Posts Tagged ‘Luke Walton’

Morning shootaround — April 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

What’s next for ‘tough luck’ Clippers? | Walton offers Lakers hope | Wade digs deep, goes deep | Portland’s underdog ride blazes on

No. 1: What’s next for ‘tough luck’ Clippers? — One day and two months. That’s the latest way to frame this so-called curse that hangs over the Los Angeles Clippers, who failed to push their first-round Western Conference playoff series to a Game 7 Friday night in Portland. For one day – the time between Stephen Curry‘s sprained right knee and their own calamitous injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin – it looked as if the Clippers might have gotten a fortunate break (admittedly due to Curry’s and Golden State’s misfortune). But then their own stars went down with even more serious injuries (Paul’s hand fracture and Griffin’s quad strain). That brought the Clippers’ history of lousy luck roaring back, and a team that hoped to be playing into June couldn’t even make it out of April. Here are more thoughts on the seemingly snake-bit Clips from ESPN.com’s Arash Markazi:

It was another dramatic and heartbreaking close to a season for the Clippers. They have now squandered a 2-0 first-round series lead by losing four straight games twice, and last season blew a 3-1 second-round series lead by losing three straight games. No team in NBA history has ever blown a two-game series lead three times in four years. The last team to do it in consecutive seasons was the Phoenix Suns in 1994 and 1995.

Teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-seven series are 258-16, and teams that go up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series are 222-9. As good as the Clippers have been recently, they continue to find themselves on the wrong side of history and fate this time of year.

Of course, the way the Clippers’ season ended Friday, with Paul and Griffin watching the final game of the season back home in Los Angeles while recovering from surgeries, made the result more understandable. But it doesn’t change the end result.

Paul has now been on three of the last four teams to blow a 2-0 series lead, and no player in NBA history has played in more postseason games without getting past the second round than he has. Doc Rivers also becomes only the second coach in NBA history to have his team blow three best-of-seven series when leading either 2-0 or 3-1.

So where do the Clippers go from here? They are the only team other than the San Antonio Spurs to win at least 50 games over the past four seasons, but they have nothing to show for it except for two Pacific Division banners that hang in their training facility along with a handful of game balls from some memorable wins. Even the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets have found a way to sneak into the conference finals during that time.

Paul, Griffin and [DeAndre] Jordan are all under contract for next season, but Paul and Griffin probably will opt out of the final year of their deals and become free agents in the summer of 2017. Jordan can be a free agent the following summer (2018).

Looking at the rest of the roster, J.J. Redick will be a free agent after next season; Jamal Crawford, Jeff Green and Luc Mbah a Moute will be free agents this summer, and Austin Rivers, Cole Aldrich and Wesley Johnson probably will opt out of their deals and become free agents as well.

Paul Pierce, 38, signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Clippers last year, but said after the game he’s “50-50” on whether he will retire following the worst season of his professional career. Pablo Prigioni, who turns 39 next month, probably will retire after also having his worst season.

In short, the Clippers are a team in flux that has hit a ceiling.

***

 No. 2: Walton offers Lakers hope — For a team so down-trodden this season, the past couple of weeks sure turned out to be heady ones for the Los Angeles Lakers and their fans. Starting with Kobe Bryant‘s 60-point farewell performance in the season finale, right through the announcement that Byron Scott – a popular former Lakers player but hardly that as the teams’ most recent head coach – had been fired, there actually was some buzz about the proud-but-sputtering franchise. Then came the word Friday night that Luke Walton, another former Laker but more important Golden State coach Steve Kerr‘s right-hand man up in Oakland, had been tabbed as L.A.’s replacement for Scott. The honeymoon began instantly, though Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com was quick to remind readers that the task Walton faces is a daunting one:

By hiring Walton, the Lakers accomplished several feats. They’re hiring a young, smart, well-regarded, up-and-coming coach from a successful, forward-thinking organization. They’re once again bringing back one of their own, as Walton will become the eighth former Lakers player who went on to coach the team. And the fact that the Lakers are bringing in a beloved familiar face — a Southern California native, no less — will undoubtedly help them not only win the media conference but establish patience from their fans as Walton tries to steer the team out of the depths of rebuilding.

