Posts Tagged ‘LaMarcus Aldridge’

Morning shootaround — March 2


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

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

Rough. Tough. Physical. Contentious. Dirty.

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

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

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

But never been more ferocious, more driven.

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

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

“M-V-P.”

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

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

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

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

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One Stat, One Play: Mid-range Aldridge


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Aldridge from mid-range

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The mid-range shot is the worst shot on the floor, worth only 0.80 points per shot across the league. A bad 3-point shooter (30 percent) scores as many points per shot as a good mid-range shooter (45 percent).

No player takes nearly as many mid-range shots as LaMarcus Aldridge, who has led the league each of the last three seasons.

20150205_mid-range

Aldridge doesn’t shoot mid-range shots well enough for them to be an efficient option by themselves. But the Blazers have been one of the league’s best offenses over the last three years, combining Aldridge’s post-up game with Damian Lillard‘s playmaking and the most prolific 3-point shooting outside of Houston.

Most of the time, the Blazers enter the ball directly to Aldridge in the mid post and let him go to work one-on-one. According to SportVU, Aldridge leads the league in isolations this season.

But the Blazers can get Aldridge better looks by putting him on the move, with Lillard drawing the attention of the defense and getting it to Aldridge in his comfort zone (the left side of the floor) with space.

The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” featuring a couple of plays where the Blazers do just that. According to SportVU, Aldridge has shot 53 percent off the catch and 45 percent on uncontested jumpers, but just 41 percent off the dribble and 34 percent on contested jumpers this season.

The Blazers host the Phoenix Suns in the second game of TNT’s doubleheader (10:30 p.m. ET) on Thursday.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

January fuels belief in Hawks | Love ready for rough return to Minnesota | Pistons players, fans bracing for Josh Smith’s return | Be careful what you say about DeMarcus Cousins

No. 1: January fuels belief in Hawks — The franchise-record 18 straight wins did it. Finally, the belief in the Atlanta Hawks has officially taken over the city. It’s inspired memories of a great times in Atlanta sports history — yes, there have been great times — a generation ago in another sport (baseball), when the imagination of an entire city became fans of a team that captured its fan base. It feels like 1991 all over again in Atlanta, according to longtime Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley:

Ten years from now, we may recall this January the way we do the summer of 1991, when a team none of us had paid much heed grabbed us by our collars and made us watch. Ten years from now, we may remember these Hawks growing into a colossus – what other word fits an aggregation that’s 32-2 since Thanksgiving? – the way we beheld the Braves’s ascent from worst to first.

Ten years from now, we may look back on games like Friday’s in the manner we pressed that September series against the hated Dodgers into our memory books. Ten years from now, we could point to Friday as one of the moments when we knew – knew, as opposed to hoped – that all things were really and truly possible.

For the first time in 33 days and 17 games, the Hawks faced a fourth-quarter deficit. (That’s among the astonishing stats of this or any millennium.) Nothing was coming easy against an excellent Portland team, and matters were getting more difficult by the minute.

The splendid forward LaMarcus Aldridge was en route to scoring 37 points. The Hawks were missing free throws. DeMarre Carroll, their best perimeter defender, was too sore to play. Thabo Sefolosha, his replacement in the starting five, lasted 141 seconds before tweaking a hamstring. A team that has become a beautiful machine had developed a cough, and you couldn’t see all of the above and not think, “This could be the night the streak ends.”

But no. Five points down after three quarters, the Hawks won 105-99. Over those final 12 minutes, they outscored the Trail Blazers 15 baskets to seven, outshot them 71.4 percent to 30.4 percent. In their stiffest test since MLK Day, the Hawks played their best offense and their best defense in the fourth quarter, which is the time to do it.

We’ve spent the past month trying to identify the reasons the Hawks have done nothing but win, and here’s another: They trust themselves and their system. They know Mike Budenholzer’s offense will avail them of good shots if only they go where they’re supposed to go. They know they’re good enough shooters to make those shots. They also know – here’s the part that’s different from last season – that they can guard the opposition better than they’re being guarded.

There’s power in such faith. There’s the power that flows from believing you’re going to get better looks over 48 minutes than the other team, that you pass and shoot and defend too well to be cornered for long. At halftime the Blazers had made 55.1 percent of their shots to the Hawks’ 44.4 percent – and Portland’s lead was a skinny point. By game’s end the Hawks had shot the better percentage and driven the ball often enough to earn twice as many free throws. (Not a small consideration on a night when you miss eight of 22.)

