Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Lakers’

Morning shootaround — Dec. 10


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers tank? C’mon, Magic | Rodman questions Knicks’ blueprint | Best customers for Brooklyn fire sale | Davis leads early Most Improved candidates

No. 1: Lakers tank? C’mon, Magic — The headline was provocative enough (“Magic Johnson: I hope Lakers lose”). But what the former L.A. Lakers great had to say at an event in New York Tuesday grabbed NBA fans’ attention, too, and not necessarily for the right reasons. The Lakers should (gulp) tank? Really? That’s like saying the Buss family should have cooked their family books to qualify for student loans or that MLB team Magic’s involved with should shrink the business part of its Dodger Dogs to boost the profit margin. C’mon, tanking is for the NBA’s working class, not its royalty such as the Lakers or Knicks. If team-building can be described (lifting this from the retirement-planning realm) as a three-legged stool of trades, free agency and draft, the last of those – the target of tanking teams – is most important to small-revenue teams lacking the fat wallets, grand legacies, balmy climate and/or glitzy appeal of L.A., New York and maybe Miami now. Fans in those markets expect better and the Lakers’ many advantages ought to preclude slumming through 82 games to swipe a player desperately needed in … Philadelphia? Here are details from a mash-up report on ESPN.com:

Johnson, speaking at a promotional event Tuesday in New York City, said he wants his former team to lose enough games to contend for a high lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft.
“I hope the Lakers lose every game,” Johnson told reporters. “Because if you’re going to lose, lose. And I’m serious.”

Johnson hit Twitter to reinforce his point for his fan base:

And from Kobe Bryant after the Lakers’ victory Tuesday over Sacramento:

“I don’t see teams tanking. It doesn’t happen. Maybe there are certain teams in the league — and this is not one of them — where ownership sits up there in their office and they’re crossing their fingers quietly and hoping,” Bryant said. “But the players themselves? Never. Players play. Players play and players try to win every single game. That’s just what we do.”

And from Lakers coach Byron Scott, who isn’t eager to take on a bunch of losses after suffering through the immediate post-LeBron James years in Cleveland:

“It’s more of a laughing matter to me than anything,” Scott said. “I know [Earvin] and how competitive he is and I understand where he’s coming from — ‘Yeah, lose every game and hopefully you’ll get the No. 1 pick.’ That doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to get the No. 1 pick. You go out here and try to win as much as you can to try to create that culture of winning again instead of having that loser’s mentality. That’s how I look at it.”

The Lakers are expected to have substantial salary-cap space this upcoming offseason. Aging superstar Kobe Bryant, who will make $25 million next season, swingman Nick Young, [Julius] Randle and second-year forward Ryan Kelly are the only Lakers who have guaranteed contracts beyond this season.

Scott added, “I just think karma is a you-know-what and if you try to lose games, you’re not going to get the first pick.”

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No. 2: Rodman questions Knicks’ blueprint — As far as former NBA stars critiquing a storied franchise, the level of discourse slips now from Magic Johnson the team for which he labored to Dennis Rodman questioning the New York Knicks of Carmelo Anthony and Derek Fisher. Rodman might surpass Johnson in North Korean street cred, but the fellow Hall of Famer seemed driven in his comments more by his loyalty to his former Chicago coach Phil Jackson than in any true turnaround at Madison Square Garden. The 4-19 Knicks, off to the worst start in franchise history, have a somewhat hobbled Anthony these days, according to the New York Post. So they were easy for the flamboyant former rebounding star to pick at, as chronicled by ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley:

Former Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman weighed in on the team’s poor play Tuesday, questioning whether Carmelo Anthony was the right fit for the Knicks and wondering if first-year coach Derek Fisher is the right candidate for the job.

“If I know Phil [Jackson, Knicks team president], he just feels like [crap] right now,” Rodman told reporters at a promotional event in Manhattan. “I think he just feels like, ‘Wow, I thought I came here to do a great job and revitalize the city of New York.’

“He didn’t expect this. I saw him a couple of times on TV when I was in L.A., and I’m like, I know what you feel like, Phil. You came to be the savior and all of a sudden it’s like, ugh. Then you went and got Derek Fisher. Really, is he coaching? Is Derek Fisher coaching? I don’t get it. I don’t know what’s up with that team, man. You’ve got Carmelo and after that who else do you got?

“They’re not running the triangle. Derek Fisher’s not really coaching. I know Phil is trying to throw his input in the background, but who expected this from Phil? They expected him, we’re going to give you $15 million a year for the next six years and this team is — wow — they might not even make the playoffs.”

In mentioning Jackson’s vaunted “triangle” offense, Rodman kept the blame at floor level:

“I learned that in probably 15 minutes when I was in Chicago,” Rodman said. “It’s not that difficult. It’s a triangle.

“Everybody has an opportunity to touch the ball and shoot it. It seems like it goes back to Carmelo Anthony and then everything stops. What are you going to do?”

