We’ve been a championship team that one year, and once you smell that victory, you want to smell it again. I don’t want to go anywhere else. [Cuban] knows that. Everybody knows that. I want to be a Maverick for life.”

ICYMI of the night: On the heels of the Hall of Fame announcement on Monday, it’s as good a time as any to relive the greatness that was Gary Payton in his prime …:

Morning Shootaround — April 8

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: In a season where we’ve had a 17-game win streak (by the Clippers) and a 27-game win streak (by the Heat), it might be easy to discount the Knicks’ 12-game run as something as ho-hum. But after a win last night in one of the toughest places to play — Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena — we’ve got to give New York some love this morning as our pick of the day. Every time it looked like Carmelo Anthony and company had this one wrapped up, Russell Westbrook would pick up the Thunder and send them charging back. Still, another quality win for the Knicks (to go along with victories over the Heat, Hawks, Celtics and Jazz) as they are hitting their stride at the right time. An extra nod of the head this morning to the Jazz, too, who showed some little-seen resiliency on the road by beating Golden State and taking control of the No. 8 spot out West.

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News of the morning

Nowitzki maintaining hope Mavs can rise again | Rose isn’t ruling out return this season | Wade might keep sitting until playoffs | World Peace ‘ahead of schedule’ | Inconsistent defense plaguing OKC

Nowitzki hoping for best in DallasAfter the Dallas Mavericks missed out on landing Deron Williams, a former Dallas-area prep star, and didn’t have the assets to get into the trade mix for Dwight Howard last summer, owner Mark Cuban opted for some cheaper deals on several players. Many of those new faces are on one-year deals, giving Dallas another shot at the free-agent game this summer in hopes of landing a young star to pair with their aging-but-still-effective star, Dirk Nowitzki. To be certain, the Mavs’ floundering about in the West and their longshot odds to claim the conference’s playoff berth is hardly what Nowitzki or the Mavs had in mind this season. But Nowitzki, in a great interview with USA Today’s Sam Amick, talks about his plans for the future and the hope he has for Dallas:

The Dallas Mavericks star may have been critical of his owner’s approach in the past, back when the wounds of Mark Cuban’s cold and calculated roster-building ways were still fresh. But as Nowitzki nears the end of this memorable stretch of 12 consecutive postseason berths and ponders his future, the future Hall of Famer who vowed not to shave until his team reached the .500 mark swears he’s not still upset about the way Cuban broke up the 2010-11 championship team and ushered in all this mediocrity.

But if nothing has changed by next season, if the Mavericks’ imperfect-but-prudent plan to counteract the league’s harsh new collective bargaining agreement backfires because they aren’t able to land an impactful free agent this summer and return to the elite level during the twilight of Nowitzki’s career? Might Nowitzki — who will be a free agent in the summer of 2014 — considering retiring in a jersey other than the Mavs’ one he has always worn?

“Now that I already reached my goal (of winning it all), I really want to finish my career in Dallas,” Nowitzki told USA TODAY Sports recently. “But saying all that, I don’t want another year next year with the same as this year, (with) the frustration and playing for the eight or nine seed. I think we all know that this is a very big summer for us. (Mavericks general manager) Donnie (Nelson) knows. Cuban knows. We want to get back to the championship level.”

Free-agents-to-be Dwight Howard of the Lakers and Chris Paul of the Clippers are expected by most to remain with their current teams, which may mean the Mavs pursue someone like Atlanta forward and fellow free-agent-to-be Josh Smith or perhaps do a deal for a young, dynamic player like Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins. Nowitzki, said this summer will determine whether or not it was the right move.

“You can’t really judge yet if it was a good move or the wrong move until you see what we get this summer,” he said. “If we end up with nothing again and sign eight or nine (players on) one-year deals, then maybe it wasn’t a good move to let everybody go. But if we can make this team younger and more explosive again and add a superstar, then maybe it wasn’t all bad. I guess the judgment is still kind of out.”

Cuban, who has consistently said he would not trade Nowitzki under any circumstances, is extremely sensitive to the idea that Nowitzki could ever don another jersey than the one he has worn since his rookie campaign in 1998.

“Of course he doesn’t want to fight for an eighth seed in the future; none of us do,” Cuban told USA TODAY Sports via e-mail. “Beyond that, like he has told me and the world, he can’t see himself being anywhere else.”

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who has coached Nowitzki since 2008, expects him to be as good as ever in 2013-14.

“(The doctors) did whatever they needed to do in there (during the Oct. 19 arthroscopic knee surgery),” he told USA TODAY Sports. “Now he has the entire summer to cycle up to training camp.

“Mentally, I think he’s looking at playing two or three more years, so as long as he’s mentally locked in, his routine is always going to be consistent. He can keep playing at a superstar level. We’ve got to manage his situation the right way. We’ve got to get the right guys around him, to make sure we’re playing him the right number of minutes, and all those things.”

With the right players, and in the right jersey until the end.

“I’ve got obviously one more year on the contract next year, and by then I’m 36 and I’m sure I’ll play a couple more years,” he said. “It’s kind of tough to say how long (he’ll play). I’m thinking I’m going to sign another two or three year deal, and then slowly ride off.”

“I don’t want to be the guy who does it too long, you know? I want to be a guy who can still do some stuff at the end of his career, like Nashy (Lakers point guard and close friend of Nowitzki’s, Steve Nash) and those guys — (Kevin Garnett) and Tim Duncan.”

Rose not giving up hope on returnWherever you stand on the Derrick Rose issue — whether it is that the former MVP should play now and in the playoffs or he should just shut it down and wait for 2013-14 — the Bulls’ star has the final say, of course. For a timeline’s sake, Rose first scrimmaged with his teammates on Feb. 18. Since then, there has been a lot of hope and talk that Rose would be returning soon. But the mental side of his rehab particularly the ability to dunk off his injured left foot — has kept him from a return. But Rose tells the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson that he hasn’t ruled out a return for the season, despite what many may think:

“Oh, no,” Rose said, when asked if he’d announce he’s sitting out this season. “I’m keeping it open.”

After Sunday’s game against the Pistons, the Bulls have just six regular-season games remaining.

“I’m not trying to think about that right now,” Rose said. “I’m just trying to get better. I’m just trying to help my teammates, give them confidence to go out there and play hard. I’ll play whenever I’m ready to play. Who knows when I’m ready to? Right now, all I can do is just cheer on my teammates.”

Playing on a minutes limit wouldn’t bother him.

“I wouldn’t mind at all,” he said. “Of course I want to play more. But it’s not that big. I’m going to play whenever I’m ready. I don’t care if it’s 15 or 40 (minutes). I just love the game too much. Like I said, I’m just waiting and praying about it. And hopefully I’ll be out there soon.”

Since the likelihood of Rose sitting out the season increases with each day, he got asked if having another summer of rehabilitation and drill work would benefit him.

“I think it is where it gives me more time to work out if I don’t play,” Rose said. “But I think I have enough time already knowing I haven’t played in a long time. Just taking that time and getting my body together, it could definitely be big. But I’m going to come back whenever I’m ready.”

Wade likely to rest until playoffs beginOn Saturday night, LeBron James returned to Miami’s lineup after missing three games and looked just like his old self, scoring 27 points as Miami took care of Philadelphia. The same cannot be said for James’ superstar running-mate, Dwyane Wade, who hasn’t played since March 29 as he is resting a balky right knee. Wade tells ESPN.com’s Michael Wallace that he’s likely to ride the bench until the playoffs because he wants to be healthy once the Heat begin their championship defense:

Dwyane Wade won’t rule out missing the rest of the regular season to recover from a right knee injury, but the Miami Heat star said Sunday he hopes to return before the playoffs.

Wade has missed six of the Heat’s past eight games and is still dealing with soreness and swelling in the knee, which he has aggravated twice since initially injuring it a month ago.

“The most important thing is to be healthy,” Wade said Sunday, addressing the media for the first time since he last played March 29. “So when I feel it, then I’ll get back on the court. Obviously, I want to play. But I have to make sure that I’m right. You have to get healthy.”

Chris Bosh, who missed Saturday’s game, is recovering from a hyperextended right knee and said Sunday he wasn’t sure when he might try to return.

Wade, James and Bosh were among Miami’s players, coaches and front-office staff members who attended Sunday’s annual Heat Family Festival. The carnival-style event held outside of AmericanAirlines Arena raised more than $503,000 for local charities affiliated with the Heat.

While the injuries James and Bosh have been dealing with have been considered minor, there seems to be more concern around the team regarding Wade’s situation.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Saturday that all three of his marquee players will be considered day to day for the rest of the regular season. But Spoelstra confirmed that Wade has been held back by consistent swelling in his knee.

“His body will tell us when we’ll play him,” Spoelstra said of Wade on Saturday. “He got hit right on top of his knee twice. He was able to resolve it, then get past it. But in the New Orleans game, he got beat up and was on the floor.”

Wade seemed to downplay the severity of the swelling and the bruise on Sunday, but alluded to areas around the knee that have been the focus of his recent treatment sessions.

Because the Heat have clinched the No. 1 seed in the East and are closing in on securing the best overall record in the league, the team’s approach is that it’s best to be cautious down the stretch and get players healthy now.

“We took care of business so we were able to say, ‘We have these injuries, so let’s take care of it now and be smart,’” Wade said. “I would love to be playing right now. As a player, if you get a couple of days off you, you want to get back to it. But I’m just trying to be smart with my doctors. When I feel like I can get back on the floor, then I will.”

Wade played through soreness in his left knee late last season and had it drained during the second round of the playoffs. He ultimately had surgery on the left knee last summer after the Heat beat Oklahoma City in the Finals.

With six games remaining on the Heat’s regular-season schedule, Wade said he’s hopeful he can get back on the court as early as this week. Miami plays Milwaukee on Tuesday, travels to Washington on Wednesday and hosts Boston on Friday.

“Obviously, the biggest thing is to get your wind back and get your legs back under you,” Wade said. “But I’ve been around the block a few times. It’ll be a little adjustment, but I’m not overly concerned about it. I do want to get back on the court before the playoffs to get a rhythm. Hopefully, sometime this week I can step back on the court.”

D’Antoni: World Peace ‘ahead of schedule’ on rehabJust two weeks ago, the Lakers’ road to the playoffs got a lot tougher once they lost starting small forward Metta World Peace to a torn meniscus, an injury that was expected to keep him out of the lineup at least six weeks. But since the injury and subsequent surgery, World Peace has been apparently rehabbing like crazy and told the Los Angeles Daily News’ Mark Medina he could have played in last night’s loss to the Clippers. The Lakers aren’t going that far with World Peace’s progress, but are hoping he’ll be back much sooner than expected:

Lakers forward Metta World Peace walked down a Staples Center hallway in full stride and was bearing a wide smile.

He insisted he can return when the Lakers host the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday at Staples Center despite having surgery to treat a lateral meniscus tear on his left knee a little more than a week ago.

“I’ve been ready to play,” World Peace told this newspaper following the Lakers’ 109-95 loss Sunday to the Clippers at Staples Center. “I could’ve played today.”

Not so fast.

The Lakers plan to have World Peace run today at 90 percent of his body weight on an elliptical machine before evaluating whether he can run with full body weight Tuesday. It’s likely he’ll then have to go through at least a practice before returning.