Down to cases. On the first possession of the fourth quarter, Dennis Schroder drove for a layup. The 21-year-old had some moments when he looked his age, but he changed the game when it needed changing. He found Mike Scott on the left wing for the tying 3-pointer and found Kyle Korver at the top for the trey that made it 81-76. The Blazers would never lead again.


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore stepped up in a major way for the Hawks as they snagged their franchise-record 18th straight win

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Harden, trio of Hawks and first-timer Thompson highlight All-Star reserves


VIDEO: Trio of Hawks headline All-Star reserves for East

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The 2015 All-Star Game will definitely have star power.

Boldfaced names like Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook headline the list of players selected by coaches to be reserves for the 64th All-Star Game, which will take place Sunday, February 15, and televised exclusively on TNT.

NBA All-Star 2015The list of players chosen for the game seems to suggest that the coaches voting for the reserves valued familiarity — 11 of the 14 have previous All-Star experience. Meanwhile, a team that prides itself on succeeding without stars also made a mark. The Atlanta Hawks ended up having a trio of players — Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague — named reserves for the Eastern Conference team, which will be helmed by Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. But while the Hawks are 38-8 and hold a commanding seven-game lead over the rest of the conference, this apparently wasn’t enough to secure a spot for Atlanta’s fourth All-Star candidate, shooting guard Kyle Korver.

Still, the Hawks lead all teams with three players in the All-Star Game. Chicago, Cleveland, Golden State, the Clippers, Miami and Oklahoma City all had two players each. The last time the Hawks had three players in an All-Star Game was 35 years ago, when they sent John Drew, Eddie Johnson and Dan Roundfield.

While the willing can argue around most of the selections, it’s worth remembering that the All-Star reserves were selected by opposing coaches. So those who made the cut were probably chosen as some vague combination of mutual respect, lifetime achievement and time spent worrying about playing against them.

Perhaps the most surprising selection was in the Western Conference, where coaches chose Oklahoma City’s Durant. Although Durant was last season’s MVP and a “star” by any definition, he has played in less than half of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season, while averaging 25.6 points in those games he has played.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT live from New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden on Sunday, February 15, 2015.

Eastern Conference

Chris Bosh, Heat — With LeBron James gone, Bosh has assumed a larger role, averaging 21.3 points his highest total since the 2009-10 season, and posting a 28.7 usage rate, tying his career high. This is Bosh’s 10th consecutive All-Star Game.

Jimmy Butler, Bulls — Made himself into a genuine offensive threat for Chicago to go along with his already terrific defense. Averaging a career-high 20.1 points. This is his first All-Star Game.

Al Horford, Hawks — While Horford’s numbers are nothing spectacular — 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds — his return from two pectoral injuries has anchored the Hawks’ interior and provided a paint presence. This will be Horford’s third All-Star Game, following selections in 2010 and ’11.

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — After being voted as a starter for last year’s All-Star Game, Irving messed around and won the game’s MVP award with 31 points and 14 assists. This season he’s struggled to be comfortable alongside LeBron James and Kevin Love, although last night’s 55-point explosion would seem to suggest he’s found his way.

Paul Millsap, Hawks — Maybe the best post player in the Eastern Conference. After making last year’s All-Star Game, his first, Millsap has added 3-point range this season and frequently bails out the Hawks at the end of shot clocks when Atlanta’s pace-and-space offense breaks down.

Jeff Teague, Hawks — The straw that stirs the drink for the Hawks. In his sixth season, has developed into an elite point guard with a complete game, and has managed to find the consistency he lacked earlier in his career. Averaging 17 points and 7.5 assists, both career highs.

Dwyane Wade, Heat — A 10-time All-Star, Wade has played in 35 of Miami’s 45 games, averaging 21.4 points and 5.4 assists, and has the highest PER (22.55) of any shooting guard in the Eastern Conference. Wade’s availability for the All-Star Game may be in question after injuring his right hamstring on Tuesday.

The Lowdown — Things are a bit more cut-and-dried in the Eastern Conference than the West. Korver stands out by his absence, apparently a victim of his teammates’ success. It’s hard to justify omitting a player with the highest 3-point shooting percentage in the history of the NBA, but it’s equally difficult to defend giving four of the Eastern Conference’s roster slots to players from one team. Milwaukee’s Brandon Knight has also drawn acclaim as the Bucks have bounced back from last year’s disastrous season and are in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Orlando center Nikola Vucevic is averaging a double-double, 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds, and despite his team’s 15-33 record, an argument can be made for his inclusion.