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No. 3: Best customers for Brooklyn fire sale — The Brooklyn Nets are contemplating a fire sale of veteran stars Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez? That’s the word, as reported by ESPN.com and other outlets. It’s the stuff of which serious buzz can be generated in the NBA, but it’s also reminiscent of a massive story that’s almost four decades old. Sports fans of a certain vintage might recall the great purge of the Oakland A’s in the summer of 1976, when mercurial team owner Charlie Finley tried to sell off pitcher Vida Blue (to the Yankees for $1.5 million), closer Rollie Fingers and outfielder Joe Rudi (both to the Red Sox for $1 million each). Finley felt the A’s days as contenders were over and feared looming free agency of his stars, but the transactions were killed by commissioner Bowie Kuhn as not being in ‘the best interests of baseball.” The Nets’ days as contenders apparently are over, too, in the eyes of owner Mikhail Prokhorov, and Brooklyn would be trying to get out from under the massive salaries of Williams, Johnson and Lopez. Bradford Doolittle of ESPN Insider cooked up some possible trade destinations for the Big 3 and here’s a glimpse at the point guard’s (you might have to pony up to see the whole piece):

Williams is not as explosive as he was a few years ago in Utah, but he’s still good enough to be a top-three player on a playoff team. However, besides his non-star production and large contract, Williams also toils at a time when the NBA is rife with quality point guards. However, the upshot is that Williams is a highly skilled player who could develop a floor-based style of running the point (a la Mark Jackson) that might play well for quite a few years.

Best fit: Indiana Pacers. The Pacers were one step shy of the Finals last season, but the top tier of the East has since become more crowded. Williams would give the Pacers the upper-echelon point guard they’ve lacked and, on this team, a ball-dominant PG can work. You plug Williams next to emerging shooter Solomon Hill, the currently injured Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West, and you’ve got a contending veteran team, albeit one likely shy of championship status.

A possible package would be something like George Hill, Luis Scola, Ian Mahinmi and Chris Copeland for Williams. The Nets’ motivation would be mostly financial. Hill might be a keeper to run the point in his combo-ish manner, but Scola’s expiring contract is mostly nonguaranteed, Copeland’s deal is expiring and Mahinmi has just $4 million left beyond this season.

Other fits: Detroit Pistons or the Los Angeles Lakers. …

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No. 4: Davis leads early Most Improved candidates — The NBA season is barely one-quarter completed, so speculation about any of the “annual” awards is, by definition, premature. But such chatter isn’t illegal and it drives conversations, debates and occasional arguments, so our own Fran Blinebury offered up some players worth considering for the league’s Most Improved trophy, at least after the first six weeks. Eschewing the ever-popular “top five” or “top 10″ of Internet list-making, Blinebury limited his field to just four. And only one of them, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, was in action Tuesday night, finishing with 18 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in the home victory over New York. He was Blinebury’s early MIP leader:

It only seemed as if the long-armed forward was reaching his peak last season. Now he’s threatening to leap and put his head right through the ceiling. We saw it coming over the summer when he led the way for Team USA in the gold medal-winning effort at the World Cup in Spain. He used that experience to throw off whatever shackles he still had on himself and returned to New Orleans ready to lead and dominate. Averaging more than 25 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots and two steals per game, Davis has forced his way into the conversation for MVP. What’s more, he’s making a real case for overtaking soon-to-be-30-year-old LeBron James as the best all-around talent in the game. Even though his Pelicans are bobbing around the .500 mark and will struggle to make the playoffs, he’s the reason to have League Pass and dial him up any time New Orleans is on the schedule. He’s always had the talent, but now there is an edge and attitude to A.D.’s game that commands respect.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: High praise for Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova from LeBron James after Cleveland’s big fourth-quarter comeback against Toronto. …  Another game night, another round of “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts during warm-ups, this time out West. … The losing in Philadelphia can be seen as a half-full opportunity, even for a seasoned NBA vet like Luc Mbah a Moute. …  But Earl Clark apparently doesn’t feel that way about what’s going on with the Lakers, preferring a lucrative deal in China. … For anyone still counting, this is Year 7 for the city of Seattle without the NBA. …

 

Morning shootaround — Dec. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Deng suffers hand injury | ‘Melo was truly torn over Bulls and Knicks | MJ wasn’t sole influence on Kobe’s game | Dirk starts All-Star campaigning for Ellis

No. 1: Heat’s Deng suffers hand injury – The Miami Heat face their first prolonged road trip of the season as a five-game stretch looms, and they may very well tipoff that trip without their starting small forward. Luol Deng suffered a hand injury in last night’s 112-102 home loss to the Atlanta Hawks and his status for the road trip is unknown, writes Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:

Heat starting forward Luol Deng is considered questionable heading into the team’s five-game road trip after he sustained a right hand injury during Wednesday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Deng was hurt when he landed on his right hand as he fell to the court while attempting to draw a charge in the second quarter. Deng did not play in the second half of the 112-102 loss, and an X-ray taken after the game was negative.

The injury was diagnosed as a bone bruise to the area near Deng’s right thumb and index finger, and the 11-year veteran will be re-evaluated again Thursday to determine if further tests are necessary.

“We’re going to just wait and see,” said Deng, who finished with five points and three rebounds in just under 17 minutes. “We’re going to monitor it the next couple of days. I tried to (keep playing). I came back in and I just had trouble passing and shooting the ball, so we made the decision to sit out.”

Deng’s status is uncertain for at least the initial games of a trip that starts Friday against Milwaukee and continues with games against Memphis, Phoenix, Denver and Utah.

The setback is the latest in a number of recent struggles for the Heat (9-9), who were already coping with the absences of starting point guard Norris Cole (illness) and reserve center Chris Andersen (ankle).


