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Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Lakers’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 22


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Remembering Kobe’s epic game | Van Gundy blasts Pistons’ commitment | Aldridge: Picking Spurs over Suns was ‘very close’

No. 1: Remembering Kobe’s 81-point night — It may seem hard to believe, but it has been 10 years since Kobe Bryant dropped 81 points on the Toronto Raptors. ESPN.com’s Arash Markazi has a great oral history on the game, we have an entire section of this website dedicated to Kobe’s career and the Los Angeles TimesMike Bresnahan, who covered the game that night, provides some great stories from the event, too:

Lawrence Tanter had already witnessed plenty from his courtside view as the Lakers’ public-address announcer.

He was there when the Lakers beat the hated Boston Celtics at the Forum for the 1987 championship. He saw Bryant throw a lob to Shaquille O’Neal in a back-from-the-dead rally in the 2000 playoffs. And he watched the Lakers somehow outlast Boston in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals.

For Bryant’s 81-point outburst, though, Tanter remembered the pen-on-paper challenge for official scorer and longtime friend John Radcliffe.

“He was having a very difficult time finding room in the boxes on the scorebook to put all these points down that Kobe was scoring,” Tanter said. “It was a tedious effort on his behalf to do that because he’d never faced anything like that either. He just kept going, ‘Man, I’ve got to write smaller.'”

Suddenly, Luke Walton wasn’t the cool, collected guy with the quick wit and stentorian voice.

Long before he became the successful interim head coach of the Golden State Warriors, he was a reserve Lakers forward. A pass-first player his entire career, he asked for an assist from Bryant after the Toronto game.

“It was one of the few times I felt like a fan instead of his teammate. I had him sign a ticket for me after the game,” Walton said. “It was incredible. You look up at the scoreboard and see it at, like, 72 and then 78 and then all of a sudden it says 80, and it looks like the scoreboard is broken. I really didn’t even fully grasp it until I went home and watched it on tape that night.”

Bill Macdonald was the ebullient host of Lakers’ pregame shows for Fox Sports West.

He was asked to step up a bit that night and took the place of Lakers play-by-play announcer Joel Meyers, who was contractually allowed by the team to call three NFLplayoff games, including the NFC championship on radio that day in Seattle.

Macdonald had experience broadcasting other sports, but nothing like the Lakers. Certainly nothing like that night.

“I figured this was going to be the only Laker game I ever broadcast. It didn’t matter to me that it was a nondescript Sunday in January, a bad Laker team against a not-very-good Toronto team,” Macdonald said. “The first half was just awful. The Lakers were horrible. They needed every single one of Kobe’s points in the second half to come back.”

Phil Jackson, a share-the-ball proponent who won 11 championships in 20 seasons as an NBA coach, including five with the Lakers, was complimentary of Bryant’s effort at the time but noted, “it’s not exactly the way you want to have a team win a game.”

He chuckled this week when that quote was read back to him. He did it again when told Bryant’s score by quarter — 14, 12, 27 and 28. And again when reminded of Bryant’s shot total — almost one per minute.

“That’s exhausting,” Jackson said. “That’s pretty amazing. The kid is unbelievable.”

Toronto swingman Jalen Rose was the one who guarded Bryant the most. Maybe it’s a form of psychological self-defense, but rather than dwell on Bryant’s point total, he remembers Bryant’s demeanor.

“Kobe never bumped his chest. He never pointed in the crowd. He never trash-talked,” said Rose, now an ESPN analyst. “If Kobe had behaved like that, he wouldn’t have got to 51, let alone 81, because we would have wanted to physically harm him on the court.”

“The greatest thing about Kobe’s 81-point game was that actually wasn’t his best game to me. His best game was actually against a good team, the Dallas Mavs, when I think he had like 60 in three quarters.”


VIDEO: Relive Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game

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All-Star Starters Announced

VIDEO: Lakers forward Kobe Bryant gained the most votes for the 2016 All-Star Game.

HANG TIME BIG CITYThe 2016 NBA All-Star Game will showcase several players who have battled back from injury to return to All-Star form. It will also likely serve as a farewell to the leading scorer in All-Star Game history, Kobe Bryant.

And if the starting lineups are any indication, NBA fans appear ready to embrace small ball.

Bryant, in his 20th NBA season, announced in November that this will be his final campaign. Though he missed the last two All-Star games with injuries, Lakers guard Bryant led all NBA players in voting this season through the first three voting updates. In each voting update, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, last year’s leading vote-getter, was second behind Bryant. Bryant finished with 1,891,614 votes, ahead of Curry’s 1,604,325.

NBA All-Star 2016After missing significant time last season, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Paul George have all had terrific first halves to the season, and fans rewarded their excellence with All-Star starting spots. While Durant was the leading vote-getter in 2014, injuries last season relegated him to a reserve role in the All-Star Game. Anthony started last season’s All-Star Game in New York, but had season-ending knee surgery shortly after the game. George missed most of last season recovering from a broken leg. This season, all three have produced at an All-Star pace and have their teams in playoff contention.

Anthony (567,348) edged Chicago’s Pau Gasol (566,988), who started last season, by only 360 votes for the final starting position in the East frontcourt.