VIDEO: First-timer Thompson headlines All-Star reserves for West

Western Conference

LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers — Portland’s big man is averaging a career-high 23.6 points as he attempts to play through a torn thumb ligament. This will be his fourth consecutive All-Star Game.

Tim Duncan, Spurs — The Big Fundamental’s numbers aren’t eye-popping, at least not for him — 14.7 points, 10.1 rebounds. But Duncan is a 14-time All-Star and has been the most consistent player during the first half of the season for the reigning NBA champions. Hard to leave the 38-year-old home in what may be one of his final campaigns.

Kevin Durant, Thunder — A five-time All-Star, when healthy Durant is arguably the best player in the NBA. The issue this season has been health, as Durant has nursed a broken foot and a sprained toe, missing 25 of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season.

James Harden, Rockets — A no-brainer for the coaches, and the player most likely to get the injured Kobe Bryant‘s starting spot, although that choice ultimately belongs to Western Conference coach Steve Kerr. Harden is currently leading the NBA in scoring at 27.3 points and, with the Rockets rolling at 32-14, a legitimate MVP candidate.

Chris Paul, Clippers — CP3 has long been one of the best all-around point guards in the NBA, as evidenced by seven All-Star appearances in nine seasons. Paul leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio and has the Clippers firmly in the Western Conference playoff race.

Klay Thompson, Warriors — Thompson is perhaps the best two-way guard in the league, and has teamed with Curry to make the Warriors the best team in the NBA this season. Thompson is averaging a career-high 23 points, and his 52-point game last week probably didn’t hurt his case. This will be his All-Star debut.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder — Westbrook is one of the most dynamic players in the NBA, and after a few injury-plagued seasons (and a broken hand earlier this year) has bounced back to lead the Thunder while Durant has been out. Westbrook is averaging a career-high 25.2 points this season for the 23-23 Thunder.

The Lowdown — Unlike in the East, the competitive Western Conference provides more opportunities for debate. (Also, it’s worth noting that with Kobe Bryant out, NBA commissioner Adam Silver will be adding at least one player to the roster.) With Paul and Westbrook on the team, a few deserving point guards find themselves looking in from the outside. Last year, Portland’s Damian Lillard made his first All-Star Game, but despite averaging a career-high 21.8 points, didn’t make the cut this season. Memphis point guard Mike Conley has directed the Grizzlies to a 33-12 record, behind only Golden State in the West. And in Phoenix, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe could each make a case for a New York visit. Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki has made a dozen All-Star Games, but will be staying home this year, along with his teammate Monta Ellis. And Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins has had a big season, averaging 23.8 points and 12.3 rebounds, both career highs. Great numbers, but apparently not good enough in the Western Conference.

All-Star reserves to be announced tonight on TNT


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew picks their East All-Star reserves

HANG TIME BIG CITY — For the Atlanta Hawks and the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, it’s not a question of if a Hawk will make it, but rather, how many of them will be there?

TNT will exclusively televise the announcement of the 2015 NBA All-Star reserves tonight during a special one-hour edition of “TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by AutoTrader.com” at 7 p.m. ET.

The Hawks lead the Eastern Conference by 7 games with a 38-8 record, but had no players finish among the Eastern Conference leaders in fan voting. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer has already been tapped to coach the East, and with the League’s coaches choosing his reserves, the New York-hosted All-Star Game could have a distinctly Southern flavor. A couple of Hawks are in contention for roster room, like former All-Stars Paul Millsap and Al Horford, as well as guards Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver. The last time the Hawks had more than two All-Stars was in 1980, when they sent John Drew, Eddie Johnson and Dan Roundfield.

If four Hawks make the roster, which Eastern Conference players will be squeezed out? Chicago’s Jimmy Butler is probably as close to a lock as there is in the East. The Bulls shooting guard, who was named Eastern Conference player of the month for November, is averaging a career-high 20.1 points per game while leading the NBA in minutes per game, at 39.5 a night.

Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving finished fourth among Eastern guards in fan voting, after winning the All-Star Game MVP last season, but with his 55-point effort last night against Portland, Irving seemed to send a message that he belongs in this season’s game. Miami’s Dwyane Wade was among voting leaders in early returns before being passed late for a starting spot by Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. Wade, who is averaging 21.4 ppg this season, has made 10 consecutive All-Star Games. Wade has missed 10 of Miami’s games this season, and a hamstring injury may affect his availability for the All-Star Game.