VIDEO: Luol Deng talks about the Heat’s loss and his wrist injury

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Timberwolves honor co-pilot of Lakers’ scary 1960 ‘miracle landing’

Harold Gifford, a co-pilot on the Minneapolis Lakers’ harrowing winter flight that narrowly avoided disaster nearly 55 years ago, was honored Wednesday night by the Minnesota Timberwolves during their home game against Philadelphia.

Gifford, 90, a retired World War II pilot and aviation professional who lives in Woodbury, Minn., wrote about what could have been a league-altering, NBA air disaster in his 2013 book, “The Miracle Landing” (Signalman Publishing).

When the Lakers’ DC-3 plane suffered mechanical breakdowns during a blizzard on Jan. 17, 1960, on a flight back to the Twin Cities – the electrical system shut down, its radio went dark and the instruments and windows in the cockpit began to freeze over – it was Gifford and fellow pilot Vern Ullman who found a cornfield in tiny Carroll, Iowa, that served as an emergency landing strip.

The Wolves were scheduled to honor Gifford and guests during the first half of Wednesday’s game at Target Center as part of their “Heroes of the Pack” program. The tribute caught the eye of Lakers part-owner and president Jeanie Buss, who has become friends with Gifford in recent years.

Buss took to Twitter Wednesday to note Gifford’s tribute in Minneapolis:

Morning shootaround — Dec. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No payoff yet for KD, Thunder | Van Gundy: Pistons are a ‘messed up’ team | Kobe refuses to complain about these Lakers | Wizards’ style impresses Bosh

No. 1: No big payoff yet for Thunder in Durant’s return — Things were supposed to be all better in Oklahoma City last night, what with the return of reigning MVP and franchise superstar Kevin Durant. The New Orleans Pelicans didn’t get that message, though, and spoiled Durant’s season debut in a 112-104 win in Louisiana. As our John Schuhmann points out, there was plenty of rust to be seen in Durant’s first game back:

Kevin Durant is back, but that doesn’t mean the Oklahoma City Thunder are immediately one of the best teams in the league.

Instead of starting their climb up the standings in Durant’s 2014-15 debut on Tuesday, the Thunder fell another notch, losing to a team they might be battling for a playoff spot come April. OKC fell to 5-13 with a 112-104 loss to the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Durant scored 27 points in 30 minutes in his first game back from a fracture in his right foot, shooting 9-for-18 and hitting three of his eight 3-point attempts. That’s a nice line, but there was some clear rust, as he committed five turnovers with a pretty sloppy handle whenever he tried to dribble through traffic.

Russell Westbrook was even sloppier in his second game back from a broken hand, shooting 6-for-20, getting blocked six times and committing seven turnovers, seemingly unable to deal with Anthony Davis‘ wingspan on several plays.

Really, offense wasn’t the problem, because the Thunder allowed the Pelicans to score 112 points on 100 possessions (40 on 28 in the second quarter). It was all a reminder that, even with their stars back, the Thunder aren’t really at full strength yet.

Another positive was the play of the Thunder bench. The absences of the two stars provided other guys the opportunity to play and get better. And on Tuesday, the reserves got OKC the lead early in the second quarter and cut down a big deficit early in the fourth. Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb combined for 32 points on 12-for-21 shooting.

So everything the Thunder have gone through could ultimately make them a better team. For now, though, they’re still trying to regain their footing, even with the MVP back in uniform.


VIDEO: Coach Scott Brooks was unhappy with his team’s defense in KD’s debut

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Morning Shootaround — Nov. 30


VIDEO: Highlights of the six games played Saturday, Nov. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors Go Forward Without DeRozan | Cavs Heavy On Defense | Warriors Go Green | Rondo’s Free-Throw Woes

No. 1: Raptors Go Forward Without DeRozan — The Toronto Raptors are off to an Eastern Conference-best 13-3 record to begin the season, and a large part of that has been the play of DeMar DeRozan. The 6-7 guard has averaged just over 19 points per game so far and, along with Kyle Lowry, led the team in minutes played through the first 16 games. But on Friday against Dallas, the usually-durable DeRozan suffered a torn tendon that will may keep him out of action for a while. In his absence, reports the Toronto Star, the Raptors must look to the “next man up”…

It’s impossible to know when he might return; the only North American professional athlete to be diagnosed with the same injury was New England Patriots receiver Danny Amendola, who was out of action for about a month. But every athlete is different, with different pain thresholds and recovery times, so comparing one to another is a stretch. And there is no history to look at where DeRozan is concerned.

The 25-year-old has been remarkably healthy in his five-plus seasons in the NBA, missing just 11 of 410 games before Friday night.

Two seasons ago, he played in each of the team’s 82 games, then 79 of 82 while becoming an Eastern Conference all-star in 2013-14.

Injured on a seemingly harmless slip early in the second half of Friday’s game, DeRozan is the team’s leading scorer, averaging more than 19 points a game, and has been a perfect complement to backcourt mate Kyle Lowry.

He was instrumental in helping Toronto get out to a franchise-best 13-3 start to the season, a record that puts the Raptors atop the Eastern Conference. It should provide a big enough cushion in a weak conference that an extended DeRozan absence won’t harm their place in the standings.