For the second year in a row, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry made a late charge into the Eastern Conference starting five. Last year, with help on social media from Canada’s prime minister and hip-hop star Drake, Lowry made up a 100,000 vote deficit in the last two weeks of voting to pass Dwyane Wade for a starting spot. This season, Lowry again received a late endorsement on Instagram from Drake, and Raptors fans voted often via Twitter, helping Lowry (646,441) tally enough votes to leapfrog Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (580,651) and start in the Eastern Conference backcourt with Wade.

Alongside Bryant and Durant in the Western Conference frontcourt, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard will make his All-Star debut as a starter. Golden State’s Draymond Green, who leads the NBA in triple-doubles this season with eight, held a 12,000 vote lead over Leonard for the final spot in the Western Conference frontcourt in the most recent voting returns. The Warriors (39-4) and Spurs (36-6) have the two best records in the NBA this season. Dallas center Zaza Pachulia also made a late push, from eighth to fourth in voting for the West’s frontcourt, thanks to a concerted effort to get out the international vote. Pachulia ended up falling just 14,000 votes short of winning a starting spot, finishing ahead of Green.

Green’s absence from the starting lineup also means there are no All-Star starters who regularly play center for their teams. While both Pau and Marc Gasol made the starting lineups last season, James and Durant would seem to be the most likely candidates to start at center for their teams, or at least the tallest starters available.

Besides Green and Irving, several players are noticeable by their absences. In the Western Conference, Houston’s James Harden scored 29 points in last year’s All-Star game and finished second to Curry in regular season MVP voting. Harden finished fifth among Western Conference guards with 430,777 votes, behind Curry, Westbrook, Chris Paul (624,334) and Klay Thompson (555,513). Clippers forward Blake Griffin has been an All-Star in each of his five NBA seasons, and was voted in as a starter last year, but injuries this season have meant he’s played in just 30 games thus far. Anthony Davis was voted a starter a year ago, but an injury-riddled start to the Pelicans’ season likely hampered his chances. Davis finished ninth among Western Conference frontcourt players.

In the East, Washington’s John Wall was voted to start a year ago, but hasn’t been in contention for a starting spot this season in any of the voting updates, as the Wizards have stumbled to a 20-21 start. Wall (368,686) finished sixth among Eastern Conference guards.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Sunday, Feb. 14.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Frontcourt

LeBron James, Cavaliers — After James took the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals last season, he has led the Eastern Conference in voting this season. An 11-time All-Star, James is shooting a career low 29-percent from the three-point line, but has also averaged 25.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg and 6 apg for the 29-11 Cavs, who are in first place in the Eastern Conference.

Paul George, Pacers — After suffering a compound fracture of his right leg during a USA Basketball scrimmage in the summer of 2014, George missed most of last season, before returning for the final six games. This season, the two-time All-Star George has played in all 42 of Indiana’s games, averaging a career-high 23.7 ppg, along with 4 apg and 7.4 rpg.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks — Last season, shortly after appearing in his 10th NBA All-Star Game, Anthony had season-ending knee surgery. This season, Anthony is averaging 21.7 ppg in 40 games, and last night passed Larry Bird for 31st place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Anthony has assumed a leadership role for the rebuilding Knicks, who after winning just 17 games a season ago, are currently 22-22 and in contention for a playoff appearance.

Backcourt

Dwyane Wade, Heat — At 34 years old, Wade is a 12-time All-Star. After missing significant chunks of the last few seasons with various injuries, this season Wade has played in 40 of Miami’s 43 games. Wade is averaging 18.1 ppg for the Heat, who are 23-20.

Kyle Lowry — Thank the north. After making his All-Star debut last season and leading the Raptors into the playoffs, Lowry has been even better this season. Through 42 games, the 29-year-old Lowry is averaging a career high 20.9 ppg and 5 rpg, along with 6.5 apg.

WESTERN CONFEERENCE

Frontcourt

Kobe Bryant, Lakers — For the first time in his career, Bryant was listed among frontcourt players, and he ran away with the vote. A 17-time All-Star, this season has turned into an extended farewell tour for Bryant and the Lakers, who are 9-35 so far this season. Bryant is averaging 16.3 ppg in 36 games this campaign.

Kevin Durant, Thunder — Durant missed most of last season after suffering a foot injury, and underwent several foot surgeries. But this season the 27-year-old Durant has returned to form, averaging 26.5 ppg through 37 games for the Thunder, who are 32-12 under first-year coach Billy Donovan.

Kawhi Leonard, Spurs — The San Antonio Spurs have won five titles during the Gregg PopovichTim Duncan era, and while they’ve usually employed an understated form, it’s been hard to overlook them this season, as they’ve racked up a gaudy 36-6 record to start this season. The 24-year-old Leonard has been sensational for the Spurs, averaging a team-high 20.1 ppg as well as playing arguably the best on-ball defense in the NBA.

Backcourt

Stephen Curry, Warriors — Last season’s NBA MVP has been even better this season. A two-time All-Star, Curry has helped the Warriors get off to a 24-0 start while averaging a career-high (and NBA-leading) 29.9 ppg. Remarkably, Curry has done this while playing just 33.9 mpg, while shooting 51 percent from the field, 45 percent behind the three-point line, and 91 percent from the free throw line.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder — Westbrook scored 41 points in last season’s All-Star Game, winning the All-Star Game MVP. This season, the 27-year-old Westbrook has been as dynamic as ever, averaging 24 ppg, 9.8 apg and 7.1 rpg, along with a league-leading 2.5 steals per game.