In the frontcourt for the East, the coaches have some tough choices to make. Kevin Love was a starter last season in the Western Conference, but the move to Cleveland to take a supporting role has dropped his ppg from 26.1 a season ago to 17.1 as a Cavalier. Miami’s Chris Bosh has made nine consecutive All-Star appearances, and his chances this season should be bolstered by his 21.3 ppg average, his highest rate since 2009-10 when he was a member of the Toronto Raptors.

Orlando center Nikola Vucevic has put up terrific numbers — 19.5 ppg and 11.2 rpg — but for a team that is 15-33 and near the bottom of the conference. Detroit’s Greg Monroe is averaging a double-double — 15.2 ppg and 10.3 rpg — for the first time in his career and has been an integral part of the Pistons turning things around midway through the season.

Houston’s James Harden merits serious MVP consideration, and should headline the Western Conference reserves. The only question involving Harden, who leads the NBA at 27.3 ppg, is if he will be selected by Western Conference coach Steve Kerr to replace the injured Kobe Bryant in the starting lineup. Kerr’s choice is complicated by the stellar first half of Golden State shooting guard Klay Thompson, who staked his claim to an All-Star (and possible starting) spot last week with a 52-point night against Sacramento.

Also out West, will the coaches select Oklahoma City star (and reigning NBA MVP) Kevin Durant? He has battled injuries and played in just 21 of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season, but he’s been terrific (25.6 ppg) when he has played. Likewise, teammate Russell Westbrook, a three-time former All-Star, is among the league leaders in points (25.2 ppg) and steals (2.3 spg), but has missed 14 games.

Besides Westbrook, there are several point guards who have built strong cases for their inclusion. Memphis’ Mike Conley has never been an All-Star, but his Grizzlies have had a sparkling first half of the season and, at 33-12, are No. 2 in the Western Conference. Portland’s Damian Lillard made his first All-Star Game a year ago, and this year has improved his numbers across the board, averaging 21.8 ppg and 6.2 apg. And don’t forget about Clippers guard Chris Paul. The sheen may have worn off Lob City, but the seven-time All-Star is still averaging 17.5 ppg and 9.7 apg for a 32-14 Los Angeles squad.

In the frontcourt, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins is averaging 23.8 ppg and 12.3 rpg, both career highs. He’s also shown emotional growth, collecting just four technical fouls this season after totaling 16 last season.He also played a key role in Team USA’s gold-winning performance at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Despite a torn ligament in his thumb, Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge has postponed surgery and is averaging a double-double for the Blazers. Or, could coaches reward Golden State forward Draymond Green, perhaps their most versatile player and a key cog in the Warriors’ early run?

Finally, might 38-year-old San Antonio Spurs big man Tim Duncan make his 15th All-Star appearance? Duncan, who last played in the 2013 All-Star Game, is currently averaging 14.7 ppg and 10.1 rpg for the defending-champion Spurs, who are in sixth place in the West.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT live from New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden on Sunday, February 15, 2015.


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew picks their West All-Star reserves

Blogtable: Your All-Star reserves are …

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


BLOGTABLE: Your All-Star reserves | Reflecting on Klay | Bold second-half prediction



VIDEOInside the NBA’s crew picks their Western Conference All-Star reserves

> All-Star 2015 reserves will be announced tomorrow on TNT. But you get to go first: Select seven reserves for the East, and seven for the West (and remember it’s two guards, three frontcourt players and two others regardless of position).

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:

East guards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Al Horford.
East wildcards: Kyle Korver and Kyrie Irving.

The biggest question for me in picking All-Star reserves is, how many Hawks? Would two Atlanta players be too few? Would four be too many? Nah, I don’t think so. That’s the beauty of an ensemble team, much like Detroit a decade ago, and I think there’s room without glaring omissions.

West guards: Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant.
West wildcards: Chris Paul and Klay Thompson. West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: James Harden.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:

East guards: Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Kyrie Irving and Dwyane Wade.

West guards: James Harden and Damian Lillard.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Klay Thompson and Mike Conley.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:

East guards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Nikola Vucevic.
East wildcards: Kyle Korver and Kyrie Irving.

Vucevic may not be a popular pick, but his numbers are undeniably good. He shouldn’t take a hit because Orlando has youth and injuries.

West guards: James Harden and Chris Paul.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson.

Yeah, I know it’s Kevin Durant. But when the competition is this intense, missing about half the games is a difference maker for best play of the season. Besides, there will be at least one (Kobe Bryant) and maybe two (Aldridge) injury replacements coming. There’s still time for Durant and Westbrook.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com:

East guards: Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler.
East frontcourt: Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Al Horford.
East wildcards: Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight.