Still, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni described World Peace’s progression as “way ahead of schedule.” The Lakers estimated he’d sit out at least six weeks. But World Peace spent the past three days running and the past two participating in shooting exercises.

How did he progress so quickly?

“I’m good,” said World Peace, who’s missed the last six games. “I’m not a (wimp).”

“I was walking a day after (surgery). I only used the crutches because I was lazy,” World Peace said. “I was ready to go.”

Inconsistent defense an issue for ThunderBack-to-back losses in March to the Nuggets and Grizzlies, two of the NBA’s better teams in both scoring in the paint and rebounding, raised concerns about the defending West champion Thunder, particularly in terms of defense. But since those losses, OKC posted a 6-1 record, including wins over San Antonio and Indiana — both of whom are solid defensive and rebounding teams. Yesterday’s matinee matchup with the Knicks, though, re-exposed some recent issues for the Thunder as they were pounded on the glass by New York, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

Oklahoma City followed up its best defensive performance of the season with one of its worst. After holding Indiana to eight points on 2-for-18 shooting in the fourth quarter Friday, the Thunder allowed a season high for points, yielded at least 30 points in three quarters (and 29 in the fourth) and allowed 19 offensive rebounds.

The rebounding was the worst of all evils.

That’s because Sunday marked the fifth time in the past 10 games that the Thunder has allowed at least 16 offensive rebounds. The Knicks converted their 19 offensive boards into 23 second-chance points.

“We just gave up too many offensive rebounds,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “When we did make them miss they got 19 offensive rebounds and 23 putback points. That’s not good. We should not be able to give up both of them.”

After out-rebounding the Pacers, the league’s best rebounding team, by 22, Sunday’s showing was the equivalent of five steps back after one step forward.

In its past 10 games, the Thunder has allowed 14 offensive rebounds. By comparison, the league’s high mark is Milwaukee’s 12.3.

“We just have to go back to the basics,” Brooks said. “We’re going to talk about it and we have been talking about it. The basics of rebounding is blocking out. It’s not rebounding. The rebound comes after a block out. If you focus on rebounding there’s too many athletes in this league that it’s a 50-50 ball. You block out first and then you go get the rebound.”

So are the players not blocking out enough?

“It’s a combination,” Brooks said. “Everybody has to think rebound. We’re such a high, explosive offensive transition team that we can’t think about that until we secure the ball. That’s just something that we will brush up on and try to get better at that the last five games.”

ICYMI of the night: It must be nice to be able to take off for a layup, get up in the air, and then decide you want to dunk it anyway …:

Morning Shootaround — April 2

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Several good ones to pick from last night, including the sizzling Jazz winning their fifth straight, the Rockets rolling along with James Harden on the bench and the Pacers doing just enough to escape the Clips in L.A. But we’ve gotta give it up for the Grizzlies this morning for their win over the (albeit injury-depleted) Spurs last night.  Memphis was at it’s Grit-and-Grind best and showed they can change up their style a bit, too. With San Antonio pressuring big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol all night (and neither one having a particularly wowing stat line), the Grizz turned to Mike Conley, who came through time after time and nailed the game-winning layup with :00.6 left.

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News of the morning

Why Heat weren’t punished for resting Wade, James | Smith becoming an all-around force | Shaq’s big day in L.A. | Corbin pulls prank on Jefferson | Dunlap glad Bobcats have tough schedule

Heat escape punishment for resting stars Heading into Sunday night’s Heat-Spurs matchup in San Antonio, one of the talking points was the team’s last meeting in December. That game is famously known for two reasons: first, for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sending Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green back to San Antonio to get rest rather than play them in back-to-back games and second, for the Spurs giving the fully stocked Heat a real game despite missing those standout players. The rematch on Sunday lacked LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers, who all sat out due to injury but, unlike the Spurs’ quartet in December, were sitting on Miami’s bench during the Heat’s eventual win. Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today explains why the Spurs were fined $250,000 for their antics in December and the Heat weren’t leveled any punishment for theirs:

There are multiple reasons why NBA Commissioner David Stern hammered the Spurs:

It was an early-season game, long before it becomes customary for playoff teams to give top players a game off.

The Spurs didn’t list a reason why their players (who were sent home) didn’t play other than “NWT” — Not With Team. The Heat gave reasons for James (strained right hamstring) and Wade (sprained right ankle).

In a statement addressing the Spurs’ fine in November, Stern said the Spurs violated league policy “against resting players in manner contrary to the best interests of the NBA. … The team also did this without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans.”

It can be concluded that the Heat informed the Spurs, media and league office in a timely way, since Miami was not penalized.

At the April 2010 Board of Governors meeting just before the playoffs began, Stern said owners addressed the issue of teams sitting players in the final weeks of the season and concluded, “We also had what I would call a spirited discussion on the subject of players being rested down the stretch. And I think it’s fair to say that there was no conclusion reached, other than a number of teams thought that it should be at the sole discretion of the team, coach, general manager, and I think it’s fair to say that I agree with that, unless that discretion is abused.”

It can also be concluded that Popovich abused that discretion in November and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did not in late March.

Knicks’ Smith picks up his all-around gameJ.R. Smith is the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the usual reason players get that award: he’s been sizzling hot in his last few games. In the last three weeks in particular, Smith has forsaken his love of the 3-pointer for more aggressive drives to the basket and is doing work on the glass as well. Tommy Beer of HoopsWorld.com has more on Smith, who is rolling and fueling the Knicks as they are in the midst of an eight-game win streak:

Smith has been consistently aggressive. He’s relentlessly attacking the basket rather than settling for perimeter jumpers.

Consider these statistics to help put Smith’s recent play in proper context: Smith played 35 games for the Knicks last season after signing with New York in mid-February and attempted a total of 55 free throws over the course of the 2011-12 season. In contrast, over the Knicks’ last 10 games, Smith has attempted 89 free throws. Yes, he has gotten to the line 34 more times in 25 fewer games.

Over this 10-game stretch, dating back to March 14, Smith is tied with Kevin Durant for the most free throw attempts in the entire league.

During this current 10-game span, Smith is shooting over 48 percent from the floor and has scored 250 points on just 168 field goal attempts. Those numbers compare favorably with even the league’s most efficient scorers.

Smith certainly hasn’t eliminated the three-pointer from his arsenal (he averaged 6.3 three-point attempts in March), he’s just been more selective. In addition, he has drastically reduced the amount of long two-pointers he’s taking. Smith is either taking threes or getting to basket, which typically results in a dunk, lay-up or trip to the charity stripe.

In March, Smith was one of just five NBA players who knocked down at least 20 three-pointers as well as 80 free throws. The other four members of that exclusive club: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, James Harden and Durant.

Coming into this season, Smith had never averaged more than 4.1 rebounds per contest, but is pulling down 5.2 rebounds a night in 2012-13. He’s also dishing out a career-best 2.8 assists per game. He is one of just six players this season averaging at least 17 points, five rebounds and 1.3 steals (Russell Westbrook, James, Durant, Paul George and Rudy Gay are the other five).

O’Neal readies for his moment to be immortalizedTo a generation, Shaquille O’Neal may mostly be known as the new face on Inside the NBA, a pitchman and an adopter of practically all forms of social media. But before you pigeonhole Shaq as merely and entertainer, don’t forget his days as the most dominant force in the league as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. Although O’Neal never played an entire healthy season in L.A., he nonetheless ran roughshod over opponents, particularly during the Lakers’ three-peat years from 2000-02. Tonight, his No. 34 jersey will be hung from the rafters at Staples Center, joining other Laker legends as we all take a moment to reflect on his career, writes Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

If Shaquille O’Neal needed a nickname on his first day as a Laker, it could have been the Big Worrywart.

As dominant as he was, the best big man in the NBA recognized he represented just a fraction of the Lakers centers who had come before him.

George Mikan won six titles while becoming Mr. Basketball. Wilt Chamberlain won two titles (one as a Laker) and scored 100 points in a game. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won six titles (five as a Laker) and was the league’s all-time leading scorer.

What had O’Neal done, besides help the Orlando Magic go poof in a four-game sweep during the 1995 Finals?

“It was something I was terrified of,” O’Neal said of the Lakers’ legacy of centers. “We made it to the Finals that one year. That was good, but it wasn’t as good as them yet. Because in my mind I’m like, ‘Wilt’s got two [titles], Kareem’s got six and I have none.’”

O’Neal’s insecurities were only reinforced when Jerry West, then the Lakers’ executive vice president, placed his hands on the center’s broad shoulders shortly after he joined the team in July 1996 and told him to look up at the jerseys hanging from the rafters inside the Forum.

“He said, ‘Son, if you do everything correctly and do everything in a professional manner,’” O’Neal said, recalling their conversation, “‘you may be up there one day.’”

O’Neal was famous for bestowing nicknames upon himself: Shaq-Fu, Big Aristotle and MDE, for Most Dominant Ever.

He never called himself the best Lakers center ever, and he isn’t about to now.

“I’m just good enough to be in the conversation,” said O’Neal, 41, who was given the night off from the TNT broadcast of the Lakers-Mavericks game to enjoy his jersey retirement ceremony.

O’Neal overpowered defenders, using his massive 7-1, 340-pound body as leverage before spinning away for layups or dunks. He teamed with Kobe Bryant to help the Lakers win three straight titles from 2000-02. “My style was dominating and intimidating people, making them quit, making them flop,” O’Neal said.

He does have a few regrets about a career in which injuries limited him to an average of 63 games a season.

“I’m kind of upset with myself for missing 250 games,” said O’Neal, who ranks sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 28,596 points. “If I had played those games and gotten an extra 5,000 points, I would have passed Wilt Chamberlain and then I would have the right to say I’m the most dominant big man ever to play.”

Corbin pranks red-hot Jefferson — The Jazz are the hottest team in the West, having won five straight games. Those victories have come at an opportune time, considering Utah is in a scrap with Dallas and the L.A. Lakers for the No. 8 spot in the West (although Utah does hold the tie-breakers over both teams). Key in that surge of late has been center Al Jefferson, who was named the Western Conference Player of the Week and has dominated inside while the Jazz are slowly regaining the rhythm that made them a solid-if-not-certain playoff team earlier in the season. Jody Genessy of the Deseret News has more on Jefferson, his award and a little joke played on him by his coach, Tyrone Corbin:

Al Jefferson got an unexpected phone call from Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin on Monday afternoon.

At first, Big Al thought he might be in trouble.

Jefferson then wondered if he was a prank victim.

“He called me out of the blue, and I was thinking I did something wrong,” said Jefferson, who then quickly was reminded it was April Fools’ Day. “(Coach) was like, ‘Yeah, I’m calling to trade you. …

“But, oh yeah, that’s right,” Corbin added, “we can’t trade.”

The real reason for the call?

The coach was informing Jefferson he’d been named the NBA’s Western Conference player of the week.

“I think it’s a tremendous honor for where we are,” Corbin said. “He’s a huge part of the success that we’re having.”

Big Al averaged 19.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.5 blocks during the pivotal week, which helped the Jazz work their way back into the eighth and final playoff spot out West.

“It really did (surprise me). It caught me off guard so bad,” Jefferson said. “I’m so focused trying to just get into the playoffs. I ain’t really thought about our record this week and what I averaged this week.”

Jefferson, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds in Utah’s 112-102 win over Portland on Monday, has been named a player of the week five times in his nine-year career, including twice with the Jazz (the first time being April 23, 2012).