All-Star starters announced tonight on TNT

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The polls are officially closed, and now it’s just a matter of time before we find out if Kobe Bryant will go out on top.

The 2016 NBA All-Star Game starters will be announced tonight, live on TNT at 7 p.m. ET. In this his final NBA season, Bryant has led the NBA in All-Star voting since initial totals were announced, with 1,533,432 overall votes in the latest returns. Bryant has maintained a consistent lead over last year’s leading vote-getter and MVP, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, and has already surpassed Curry’s league-leading total of 1,513,324 votes from last season.

NBA All-Star 2016Curry (1,206,467) was second overall in the most recent voting returns, and was joined in the potential Western Conference starting five by his Warriors teammate Draymond Green (499,947), who was clinging to a slim lead over San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (487,626) in the last update. The Warriors, of course, have put together a historic first half of the season, with a 39-4 record through today, while Leonard’s Spurs are right behind them at 36-6.

Another contest worth watching is in the Eastern Conference backcourt. While Miami’s Dwyane Wade (736,732) seems to have a starting spot secured, in the most recent updates his probable backcourt mate was Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, who had 399,757 votes. Just behind Irving was Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, with 367,472 votes. Last season Lowry overcame a similar deficit in the final days to vault into the starting line-up. With the 2016 All-Star game in Toronto, it will be interesting to see if Raptors fans across Canada were able to marshall sufficient support for Lowry as the clock ticked down.

In the Eastern Conference frontcourt, while LeBron James and Paul George appear to have starting sports secured, the third position may still be up in the air. In the most recent voting returns, New York’s Carmelo Anthony (368,336) passed Detroit’s Andre Drummond (361,307) and was holding a slim lead for the final starting nod.

The starting lineups will be revealed during a special one-hour edition of “NBA Tipoff presented by Autotrader” featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith. The special will air prior to TNT’s exclusive doubleheader featuring the Clippers at the Cavaliers (8 p.m. ET) and the Spurs at the Suns (10:30 p.m. ET).

NBA All-Star 2016 in Toronto will bring together some of the most talented and passionate players in the league’s history for a global celebration of the game. Along with the NBA All-Star Game, the Air Canada Centre will also host the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, Feb. 12 and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night on Saturday, Feb. 13. Other events at NBA All-Star 2016 include the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and the NBA Development League All-Star Game presented by Kumho Tire.

Forbes: 13 teams worth $1B or more

Thank you, Steve Ballmer. Or maybe, thank you, television networks.

Those are the twin dynamics that recently and somewhat indirectly boosted the value of NBA franchises, to the point where the New York Knicks, who reside in the financial penthouse of the NBA, are oozing with dollars.

According to the new Forbes magazine list of NBA properties, the Knicks are now worth $3 billion. And if that’s not wallet-swelling enough, 13 teams are now worth at least $1 billion (up from 11 last year). Two years ago, only three were worth $1 billion-plus.

Here’s more from Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes:

The New York Knicks reclaim the top spot from the Los Angeles Lakers after a one-year hiatus, thanks to a new cable deal and the highest premium-seating revenue in the league at almost $90 million. The split of the media and sports assets of Madison Square Garden Company in September precipitated a new media rights deal for the Knicks with the MSG regional sports network. The 20-year pact kicks off this season and is worth $100 million in the first year. We value the Knicks at $3 billion, up 20% and fourth most among U.S. sports franchises behind only the Dallas Cowboys ($4 billion), New England Patriots ($3.2 billion) and New York Yankees ($3.2 billion).

The last two seasons rank among the three worst in Lakers history, and the 2015-16 season, which doubles as Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour, is shaping up even worse. Even so, the Lakers are the NBA’s most profitable team thanks to the club’s 20-year, $3.6 billion deal with Time Warner Cable SportsNet LA. Ratings were off more than 50% for Lakers’ games during the 2014-15 season with Bryant sidelined by injuries most of the year, but the average audience size of 122,000 viewers per game was still the second highest in the NBA. Operating profits, in the sense of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, were an NBA-record $133 million last season by our count. The Lakers are now worth $2.7 billion.

Rounding out the top five are the Chicago Bulls ($2.3 billion), Boston Celtics ($2.1 billion) and Los Angeles Clippers ($2 billion). Thirteen teams are worth at least $1 billion, up from just three two years ago.

The league’s 30 teams generated $5.2 billion in revenue last season and $900 million in operating profit (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization). Both are records. The NBA’s 2011 collective bargaining agreement, which enhanced revenue sharing for poorer small market teams and cut player costs, means that every team except one—billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s Brooklyn Nets—turned an operating profit last season.

The Hawks are a club on the upswing after years of dysfunctional ownership. The new Fox Sports TV deal kicked off this season and is worth triple the prior pact on an annual basis. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is backing a renovation of up to $250 million of Philips Arena that would include public funding. The team reached the Eastern Conference finals last year and is led by Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer. Attendance jumped a league-leading 21% at Philips last year and the number of season ticket holders is up to 9,000 from 3,000. We value the team at $825 million.