DeRozan travelled here with the team Saturday, as the Raptors begin a west coast trip of three games in four nights with an outing against the Lakers on Sunday night.

The Raptors have been relatively injury-free this season and last, although forward Tyler Hansbrough has missed five games with a shoulder injury and James Johnson sat out three with what the team called a “severe” ankle sprain.

On each occasion, coach Dwane Casey and his players have relied on the “next man up” cliché to suggest that no one is irreplaceable, that the team’s depth can carry it through any injury.

Casey does have options to replace DeRozan in the starting lineup on a team that generally uses 10 men each night.

He could insert Lou Williams, often the first backcourt player off the bench, into DeRozan’s starting role if Casey wants to enhance the first unit’s scoring potential, or he could move the more defensive-minded James Johnson into that spot and shift Terrence Ross to a shooting guard role.

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No. 2: Cavs Heavy On Defense — Don’t look now, but after a middling start, the Cleveland Cavaliers have won three straight, including Saturday’s 109-97 win over Indiana. And to explain their strong play of late, the Cavs point at least in part to improved effort on the defensive end, particularly from two-thirds of the Big Three. Coming into the season, neither Kyrie Irving nor Kevin Love were known for their defense. But as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, that could be about to change

Irving credited his turnaround to his summer spent with USA Basketball, an experience that Cavs coach David Blatt also cited as a reason for Irving’s improved 3-point shooting (he’s shooting a career-high 43.6 percent from deep).

“I just try to stay in front of the ball as much as possible so it’s not as much pressure for other guys to help me,” Irving said, emphasizing the importance of stopping dribble-penetration at the point of entry so the Cavs’ big men aren’t always being pulled away from their man or from the rim. “I’d rather help other guys and be in position to help and stop my guy instead of the other way around and always being ‘that guy’ on film. I was on film a lot the last three years [laughing]. You get tired of it after a while, so you want to be that guy that your teammates trust on a day-in, day-out basis.”

For Love, it’s all about the All-Star forward trusting the defensive schemes that the Cavs have in place, according to Blatt.

“In general, I would like to say, I think Kevin Love is playing the best defense of his career so far,” Blatt said. “He can get better like all of us can, but he’s doing a good job. He’s buying into the system, into the principles, and he needs to continue to do that and we need to continue to involve him in the way that we are.”

While Irving wasn’t shy about his desire to become a “great defender,” Love seems to know his limitations.

“I’ve never really been known for that in my career,” Love said. “Being a lockdown defender is something that I know I’ll never be, but as far as being a team defender, being in the right spots, being physical, doing those things, I can get a lot better at that and just continue to break down film and see where I can get better out there. So yeah, I think it’s something that I can continue to buy into and get better at.”

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No. 3: Warriors Going Green — The Golden State Warriors are off to a franchise-best 13-2 start, a record they’ve reached without starting forward David Lee, who is recovering from a hamstring injury. In Lee’s place, the Warriors have gotten stellar play from Draymond Green, who has become a leader of this Warriors team, writes the Oakland Tribune

“He’s in a lot of ways our heart and soul and just plays with such passion at both ends,” Kerr said before the Warriors faced Detroit on Sunday in Green’s home state. “I think it’s contagious.”

Green has been in the starting lineup for the entire season as the Warriors are off to a franchise-best 13-2 start, but it took a little time for him to get comfortable with Kerr and the flow of the new coach’s ball movement-oriented offense.

It didn’t get done through fun and games.

“The first two weeks he was very frustrated,” Kerr said. “I was all over him. He didn’t quite understand why we were trying to install a new offense.

“He’d take some wild shots, and I’d yell at him, and he’d wonder why I was yelling at him. But it all came from the right place. We were all just trying to get better.”

Green, who was accustomed to being challenged in practice by fiery Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, saw that he needed to learn when to pass and set screens along with how to pick the right times to shoot the 3-point shot that he had worked on all offseason. There were times when a confused Green thought he was doing what he was told when it wasn’t the case in Kerr’s mind.

“He was at it every day, like on me, pulled me to the side,” Green said of Kerr, who encouraged the player to watch film of San Antonio’s Boris Diaw as a model of how to function.

“He’s got a little hot side to him, and a lot of people don’t know that. He’ll just snap real quick. Like it’ll come out of nowhere, snap!”

Green made the necessary adjustments and averages 12 points, 7.3 rebounds and three assists, shooting 34 percent from 3-point range while serving as the vocal leader, versatile defender and replacement in the lineup for David Lee, who is recovering from a hamstring strain.

“Everybody always says I reached my ceiling,” Green said. “I don’t care what people think.

“I don’t believe in a ceiling. I believe in a work ethic.”

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No. 4: Rondo’s Free-Throw Woes — Coming into this season, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was shooting 62-percent on free throws for his career. But this season, for reasons that remain unclear, Rondo is just 9-of-28 from the line for a 32-percent total. And on Friday night against Chicago, Rondo missed two free throws with the game tied late. According to the Boston Herald, Rondo says he’s going to address the problem the the only way he knows how: By putting in work…

“Most of them hit the right/back side of the rim. I don’t have an answer right now,” he said. “It’s about practice. I’m looking at my follow through. All of my misses have been the same, so I’ll be in the gym again tonight and continue to work.”