That came as a surprise to him. He thought this was his fourth time.

“For real?” he said when informed he’s earned the honor twice in Utah, twice in Minnesota and once with Boston. “It’s a great feeling, but there’s bigger fish to fry. The main goal is to win a championship.”

Dunlap glad Bobcats face tough final scheduleCharlotte is in a game-by-game battle with Orlando for the worst record in the Eastern Conference and is set up for likely a third straight season of 25 wins or less. Of the Bobcats’ final eight games, five are against playoff teams. That would seem to be exactly what a young, struggling team like Charlotte wouldn’t want to face, but coach Mike Dunlap tells Charles F. Gardner of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel the opposite is true:

Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap said he’s glad his team is playing teams in contention for the playoffs.

“The great thing about playing the Bucks tonight is they have the playoff fever,” Dunlap said. “Every possession presents itself with an intensity that is good for our young guys to understand.”

Charlotte scored 60 points in the first half but only 42 in the second half as the Bucks won their 10th consecutive home game against the Bobcats.

The Bucks and Bobcats met twice early in the season, with Charlotte prevailing at home, 102-98, on Nov. 19 and the Bucks winning at home, 108-93, on Dec. 7.

Charlotte started 7-5, matching its total of victories last season. But it has won just 10 more times since that promising start.

“Youth, is one,” Dunlap said. “And two is you have them in a concentrated period of the training camp and you come right into the season. There’s a bit of fizz there in terms of clarity.

“We’ve had a story line that’s quiet. But we’ve run into major injuries. We’re on the margin, so when a Gerald Henderson is out for the better part of two months, that impacts us. You can see what he’s doing. Then (Ramon) Sessions goes out. We can’t afford to lose a Sessions. That’s like losing a (Mario) Chalmers or something along those lines.”

ICYMI of the night: Game by game, Ricky Rubio is regaining the form that made him a standout last season and, game by game, Derrick Williams is benefiting from Rubio’s play:

Morning Shootaround — March 29

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Lakers-Bucks was the more sexy game of the night, what with Milwaukee climbing out of a 13-point hole to take down the West’s most glamorous team. By contrast, the Kings-Suns game gets the award for least sexy matchup of the night (despite an awesome performance from the enigmatic DeMarcus Cousins). That leaves Pacers-Mavs as our pick this morning, a bit of a surprise if you look at the final score. We’re picking this one, though, for some off-court reasons. Namely, the Pacers’ mental toughness and circle-the-wagons approach to last night’s game (especially after they learned Danny Granger won’t be back this season). Indiana also heard Dallas’ talk of shaving their hope-to-be-.500 beards after this game, as if assuming they’d topple the East’s No. 2 team with no problem. But great performances from Paul George and Roy Hibbert showed the Pacers are as serious of a contender in the East as they have been all season.

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News of the morning

Sanders gets Bucks rolling vs. Lakers | Z-Bo, Hollins shrug off conflict talk | Cousins takes out frustrations on Suns | Clips’ Barnes wants refs’ grades public

Sanders fuels Bucks’ big victoryAs our man Steve Aschburner pointed out postgame, the big story from last night’s Lakers-Bucks game in Milwaukee was obviously the injury to Kobe Bryant. But while we’re all fretting over whether or not the Black Mamba will play in L.A.’s next game, lost in the shuffle was the play of Larry Sanders last night. He finished with a career-best 21 points and his high-energy play that has been a hallmark of his season sparked Milwaukee as it rallied from a 13-point hole. Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has more on Sanders and the Bucks’ big win:

The Bucks knew that somehow, some way, they had to halt a four-game slide that was putting their playoff push in reverse gear.

And they did it with a collective effort, posting a 113-103 victory that featured a career-high 21 points from center Larry Sanders and a stellar defensive performance by veteran Marquis Daniels, who had the difficult assignment to defend Bryant.

“We came out and accepted the challenge,” Daniels said. “We needed a win bad. We came out with more intensity and more energy.

“You just try to make all his shots tough and make him work for everything that he got.”

“Our attention to detail was a little better,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “Larry was great, really active, did a lot of talking out there.

“We’ve been struggling lately. And when you struggle, you can get into your own little world, and that’s a bad place to go as a team. You need to be communicating; you need to be playing a collective game.

“Tonight was breaking out of that shell a little bit.”

The Bucks trailed by as many as 13 points in the second quarter but rallied within 56-53 at halftime.

Then they began to take control in the third quarter, using a 13-2 run that featured three dunks by Sanders and a three-pointer by Daniels.

The Bucks led, 82-77, after three quarters and extended the lead to 12 points in the fourth quarter.

Daniels had a key three-point play off a Monta Ellis assist as part of an 8-0 spurt to give the Bucks a 104-92 lead.

“It gets the crowd going and gets the team going,” Sanders said of his six dunks.

He exhorted the crowd in the final minute, walking over to the sideline and raising his arms to get the fans out of their seats.

“I love the crowd,” Sanders said. “I like to get them hyped, especially with the playoffs coming up. It will be good for us.”

Randolph, Hollins ignore talk of conflictDuring the Knicks’ win over the Grizzlies on Wednesday night, the New York broadcasting crew implied that there might be growing friction between Grizzlies All-Star forward Zach Randolph and his coach, Lionel Hollins. They also suggested there is a growing belief there is a wedge between the star and his coach and that dynamic is being played out on the court. Randolph and Hollins, though, refute those claims and detail their relationship further to Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal:

There is a growing belief that the Grizzlies’ veteran power forward and head coach aren’t on the same page as they prepare for a postseason run. However, both men dismissed that notion Thursday, saying there is no friction between them.

“Our relationship is fine,” Randolph said. “I respect my coach.”

“The only beef I had with Zach is he was excessively late for a shootaround that started at 4:30 p.m. (last Saturday),” Hollins said. “I told him I can’t start you and he understood. Everybody’s got their opinion about what goes on in our locker room. But only the people in there know. I haven’t had a beef with Zach and he hasn’t had one with me.”

Randolph didn’t start last Saturday against Boston because of his tardiness that day. He struggled mightily on the court this past week in games against Washington and New York.

Randolph had just one shot in the second half of a loss at Washington. He was just 1 of 3 from the field against New York.

Hollins said any correlation between Randolph’s recent poor performances and their relationship is off base because there are basketball reasons why Randolph has struggled lately.

“We’re getting him the ball,” Hollins said. “If you watch the games, we’re getting him the ball. It’s just now teams are taking him away. They’re running three people at him and he’s making passes. Other people are having to step up and try to do things. It’s just the way it is.”

Hollins did acknowledge that the Grizzlies aren’t in the best place as the regular season winds down. And his assessment had nothing to do with their fifth-place standing in the Western Conference.

“I’d like for us to be sharper mentally and more focused intensity-wise. But I understand it’s a long season. I understand that guys get tired and you go through lulls. Then, you get your energy back,” Hollins said. “I just don’t want us to get bad habits. That was one of the reasons I had practice (Thursday). I wanted to get back to practicing our habits. It wasn’t a hard workout, but it was back to technique and fundamentals offensively and defensively.”

Cousins pounds away on SunsThe Kings are one of the West’s worst squads but have shown improvement in March, going 7-7 with wins against the Bulls, Clippers and, most recently, the Warriors, during that span. The win in Golden State wasn’t without its dramatic points for the Kings, most notably being that leading scorer DeMarcus Cousins sat out the entire fourth quarter of that game as coach Keith Smart went for a defensive lineup. Cousins was back in action last night and made sure his play wasn’t an afterthought in the Kings’ win, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee:

A night after being held out the final 12 minutes, DeMarcus Cousins had the option of going back in during the fourth quarter Thursday night.

He declined. There was no need for Cousins to do any more.

Cousins had his way against the undermanned Phoenix Suns. The third-year center scored a season-high 34 points to go with 14 rebounds as the Kings bullied their way to a 117-103 win at US Airways Center.

Rather than seethe over what happened against the Warriors, Cousins took his frustration out on Luis Scola, Markieff Morris, Hamed Haddadi or any other Suns player that tried to stop him.

Cousins scored 17 points and had seven rebounds in the first quarter to spark the Kings’ 38-point effort to open the game. It was the most points Phoenix allowed in a first period this season.

“It was definitely frustration,” Cousins said. “I just try to put it behind me. It’s a new day, so I just try to act like it never happened.”

Cousins showed off his overall skills in going 12 for 16 from the field and making all nine of his free throws. He also made one of his two three-point attempts.

Cousins used power against smaller players and skill and quickness against stronger players that could not match his athleticism.

“The guy has a lot of talent, and you saw everything,” Smart said. “From the three-point shot, he can do that, he shoots them in practice. The midrange, 17-, 18-foot shot. The drive to the basket from deep off the floor. Obviously his rebounding is still going to be his strong suit because that’s what he does, and he’s a very good offensive rebounder.”

Smart knew Cousins wasn’t happy about not playing in the fourth against the Warriors and liked how Cousins responded.

“The best way to handle anything you may be feeling is to go out on the floor and perform,” Smart said. “We’re all judged on the performance. And regardless of what a coach did or a player did, it’s all about your performance on the floor. And tonight he created the environment that he wanted to have success in.”

Barnes wants more transparency with refs — The Clippers are tied with the Thunder in average technical fouls per game this season with 0.8. There have been 58 technicals assessed to the Clips this season, with Blake Griffin’s 12 being the team high. And, as Dan Woike of the Orange County Register points out, most of those technicals have come after the Clippers’ players and coaches argue with officials about a call. Reserve forward Matt Barnes, though, has clear thoughts on what should happen with officials in the future:

Matt Barnes, a player who has made a career of not backing down from anyone on the court, didn’t back down from the touchy topic, calling for the leae to be more transparent with their officials.

“One I thing I will say is I know they get graded. I think their grades should be public record,” Barnes said before the Clippers’ victory over New Orleans Wednesday. “Everything we do on the court is public. Our fines, our techs, everything we do is under a microscope. And the refs are supposed to be a part of this league just like we are.

“Their grades should be public record. Everyone should be able to see.”

“It’s hard,” Barnes said. “When you’re playing as hard as you can and you’re getting beat up and nothing is being done about it, it’s frustrating.”

Multiple players agreed that the team has developed a reputation around the league for complaining about calls.

“I think we do, and if so, it’s warranted,” Barnes said. “I’ve seen the calls that have been made against us and the calls that are not made for us. Blake’s a superstar, and I see the way he gets beat up or me as a defender being aggressive and the fouls I get. It’s frustrating, but it’s something we have to play through.

“…I think the reputation, for whatever reason, is something we’re going to have to work through because we definitely don’t get calls.”

Barnes said he doesn’t hold any ill will towards officials, though.

“They’re out there doing the best job they can,” he said.

But that doesn’t change his views on whether the NBA should be more open with its reviews of their officials.

“A ref’s grade should be public record after a game just like our stats are,” Barnes said. “They’re out there, doing their job, and they’re supposed to be the best in the world just like we are. Their grades should be public record. I don’t understand why not.”