And yet the reality is, for as happy as the Lakers and their fans are now, there’s plenty of reason for skepticism. Walton will become the youngest active head coach in the NBA. In fact, at 36 years, 32 days old, Walton is 1 year, 218 days younger than the just-retired Bryant. And Walton’s first NBA head coaching job will be leading a rebuilding team that currently offers a few promising young players but little else. Walton will be tasked with developing those fledgling talents and helping lure free agents back to the Lakers after the team has struck out in that arena for three straight offseasons, though it’s unclear what kind of sway he’ll have with free agents, let alone his own players.

Beyond that, the Lakers aren’t considered to be the most modern-minded franchise, so Walton will have to assist in installing a new culture that helps them turn the page from their past (and Kobe) to whatever successful future he hopes to forge.

This is an extremely tall task for someone who two years ago was a part-time assistant with the Lakers’ D-League team, the D-Fenders. Though, in an odd way, Walton’s experience dealing with those players should come in handy considering the roster he’s now taking over.

There will be expectations for Walton to replicate some measure of success that he had when keeping the seat warm for Kerr, and to infuse some of that Warriors’ DNA into the Lakers. However, such expectations must be tempered.

[It’s] fair to wonder if Walton would’ve been given this offer a year ago.

It’s fair to wonder if his 39-4 mark with the Warriors may have hypnotized some. The Lakers will back him and say that Walton will be a great coach, as they should. But they’ve said that for their previous three coaches, too, all of whom departed before their contracts expired.

Walton has learned under Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr, as well as Mike Brown and Byron Scott, and now the Lakers have gone back to a familiar well, bringing back one of their own. Walton could be the greatest hire in Lakers coaching history, a perfect fit. But, if we’re being honest, no one knows much about Luke Walton as a head coach, as someone who can hire a staff, observe a roster and set a course for success.

The once and future Laker is entering an organization that, on many levels, couldn’t be more different than the one he’s about to depart. The Warriors are a well-oiled machine with total buy-in, a modern-day top-down philosophy, a confluence of so many good elements that, together, have produced something almost magical — that’s truly a joy to watch.

The Lakers are none of that.

Jim Buss, part-owner and executive vice president of basketball operations, could well be gone next summer and so could Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. Could Phil Jackson return? Such questions loom heavy over the Lakers’ future.

“The number one thing is this,” said one source familiar with both the Warriors and Lakers. “The Lakers are dysfunctional as an organization. A coach can’t change this.”

Indeed, but at the very least, Walton will be (or should be) better than Scott, who is one of the worst coaches in recent memory. Walton has a chance to be good if he develops and is given time, which the Lakers should certainly grant him. Walton knows the Los Angeles market, the Lakers organization, their fan base, the expectations and history. He wanted the Lakers and they wanted him.

He has his dream job and now the Lakers have something they haven’t had in a while: hope.

***

No. 3:  Wade digs deep, goes deep — Neither Dwyane Wade nor Udonis Haslem was ready to have it end Friday night. They have been together in Miami for 13 years, through five trips to The Finals and three NBA championships, so the idea of falling short in Game 6 in Charlotte held no appeal whatsoever for the veteran Heat players. Wade was the one in position to do the most about it, and that’s what he did. In the most unlikely way possible: digging deep and shooting deep. Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald chronicled the events:

They’re not men prone to all that much mistiness, though the years can do something to you, and so can the fears of another ending. And so, after Friday’s shootaround, hours before what could have been the final game of the 13th season they’ve shared together, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem paused to reflect.