The Nets and Hawks transactions reflect the bifurcation of franchise values in recent years, with big market teams carrying significant premiums, particularly the largest markets like Los Angeles, where Steve Ballmer paid $2 billion for the Clippers in 2014. The top five teams are now worth $2.3 billion on average or three-and-a-half times the bottom five teams. Five years ago the multiple was only two times as much.

So, in short, what happened? Ballmer happened.

He purchased the Clippers a few years ago for $2 billion and that suddenly set a new standard. The TV contracts happened, too: ESPN and Turner (which manages NBA.com) ponied up $24 billion over nine years. That’s not counting local TV deals. Essentially, those TV contracts are gold to owners.

But it’s not just that. The league overall is profitable, too, with sponsorship deals and ticket sales and merchandise sales all adding more cha-ching to the cash registers. Also, new arenas are coming for Golden State, Sacramento and Milwaukee. Business is very good for the NBA and the teams are reaping the benefits.

Imagine, that in 1988, when the league added four expansion franchises (Miami, Orlando, Minnesota and Charlotte), those franchises cost $32.5 million each. The Heat is now worth $1.3 billion.

 

Morning shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates | Thunder getting overlooked, underloved? | Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage | Long trip leaves Cavs in good place

No. 1: Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates — Your first instinct was to look around for Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. He was the culprit involved in the NBA’s previous most notable shoulder injury, locking up Cleveland’s Kevin Love in the first round last spring and sending the former All-Star forward off to surgery, done for the rest of the playoffs. This time, though, it was Dallas’ JaVale McGee getting tied up with Chicago’s Joakim Noah, with Noah suddenly pulling away and running off the court while shouting anguished expletives. Noah’s left shoulder dislocation was a significant re-injury of the same shoulder he had sprained before Christmas, and according to Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson, it has the frustrated center and his teammates rattled while awaiting the outcome of an MRI exam. Meanwhile, any plans by Bulls management to explore the trade market for Noah, an impending free agent, probably have been diminished:

A Saturday MRI will produce an official prognosis and whether surgery is needed, but the injury likely will have major ramifications for the franchise — and for Noah. The Bulls have gauged the market for Noah in advance of next month’s trade deadline, an option that is in serious jeopardy now.

More powerfully, the Bulls waited two weeks to clear Noah for contact practices and officially rule out surgery for his last injury, which involved a small tear. If surgery is needed this time, could Noah, an unrestricted free agent, have played his last game for the franchise that drafted him in 2007?

“It didn’t look good,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

“It’s devastating,” Derrick Rose said. “He’s a big piece.”

No two injuries are the same, but [Love] took more than four months to return to basketball activity after dislocating his shoulder in last season’s playoffs.

“I’m frustrated for him,” Taj Gibson said. “He felt so good coming into this game. We don’t know the severity of it but the look on his face was just crazy. He had put so much work in to get back to the team.

“It just makes my stomach sick. You’ve been going to war with this guy all kind of different circumstances over eight years, a guy you pride yourself with, especially with practice and he’s one of the emotional leaders, it hits you in the heart. Seeing him on that table like that, I kind of got flashbacks to when Derrick got hurt. You don’t want to see your man go down like that. It’s frustrating.”

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No. 2: Thunder getting overlooked, underloved?— No one would welcome additional, legitimate championship contenders for the Larry O’Brien Trophy this June than the NBA. It just so happens that the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, are as good as or maybe better than they were last season. The San Antonio Spurs have a history of success unrivaled for duration since the Bill Russell-era Boston Celtics. And the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James, who has taken his team to five consecutive Finals. Outside of those three franchises, though, the league’s other 27 teams have more skeptics than supporters when assessing their shot at a spring ring. Royce Young of ESPN.com took a hard look at where the Oklahoma City fit among the top contenders, and wound up re-visiting a familiar topic – media disrespect – with former MVP forward Kevin Durant:

A couple of hours before the Oklahoma City Thunder squared off against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, Michael Wilbon said on “Pardon The Interruption”: “There’s only three teams in the NBA, right now from where we sit, who can win the championship, who can even play for the championship.”

Those three: the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers. “That’s it,” Wilbon said. “That’s the list.”

The Thunder went on to effortlessly roll over the young Wolves 113-93, as expected, improving to 29-12. At the midway point of the season, that puts the Thunder on a 58-win pace, which in the past 10 seasons on average is good for the second seed in the Western Conference, and has been good for the No. 1 seed twice. With a robust margin of victory of +8.2, on paper, the Thunder look like a surefire contending power.

But plenty of people around the league seem to share the same sentiment as Wilbon. It’s Warriors, Spurs and Cavs, and then everybody else.

The question is, where are the Thunder?

“Man, the [media and experts are] always trying to nitpick us,” Kevin Durant told ESPN.com. “I mean, they don’t like us. They don’t like how Russell [Westbrook] talks to the media, they don’t like how I talk to the media. So obviously, yeah, they’re not going to give us the benefit of the doubt.