ICYMI of the night: It takes a lot for a mascot to make the cut down here, but Bango sure did get Dwight Howard good on this one … :


Morning Shootaround — March 27

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Is there any other choice this morning but that OT thriller between the Mavs and Clippers from Dallas? The Mavs have now won seven of their last 10 games to pull within a game of the L.A. Lakers for No. 8 in the West while the Clippers are struggling a little and lost their long-held No. 3 seed in the West to the Denver Nuggets with this defeat. The Clips might not have been in this position had Blake Griffin‘s amazing shot with :00.4 left counted, but he was called for an offensive foul in the must-see play of the game. Still, credit to the Mavs, who are truly not giving up on this dream of making the playoffs this season and have a healthy Dirk Nowitzki ready to lead them to their goal.

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News of the morning

Magic to shut down Vucevic for season? | Del Negro not worrying about future | Banged-up Celtics falling fast in East | World Peace diagnosed with torn meniscus

Magic’s Vucevic done for season?In case you missed it, Nikola Vucevic is fourth in the league in rebounds per game (11.5) and is third overall in total rebounds (780), trailing only Omer Asik and Dwight Howard. Pretty impressive stuff for a player thought of as a throw-in/afterthought in the Howard mega-deal that sent the ex-Magic big man to the L.A. Lakers last summer. While Vucevic has enjoyed a breakout season, he won’t play in tonight’s game against Charlotte and hasn’t played since March 19. Vucevic is recovering after getting hit in the mouth vs. Indiana and has been dealing with concussion symptoms since then. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel has more on Vucevic, whom the Magic may just keep out of the lineup for a while:

Nik Vucevic, who is recovering from a mild concussion he sustained on March 19, won’t play when the Orlando Magic play the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday night.

Vucevic said Tuesday he wasn’t scheduled to accompany the team to North Carolina, but he said he expects to play again this season.

“I’m getting better,” the 22-year-old center said. “I’m better day-by-day. I’ll leave it up to the trainer and the doctor.”

Vucevic suffered his injury when he absorbed an elbow to his mouth against the Indiana Pacers. The shot left him a bit dazed and left him wondering whether he had lost any teeth.

In the days that followed, he said he had a headache and some sensitivity to light.

After some tests, a doctor determined he had sustained a concussion.

In Dec. 2011, the league instituted a concussion protocol.

Physician Jeffrey Kutcher, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Michigan and the director of the NBA’s concussion program, consults with all teams on the return-to-play schedules of players who have suffered concussions.

Coach Jacque Vaughn might decide to not to play Vucevic even after Vucevic receives a medical OK to play again. Vaughn has been cautious in putting players back on the court after injuries.

Vucevic wouldn’t speculate on how close he is to playing again.

“I don’t know,” he said. “All that is up to the trainer. I just follow what he says.”

Del Negro not fretting futureA cursory search of this very blog for the term “Del Negro” brings up a smorgasbord of posts about L.A. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro and his seemingly always-tenuous future with the team. Del Negro has, throughout his nearly three full seasons on the job in L.A., become a popular whipping boy whenever things go a little bit south in Clipperland. Such is the case again for the Clippers coach. He is operating on the last year of his contract and hasn’t been offered an extension by the team, but Del Negro tells the Los Angeles Times’ Broderick Turner the future is the last thing on his mind:

Del Negro was asked by a member of the media in front of the group about his coaching future with the Clippers.

The Clippers picked up Del Negro’s contract last year, but he wasn’t given an extension. His deal expires when the season is over.

“I enjoy the pressure,” Del Negro said. “That’s what it’s about. I love the competition. Could things be a little bit better in certain areas? Of course. But all those things get answered at the end of the year.

“Our focus is on tonight’s game and on this season and all those things get answered at the end of the season, one way or the other,” he said.

The Clippers are playoff-bound for the second consecutive season under Del Negro. It will be only the third time in franchise history the Clippers have had consecutive playoff appearances.

Del Negro was asked if his future was tied to how far the Clipper go in the playoffs this season.

“No, my future is great,” Del Negro responded. “I’ve got a great future, no matter what. I’ve been pretty fortunate, so I don’t really worry about that stuff so much. Like I said, all those things take care of themselves when we finish.”

Celtics falling fast in East raceWith no Kevin Garnett and no Courtney Lee last night against the Knicks, the Celtics were at a decided disadvantage before the game ever began. Throw in a four-game losing streak heading into last night’s contest and mix in the overall sloppy play of Boston throughout its 100-85 beating and the Celtics now sport a five-game losing streak and have fallen to No. 7 in the East. Worse yet for the Celtics is that Milwaukee is just 1 1/2 games behind them and owns the tie-breaker, too. Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe has more on the late-season stumbles of the Celtics:

For the first time since Rajon Rondo went down with a season-ending knee injury in January, it seemed as though the Celtics had finally – if not reluctantly — succumbed to the reality of their limited roster. A 15-point home loss to a shorthanded team will do that.

“It’s been like that for us all season long, it just seems like it gets worse and worse,” captain Paul Pierce said of the injuries. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.”

The Celtics have lost five consecutive games, and as Garnett is expected to miss up to two weeks with inflammation in his left ankle, a rather gloomy question looms:

Is this what the Celtics can expect while their defensive anchor is out?

“No,” a defiant coach Doc Rivers said. “Guys, I think you’ve been around me long enough. Kevin’s not playing. I don’t worry about it. I really don’t.

“Somebody else has to play better. A lot of guys. It’s not going to be one guy. But overall, we were pretty bad [Tuesday]. Kevin had nothing to do with that.”

After a tight start, the Knicks, who won their fifth straight, utilized a back-breaking 14-0 run in the second quarter to separate themselves. A J.R. Smith 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer gave New York a 15-point lead entering the fourth.

The fans began to file out midway through the final quarter, having seen enough.

“We just didn’t have it,” Rivers said. “I wish I knew why.”

The Celtics had talked in weeks past that they weren’t concerned with trying to move up in the standings to try to earn home-court advantage.

Now, such a possibility is gone.

If the Celtics end up tied with the Bucks in the final playoff spot, Milwaukee will own the tiebreaker as they’ve beaten Boston in three of their four matchups this season.

Which means the Celtics would be the East’s eighth-seeded team and would face powerhouse Miami in the first round of the playoffs.

“Listen, the decision we’re making with Kevin is the right one,” Rivers said. “But we still want to win games.

“We’re not going to let one game say that we’re not going to win any more games. It’s silly to me to even think that way. We have to get ready for tomorrow and go from there.”

World Peace suffers torn meniscusThings can’t seem to ever turn around for the Lakers. After a fairly successful start to March, L.A. has lost three in a row and holds a one-game lead over both Utah and Dallas for the No. 8 seed in the West. Now comes word that small forward Metta World Peace, who has started 64 of the 70 games he’s played in this season, has a torn meniscus in his left knee. The injury deals a big blow to L.A.’s hopes of holding on to that last playoff spot and, worse yet, the Lakers have yet to find out precisely how long World Peace will be out. Sean Highkin of USA Today has more:

The Los Angeles Lakers took a serious setback Tuesday, when the team announced forward Metta World Peace has a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee. World Peace was injured during the Lakers’ loss Monday to the Golden State Warriors, and the team announced in a news release that an MRI showed a meniscus tear. He will be flown to Los Angeles — the Lakers are on the road to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday — for further evaluation before a timetable for his return is determined

The loss of World Peace comes at an inopportune time. The Lakers are clinging to a one-game lead on the Utah Jazz for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and with Pau Gasol finally healthy, coach Mike D’Antoni hoped to use the final weeks of the regular season to get his starting five reacquainted.

The loss of their starting small forward will likely force the Lakers to start Antawn Jamison alongside Earl Clark and Dwight Howard in the frontcourt. Not only will Jamison be playing out of position, but has the potential to take away one of the team’s most consistent scoring options off the bench.

ICYMI of the night: J.R. Smith went wherever he want and did whatever he wanted in last night’s win against the Celtics, as this play shows … :


Morning Shootaround — March 26

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Yes, the Heat kept their win streak rolling (it’s at 27, in case you’ve been living in a cave or something). No, the Nuggets’ didn’t keep theirs rolling (it ended at 15 games, one shy of breaking the franchise’s all-time mark). But the game we’re going to focus on in this space is, surprisingly, Grizzlies-Wizards. The final score (107-94 Washington) give the impression we had a blowout on our hands all night. That would be wrong, though, as Washington only lead 76-74 heading into the fourth quarter and needed a truly amazing performance from John Wall to put away the always hard-fighting Grizz in this one. As hard as the Wizards have had it this season, there’s a real future for this team if Wall can stay healthy for an entire season.

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News of the morning

Wall keeps up torrid pace| Pacers deal with patchwork lineup| Lakers look like old (bad) selves? | Karl has own playoff seeding idea | World Peace may opt out

Wall keeps churning, improving game If you missed it a few weeks ago, our man David Aldridge did a great job of looking at the youthful-but-lottery-bound backcourts in the Eastern Conference that reside in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Washington. One of the stars of those backcourts, John Wall, has been on a tear since missing the season’s first 32 games with a knee injury and had perhaps his best game since his return last night against Memphis. Wall burned the Grizz for a career-best 47 points as Washington won to improve to 21-16 since Wall got back in the lineup. Brandon Parker of The Washington Post has more on Wall and his rapid rise:

After recording a career-high 47 points in Washington’s 107-94 win against playoff-bound Memphis, Wall is now averaging 25 points and 9.3 assists during his past nine games. The Wizards have gone 6-3 during that stint and are now 21-16 since Wall’s return from a leg injury.

“I believe in my ability,” Wall said. “I’m very confident and I think whenever you’re in your zone or you’re in a great rhythm like I’ve been in the last couple months, you don’t feel nobody can guard you no matter who it is.”

Wall’s 47 points against a strong defensive team like Memphis puts him on a short list with Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. They’re the only two players to score more points than Wall in a game this season, with 54 and 52, respectively.

Before and after Monday’s game, Wizards Coach Randy Wittman touched on how he felt many have underestimated the transition Wall had to go through after missing the first 33 games with a knee injury.

“I think he’s showing you right now what he can be,” Wittman said when asked if Wall was a franchise player. “You don’t really understand what he went through this year. It’s tough to sit for three and a half months and not do anything. And then I get him, the doctor says I can play him and I throw him to the wolves.”

Wall has also shown patience with his jumper, steadily working to eliminate the hitch in his shot and add another dimension to a skill set built on speed and flash. By doing so, he also seems to be indirectly addressing the questions surrounding his value as a franchise and max-contract player.

“The work that he did all summer leading up to his injury in September is starting to pay off,” Wittman said. “And he’s continuing to do that work now. He’s 22. I think we’re beginning to see who John Wall can be.”

Injuries wreak havoc on Pacers’ rosterLast night against Atlanta, Indiana trotted out a starting lineup of D.J. Augustin, Paul George, Tyler Hansbrough, Gerald Green and Roy Hibbert — a group that had started zero games together. Although the Pacers won, they built a monster lead earlier in the game but had to sweat out a 100-94 victory in the fourth quarter. The unfamiliar lineups may be more of a common thing for Indiana as the season wears down thanks to injuries to the Pacers’ regular starters, writes Phillip B. Wilson of The Indianapolis Star:

Two more Indiana Pacers were affixed the dreaded “day-to-day” injury tag Monday as the starting backcourt of George Hill and Lance Stephenson sat out against Atlanta at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Hill, the starting point guard, is bothered by a left groin strain. Stephenson has a right hip flexor. The Pacers were also without starting forward David West (back strain) for a fifth consecutive game and 2009 NBA All-Star forward David Granger, who has played just five games as a reserve due to a seasonlong knee problem.