West guards: Klay Thompson and James Harden.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook.
West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: James Harden.

Really didn’t sweat too much about these selections. Even though he’s missed a chunk of games, I’m sorry, KD is an All-Star. I’m not going to punish him. Didn’t Magic Johnson make the team when he missed the entire season? OK, then. It’s an All-Star Game and people want to see KD.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:

East guards: Kyle Korver and Dwyane Wade.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.

West guards: James Harden and Chris Paul.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson.
West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: Russell Westbrook.

The East is pretty cut and dry and I’m keeping Kyrie Irving off the list, because he still doesn’t play both ends of the floor and the Cavs would be terrible without LeBron James. The West is much deeper, but the picks were still fairly simple. My toughest omission was actually Zach Randolph, because 21 games from Kevin Durant isn’t enough for me.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

East guards: Kyrie Irving and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Jimmy Butler and Marcin Gortat.

West guards: Klay Thompson and James Harden.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook.
West injury replacement for Kobe Bryant: Monta Ellis.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:

East guards: Jeff Teague, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler and Kyle Korver.
East frontcourt: Chris Bosh, Al Horford and Nikola Vucevic.

West guards: James Harden, Chris Paul, Klay Thompson and Mike Conley.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I know some guys have missed chunks of time due to injury, but I want some stars in my All-Star Game, which affects my selections.

East guards: Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague.
East frontcourt: Nikola Vucevic, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
East wildcards: Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving.

West guards: James Harden and Klay Thompson.
West frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan.
West wildcards: Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins.

All-Star reserves picksFor more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 28


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

James praises Irving’s play | Pierce laments Kobe’s injury | Aldridge in it for the long haul this season

No. 1: James praises Irving’s play and leadership — Remember way back when the Cleveland Cavaliers were struggling this season and we were all worried about their place in the East hierarchy? Yeah, we can all forget those days now. The Cavs have won seven in a row after last night’s victory in Detroit that was spearheaded by LeBron James‘ 32 points and Kyrie Irving‘s 38. After the game, James had nothing but positives and praise to heap upon his point guard, writes Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

James was OK, though, and scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. But just in case, Irving was there for 16 points in the final period.

“He was the great from start to finish, he just kept it going in the fourth quarter,” James said.

And that’s it. That’s the lot of it. There isn’t much more to be said about what transpired Tuesday night. The Cavs didn’t shoot well (37 percent), played great defense, and Irving and James combined for 70 of the team’s 103 points.

But in turning the page to tonight’s game – against Portland at The Q — it’s hard not to be whisked all the way back to Nov. 4 and consider how far Irving has come in James’ eyes since then.

That night, the Blazers beat the Cavs 101-82. James was so frustrated with Irving and Dion Waiters, he basically stood at the wing and watched while Irving and Waiters jacked up shot after shot in a bad loss.

Afterwards, James and Irving had a brief exchange in the locker room, and in a long session with reporters James said the Cavs had to break “bad habits” after four years of losing.

Irving shot 3-of-17 that night.

“Third game of the season, I don’t remember, who did we play?” Irving said with a smirk when he was asked about his personal journey since then. “You mean when everyone made something up? I think that definitely was a turn for us. Yeah, I agree with you.”

Cavaliers coach David Blatt confirmed a few days later that James and Irving did engage in something brief after the Portland game. And it was all too abundantly clear who James was talking about that night when he was talking about “bad habits.”

Anyway, consider what has happened since. Irving, though statistically better in 2012-13 than he is now, is enjoying his most complete season with 21.3 points, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals on a team full of talent. He’ll find out Thursday if he made the East All-Star team as a reserve.

“We’ve come very, very far. Very, very far,” James said, harkening back to his “bad habits” remark. “That’s part of the reason we’ve kind of turned a corner for our season.”

And what about Irving, specifically, since the Portland game?

“He’s been great, both on the floor and off the floor,” James said. “He’s turning into a leader in his own right, and every day it’s great to see him improve. Winning is a great thing in our league. No substitute for winning, but it’s how you approach it every single day that puts you in position to succeed. It’s not about winning ball games, it’s about winning every day.

“That’s part of the process, and Kyrie has taken that full storm and if we continue to get that from him we’ll be very, very good.”

Since Jan. 16, Irving has matched up defensively with point guards Chris Paul (15 points, 4-of-15 shooting), Derrick Rose (18 points, 5-of-14), Trey Burke (two points, 1-of-10), Kemba Walker (eight points, 3-of-14), Russell Westbrook (22 points, 7-of-26) and D.J Augustin (19 points, 8-of-15).