“Especially since we’ve been together so long. Some of these teams are new, except for the Spurs, who have won. But we haven’t won and we’ve still got the same core, so they don’t expect us to win. It is what it is, who cares about them. They don’t mean nothing, the critics. Their opinions, everybody has one, but we don’t really care about them. Every day we’re just going to keep grinding this thing out. We feel like we can compete with anybody.”

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No. 3: Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage — Change is hard, especially when the state from which one is departing worked so darn well. The Indiana Pacers committed to a pace-and-space attack over the summer, shedding the “smash mouth” style built around center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West that had produced consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals. There were growing pains early – Paul George didn’t like the idea of being stuck as a “power forward” – but George, his teammates and coach Frank Vogel worked out the kinks for a satisfying start. But Indiana has dropped nine of its past 15 games since starting 16-9 and whether in response to opponents’ tactics, George’s sputters after his early MVP form or just lapsing into old habits, the Pacers have slowed down and gone bigger. That had Larry Bird, the team’s president of basketball operations, displeased when he spoke to Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star:

“I just can’t get a handle on it right now because these guys are up and down,” Bird said in a telephone interview just hours before Friday’s game against Washington. “I can’t tell you what is best for us right now. We’ve had success with the small lineup, but we’ve had success with two big guys in there. It’s going to take a little bit more time, but I would like to have won more games up to this point. I don’t think any of us feel comfortable with how we’re playing and the way things are going.”

What Bird does not want the Pacers to do is waver from the new offensive philosophy they developed in the offseason.

“I’d like to see teams match up with us instead of us worrying about who certain guys are going to guard on the other teams,” Bird said. “Let’s see if they can guard us. If you’ve got good ball movement and you’ve got guys hitting shots, it makes it pretty easy.”

After talking with Bird after Thursday’s practice, Vogel returned to the spread lineup to start Friday’s game for the first time since Dec. 31. The results were not what Bird desired. The Pacers fell behind early to the Wizards and struggled throughout in a 118-104 blowout loss. The Pacers missed 14 of their 17 3-pointers and were outrebounded by the Wizards 54-35.

Bird and Vogel have talked almost every day throughout the season. Vogel said their conversations have not changed much, but he mentioned before Friday’s game that every aspect of the team is in flux, from which lineup should start to which players should be on the court in the final minutes of games.

Vogel said he has favored the big lineup because it has a strong defensive rating of 89.4, a statistic that measures points allowed per 100 possessions, entering Friday’s game. The spread lineup’s defensive rating is 106.3.

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No. 4: Long trip leaves Cavs in good place — Fatigued yet fulfilled, the Cleveland Cavaliers returned home in the wee hours Saturday from a long road trip that may have positioned them just right for another push to the Finals. The mood of their leader, LeBron James, was evident in a Tweet James posted upon getting home:

It also was clear in James’ comments after a breezy 20-point victory at Houston to conclude the trip that Cleveland might just be revving up to keep playing for another five months. Here is an excerpt from Dave McMenamin‘s piece for ESPN.com:

After traveling nearly 6,000 miles over the course of a six-game, 12-day trip — enough distance to go from New York to Los Angeles and back again — the Cleveland Cavaliers walked out of the Toyota Center on Friday night having picked up five wins on the journey and a boost of confidence to take into the second half of the season.

“The only thing I care about is how I lead these guys every single night, and I know we can compete with any team in the league and it doesn’t have to be a regular-season game,” LeBron James said afterward when asked if it bothered him that some were judging the Cavs because of that Spurs loss [Thursday]. “I know, you give us four games and it’s time to lock down in a playoff series, we can play and we can beat any team in this league. So that’s my feeling and that’s what I know.”

The certainty in James’ words was significant, as the 5-1 trip seemed to solidify the notion that his Cavs had indeed turned the corner. They won in just about every imaginable fashion — blowing it open late in Washington; thoroughly dominating in Minnesota; toying around with the competition in Philadelphia; coming from behind in Dallas and making big plays down the stretch; and then, in Houston, shooting only 39.1 percent as tired legs resulted in missed jump shots, but determined defense wouldn’t let them lose as the Rockets shot even worse at 35.1 percent.

They’ve now won nine of their past 10 games, heading into a home date with the Golden State Warriors on Monday, and are starting to look like the team that became a juggernaut in the second half of last season through the playoffs, until injuries derailed them in the Finals.

“I think just being on the road, just together for 12 days just brought us together more,” Cavs big man Tristan Thompson told ESPN.com. “And you can see it on the court. There’s more flow. Guys are understanding where guys are going to be at.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Byron Scott is talking about playing the Lakers’ young guys more over the second half of the season, though it’s hard to imagine Kobe Bryant‘s Farewell Tour yielding to any sort of organizational-development agenda. … We can understand why the Brooklyn Nets would be interested in Tom Thibodeau to bail out their dismal operation, but we’re unclear as to why Thibodeau would be interested in the Nets. … San Antonio has been so good for so long, it’s kind of unfair to the rest of the league, according to USA Today. … The first priority with Nene always seems to be, getting him healthy .The second is keeping him that way, because his impact on the Washington Wizards is considerable. … This Miami Heat teams lacks some of the self-assurance and self-awareness that the Big Three edition owned, says one insider. … There are Bulls fans who wish that Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose got along as famously as Butler and his Hollywood buddy Mark Wahlberg.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 15


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant to Warriors: ‘Make history’ | Perkins, Davis lament state of Pelicans | Butler puts in epic performance in Philly

No. 1: Bryant encourages Warriors to go ‘make history’ — With their victory last night over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Golden State Warriors improved to 37-3. That start matches the mark the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls had through 40 games when they won an NBA-record 72 games. After the win, Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who played against the dominant players (Michael Jordan in the 1990s and Stephen Curry today) encouraged Golden State’s stars to push for the 73-win mark, writes Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com:

Before Kobe Bryant left the Oracle Arena court for the final time Thursday night, the Los Angeles Lakers icon was greeted by a trio of Golden State Warriors who have been terrorizing the rest of the league lately.