Rondo isn’t ready to do something more exotic — none of that underhand style that Rick Barry made famous, and a frustrated Wilt Chamberlain used as a last resort. No talking to the ball, like Karl Malone.

“I haven’t thought about talking to myself,” Rondo said, smirking at the idea. “I just think about continuing to work, spending more hours in the gym if I have to. Not just the free throws. I’ve missed a lot of fourth-quarter shots I usually make. I have to work on those shots as well.

“I still want to get fouled. I try to get fouled,” he said. “I can get into a better rhythm, but it’s not mental. I’ve been in the paint trying to get rebounds, trying to stay aggressive. My game is driving. That’s what I do best.”

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SOME RANDOM LINKS: Sounds like Gregg Popovich could be returning soon for the Spurs … The Lakers are looking to add bodies to their injury-depleted roster … Raymond Felton says Tyson Chandler was not a distraction with the Knicks … The Timberwolves have signed Jeff Adrien

Morning shootaround — Nov. 27


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Nov. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Stephenson not a star yet | Suns point guards slow to adjust | Butler has risen against the odds | Lopez a perfect fit in Portland

No. 1: Stephenson not a star yet — With a 4-12 record and the second longest losing streak in the league, the Charlotte Hornets have been the most disappointing team outside of Cleveland. The arrival of Lance Stephenson was supposed to give their offense a boost, but they rank 25th on that end of the floor and have regressed defensively. Stephenson is still starting, but has seen his playing time drop quite a bit in the last week. After he logged just 23 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Blazers, Hornets coach Steve Clifford provided a dose of reality regarding his team’s new “star,” as Michael Wallace of ESPN writes:

Hornets coach Steve Clifford believes Lance Stephenson’s problems adjusting during his first season in Charlotte are partly due to the guard’s struggles to live up to external expectations.

“To be fair, one of the things that’s made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar,” Clifford said Wednesday. “He’s not a star. He’s a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years.”

Clifford’s comments came after Stephenson was left on the bench for the entire fourth quarter for a second consecutive game, this time during Wednesday’s 105-97 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that extended the Hornets’ losing streak to seven straight games.

A combination of preseason injuries and struggles since then to find his rhythm and a consistent role in Clifford’s offense has made Stephenson’s transition much more difficult than some anticipated.

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No. 2: Suns point guards slow to adjust — At 10-6 after a win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Phoenix Suns are in a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference. But they’re still trying to find their way, especially offensively, where they’ve taken a small step backward. One adjustment is the addition of point guard Isaiah Thomas, who joins Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in an unconventional backcourt. Though the team is winning, it’s impossible for all three to get their deserved playing time every night. As Thomas tells CBS Sports‘ James Herbert, that can be tough to deal with:

With the Kings, he was shuffled in and out of the starting lineup, especially in his first two seasons. He watched Tyreke Evans, Aaron Brooks, Greivis Vasquez and Jimmer Fredette play the point in front of him. Thomas has learned that he can’t worry about the things he can’t control. Still, this is challenging. Thomas has proven he’s capable of producing like an All-Star, and so have Dragic and Bledsoe.

“It’s a tough situation,” Thomas said. “But you’ve just got to be ready for whatever circumstances coach puts you in. You gotta be ready when your name is called, but I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s tough.

“It’s not what I expected,” Thomas continued. “But coach has a tough job. Putting all of us on the floor and trying to mix up the minutes, it’s tough for him. So it’s not just tough for us as players, we just gotta be ready when our name’s called and just know, I mean, coach is trying to do what he thinks is best for the team to put us in a position to win. But the key word is it’s a tough situation. For all of us.”

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No. 3: Butler has risen against the odds — The Chicago Bulls have one of the most improved offenses in the league, despite the fact that Derrick Rose has played just 6 1/2 of their 15 games. One reason is the continued development of Jimmy Butler, who has the best field goal percentage of the five players in the league averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. Butler was the 30th pick in the 2011 Draft out of Marquette, where most teams didn’t see much talent in the 6-7 guard. ESPN’s Nick Friedell profiles Butler and his path to becoming a big piece of a title contender:

Jimmy Butler isn’t supposed to be here.

He’s not supposed to be in the NBA. He’s not supposed to be a key member of a Chicago Bulls team that has championship aspirations. He’s not supposed to be in the midst of an All-Star type season — the best of his career — in which he has carried the Bulls on both ends of the floor at various times. And he’s certainly not supposed to be on the verge of cashing in on a contract offer at season’s end that will likely pay him well over $50 million over the next four seasons.

The odds have always been against Butler. His path to the NBA is as unlikely as anyone who plays in the league given that his backstory (of being homeless at 13 before moving in with a friend’s family) reads like the basketball version of “The Blind Side.” No matter how many ups and downs Butler endured in his journey to the precipice of NBA stardom, the 25-year-old never stopped believing in himself. The same drive that helped get him out of Tomball, Texas, and into Marquette University is the same fuel that’s pushed him to average over 20 points a game early this season.

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No. 4: Lopez a perfect fit in Portland — The Portland Trail Blazers made a 21-win leap from Lottery team to the second round of the playoffs last season, and have continued rolling with a 12-3 start this year. They’ve gotten improvement from all of their high-profile players, but the key to the transformation was the addition of a low-profile center. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian details the importance of Robin Lopez to the Blazers’ success:

After 96 regular season games and one memorable playoff series victory, it’s become clear that Lopez was the missing link for this franchise. A city that has watched the downfall of the beloved yet brittle Bill Walton, and the depressing breakdowns of Sam Bowie and Greg Oden, finally has a stabilizing force at the NBA’s most important position.