Only Augustin had an efficient evening against him last night.

Irving is also reveling in distributing the ball. He sounds as though he’s a long way from 3-of-17.

“Everyone’s sharing the ball, everyone’s getting a touch of it, ” Irving said. “I feel we’re at our best when everybody’s in the flow of the game and our trust is out there and the ball is swinging.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving discusses his big game against the Pistons

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 26


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental | Might Kobe opt to play and delay surgery? | Horford, Hawks can’t stop, won’t stop … winning | Aldridge puts training camp in jeopardy by playing through pain

No. 1: Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental — Trade away whoever you want. Tweak the roster however you want. But when you go looking for the real change in the Cleveland Cavaliers since LeBron James returned from who two-week rest hiatus, look no further than between the collective ears of these Cavaliers. So says LeBron, who insists that the greatest gains this group has made recently has been in their collective mentals … so to speak. Sure, LeBron has been on fire, looking more and more like the machine he was in Miami the past four seasons. The rest of the Cavs, though, have taken the necessary mental steps to assume the position as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Joe Vardon, of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, has more:

Dan Gilbert didn’t put 20,000 gold t-shirts on the seats at The Q just because.

The Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t land on the slate of ABC’s first Sunday games this season for laughs.

Though it took place on Jan. 25, three full weeks before the All-Star Game in a regular season that starts before Halloween and goes past Easter, it truly was a big game.

And for once, the Cavaliers prevailed.

“We’ve improved, mentally more than anything,” LeBron James said yesterday, following Cleveland’s 108-98 win over the Thunder.

Remember, James called said once this was a “very fragile” team.

“Big game” is a cliché in sports, certainly on most nights when it’s applied to describe one contest out of 82 in the NBA. But it’s a point worth examining to measure how much James’ team has grown over the last several days.

First, and really it’s the reason this game was announced for ABC’s first Sunday slate back in August, it was a feature of the league’s last two Most Valuable Player winners in James and Kevin Durant — two stars who were picked to lead their teams to, excuse the word, big things this year.

With the Cavs and Thunder playing in opposite conferences, James and Durant only square off twice a year, unless they meet in the Finals as they did in 2012. Basketball fans were robbed of one James-Durant showdown when the Cavs’ superstar sat out with a sore knee on Dec. 11.

Next, and schedulers couldn’t have known this way back when, but Dion Waiters made his return to The Q after getting traded to Oklahoma City on Jan. 5. It’s a side-story, but a juicy one nonetheless.

Third (we’re building toward something here), those gold t-shirts draped over each seat at The Q. The idea, of course, is to make the organization and city look (and sound) good on national TV.

Free, gold Cavs t-shirts are reason to scream a little louder, a little more often. Of course Gilbert picked up the tab.

Add it all together: marquee individual matchup, the whole country watching, intriguing side stories, and nervous energy in the building (more so than on an average night).

The Cavaliers had played in that kind of cauldron of attention exactly twice this season. The first was James’ official return to Cleveland on opening night against the Knicks, which James said was “one of the biggest sporting events ever,” and on Christmas Day in his emotional return to Miami.

James and the Cavaliers failed. Twice.

“In those two games we did, yes, obviously, we did,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said. “I can’t deny that. Hopefully we learned from that.”


VIDEO: The GameTime’s crew discusses the Cavs’ play of late

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 | Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings | Waiters believes he has grown | Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly?

No. 1: Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 — Black was going to be the color of the night heading toward the Portland Trail Blazers’ home game against Washington Saturday, the proper attire for the sort of mourning already going on over forward LaMarcus Aldridge‘s injured left thumb and the six-to-eight weeks Aldridge likely was going to miss recuperating and rehabbing. But then Aldridge surprised Blazers fans by announcing that he would postpone surgery and try to play with the torn ligament. And he did just that in Portland’s 103-96 victory, putting the “triumphant” into his return with 26 points, nine rebounds and one splint. Here’s some of the quotage from the Blazers’ locker room:

Head coach Terry Stotts: “Well it was a win that we needed to get. Understatement: it was good to have LA back. I’m glad he had a good game with the thumb and the splint. It was very encouraging.”

Blazers guard Wesley Matthews: “He was big time. Even if he didn’t have the monster game that he did, I think just his presence and his sacrifice of his own body and for him to recognize how special this season is and can be and continue to be, for him to give that up to be out there with us in the trenches, it speaks volumes. … He can’t sit out. He doesn’t want to sit out. He loves this game and figures if he’s got something to give, he’s going to give. I can relate to that.”