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all surrounded Bryant and chatted him up following their team’s 116-98 win over Bryant and the Lakers.

“You guys have got to go ahead and make history,” Bryant told Curry.

“I got to chase you,” Curry replied, a response that Bryant said he too would have used.

“Damn right,” Bryant told Curry. “Absolutely. Come and get it.”

Bryant also signed a pair of his game-worn sneakers for Green.

The message Bryant wrote: “Make history.”

A passing of the torch? Perhaps.

“I think so,” Bryant said. “It’s their time. It’s their time. It’s their time to step up and play and see how many championships they can win, see how many gold medals they can win. I had my run. Now it’s important for them to carry it forward.”

But the Warriors heard Bryant’s message loud and clear.

“He told us to chase history, so we’re going to try to chase it now like he did in his career,” Curry said. “He paved the way.”

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Bryant, Curry, James maintain leads in final All-Star voting update

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — With just one week before All-Star starters are announced, good luck catching Kobe Bryant.

In the third returns of All-Star voting, released today, the Lakers’ star guard maintained his commanding overall lead in voting, with 1,533,432 overall votes. Bryant, the leading scorer in All-Star Game history who is playing in his final NBA season, held onto a cushion of about 300,000 votes since the last round of voting over the next-highest vote-getter, Golden State’s Stephen Curry (1,206,467).

In the Eastern Conference, Cleveland’s LeBron James (830,345) leads all players, ahead of his former Miami teammate Dwyane Wade (736,732). Indiana’s Paul George (569,947) seems to be destined to start alongside James. For the final Eastern Conference starting frontcourt spot, despite a vigorous social media campaign from the Detroit Pistons, center Andre Drummond — the NBA’s leading rebounder — has dropped to fourth after holding the third spot through the first two rounds of balloting results. With these latest totals, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (368,336) has surpassed Drummond (361,307) to move into the potential starting five.

While Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (774,782) seems to be a lock to join Bryant in the Western Conference frontcourt, the race for the final starting spot remains tight. After moving into the starting five in the last voting update, Golden State’s Draymond Green (499,947), who leads the NBA with eight triple-doubles this season, has maintained a slim lead over San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (487,626) for the final spot in the Western Conference frontcourt.

Another race worth keeping an eye on is the Eastern Conference backcourt, where Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (399,757) is currently in the lead to start alongside Wade, although the host city’s Kyle Lowry (367,472) isn’t far behind. Last year, Lowry used a late, social media-fueled push to overcome Wade and make it into the starting five.

Lowry has just a few more days if he wants to make a similar run this year: Voting will conclude Monday, Jan. 18 at 11:59 p.m. ET. The starters will be announced live on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 21 (7 p.m. ET) during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by Autotrader.com. All-Star Game reserves, selected by the NBA’s coaches, will be revealed on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 28.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be held on Sunday, Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. TNT will televise the All-Star Game in the U.S. for the 14th consecutive year.

NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon is an all-digital program that gives fans everywhere the opportunity to vote for their favorite players as starters for the All-Star Game. New to the voting program this year, fans can cast their daily votes directly through Google Search on their desktop, tablet and mobile devices. They can also vote on NBA.com, through the NBA App (available on Android and iOS), SMS text and social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A kinder, gentler Bryant? | Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn | Stevens rejoins Celtics | NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio

No. 1: A kinder, gentler Bryant? For the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant‘s farewell tour has become the focus of their season. Which may be a good thing, since the Lakers otherwise haven’t been very good, compiling an 8-30 record thus far. Yet despite all the losses, Kobe seems to be enjoying himself as he plays out the string, and the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan writes, has Kobe’s legendary burning desire to win faded a bit in this his final NBA season?

It was bad to be a trash can if Kobe Bryant was mad.

This was years ago, back when there were championship expectations, but Bryant booted one clear across the Lakers’ locker room at Madison Square Garden after a rough loss.

It was also sometimes bad to be toilet paper, apparently. Bryant angrily called his teammates “soft like Charmin” during a rant at practice in which he didn’t feel challenged. This was a little over a year ago.

The smoldering Bryant is now replaced by a smiling one, even as the Lakers (8-30) pinwheel toward the worst season in their 68-year history.

They played well Friday but lost a tight one to Oklahoma City. The new, lighthearted Bryant showed up again in the interview room, just like the previous night after a close loss in Sacramento.

The losses don’t seem as devastating to him.

“I just hide it a lot better,” he said Friday.