And while Lopez’s made-for-Portland personality and rugged, hustle-infused game have made him a Rip City fan favorite, it’s the things you don’t notice — the unselfishness, the unassuming disposition, the way he connects the Blazers’ chemistry — that have made the towering 7-foot, 265-pound center so important.

LaMarcus Aldridge is the Blazers’ best player. Lillard brings the big shots and big plays. Matthews provides defense, leadership and heart. And Batum is the glue, offering a touch of everything.

But Lopez is perhaps the most important piece, the linchpin to one of the most cohesive and talented starting lineups in the NBA. When general manager Neil Olshey shrewdly snatched Lopez in a trade for next to nothing, he didn’t just nab a starting center entering his prime, but also the 21st Century version of Buck Williams, a player plugged into an established core at just the right time that helped catapult the Blazers to the next level.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony doesn’t know how long back spasms will keep him out of the Knicks’ lineupThe Thunder waived Sebastian TelfairThe Lakers are close to signing Earl ClarkDavid West hopes to make his season debut on FridayMarcus Smart started, but couldn’t finish practice on WednesdayThe Celtics are going to EuropeMark Cuban wants to join the Eastern ConferenceSome trash talk from Philly fans motivated Kevin GarnettKyrie Irving wants to guard the league’s best point guards … and The New York Times profiled TNT’s “Inside the NBA.”

ICYMI of The Night: Tyson Chandler helped the Mavs to an overtime victory over his old team with 25 rebounds, an NBA high for the season:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Tyson Chandler grabs 25 boards

Morning shootaround — Nov. 26


VIDEO: All the highlights from Tuesday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry’s MVP case | Who’s scapegoating Chandler now? | Not panicking in Windy City … yet | Slow going in Detroit

No. 1: Curry’s MVP case — If the first level of staking a claim to the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award is impressing teammates, Golden State’s Stephen Curry already has that cinched. Curry’s ‘mates and coaches were again effusive about his talents and his season after he dropped 40 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals on the Miami Heat in a cushy victory in south Florida Tuesday.
Consider center Andrew Bogut, who took to Twitter:

And then there was this, as reported by the Contra Costa Times:

“Who better than him…at the point guard spot,” [forward Draymond] Green said. “I don’t know someone that’s better than him, so I definitely think he’s taken over that top spot at the point guard spot. Obviously, with winning comes accolades, so we keep continuing to win, all that stuff will take care of itself.”

“He’ll be an All-Star. He’ll be all that stuff. You continue to win games, and those wins add up, it’ll be hard to deny him the MVP.”

[Said coach Steve Kerr]: “I know I wouldn’t trade him for any point guard in the league, that’s for sure.”

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No. 2: Who’s scapegoating Chandler now? — Dallas center Tyson Chandler didn’t appreciate it when New York basketball boss Phil Jackson piled on, not merely trading the big man to Dallas but then scapegoating Chandler and guard Raymond Felton for the teams’ dismal 2013-14 season. He’ll get his chance to demonstrate just how much that irritated him when he and the Dallas Mavericks face Jackson’s Knicks Wednesday night. As reported by the New York Post’s Marc Berman, Chandler is playing well (10.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks) for the 10-5 Mavericks and seems to have moved on mentally from the maneuver but it still could – and probably should – impact the teams’ clash in Dallas:

“I don’t know why they did that,’’ Chandler said of Jackson’s remark about needing to change the chemistry with the Chandler-Felton trade in late June. “Only they can answer that question. I’ve since then moved on and don’t pay it any much attention. I know a lot of the media will be returning and me going against my former team. But in all honesty I’ve kind of swept it behind. It’s in the past and under the rug and I’m moving on with my future here.’’

Despite winning Defensive Player of the Year and earning his first All-Star berth as a Knick, it did not work out perfectly for Chandler in New York. He got hurt at all the wrong times after signing with the Knicks months after winning an NBA championship. Last year, Chandler broke his leg four games into the season amid a hot start. By the time he returned, the Knicks had too much ground to make up in the playoff race and he never got his timing back.

Chandler was blamed for too eagerly criticizing former coach Mike Woodson’s defensive schemes. Whispers Chandler was one of the dreaded locker-room “finger pointers’’ have also surfaced. They are odd accusations for one of the NBA’s noted leaders. Of course, it could be a smoke screen for the real intentions of Jackson, the Knicks’ team president, shipping out a player who didn’t fit into his triangle offense because he’s not a good jump shooter or post-up guy. Chandler is, however, a ferocious defender and the current Knicks don’t defend a lick.