“About how much this meant to us,” Haslem said. “About how much this has meant to us. This opportunity, this organization, being able to lead these guys, and be able to pass the torch at some point…”

“Just being here together,” Wade said. “For 13 years. We’ve been a part of making this organization a championship organization. We’ve been to five (NBA) Finals in 10 years, and we know how hard it was to do that. We just talked about trying to get the guys who have never been here to understand how hard it is to be successful.”

And, when the conversation concluded, Haslem understood clearly:
“Not tonight.”

Not tonight, because, to secure a 97-90 victory and a 3-3 tie in this first-round series — with Game 7 coming Sunday afternoon — Wade truly did need to use whatever means necessary.

Even the least likely of all.
“I’m Kyle Korver now,” Wade joked later.

Well, not really. Not when, before Friday, he hadn’t made a three-pointer in the calendar year 2016, missing all 21 attempts since Dec. 16. But he’s warning reporters that he can still stroke it — he did make 88 during the 2008-09 season, and reminded Joe Johnson that he “bombed” Johnson’s Hawks out of Game 2, with six makes, in the 2009 first round. He’s spoken of some sort of mental block, that stops him just as he readies to release.

But, after scoring 13 points in the first half and just two through the first 21 minutes of the second half (”my stroke left me”), Wade did rise up after receiving a pass from a doubled Luol Deng.

And he did rattle it in, off the rear of the rim.

Then, after [Kemba] Walker’s dazzling reverse layup in transition cut the Heat lead to two — and both the Heat and Hornets had empty possessions — Wade did take the ball from Haslem after a rebound, dribble to the top of the circle, then bounce away from traffic in the middle, and step back to the left into another steady 26-footer.

Then he did gesture toward a purple-shirted harassing Hornets fan, who had been angrily advising him the entire game to retire.

“Yeah, I was tired of his mouth,” Wade said. “I mean, I hadn’t said nothing to him.”

Nothing was required, as it turned out.

He’d made his point.

With three points. Twice.

“They gave it to me,” Wade said. “This is a good defensive team. Courtney Lee is a good defensive player. You’re not always gonna get what you want.”
But what you get can still be what your team needs.

“He was shooting them yesterday, and I told him, ‘Man, we’re gonna need you to make some of them [bleep],’ ” Joe Johnson said. “He was like, ‘I’m gonna shoot ’em. I’m gonna shoot ’em.’ So we come down the stretch and I was not surprised, because Courtney Lee kept backing off of him, playing him for the drive. I mean, nobody expected D-Wade to shoot the three. And if he does, you’re like, OK, I’ll live with that. And he made two huge threes.”

After not making one since mid-December.

“Man, are you serious?!” Johnson said, before shouting across the room. “Damn, D-Wade!”

Haslem, naturally, had no issue with the shot selection.

“He was working on it,” Haslem said. “I didn’t know he was going to shoot it, but he was working on it. Clutch situation, that’s my guy, man. I trust every decision that he makes, and every shot that he takes.”

***

No. 4: Portland’s underdog ride blazes on — The story of the Portland Trail Blazers’ overachieving 2015-16 season has been written often and in multiple ways lately. It’s evident in the voting results for NBA annual awards that have come out, what with guard C.J. McCollum‘s triumph as Most Improved Player and Terry Stotts‘ ballot-love in Coach of the Year voting. But the chapter added Friday night with their dispatching of the Clippers and advancement to the playoffs’ conference semifinal round was special enough to earn inclusion here, courtesy of Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com:

There are no asterisks in the NBA postseason — not for abbreviated seasons, and not for series wins over short-handed teams missing two All-Stars. Coaches and players sound this trope all the time: It’s so hard to win in the NBA. Hard to win a game, hard to win a series, hard to win a title.

So please excuse the Portland Trail Blazers if they see their 106-103 Game 6 closeout win over the Los Angeles Clippers at the Moda Center on Friday night not as a fluke born out of Chris Paul’s fractured hand or Blake Griffin’s aggravated quad injury, but as a logical extension of a season-long process.