“George’s is probably more serious than Lance’s,” Vogel said before the game. “(Hill) still has a good chance of playing on Wednesday, (but) they’re more concerned with his groin than they are Lance’s hip.”

“David is going to be still day-to-day,” Vogel said. “There’s an outside chance he could play Wednesday, but not 100 percent sure. And Danny as well. Those guys both could see action in Texas.”

The tape on George’s left hand was gone, so perhaps that ends the All-Star forward’s pinkie pain. He had taped up his hand for the previous four games.

“They didn’t even tell me about it, that’s how much the trainers were worried about it,” Vogel said. “I didn’t even know about it.”

Lakers revert to bad selvesDon’t look now, L.A. fans, but your squad might be getting back into the funk that dogged the most of the season. After picking up wins this month against the Hawks, Bulls, Pacers and scoring romps over the Magic and Kings, it looked like the Lakers were hitting their rhythm and locking in on a playoff berth. Then came the last three games, all of which have been losses, including last night’s defeat in Oakland to the Warriors. That loss, coupled with Utah’s win over Philly at home, trimmed L.A.’s lead for No. 8 in the West to one game. Worse yet, writes Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register, the Lakers seems to be fracturing again:

Dwight Howard staring at teammates after their defensive gaffes.

Mike D’Antoni leading huddles that featured multiple players fragmented and away from the group.

Kobe Bryant shooting and shooting and shooting.

Just 10 days after the Lakers looked like a bonded team in their best road victory of the season in Indiana, they dropped back into their early-season mode of not doing the little things that make a team work together and lost to the Golden State Warriors, 109-103, on Monday night.

In a familiar refrain this season, the Lakers only tried harder once they were already being embarrassed.

Apparently the previous two games – losses to also-rans Phoenix and Washington – weren’t enough to get the Lakers’ attention. They lost their third consecutive game, their second since Bryant’s return from the left ankle sprain that limited him to advising teammates beautifully in Indiana.

Bryant scored 36 points but shot 11 for 27 from the field a game after D’Antoni came away steamed at the Lakers’ lack of ball movement in their home loss to the Wizards.

Bryant stressed the need for improved execution, especially in team defense, saying: “I don’t think it’s time to get emotional. Just got to maintain our poise.”

Said D’Antoni: “I don’t know if we have the speed sometimes to play harder.”

Howard got just eight field-goal attempts in 38 minutes and took three stitches to his lower lip from a David Lee elbow. Metta World Peace, the team’s iron man in an injury-filled season, sat out the second half because of a strained left knee. In his second game back from a foot injury, Pau Gasol was three steps slow at both ends.

Nuggets’ Karl shares his playoff ideaAlthough Denver’s 15-game win streak came to an end last night in New Orleans, the Nuggets’ streak has helped them elevate themselves from the No. 6-8 seeds in the West into the upper-crust of the conference. As it stands today, Denver is the No. 4 seed and would play Memphis in the first round with the Nuggets holding home-court advantage. But there are scenarios in place in which the No. 4 seed could end up as the team without home-court advantage in the first round. Nuggets coach George Karl has thoughts on that notion as well as the overall playoff setup in a playoff-based conversation he had with Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post and other area writers:

So basically, here’s Karl’s idea: The top eight teams from the Western Conference and the top eight teams from the Eastern Conference are put into a playoff pool. At this point, conference affiliation no longer matters. Instead, it’s all about record.

The team with the best record plays the team with the 16th-best record and so on.

And then, like he said, they reseed hockey-style for the next round. And so, the NBA’s “Final Four” could be four teams from the same conference — but, as proven by this system, perhaps the four best teams in basketball.

“I think it would get fans excited, man. It would be crazy,” Karl said. “And we travel with private jets now, so I think you can schedule it to where you’d get two days of rest between games. I think it would be really fun and interesting to see the matchups.”

So if you were commissioner, you would try to make this happen? Like, for real?

“I would advocate it,” he said. “I don’t know if the Board of Governors would pass it, but I would advocate it.”

After George had gone off the map with this idea, I chimed in with a thought — why not just get rid of conferences altogether? Why punish a team that’s ninth or 10th in the West that’s way better than, say, seventh and eighth in the East?

Promptly, Chris Marlowe from Altitude suggested that my thought was “Draconian,” and Karl himself said: “I think you’re going off the map.”

The coach had one other idea on Saturday. Cut the 82-game season to a 62-game season, and then in the middle of the season, “You can take a three-week break and have an NCAA-like tournament. Single elimination is a lot different than a seven-game series.”

World Peace pondering opt out after seasonMetta World Peace is averaging 12.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg and shooting 40.5 percent — all numbers which make for his overall best statistical season with the Lakers since joining them as a free agent back in 2009. While World Peace has experienced a bit of a statistical renaissance, he is also carrying a weighty player option on his contract this summer and can choose to opt out of his deal. Given the new CBA world of the NBA, most players wouldn’t dream of such a move as it sacrifices a guaranteed payday for the uncertainty of free agency. But the Lakers have yet to use their one-time amnesty provision and there is thought that World Peace could be their selection this summer. Our man Scott Howard-Cooper has more on what World Peace may do this offseason:

World Peace has a player option for 2013-14, the final year of his contract, at $7.7 million. He said his agent, Marc Cornstein, will approach the Lakers about an extension, but that will be a very short conversation unless the 33-year-old small forward is willing to take a severe pay cut. And it may be short no matter what.

If World Peace does not terminate the deal, he immediately becomes a candidate to be cut under the amnesty provision. If he does terminate, likely (one would hope) after conversations with team officials to gauge the chances of getting more years at a lot less money annually, it is nearly impossible to imagine the Lakers committing more than two seasons on a new deal to maintain the possible cap room in the summer of 2014.

The choice for World Peace could be to risk free agency in what figures to be a cold market in 2013 or keep the final season of the contract in place at the $7.7 million and possibly have his Lakers career end before he wants. He could also stay in the deal and be traded as an expiring contract to an undesirable destination.

“I think my agent is trying to see if he can get an extension to stay here in L.A.,” World Peace told NBA.com. “I’m really excited about the possibilities of staying here in L.A.”

But would he take a pay cut to help make it happen?

“It’s too early to say those types of things right now,” he said Monday night at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors beat the Lakers 109-103. “It’s too early to say. I don’t know what the Lakers are thinking. I don’t know what anybody’s thinking. I don’t even know what other teams think. I don’t know what’s going on because I haven’t told my agent, ‘Hey, go out there and ask around’ and things like that. I don’t know what anybody’s thinking at this point in time. I just try to keep my game. I’m playing at a good level.”

ICYMI of the night: The move Steph Curry puts on Steve Nash makes the former MVP (an notoriously poor defender) look just silly on defense …:


Morning Shootaround — March 13

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: The return of Dwight Howard to his old stomping grounds in Orlando had plenty of vitrol, but the Lakers-Magic game itself was lacking in any real on-court spice thanks mostly to Howard’s dominating play. The Heat kept on rolling with an easy victory over the Hawks, sending Miami’s win streak to 19 games. Out West, the Grizz and Mavs are working on their respective playoff pushes (Memphis is now No. 3 in the West; Dallas is only three games behind the No. 8-seeded Lakers). Our pick of the day, though, was the Spurs-Wolves game from Target Center. Yes, this one was a bit of a blowout, but there was a lot worth seeing in the game … particularly the play of Ricky Rubio. The point guard nabbed his first NBA triple-double and gave Wolves fans — who have seen injuries ruin a once-promising season — plenty of the trademark dimes and dribbles we all love Rubio for.

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News of the morning

Howard embraces tough environment | So, who won the ‘Melo trade? | D-Will hitting his stride again | Budinger mending; Love next?

Howard thrives in first return to Orlando — The game much of Orlando had circled on their calendar all season turned out to be a blast from the past. Dwight Howard’s return to Florida as a member of the Lakers was one chock full of boos and ill will from Magic fans still seething over Howard’s trade to L.A. after a season-long “Dwightmare” during the 2011-12 campaign. But by the end of the game last night, despite all the heckling Howard took, it was the Magic’s former star who had the last laugh. He finished with 39 points and 16 rebounds as the Lakers won easily, getting a victory that may spur them on to greater things, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

The Magic tried to prey on all his insecurities, all his fears, and yet, finally, there was no stopping the self-proclaimed Superman. Over and over, the Magic grabbed Howard, slapped him, wrapped arms around those massive shoulders and dared him to immerse himself in the moment, concentrate and make free throws. The Magic played a Hack-a-Dwight, dared him to stand alone in downtown Orlando and make free throw upon free throw.

Thirty-nine times Howard shot them, 25 times they dropped into the net and ultimately 39 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks punctuated the Lakers’ 106-97 victory over the Magic.

“I needed that to learn how to block a lot of things out, despite the boos and all that stuff,” Howard said.

That’s always the issue with Howard: Where’s his mind? Where’s his focus? What’s his mood? Since the All-Star break, those within the Lakers have declared him transformed. After such a reluctance to embrace the burden that comes with this franchise, Howard has “come with an intensity, a ferocity,” Kobe Bryant told Yahoo! Sports. “He understands that with the Lakers, it’s a championship or nothing.”

From the coaching staff to the players, they think Howard has become a better teammate, more willing to do things big and small necessary to propel the Lakers into contention. Within the Lakers, they believe that Howard is progressing physically because he’s pushing himself harder.

Slowly, surely, his back has provided him with more mobility, explosion. Most mornings, Howard goes for acupuncture on his back, diligently trying to bring it all the way back. Howard has streamlined his personal life, too. He’s leaned on a nutritionist, reshuffled his inner circle with the elimination of a long-time business manager. His circle is tighter, and some think that’s productively narrowed his world.

Before the game, Bryant’s message to Howard was unmistakable: “Kill them,” Kobe told him. What Bryant didn’t want was a conciliatory Howard, the nice guy trying to undo the ill will manufactured upon forcing his departure after eight seasons.

And make no mistake: Bryant tells Howard this, too. That innate desire Howard has to win the popularity contest never works, because ultimately victory will give him all the adulation and affirmation that he wants. These Lakers are a half-game out of the seventh seed in the Western Conference – two games out of sixth – and they’re coming hard now. The Lakers are still imperfect, but they’re coming together because Howard has pulled himself together.

“He wasn’t distracted or down about coming back,” Bryant said. “I think the [free-throw successes] will do wonders for him. For him to be able to make those here, he can make those anywhere.”

Who was the winner in the ‘Melo deal?It has been more than two years since Carmelo Anthony was sent to the New York Knicks as part of a mega-deal that brought Danilo Gallinari (among others) to Denver. Since then, neither the Knicks nor the Nuggets have gotten out of the first round of the playoffs and neither has even gone as far as to win a division title. The Knicks have star power with Anthony in the fold and the Nuggets boast an exciting, up-and-down style out West. All great points, but the folks at ESPN’s Stats and Information dig deeper to see how each team has fared since the deal:

Including the playoffs, the Nuggets have won 14 more games than the Knicks since Anthony’s departure. However, neither team has advanced past the first round in their conference.

Both teams have improved overall since making the trade. Each have been playoff teams and are playing their best basketball this season since the trade.