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No. 3: No reason to panic in Chicago. Yet – Thanksgiving is hours away, so Chicago Bulls fans – and NBA followers who delight in superstar talents – can feel grateful that Derrick Rose hasn’t suffered any season-ending injuries through the first four weeks of the season. OK, so the fact that his legs have been as healthy as the ones sticking up out of your bird Thursday does remain an issue for coach Tom Thibodeau and his club. Maybe the good news is that Thibodeau now has joined the ranks of the other cautious folks in the Bulls organization in protecting their resident hothouse flower – the coach was the one who shut down Rose at halftime of the team’s loss at Denver. Here is quotage and more from Sam Smith of Bulls.com:

Perhaps Rose should not have played in the second of the back to back after being back just one game after missing four with a hamstring injury. Thibodeau may have realized that as he said he approached Rose at halftime and suggested Rose not play the second half. Rose remained in the locker room to get treatment, but said he suffered no setback and Thibodeau agreed it was merely his own personal concern. Though Rose clearly was not moving well, hesitant to drive to the basket and slow to react on defense.

Though Rose said after the game with two days off he is looking toward playing Friday in Boston, you’d have to wonder what the hurry is given players staying out two to four weeks with hamstring injuries.
Returning from two years of knee injuries, such ancillary injuries are expected to be part of the process. Perhaps frustrating, they need to be dealt with in a rational and not emotional manner. It seemed at halftime Thibodeau understood that.

“It was really nothing that happened,” Thibodeau said after the game. “Other than I didn’t want to take any chances with him. The way the game was going, the way we were going, I just felt at that point I wanted to go a different way. He’s didn’t reinjure himself or anything like that. I just didn’t want to take a chance. We’ve got a couple of days now, regroup and the way they were playing, the way we were playing I wanted to see if we could change it with a different type of ball pressure. I knew the start of the third quarter (with the Bulls trailing 56-49 at halftime), the defensive transition and the speed of the game (needed to increase). That was my big concern and I didn’t want to take a chance there. That’s basically it.”

Similarly, Rose agreed.

“It wasn’t anything where I was limping or I pulled it again or anything,” said Rose. “It was just that I wasn’t moving the way I wanted to while I was on the floor. I wasn’t able to affect the game the way that I wanted to, so I came in here and talked to Thibs and we agreed on just sitting out. He initiated it and I agreed with him… “

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No. 4: Slow going in DetroitStan Van Gundy looked sweaty and anguished even in the best of times during his days in Orlando, a natural worry-wart for whom mistakes and losses always loomed larger than victories and success. So you can imagine how he’s doing these days in Detroit, where the Pistons have nothing in common with Van Gundy’s 2009 Finalist Magic team and where he shoulders an even greater burden with dual responsibilities on the sideline and in the front office. On the day they dropped to 3-11 by losing to Milwaukee Tuesday, Van Gundy spoke to Detroit News writer Vince Goodwill and others about the difficult conversations he and owner Tom Gores have been having as they try to balance the development of a young team with the urgency to compete every night:

Van Gundy, after a chunk of games that has his team at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, paying an early deposit with the 76ers for a good seat at next May’s draft lottery, has begun to realize that balance is probably more delicate than his dual titles as coach and president of basketball operations.

“I don’t think it’s gonna be overnight,” Van Gundy said. “I’d like it to be. Tom would like it to be, but I don’t think it’s gonna be an overnight thing.”

“[Monday] night it was an hour and a half, just talking about our roster and where we’re headed and the whole thing. What I feel good about, what I don’t like. It was two days of texts.”

Whether it’s a 90-minute conversation or the usual text communication that happens 4-5 times during the week, much of the focus is on where things stand currently, as this wasn’t the start either envisioned.

“We talk once a week or so. [Monday] night for a long time,” Van Gundy said. “I think that we’re very much aware of what his thinking is and feeling and he is of mine and we’re on the same page. I don’t think somebody in my position can have much closer communication with an owner than I do. I can’t imagine that.”

The urgency is the conversations is certainly a point of emphasis, but Van Gundy said “I don’t think anyone’s on the ledge right now.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: NBA commissioner Adam Silver met with Milwaukee community leaders to discuss the need and timetable for a new downtown arena. … First you get the $4.85 million to spend, in the form of a disabled player exception for veteran guard Steve Nash. Then you have to find someone on whom to spend it. The Lakers can look for help but can they find it? … Even spotting the Pelicans 37 points when they were missing Rudy Gay (right Achilles strain) and Darren Collison (left quadriceps), the Kings were 10 points better in New Orleans. … If by “We’re not a 3-11 team” Kobe Bryant means the Lakers aren’t likely to sputter at that pace to an 18-64 record, he might be right. But they are bad, especially on defense.

 

 

Howard gets plasma treatment on knee

Dwight Howard doesn't know what happened to his knee (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports).

Dwight Howard is unsure what happened to his knee (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports).

Dwight Howard still doesn’t know exactly when it happened or how he hurt his right knee. But he has stepped up the level of therapy by getting a “PRP treatment” in hope of getting back onto the court as soon as possible.

Platelet-rich plasma therapy is the same procedure that Kobe Bryant had performed on his knee in 2013 and Howard turned to it after missing Wednesday’s 98-92 loss to Bryant and the Lakers.

The injury comes at a time when Howard’s Rockets have hit their first two-game losing streak of the season and have been in an offensive slump for two weeks. After scoring more than 100 points in five straight double-digit wins to open the season, the Rockets have cracked the century mark just once and are 3-3 since Nov. 8.

Now Houston faces a Saturday night visit from the NBA’s top offensive team, the Mavericks, without their All-Star stopper in the middle.