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No. 2: Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn Last summer, Brooklyn center Brook Lopez was one of the most talented big men available in free agency. He eventually re-upped with the Nets, and though the team has struggled this season, Lopez has been a bright spot, averaging 19.8 points to go with 7.8 rebounds. The Nets may face an uncertain future, but as Andy Vasquez writes for the Bergen Record, Lopez says he has no regrets about re-signing with the Nets…

The Nets are in the midst of another disappointing season, certainly far from what Lopez envisioned when he re-signed. But the 27-year-old doesn’t regret his decision.

“No, no, no. I’m happy to be here,” Lopez said Thursday at the team’s practice facility.

“Time and time again I’ve said I wanted to see something built here, I see a special opportunity, a great situation to be in.”

The current situation isn’t exactly a bright one. Brooklyn just lost starting point guard Jarrett Jack for the season with a torn ACL.

Rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who showed promise, is at least another month from returning from a broken ankle that has sidelined him since early December.

While the Nets aren’t mathematically eliminated from the NBA playoffs — it’s not even halfway through the season — they may as well be.

Brooklyn is closer (seven games ahead) in the standings to the awful Sixers than to the final playoff spot in the East (nine games behind).

The Nets don’t have control of their first round draft pick until 2019 thanks to the 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

So the franchise’s best chance is to hope free agents agree with Lopez about there being a special opportunity in Brooklyn.

Despite all the doom and gloom, the Nets do have some things going for them.

They should have about $40 million in cap space next summer, enough to offer two max salaries to free agents.

Barclays Center is still the league’s newest arena and the team’s state-of-the art Brooklyn practice facility opens next month. And then there’s the lure of the nation’s largest media market.

“The opportunity to play in New York, first and foremost,” Lopez said, when asked how he’d pitch the Nets. “The facilities we have. I think, for me, it’s all about potential.”

That potential starts with Lopez and Thaddeus Young, 27, two nice players with several prime years remaining in their careers. Both are having seasons worthy of All-Star consideration.

Meanwhile, Hollis-Jefferson was better than expected when he played. And the Nets have an intriguing young prospect in Chris McCullough, who has spent the season rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered at Syracuse a year ago.

Add the right pieces and the Nets could be a good team next season. And Lopez said that matters more than anything.

“At the end of the day, it’s about winning, regardless of where you are,” Lopez said.

“Whether we’re luring free agents or want people to stay or whatever it is, you’ve got to be able to show them that there’s opportunities here for that. We have to have the right product on the court.”

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No. 3: Stevens rejoins Celtics Before joining the Boston Celtics, coach Brad Stevens led Butler University to several memorable NCAA Tournament appearances. And with his former Butler player Andrew Smith in the hospital battling cancer, Stevens recently missed a Celtics game in order to spend time with Smith. Stevens rejoined the Celtics on Saturday and, as the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn writes, says the last few days helped put things into perspective…

Celtics coach Brad Stevens returned to the team Saturday, conducting a rather important practice at the University of Memphis in his quest to end the team’s recent doldrums.

He returned from his trip to Indiana with a heavy heart. He acknowledged visiting former player Andrew Smith, who has been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but wouldn’t offer specifics on his condition, only to say he felt compelled to visit him immediately.

Stevens left the club in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, missing the team’s 101-92 loss to the Bulls.

“It’s very tough, not as tough on me as it is certain on [Smith and his family], but certainly emotionally, very challenging,” Stevens said following practice at the Larry Finch Center. “It certainly puts things in a lot of perspective. The conditions [of Smith] were worsening. I’ll let [his family] talk about his condition. I’m glad that I went.”

Stevens returns to a team that has lost four of five games and fallen out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics have been abysmal shooting from the field in their past two losses — 36.5 percent from the field, 25.5 percent from the 3-point line — and are playing with wavering confidence.

“We could have controlled things to give ourselves a little bit better chance,” Stevens said of the Chicago loss. “I told [the players] this today. We’ve got to get better in a lot of areas. But we usually play hard.

“Sometimes we play a little haphazard but we usually play hard, so we need to bottle that up and play a little more controlled at times.”

Isaiah Thomas, who has made just 11 of 37 shots in the last two games, took full responsibility for the Bulls loss, saying his poor body language and frustrations spilled over to his teammates. Stevens didn’t fully agree.

“I think it says a lot about him from an accountability standpoint,” Stevens said of Thomas. “And at the same time, that’s an overreaction too, because we don’t feel that way. He’s going to have his moments. Other guys are going to have their moments. Other guys are going to have bad moments. We just all have to be in this thing together. We need to improve.”

***

No. 4: NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio — The NBA has become a global league, followed worldwide and played by athletes from all corners of the earth. Australia, in particular, has become a hotbed of hoops, with its own popular domestic league and several NBA players who originated Down Under. As Roy Ward writes in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australians in the NBA are looking forward to trying to find Olympic glory this summer in Rio…

The 82-game NBA season engulfs the lives of all players and Australia’s basketballers are not immune from this.

But on planes, buses or in down time, the country’s leading players admit their thoughts turn to the Rio Olympics and the glass ceiling that sits in front of a first men’s Olympic medal.

Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Cameron Bairstow, Aron Baynes and Joe Ingles are all in thick of the action this season while Dante Exum continues to rehabilitate his reconstructed knee.