Diving deeper into the advanced stats, on a per possession basis, both teams have played similarly efficient defense since the trade, each ranking in the middle third of the league.

Despite having one his best scoring seasons in years, Anthony has essentially been the same player in New York as he was in Denver in terms of efficiency and usage percentage overall.

The glaring difference between the two franchises is age. The Knicks are the oldest team in the NBA with an average age of 32.4 while the Nuggets are the fourth youngest team in the NBA at 25.3 years.

The two teams have been going in opposite directions since the New Year. The Nuggets have the second best record in the NBA at 26-7 while the Knicks have gone 17-14. The Nuggets are 19-2 at home and the Knicks are 7-6 on the road.

Williams finding his groove again — When he hit an NBA-record nine 3-pointers in the first half against the Wizards last week, something seemed to be brewing in Deron Williams’ game. The Nets point guard, who has hardly looked like the game-changing player he was in Utah many seasons ago, seemed to be slowly getting back on track. The stats prove the case as Williams, in his last five games, is averaging 25.4 ppg, 9.0 apg and 3.6 rpg, well above his season marks of 18.0 ppg, 7.6 apg and 3.2 rpg. Stefan Bondy of the New York Post dives into how a mended ankle and some solid performances of late have Williams looking like an All-Star again:

Deron Williams has reached that comfort zone, the same one he enjoyed during the height of his days in Utah.

It’s not just his rejuvenated body and rediscovered explosiveness. It’s also his approach. It’s his awareness. He has become the unquestioned leader of the Nets since the All-Star break, the point man calling out plays and taking control of a flowing offense.

“I think he’s got pretty close to free reign,” interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said.

The prevailing notion is the Nets will go as far as their point guard will take them. And this version of Williams is going places.

For all of the 40 minutes he played Tuesday night at Barclays Center, he was the best player on the court in a 108-98 victory. He had 21 points and 13 assists, picking up the slack while Joe Johnson was inactive because of his sore left heel.

It has been a similar story since the break for Williams, who has regained his All-Star form since dropping weight and undergoing another round of cortisone injections into his inflamed ankles. His leadership had been called into question the last two years, mostly because he sulked his way through losing seasons and was blamed for two coaches getting canned.

But the last three weeks have undoubtedly represented Williams’ best stretch as a Net.

Williams called his own plays in Utah under Jerry Sloan, and he has developed into that same steady, calming force lately in Brooklyn. The benefits showed all over Tuesday’s box score.

Five players, including Williams, scored at least 13 points. The Nets, winners of four of their last five, moved within two games of the first-place Knicks in the Atlantic Division.

Williams was the maestro on offense as his team shot 51%.

“I try to tell P.J., at times he starts calling a lot of plays and we have to all turn and look, and it slows down the game, it slows down our rhythm and we don’t flow as well,” Williams said. “Guys get out of rhythm. I have no problems when (Carlesimo’s) calling plays. But at times, when we get it, just let us push it. And then I know how to spread the floor and get everyone involved.”

Budinger cleared for contract drillsInjuries have effectively derailed what was supposed to be a breakthrough season for the Timberwolves as Minnesota has played significant chunks of the season without Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Chase Budinger — all three of whom are starters. While Rubio is back (and had a triple-double last night in an upset of the Spurs), the Wolves have been waiting to get Budinger and Love on the court again, and it appears Budinger may be close to that feat. Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press reports that Budinger has been cleared for contract drills and that the team is also awaiting word on what’s next for Love, too:

The Timberwolves are hoping for a favorable medical report when forward Kevin Love meets Wednesday, March 13, in New York with Dr. Michelle Carson, the physician who performed surgery on Love’s right hand on Jan. 15.

Carson will examine Love’s hand to determine if he’s ready to resume full-contact workouts. Love has been out since refracturing the third and fourth metacarpals in his hand Jan. 3 at Denver. He originally broke the same bones in October while doing knuckle push-ups.

After consulting with Carson, Love is expected to join the Wolves for Friday’s game in Houston.

The Wolves learned Tuesday morning that forward Chase Budinger has been cleared for full-contact work.

Budinger, out since Nov. 10 with a knee injury, received clearance from Dr. James Andrews, who operated on Budinger’s left knee Nov. 13 to repair a torn lateral meniscus ligament.

“I told the doctor what I’ve been doing,” Budinger said. “The knee is progressing well, and I’ve had no swelling or anything like that. He was pleased with that.”

Budinger remained uncertain when he might able to play. He was projected to be out until late March.

ICYMI of the night: You know Brook and Robin Lopez probably did this to each other more than a few times on the NERF hoop as kids …:

Morning Shootaround — March 4

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Another great night of games league-wide, starting with the Heat extending their win streak to a team record-tying 14 games, the Pacers taking a key division game against the Bulls, the Thunder sweeping the Clips and the Spurs showing they’re more than just the Tony Parker show. All that said, it’s hard to pick against the Hawks-Lakers game from Staples Center last night. As our man Sekou Smith pointed out, Kobe Bryant not only was in “Black Mamba” mode, but apparently in “#Vino” mode, too. Aside from a classic Kobe jam on poor Josh Smith in this one, this was a good back-and-forth game that saw Bryant deliver the heroics down the stretch and get L.A. back to the .500 mark that so many of us thought they’d be well above by this point of the season.

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News of the morning

Ginobili eyes two more years in NBA? | Vogel gets milestone win vs. Bulls | Smith thinks Howard will stay in L.A. | Stoudemire unfairly benched?| Bynum pondering arthroscopic surgery

Ginobili eyeing next contract, futureSpurs swingman Manu Ginobili is a free agent this summer and, barring a total surprise, will likely be back with the only NBA team he’s known for 2013-14. Still, as likely as it is that Ginobili will be a “Spur for life” (like fellow teammate Tim Duncan called himself a few years ago), how many more seasons of Ginobili will Spurs fans get? Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News caught up with Manu for some thoughts on his future and more:

Ginobili will be back next season, though he says there are no guarantees. At his age, he says, it’s year to year.

“But ask me right now,” he said Sunday, “and I’d like to play two more years for sure.”

His fans would prefer 10 years, but at least his timeline fits with others. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, for example, currently have contracts through 2015.

Ginobili’s contract ends this summer. And while he’s currently the highest-paid Spur, it’s likely a hometown compromise could be reached with him as it was with Duncan before.

He acknowledged Sunday he feels the years. “Little things” that wouldn’t have physically bothered him before now do. Given that, he eats better, and he stretches more, and he says he’s “less crazy” than he was eight years ago.

Less crazy?

He smiled, acting out how he pulled back against the Pistons, when there were few signs he actually did. After his only turnover, for example, he sprinted back to draw a charge.

Still crazy after all these years. “And I love that,” Stephen Jackson said. “I’d rather play with someone like him, who plays hard and gets hurt, than someone who is afraid.”

But if he’s always been crazy, he’s also always found his game after injuries. That’s why the next few weeks, in Parker’s absence, will give better evidence of where Ginobili is in his career.

Still, even if he can only play in bursts from now on, there will always be a place for the Ginobili who played Sunday.

Pacers’ Vogel gets win No. 100Crack open the Indiana Pacers record book and you’ll see Larry Bird as the club’s all-time coaching winning percentage leader. The guy right behind him? Larry Brown? Slick Leonard? Isiah Thomas? Nope. It’s none other than the current man stalking the sidelines, Frank Vogel, who got career win No. 100 in last night’s nail-biting victory over the Bulls. Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star has more on Vogel, the win and his still-surprising rise to NBA coach:

How lucky did the Indiana Pacers get when they plucked the no-name assistant off Jim O’Brien’s 21/2 years ago and made him an interim head coach?

And how fortunate does Vogel feel after starting his career as a Division III point guard at tiny Juniata (Pa.), then heading to Kentucky, where he talked his way into a job as a manager?

“I never could have imagined I would be in this position,’’ Vogel said Sunday. “Just getting the opportunity to be a head coach, that’s so rare. And then to have such a good and ready basketball team, that’s an absolute blessing.’’

The 39-year-old Vogel is a rising star in the business, a come-from-nowhere guy – well, Jersey, actually – who has a chance to be a long-term answer for this franchise. The Pacers were smart enough to extend his contract earlier in the year, and after a chorus line of three- and four-year stays by previous Pacers coaches, Vogel has shown he can be the rarest of all birds: An NBA coach with staying power.

In 21/2 years, his winning percentage is .608, behind only Larry Bird in the history of the franchise.

He changed the culture almost overnight, infusing the team with a newfound passion and direction.

“The first thing he did was preach positivity,’’ said Danny Granger, who left Sunday’s game early with knee soreness. “At first, honestly, a lot of people didn’t believe it, but then we started playing the way he wanted us to play. This league is all about confidence and when your coaches expresses confidence in you, it spills over onto the court.”

Nobody benefited more from the O’Brien-to-Vogel change than Roy Hibbert who, by the way, is starting to come out of season-long offensive funk in recent weeks.

“He’s a players’ coach,’’ Hibbert said after a double double (18 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots). “He lets us go out there and have fun, but we take things seriously when we go through practice. But he lets us enjoy more. Now we have a voice in the locker room, which we didn’t have before.’’

Hawks’ Smith thinks Dwight will stay putThe friendship between Hawks forward Josh Smith and Lakers center Dwight Howard has been well documented, so it’s only natural that some would go to Smith to pick his brain on whether Howard, a free agent this summer, will stay with the Lakers. Smith provided his own speculation on L.A.’s star big man when he spoke with Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News before last night’s Hawks-Lakers game:

First, Smith says he has a good idea on whether Howard will stay with the Lakers once he becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

“I can’t pick his brain and be in his head but to me, I don’t see him going anywhere,” Smith said before the Lakers hosted the Hawks at Staples Center. “It would be a shock to me.”

Why?

“Dwight is a loyal athlete and loyal person,” Smith said . “He’s not a quitter and doesn’t run from situations. That’s why I believe with this franchise and the way he’s talked so well about it, I can’t see him going anywhere.”

Still, Howard’s encountered frustrations on his first season with the Lakers. That’s included rehabbing from 10-month old back surgery, a torn labrum in his right shoulder, a relatively diminished offensive role and larger media scrutiny.

“He’s grasping that,” Smith said. “He’s trying to find his way on this team and trying to get back healthy. That’s the biggest thing he’s doing and worrying about. He’s getting his legs back under him and he’s starting to block more shots. It’s going to take some time.”

Howard and Smith grew up together in Atlanta and played together on the same AAU team. To this day, they often talk about eventually becoming teammates again.

“Situations like that are far fetched so it’s more, ‘What if we play with each other?’” Smith said. “In AAU basketball, we had a ton of success. You never know what the future entails. But we can talk about it. It might not necessarily happen. But it’s a good conversation.”

But Smith stressed neither he or Howard are actively trying to ensure that outcome.

“If it happens, it’ll be crazy,” Smith said. “But you never know. “

Stoudemire sits as Knicks fall to HeatKnicks reserve big man Amar’e Stoudemire had 12 points in last night’s loss to the Heat, but only three of those 12 game in the second half. Down the stretch of a tight game with Miami, coach Mike Woodson opted to play fellow reserve J.R. Smith some big minutes while Stoudemire found himself stapled to the bench for the final 7 minutes and 56 seconds of the game. That move hasn’t made some folks in New York happy, starting with Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News:

Too much James at the Garden, not enough Knick scoring in the second half, and the last eight minutes in particular, and this is why Mike Woodson now has an Amar’e Stoudemire problem on his hands.