According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, Howard is still holding out hope to get back onto the court right away, but Rockets coach Kevin McHale is thinking that Howard is “probably out:”

“It feels a lot better,” Howard said. “I had to get a shot in it to clear some of the stuff out it. I’m trying to do whatever I can to get back on the floor.”

In a platelet-rich plasma therapy a patient’s blood is placed in a centrifuge and spun to separate the platelet-rich plasma. The concentrated platelets are then injected back into the injured tissue. Rockets athletic trainer Keith Jones confirmed Howard underwent “platelet rich protein therapy,” another term for Howard’s PRP treatment.

PRP therapy is generally used as a long-term treatment, rather than to promote a quick recovery for a player seeking to return to the court, though Howard held out hope that he would not miss too much time.

“We’ll see how it feels tomorrow,” Howard said. “I was in a lot of pain after the Memphis game. I (said) it was just bumps and bruises. I thought it was just something I could sleep off. But when I got home and the next day, any movement I tried was causing a lot of pain.”

Howard said does not recall any incident during the Memphis game on Monday, but said that after the game that he “couldn’t really walk on it.

“Last game, I tried to do everything I can to play, did every drill, everything possible until the game started and there was nothing I could do,” Howard said. “Hopefully, it feels better tomorrow.
“I did everything to get myself ready to play. It just wasn’t happening. They wanted me to play in the post-season and later on in the season. I didn’t want to sit out. I was very upset about it.”

Asked if he is definitely out on Saturday, Howard said, “I have no idea.”

Report: Dragic prepping for ‘open’ free agency

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — One of the NBA’s biggest surprises last season was Phoenix point guard Goran Dragic. In his sixth NBA season, the 6-4 Slovenian averaged a career high 20.3 points per game, leading the Suns to a 48-34 record and narrowly missing out on a playoff berth. Dragic was named to the All-NBA third team as well as selected the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

This season, however, the Suns haven’t burned quite as hot. Phoenix is off to a 6-5 start, and while the offseason signing of Isaiah Thomas from Sacramento has given the Suns an embarrassment of backcourt riches, having Thomas, Dragic and point guard Eric Bledsoe on the same roster has triggered some growing pains. As Dragic recently told the Arizona Republic, part of the reason the offense has not clicked is because “there’s only one ball and we’re all point guards.”

Dragic has an option to exit his contract next summer, and while he previously signaled his intentions to stay in Phoenix long-term, the future may not be as clear as it once seemed. According to a report from The Sporting News, Dragic now intends to hit the open market and see what other options are available, which might mean exiting the valley of the Suns.

In September, Suns point guard Goran Dragic told a reporter during the FIBA World Cup that it was his intention to opt out of the final year of his contract this summer and become a free agent — but that he would only do so with the intention of quickly re-signing with Phoenix.

While that might have been the idea at that time, that’s not the case now, as Dragic will have an “open” free agency, league sources told Sporting News. When Dragic opts out and becomes a free agent next July, he will be a sought-after commodity, and while Phoenix would get the first hearing, Dragic will have options.

Among those options, according to sources, would be Houston — the team Dragic left in order to sign with Phoenix in 2012. The Rockets are well-stocked with point guards, but nearly all, including starter Patrick Beverley, can become free agents next summer.

The Lakers also figure to be a potential landing spot for Dragic, a source said — though, to be clear, the Lakers have only about $36 million committed next season with needs at just about every position, and thus are expected to pursue multiple big-name free agents.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 19


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Anthony dealing with knee ‘soreness’ | James wants less minutes for ‘Big Three’ | KG hoping Kidd gets warm Brooklyn reception | Cuban takes shot at Lakers

No. 1: Anthony dealing with knee ‘soreness’Carmelo Anthony has played fantastic of late, averaging 30.4 ppg over his last five games. Unfortunately, his New York Knicks are 1-4 in that span, a stretch that includes last night’s failed comeback attempt against the Milwaukee Bucks. After dropping 26 points on the Bucks, though, Anthony revealed to the media that his left knee has been giving him some trouble since opening night. Peter Botte of the New York Daily News has more:

Carmelo Anthony laid on a training table in the visiting locker room for several minutes, his left knee being iced down following the Knicks’ failed comeback bid in a 117-113 loss Tuesday to the Bucks.

Anthony left the court briefly in the second quarter to have his left knee retaped before returning to play 20 of 24 minutes in the second half – and finish with a team-high 26 points in 37:45 overall.

But the $124 million All-Star revealed he’s been playing with some “soreness” in his left knee “since the Cleveland game” on Oct. 30, and acknowledged that he recently “had some (medical) tests” on that leg, although he wouldn’t reveal any specifics.

“I don’t think it’s serious. I’m out there playing. I don’t think it’s that serious,” Anthony said after the game. “My knee was bothering me a little bit. The tape job I had on it, it kind of got wet a little bit. I started feeling it a little bit after that. I cut the tape off on the bench and I started to feel a little bit more pain. I had to come back and get it retaped. It felt better once I got it retaped. I banged my knee when I had to dive on the ball with Giannis (Antetokounmpo), I banged my knee on the floor. It was sore from that point on.

“I’ve just been trying to go through it and play through it and not kind of think about it. Some days are better than others. Today once the tape came off of it, I felt it. When I banged it on the floor, it made it worse.”


VIDEO: The Bucks hold off the Knicks in Milwaukee

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