Aldridge: “I felt okay. There was a few moments where I got it hit or whatever, and it was kind of tender. But for the most part, it was okay. … I was just trying to work with it. I kind of figured it out as the game went on, how to use it or whatever, and I kind of played with it.”

More Aldridge, on the Moda Center crowd reaction: “It was humbling. I thought they definitely showed me love and they respected what I was doing at that moment, trying to play through it, so that was humbling.”

 

Not all was sweetness and light on the injury front in Portland, however. Wing Nicolas Batum sat out Saturday’s game after aggravating a right wrist injury Thursday against Boston. He initially hurt it when he took a spill in Milwaukee Dec. 17. Here is an update from The Oregonian:

Batum missed the next game, Dec. 19 at San Antonio, then played in the next two games before sitting out the Dec. 23 game at Oklahoma City. He said he has aggravated the injury several times – usually when he falls to the court. On Thursday against Boston, it was a third quarter fall that took him out of the game and ultimately led to him missing Saturday’s 103-96 victory over Washington.

Batum, who is wearing an immobilizing brace, said he is unsure whether he will rest and let the wrist heal, or continue playing through discomfort during the Blazers upcoming trip at Brooklyn, Cleveland, Atlanta and Milwaukee.

He is averaging 9.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 38 games. He is shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from three-point range, figures he largely attributes to his ailing wrist.

“It’s my shooting wrist,” Batum said.

***

No. 2: Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings — The pain in which Brandon Jennings writhed on the court at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee Saturday night — you could almost feel it. The way the Detroit Pistons’ point guard grimaced and banged the floor with one hand, while grabbing at his left ankle with the other, was palpable. Jennings, who had been rejuvenated along with the Detroit Pistons since they reconfigured their attack in a post-Josh Smith world, suffered a serious injury when he took a defensive step back on an inbounds play, and most who saw the replay and its aftermath immediately began to think of a torn Achilles tendon. That included teammate Caron Butler, as chronicled by the Detroit News:

“I saw him in pain, just the way he was. It was the second time I’ve seen something like that,” Butler said after Saturday’s game.

If Jennings didn’t know exactly what it was at the time, Butler had a good enough idea, remembering a former teammate Pistons fans should be familiar with.

Chauncey Billups,” Butler said, his face cringing at the memory of Billups’ Achilles tear in 2012 when both were members of the L.A. Clippers.

“It happened in Orlando. We were playing good basketball, Chauncey was playing great. I was right next to him. He asked, ‘Did you kick me?’ I said, ‘Nah, I didn’t touch you.’ He was on the ground grimacing so he got up and went back down because he couldn’t move. He just started hopping.”

The Pistons know how important Jennings has been, averaging 19.8 points since Smith was released. They were expecting a medical update Sunday, with backup D.J. Augustin poised to step into a bigger role again this season the way he did in Chicago when Derrick Rose got hurt early last season.

Like a quarterback, Jennings touched the ball every single play he was on the floor, the most improved player in the last 15 games. Averaging 21.3 points and 7.5 assists on 44-percent shooting tells only part of the story.

“He’s tapped into a part of his DNA that says he’s a star and he’s got to that place,” Butler said. “And we were riding him out. Greg and Andre and everybody’s gonna have to raise the bar.”

“He’s been the guy who’s been our catalyst offensively,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s been averaging 20 a game, high-assist, low-turnover, playing at the highest level of his career. Was a huge factor in the previous 15 games so, it’s a major, major loss.”

A Pistons teammate who suffered a shared his experience with the Detroit Free Press:

Jonas Jerebko, who tore his Achilles in 2010 in the first preseason game of his second season, said he had a chance to talk to Jennings.

He wouldn’t say what was discussed, but recalled his injury.

“It was like learning to walk again,” Jerebko said with a slight chuckle. “You really started off there, but you know we have the best in the business with [physical therapist] Arnie Kander.”

***

No. 3: Waiters believes he has grownDion Waiters was back in Cleveland with his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in anticipation of Sunday’s clash with the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. He’s the shooting guard traded a couple of weeks back in the deal that delivered New York’s J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland, part of a roster makeover credited – along with LeBron James‘ spa-shutdown of two weeks to heal and invigorate – for the Cavs’ boost in play. Waiters didn’t sound like an eager participant but he did submit to and answer questions from the media, including ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, on topics such as being scapegoated and his rapport with star teammates past and present.