In Europe, in US college basketball and in the NBL sit the rest of the Boomers aspirants with the final 12-man squad not due to be announced until later in the year.

Since the team qualified for Rio in August last year, they have made public their goal to win the gold medal in Brazil despite Team USA’s long-running dominance in the men’s competition.

What adds credence to the Boomers’ brave stance is Bogut, Mills, Dellavedova and Bairstow are playing on NBA championship contenders while Bogut, Mills and Baynes have won NBA championship rings since 2014.

“There is a lot going on here but while it’s not the every day to day focus it’s always in your mind that it’s coming up and that all the boys are playing well, not just in the NBA but in Europe and the NBL,” Dellavedova said.

“We are all very excited and keep in regular touch through group message, we are going to catch up at All-Star break.

“We are all very excited, focused and committed to trying to do something really special at Rio and we realise the time is now for that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks got a career night from Al Horford last night in a convincing win over the Bulls … Some changes may be in store for the D-League Showcase … Chicago is hoping to get Joakim Noah back from injury this weekRobin Lopez is starting to focus on his offensive post playIsaiah Canaan pays attention to advanced stats … Powerball fever may have been sweeping the nation the last few days, but don’t expect Dirk Nowitzki to get excited about it …

Morning shootaround — Jan. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cavs’ Williams gets second opinion on thumb | Russell promises bigger things are in store for him | Report: DeRozan to opt out | Fredette still hoping for another NBA shot

No. 1: Report: Cavs’ Williams to get second opinion on thumb — The Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled with injury issues all season long and backup point guard Mo Williams is the latest name to land on that dubious list. Of late, Williams’ right thumb has been troubling him — the same thumb which Williams had two surgical procedures on in the past. According to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, Williams is getting a second opinion on what’s ailing him of late:

Cavaliers guard Mo Williams traveled to New York during Thursday’s off day to receive a second opinion on his sore right thumb, a league source confirmed. Williams missed a week in December after reaggravating a thumb that has twice needed surgery to repair ligament damage.

Dr. Michelle Carlson, who practices in New York, performed both procedures — first in 2008 and again in 2013. Williams posted a picture to his Instagram account Thursday of a framed photo of him standing next to Carlson with the caption, “Best hand specialist in the world. New York weather off the chain today.”

Williams had pins inserted in the thumb during the previous procedures and has limited dexterity as a result, but he told the Beacon Journal last month he did not believe this injury was as serious as the two previous times he needed surgery.

Williams missed two months after surgery in 2013. The first surgery was performed following the 2007-08 season.

Williams has fallen out of the rotation with the return of Kyrie Irving, although it’s unclear now if the thumb was also a factor. He has not played in either of the Cavs’ two most recent games and only played during garbage time of last week’s blowout victory against the Orlando Magic.

***

(more…)

Kobe, Curry continue leading All-Star voting

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — It may be Kobe Bryant‘s final season on the court, but he is clearly as popular as ever.

In the second returns of All-Star voting, released today, the Lakers’ guard remains the NBA’s overall leading vote-getter with 1,262,118 votes, increasing his lead over Golden State’s Stephen Curry (925,789) since the first round of voting results. Bryant, the leading scorer in All-Star Game history, led Curry by just over 200,000 votes in the previous voting results.

It appears fans have also rewarded Golden State’s red-hot start to the season, as Warriors forward Draymond Green (332,223) has moved into the top three among Western Conference frontcourt players, joining Bryant and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, narrowly ahead of San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (330,929) and Clippers forward Blake Griffin (298,212).

Durant’s Oklahoma City teammate, point guard Russell Westbrook (479,512), ranks second in voting among Western Conference guards. He has a healthy lead over the third-ranked guard, Clippers point guard Chris Paul (268,672).

Cleveland’s LeBron James leads all Eastern Conference players with 636,388 votes. His former Miami teammate, Dwyane Wade, is second with 562,558 votes. James’ current teammate, Kyrie Irving (271,094) — who has played just seven games this season since returning from injury — is second among Eastern Conference guards. Irving is outpacing Kyle Lowry (242,276), who plays for All-Star host Toronto and used a late push last season to get into the starting line-up.

Detroit’s Andre Drummond, the NBA’s leading rebounder this season, is still among the top three frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference, which would qualify him to start. But Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, an eight-time All-Star, has closed Drummond’s lead to about 6,000 votes. Anthony’s teammate, Kristaps Porzingis, is the highest-ranked rookie, with 160,170 votes — good for ninth among Eastern Conference frontcourt players.

The Spurs and the Warriors each have five players among the Western Conference’s leading vote-getters. After sending four players to the All-Star Game last season, the only player the Atlanta Hawks have among the leading vote-getters this season is Paul Millsap (21,625), who is 15th among Eastern Conference forwards.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be held on Sunday, Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. TNT will televise the All-Star Game in the U.S. for the 14th consecutive year.

NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon is an all-digital program that gives fans everywhere the opportunity to vote for their favorite players as starters for the All-Star Game. New to the voting program this year, fans can cast their daily votes directly through Google Search on their desktop, tablet and mobile devices. They can also vote on NBA.com, through the NBA App (available on Android and iOS), SMS text and social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.


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