Woodson created it by sitting Stoudemire for the last 7:56 of the Knicks’ 99-93 loss to the Heat. As James and the Heat put the finishing touches on their first win over New York this season, Stoudemire was bolted to the bench, LeBron was locking up Anthony and the Knicks were doomed.

Know this: The Knicks weren’t necessarily going to win if Woodson had called Stoudemire’s number. Not the way James had it going in the final quarter, with 12 points and the best man-to-man defense that Carmelo Anthony has faced this season.

But Woodson made a big mistake by putting his fate in Smith’s hands and not at least trying to get some offense with a proven scorer. Which Smith isn’t, as Woodson readily admitted after the Knicks saw their home record in their last 20 games fall to 11-9.

The idea that Smith needs to learn, while Stoudemire already has the credentials as an accomplished All-NBA selection — because of his scoring prowess, first and foremost — made more than one Heat player chuckle in the postgame locker room.

After seeing his team totally outplayed in the second half by a Miami team that shouldn’t have its 14-game winning streak broken any time soon, Woodson admitted that he didn’t even think about putting Stoudemire back in.

Not even a little bit, Coach?

“No, at that particular time, I didn’t because they were small and I wanted to go with Tyson (Chandler) against (Chris) Bosh and they played small around Bosh,” he said. “So we just tried to keep the matchup.

“I’m not saying he (Stoudemire) wasn’t a good fit,” Woodson added. “I’m saying that’s the way I decided to go. They were small.”

Knowing a controversy when they see one, Knicks officials wisely ended Woodson’s interview right then and there.

But the controversy isn’t over, no sir. Remember, Woodson was the one who boldly stated that he could make the Anthony-Stoudemire pairing work. But he didn’t even try, on a day when it might have been the best way to go.

Bynum considering arthroscopic surgery on kneeOn Friday came the news from Philadelphia that injured center Andrew Bynum said he would be OK with missing the entire season to tend to his still-recovering right knee. While the prospect of a Bynum-less campaign is nothing the Sixers or their fans want to think about, the likelihood of it may be becoming more real based off a report from Jason Wolf of the The (Wilmington) News Journal. Sixers GM Tony DiLeo says the team is waiting to hear whether or not Bynum will have arthroscopic surgery on his knees, which will affect Bynum’s long-term future in Philly:

Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo said that Andrew Bynum is considering arthroscopic surgery on his balky knees and that the organization has yet to decide whether to attempt to sign the one-time All-Star center once he becomes a free agent after this season.

But building around Bynum remains the team’s preferred option, if he’s healthy.

“He is Plan A,” DiLeo said Sunday before the Sixers played the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center, speaking publicly for the first time since Bynum announced a setback in his rehab from what could be career-threatening knee injuries on Friday.

“Until we get the answers, until we make a decision, whether like you’re saying it’s a calculated decision or a risk management decision, that’s something we’ll have to make at the end of the year, going into free agency, and that’s something he also has [to figure out],” DiLeo said. “He’s unrestricted, he can go anywhere he wants to and it’s his career. And he’s only 25 years old. That’s just something we’ll have to see. We just don’t have all the information now.”

Bynum was originally diagnosed with a bone bruise in his right knee in September and with a “mirror issue” in his left knee in November, when a piece of cartilage broke loose and his joint swelled after going bowling. While Bynum said his right knee felt “phenomenal” in February, his left knee remained problematic as he continued to experience pain and a locking sensation in the joint. Now, once again, the right knee is an issue.

Arthroscopic surgery to clean the loose cartilage out of Bynum’s knees would ensure he does not play for the Sixers this season.

It remains to be seen whether Bynum’s knee pain can be managed effectively, allowing him to resume his career.

“We haven’t seen him out on the court,” DiLeo said. “So we don’t have all the answers, and hopefully we’ll get some answers. It’s always been our goal to see him healthy, out on the court with us. So far we haven’t been able to see that.”

ICYMI(s) of the night: Gotta love that trip into the wayback dunk machine Kobe Bryant took last night, but you’ve also gotta love this fantastic pass from Manu Ginobili to Kawhi Leonard:

Morning Shootaround — March 1

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: We were more than a little jazzed around these parts for last night’s Clippers-Pacers game from BankersLife Fieldhouse. A matchup of two of the NBA’s elite — not just in terms of record, but also in terms of defensive acumen as well as young All-Star talent (Blake Griffin on the Clippers and Paul George on the Pacers). The game lived up to the hype through the first half, but by the third quarter, the Clippers imposed their will on the Pacers and had built a hefty 17-point lead in the fourth quarter. Indiana showed some heart and made a late charge to get back in the game, but overall this was all Clippers in the second half.

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News of the morning

CP3 takes over vs. Pacers | Dwight has eyes on Rio | Report: Bulls, Amundson in talks | Williams hitting his stride with Wolves

Paul’s steady hand saves winOn paper, what was the game of Thursday night was the Clippers-Pacers game in Indiana that pitted two of the NBA’s best teams against each other. Although the Pacers kept it close (as we detail above), the Clips took control midway through the fourth quarter and seemed to have this one salted away. Indiana made a late charge while the Clips’ starters rested on the bench, but once Chris Paul got back in the game, L.A. finally locked up the win for good. Dan Woike of the Orange County Register explains how CP3 imposed his will on the Pacers before things got out of control:

The Clippers were up by 17 points over the Indiana Pacers with less than six minutes to play. Players were smiling on the sidelines, dancing to the music blaring and getting ready to celebrate a nice road victory.

Less than three minutes later, the Clippers found themselves fighting to hang on, as the Pacers ripped off a 13-0 run to cut the lead to four.

In situations like this, the Clippers lean on point guard Chris Paul to make things happen, and Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, he didn’t let his team down in a 99-91 victory.

“I just love to see him take over games like that,” Chauncey Billups said. “That’s either something you’re blessed to have, or you’re sorry you don’t have it.”

Paul drained a jump shot over Tyler Hansbrough and got to the rim for an acrobatic right-handed finish. Then with the lead at four and less than a minute to go, Paul drove past Indiana’s Lance Stephenson, simultaneously ending Indiana’s momentum and chances for a comeback.

“You’ve got to hate to lose,” Paul said. “… At some point, you have to slow everything down and say, ‘It’s winning time.’”

Report: Howard wants to play in 2016 GamesDwight Howard suffered a season-ending back injury in 2011-12 and, as such, missed not only the 2012 playoffs, but also the 2012 Olympic Games so he could recover. Although the back (and a new injury — a sore right shoulder) haven’t had him playing at his peak level this season for the Lakers, Howard forsees a full recovery at some point and has already set  his sights on playing for Team USA in the 2016 Games, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Los Angeles Lakers big man Dwight Howard, who won Olympic gold with the U.S. in the 2008 Beijing Games but had to miss last summer’s London Games while recovering from back surgery, said he wants to be back on the team in 2016.

“No doubt,” Howard said Thursday when asked if he wanted to play in Brazil.

Howard will be 30 years old when the next Olympics roll around. He expressed disappointment in not being able to go for back-to-back gold medals this summer, much like Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant was able to do, because of the back surgery he underwent in April.

“I was pissed off,” Howard said. “I was mad I couldn’t play in the playoffs. I was mad I couldn’t play in the Olympics. I was pissed. I was looking forward to going to London. I was looking forward to making a big run in the playoffs last season, so I wasn’t too happy about the fact that I had to have surgery and miss a lot of basketball.”

Howard said he has maintained a relationship with USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo.

“He’s cool with me,” Howard said. “He’s always been someone that I’ve thought highly of and he’s always supported me.”

Howard said he received an invitation from Colangelo to play on the 2012 team prior to his back injury.

“He called me and asked me about joining the team in London,” Howard said. “We were looking forward to it. He was one of the first people that contacted me and asked me if I wanted to play. I was very excited about it. I wanted to play. He said, ‘OK.’”

Colangelo will be tasked with not only filling out a roster for Rio de Janeiro, but finding a new coach.

Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN Radio this week that he will not assume his coaching duties with Team USA when his season at Duke ends.

Report: Bulls, Amundson in talksVeteran big man Lou Amundson spent the first 30 games of the season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but asked to be cut by the club when his playing time dropped. The Wolves obliged, releasing him on Feb. 8, and Amundson has been looking for a new squad since then. As of Thursday, FoxSportsFlorida.com’s Chris Tomasson reported that four teams — the Bulls, Knicks, Celtics and Heat — were pursuing Amundson. As of this morning, though, the Bulls have emerged as the favorite, writes Marc Stein of ESPN.com:

The Chicago Bulls are in talks with Louis Amundson about signing the veteran power forward, according to league sources.

A decision is expected Friday, sources told ESPN.com, with the Bulls and Amundson’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, scheduled to talk about specifics.

The Bulls are looking for an extra big man with Taj Gibson sidelined by a sprained left knee. And Chicago has just enough room under its hard salary cap of $74.307 million to sign Amundson, who is eligible to play for the Bulls in the postseason because he was waived by Minnesota before Friday’s 11:59 p.m. ET deadline.

Williams finding his way in Minnesota -- After having a solid reserve role the first nine games of the season, second-year Wolves forward Derrick Williams was more or less riding the pine in December and January. Injuries to Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko, among others, forced Williams back into the rotation by mid-January and he has picked up his game since. Williams is averaging 10.6 ppg and 5.4 rpg this season, but in his last 10 games has upped those marks to 16.0 and 9.0, respectively. Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune has more on Williams resurgance:

Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams returned home to Los Angeles for Thursday’s game against the Lakers not exactly a changed man but feeling differently for sure.

“Just more confident really,” he said.

His statistics in his past five games — 18.8 points and 10.6 rebounds — tell part of the story.

Coach Rick Adelman‘s decision to draw up a potential game-winning play for him on Tuesday in Phoenix suggests Williams has earned a little more trust. Williams was one of two options on a play that ended with Alexey Shved missing a driving layup near the overtime buzzer.

Until recently, Williams struggled to find his way — and earn Adelman’s faith — in a league where No. 2 overall picks are expected to do so much more from their first day.

In the past two weeks, Williams has delivered the double-doubles — three 20-point, 10-rebound games in his past five entering Thursday’s game — that are nearly nightly achievements by Kevin Love, the Wolves’ injured All-Star whom Williams has replaced as the starting power forward.

Williams credits Love’s biggest attribute — rebounding — for his recent play. “Rebounding really is what got me going,” he said. “Trying to get every rebound has got my confidence up, not really knocking down shots. I’m focused on the defensive end and trying to get as many rebounds as possible.”

ICYMI(s) of the night: If we wanted to, we could call this the hey-look-at-what-Blake-Griffin-did of the night given his highlight reel-ish play. We aren’t changing the name, of course (it’s way too long), but Griffin gets the nod today anyway for two awesome jams …:

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Morning Shootaround — Feb. 28

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Between the late-game heroics of Monta Ellis in Houston and the all-around, game-long goodness of Steph Curry in New York, it would have been easy to pick either of those games as our one to re-watch this morning. Those two games are definitely worthy of another look, but rather than pick one over the other, we’re going in a different route as we often like to do. Our choice instead is Mavs-Grizzlies from the Grind House in Memphis. It wasn’t as pretty offensively as the Bucks-Rockets or Warriors-Knicks games, that’s for sure, but watching the Grizz go on a franchise-record 24-0 run to climb from a 25-point hole sure was something. We’re a fan of solid big man play around here and the Grizzlies’ combo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were at their best, pounding the Mavs for a combined 43 points and 22 rebounds.