“I ain’t really care what nobody say. It ain’t affect me. I slept good every night. I slept good every night. So, I mean, that’s what comes with the territory. That’s what comes with it when you got somebody like LeBron who brings all that attention around the team when we wasn’t used to having that. So the littlest things that you do, they be like the biggest. It’s so crazy. But it is what it is. I’m not in that situation anymore. Over here it’s still the same situation, but it’s different. I’m happy, I’m comfortable already two weeks in and I feel like I’ve grown. I’ve grown in a short period of time as a player and off the court.”

Waiters is averaging 11.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.8 steals on 39.8 percent shooting from the floor and 25 percent shooting from 3-point range in eight games with the Thunder. His production is nearly identical to the 10.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals on 40.4 percent from the field and 25.6 percent from 3 that he averaged for Cleveland this season before the trade.

The difference is in the win-loss column. The Thunder are 5-3 since acquiring Waiters. The Cavs are on an upswing as well, winners of five in a row.

“Both teams are doing great — winning,” Waiters said. “Everybody seems at ease now and that’s what it’s about, just being happy, being comfortable and having fun, getting an opportunity. That’s what it’s about.”

While his relationship with James has apparently ended, Waiters explained why reigning MVP Kevin Durant has embraced him.

“From the outside looking in, he probably saw how things were looking or how I’m always the odd man out and things like that. How it was going, how my name was always in something and half the time it probably never was me,” Waiters said. “I was that guy who you point the finger at, but I was fine with it. I could take it. I didn’t have no pressure on me. I didn’t have no pressure on me. My job is to go out there and play basketball, get as many wins as we can as a unit and unfortunately, it didn’t work out. And I think the organizations made great decisions on the moves and it’s helping both teams.”

***

No. 4: Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly? — We return now to our regularly scheduled injury news – notice a trend in these daily reports? – and to the suggestion by ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes that the Lakers, and specifically coach Byron Scott, could have handled the early days of Kobe Bryant‘s shoulder injury better. Instead, by letting Bryant continue to play after an overload of early-season minutes, Scott’s decision might have contributed to the torn rotator cuff on which they’ll all be updated Monday.

In hindsight, these issues appear greatly troubling, because just as Bryant must treat every aspect of his health, training and diet so seriously at this age just so he can perform, so too must the Lakers, and especially Scott, be ever so cautious with him.

That’s all the more true because Bryant is the Lakers’ sole attraction during an awful season, the lone reason for fans to tune in or attend games, all they really have to look forward to until the draft lottery. From a business sense, Bryant is their cash cow — their extremely well-paid cash cow — and thus missteps are extremely costly.

Where does blame lie? Certainly some falls on Bryant. He’s as powerful as any figure within the Lakers’ organization and as powerful as any player within any NBA franchise. If he wanted to play fewer minutes, he could have. If he wanted to get his shoulder examined earlier, he could have. The only person who could’ve stopped Kobe was Kobe, but he didn’t, because Kobe is Kobe. He believes he will overcome.

So the blame truly falls on Scott, who hasn’t been shy about admitting his fault in the issue. And, to a greater degree, the blame truly falls on the entire organization for not stepping in at some point earlier on when Bryant was playing all those minutes.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Washington’s John Wall wants Ray Allen to join the Wizards, but the All-Star point guard is busy enough without adding recruiting duties. … Brooklyn’s players and coaches admit they were shocked to learn of forward Mirza Teletovic’s season-ending condition … Houston’s Jason Terry still intends to play until he’s 40, and he’s surprised Shawn Marion won’t. … The photographer who first snapped Michael Jordan in that iconic, soaring pose is suing Nike over its use of the Jumpman logo. … Charlotte’s Marvin Williams did suffer a concussion when he took that elbow from New York’s Jason Smith.

 

LaMarcus Aldridge to return tonight for Portland

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge injured his thumb during Monday’s win over the Sacramento Kings. After a few days of testing, on Thursday the Trail Blazers announced that Aldridge was diagnosed with a radial collateral ligament tear in his left thumb, an injury that require surgery and keep Aldridge out of action for 6-8 weeks. The Trail Blazers are currently 31-13 and in third place in the Western Conference, but without Aldridge for an extended period, that could prove a perilous position.

Then today, in a surprising turn, the Blazers announced that Aldridge has decided to postpone surgery until the end of the season and continue playing…

Aldridge, in his ninth season, is a three-time All-Star and averaging a career-best 23.2 ppg along with 10.2 rpg. His return is a huge boost for a Portland team already without center Robin Lopez, out recovering from a broken hand.

The Blazers certainly seem excited about the development…