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News of the morning

Nash still ‘happy’ he chose Lakers | Horford keeps on rolling | Grizzlies comeback astounds | Stotts gets praise, even in losing | Report: Oden won’t decide fate until July | Howard surprises fans

Nash reinventing himself in L.A.The dreams Lakers fans had of Steve Nash directing the offense, pick-and-rolling teams to death with Dwight Howard and harmoniously fitting in with Kobe Bryant in the backcourt haven’t all come to pass as expected this season. First, there were the early weeks of the season that saw Nash recovering from a leg injury. Nash recovered from a leg injury. Then, once Nash returned, he was the off-guard in L.A. while Bryant put on his best Magic Johnson impression. Now, Nash is finally getting comfortable in his role in Lakerland — although it is far from the one he used to play as point guard for the Phoenix Suns. USA Today’s Sam Amick has more on the changes Nash has gone through:

Two-time MVPs aren’t typically asked to reinvent themselves, but 39-year-old Nash is doing just that for a Lakers team that has seven weeks to salvage its season and avoid the embarrassment of missing the playoffs. At 28-30 — and with those summertime proclamations of league-wide dominance seeming so far away now — they are 2½ games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

And so, Nash — the Picasso of point guards, a masterful orchestrator of offenses — has been asked to change. He plays off the ball, watching Bryant take his old job for long stretches before he’s able to put his old hat on. He does what Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, his friend and longtime coach with the Phoenix Suns, has asked them all to do: sacrifice.Since changing to this counter-intuitive style in a Jan. 25 win against the Utah Jazz, with Nash handling roughly half the playmaking duties he did before and his assist numbers during that time (5.5 a game) barely half his norm over the past eight seasons, the Lakers have won 11 of 16 games.

“His desire to figure out a way to make it work is remarkable,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “He’s always prodding, always making the sacrifice. Yet you have to catch yourself and say, ‘This is a two-time MVP.’ He could certainly say, ‘No, I’m not changing. You’ve got to do it my way.’ How many two-time MVPs are as accommodating as he is?”

This isn’t exactly what Nash and D’Antoni had in mind when they reunited Nov.12 — largely because of the broken left leg Nash suffered Nov. 3 that kept him out for seven weeks. They envisioned Nash as the engine in D’Antoni’s high-octane system, ignoring how an aging team might fare in a system that pushes the accelerator every time out.

Yet Nash insists he’s content with the compromise in large part because this decision was never just about basketball. His agent, Bill Duffy, calls the three-year, $27 million sign-and-trade deal that brought Nash to Los Angeles from Phoenix a “family values contract” because of how Nash bypassed opportunities in Toronto and New York last summer so he could be closer to his three children.

“Ten out of 10 times, I make the same decision again,” Nash told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “I’ve gotten to see my kids probably four times as much as I’d seen them if I’d have gone back East. That’s first and foremost. Second of all, it’s a great experience to play for the Lakers organization. … I’m happy here.

“I’m beyond playing for the credit or the adulation. I feel secure in myself as a player. I just want to help this team, regardless of what it means for me personally.”

“If L.A. wouldn’t have worked, I honestly think he would’ve considered retiring,” Duffy says. “He said that three or four times from July 1 to July 5 (during free agency), and I was saying, ‘If he wants to retire, I have to respect it, but let’s piece this thing together so you can get what you want and continue to play.’ “

“It’s been different. It’s been an adjustment,” Nash says. “But I want to embrace these challenges. I’m at a stage of my career with a new club where I’m playing with Kobe — he’s a great player — and finding that balance and accepting and embracing that opportunity is key. It’d be nice, in some ways, to have a bigger impact on the game. You have to balance it with all the guys, all their needs and personalities. I embrace it.

“I really appreciate it. I could still be in Phoenix and have the ball in my hands the majority of the time and probably be out of the playoffs again, so it’s worthy of trying something new — especially since the upside here is potentially great.”

Red-hot Horford keeps Hawks soaringAs our own Sekou Smith mentioned in Hang Time just a few days ago, the Atlanta Hawks in the post-trade deadline world are operating like the Atlanta Hawks we saw the first two months of the season. Elite-level hoops has returned thanks to the standout play of Al Horford in particular, who burned the Jazz last night with a career-high 34 points (two days after a career-best 22 boards in Detroit), punishing a solid Utah frontline featuring Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors. As the Hawks move into the second half of their six-game road trip (they’re 3-0 thus far), a perfect run is within reach, writes Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The Hawks led by as many as 20 points and held off a late rally en route to a 102-91 victory over the Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena.

Al Horford was at the center of the victory as he scored 16 of the Hawks’ 20 fourth-quarter points on the way to a career-high 34 points.

“He was big,” coach Larry Drew said. “We were running plays for him. When the shot wasn’t there he was passing the ball. He got everything within our offense. The guys were doing a good job of finding him. He is really playing at a high level right now. I mean an extremely high level.”

The Hawks (33-23) won their fourth straight and sixth in the past seven games. It was also the fifth straight road victory for the Hawks, who surpassed the 100-point mark in each. The Hawks have won four straight over the Jazz.

Horford continued his torrid streak over the past seven games, scoring over 20 points in each. He added 15 rebounds. Over this stretch of games, Horford is averaging 25.4 points (178), 12.4 rebounds (87) while shooting .681 percent (79-116).

The Hawks sealed the game by opening the third quarter on a 24-12 run to lead by 20 points, 80-60.

“The start of the second half was the bigger of the two,” Josh Smith said of the Hawks’ first- and third-quarter efforts. “We wanted to be able to control the momentum of this building. It’s a hostile environment. They have awesome fans who definitely heckle the visiting team. We knew we were going to receive a big punch in the second half and being able to answer in that third quarter was huge for us.”

The Jazz got to within eight points in the fourth quarter but there was not stopping Horford. He and Smith scored all 20 of the Hawks’ points in the final period.

“It was one of those things where in my mind I was like we’ve built this lead and we’ve worked too hard to give it up,” Horford said. “It’s one of those things where you don’t want to lose so you do whatever you have to do. We just kept fighting. I just kept fighting. I’m proud of my teammates.”

Grizzlies comeback an astounding featWe gave the “Hang Time Grizzlies” some love above in our recap of the night, but Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has some more interesting tidbits from Memphis’ club-record comeback against Dallas last night:

The Griz tossed aside a 25-point deficit and changed the makings of a lopsided loss with their defense to earn a dramatic 90-84 victory over the Dallas Mavericks before 16,017 fans who still might be wiping their eyes in disbelief.

“Grit, grind, heart, sacrifice I could name 10-15 words (to describe) this,” forward Zach Randolph said after the Grizzlies extended their winning streak to eight games. “It was one of those games.”

A game in which:

• Griz coach Lionel Hollins called time out twice in the first 3 ½ minutes.

• The starters were benched in the first five.

• The Mavs racked up 38 points in the opening period and enjoyed a 51-29 lead with 5:25 left in the second quarter.

• Memphis outscored Dallas 36-4, which included a franchise record 24 unanswered points, during a stretch that bridged the second and third quarters.

• Dallas looked feeble throughout a five-point third quarter — a Memphis franchise-record low for an opponent in any quarter.

“A lot of it was pride,” Griz point guard Mike Conley said. “We felt the grumbling in the stands. We were embarrassed.”

Stotts has Blazers going right directionAfter a surprising 20-15 start that had Portland in the thick of the playoff race, the Blazers have gone 6-16 since and are more or less assured of a place in the Draft lottery. But with the emergence of likely Rookie of the Year winner Damian Lillard, as well as the contributions by J.J. Hickson, Wesley Matthews and All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, things are looking somewhat bright in the Rose City. Depth has been a problem for the Blazers all season, but as John Canzano of The Oregonian notes, coach Terry Stotts has Portland headed for a breakthrough sometime soon:

Because the only difference-maker Portland really needs is Terry Stotts. He’s been here all year, and if owner Paul Allen and general manager Neil Olshey get Stotts some depth this summer and add some smart peripheral pieces, I’m convinced he’ll be the Blazers coach who finally breaks through.

Nate McMillan was at his best in 2009-10, overcoming an absurd run of injuries to finish with the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. But Stotts is staying relevant with a roster that was broken from Game 1, refusing to make excuses or join the rest of us in declaring this season done. Stotts lost again Wednesday, this time, 111-109 to a more dangerous, deeper, better NBA team that ran circles around the Blazers but could never quite get away.
Yes, even after a loss, it’s clear that Stotts is doing a terrific job.
This season isn’t headed to the playoffs. Nobody is going to hang a banner commemorating it. But we’re witnessing the finest job of Blazers coaching in more than a decade, and Stotts very nearly pulled it off again against the Nuggets. Forget the playoff teams, forget the teams that won more games, and just look at the lineup and teaching that Stotts used to combat the 48-minute relay-race the Nuggets put on.
Those who have spent time around Stotts this season say he’s a master at compartmentalizing a larger task. He walked into a meeting earlier this season with the Blazers facing a daunting road rip, and according to support staff and players announced, “We have six games in front of us. Let’s break down these six games.”
The coach proceeded to splinter off the games, making each stand alone. By the time he was finished talking, nobody was focused on the road trip. Everyone was locked onto what it was going to take to win a single game, the first one.
“I’m doing a different kind of teaching now,” Stotts said. “The stuff I was doing early was more about getting people to understand what we wanted. Now, we’re taking that further, and focusing on the next level.”

Report: Oden won’t choose team until summerIt seems like every few weeks, we hear something new about former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden: he’s interested in the Cavs, he’s going to sign with the Heat, he’s unsure of his future … take your pick. The latest chatter surrounding the oft-injured big man, according to Sam Amico of FoxSportsOhio.com, is that he won’t decide which team he’ll sign with until at least July:

Former NBA center Greg Oden will not decide on his next team until July, sources close to the situation told FOX Sports Ohio.

Oden’s agent, Mike Conley Sr., has said Oden is 100 percent and could become a future All-Star.

Oden, 25, is currently taking classes at Ohio State — the school he led to the NCAA title game in 2007, when it lost to Florida. The Trail Blazers drafted the 7-footer one spot ahead of Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant.

Sources told FSO earlier this month that Oden was leaning heavily toward signing with the Cavs. However, no commitment has been reached by other side.

“We’ll see,” Cavs general manager Chris Grant said last week. “We’ll still talk to them and see what their position is and see what his goals are. Just like any other free agent, if something happens that makes sense, we’ll do it.

“If not, that’s OK. Who knows? From our standpoint, we have no idea.”

Howard surprises a few fansLakers fans are a pretty loyal bunch, especially in California. So when fans were presented with the opportunity to show off their team gear at an adidas photo booth in L.A., throngs of them showed up. None of them knew, however, that Dwight Howard (and adidas pitchman) would be there, too (H/T Pro Basketball Talk): 

ICYMI of the night: After rejecting Kobe Bryant on Tuesday night, JaVale McGee adds another superstar name to his swat list this week: Portland rookie Damian Lillard