“Behind closed doors, we felt like we could make the playoffs in September,” guard CJ McCollum said. “We felt like we had enough pieces to get there, but it was going to be a process. We needed to get everybody together. We needed to execute. We were going to take some lumps.”

Even as the Trail Blazers drained seven consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter, they still couldn’t shake the Clippers. More Rivers’ vengeance off the bounce, and Jordan reversed the Blazers’ fortunes on the glass. As the game moved into the fourth nip and tuck, the prospect for irony was ripe: The league’s most opportunistic underdogs might squander their ready-made ticket to the conference semis.

Ultimately, Portland became their best selves when they needed to in the fourth. A merry-go-round of multiple offensive actions created a drive-and-dish for [Damian] Lillard, who found McCollum for a 3-pointer with a little over four minutes remaining. Same thing a couple of minutes later: Movement, drive, kick, three from McCollum to keep Portland a length ahead of the Clippers

“I was really happy with the way we executed down the stretch,” Lillard said. “We didn’t panic when they put up a fight for us. We did the things necessary to win the game.”

The Trail Blazers had little time to reflect on the closeout win before the departure time for their Saturday afternoon flight to San Francisco was scrawled on the whiteboard. Golden State awaits in 36 hours time, and the Warriors without Steph don’t resemble the Clippers’ skeleton crew.

The mood following the game was lively, but like a class that finished one exam and has to trek down the hall to the next final, there was a certain focus, even among the relief. “There wasn’t no champagne popping or anything,” big man Ed Davis said.

While Lillard has the most stage presence, and McCollum might be the most expressive of the core, Davis displays the most unvarnished thoughts in the locker room.

“We have nothing to lose,” Davis said. “We go out and [get] swept, that’s what everyone is expecting so that’s how we have to play it — give it all we got, the whole 48 minutes out there and see what happens. We really have nothing to lose. All of y’all are expecting us to lose and the only people who think we’re going to win it are the 15 on the roster and the coaching staff.”

As the scrum dispersed, Davis pleasantly added, “All of y’all expect us to lose, don’t even lie to me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It was Indiana’s night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday but it was Toronto’s nightmare, with pressure shifting back big-time onto the Raptors’ heads in Game 7 Sunday night. … Injured Warriors guard and presumptive repeat MVP Stephen Curry is trying to beat his target date of May 9 in recovering from that sprained right knee. … Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue apparently hasn’t actually signed the contract offered by the Cavaliers when he got promoted from assistant to head coach, taking over upon David Blatt‘s firing. In a fluid market, it makes one wonder whether the numbers verbally agreed to might change. Maybe something bigger? … The Lakers’ gain is the Warriors’ loss, with Steve Kerr now faced with replacing another lieutenant on his bench. … Looking like Dallas point guard Deron Williams will be opting out of his deal with the Mavericks, if only as a good business move. … We’ll say it again: It’s possible that Paul Pierce has played his last NBA game. If so, the memories he made are remarkable ones.

Walton era begins with Lakers

VIDEO: Reaction on Luke Walton coaching the Lakers.

Luke Walton is coming to the Lakers and the only nit-pick that LA is raising is he isn’t bringing Steph Curry or Klay Thompson with him.

A year ago this time, Walton was the second assistant on the Warriors’ bench and seemingly a few years away, at least, from becoming a head coach in the NBA. He had only three years of experience as an NBA assistant. And Byron Scott had finished up his first season running the Lakers and no sense his job was in jeopardy despite just 21 wins, since the Lakers were in rebuilding mode.

But then, things happened. Walton’s stock soared suddenly, helped by a pair of events: Alvin Gentry left the Warriors last summer for the Pelicans, which allowed Walton to slide next to Steve Kerr; and Kerr missed the first 43 games this season with back issues, which put Walton in the big chair.

Timing, as they say, is everything, and in a flash, after going 39-4 while keeping the seat warm for Kerr, Walton found himself high on the list of every team looking for a coach.

The Lakers, from all accounts, are his dream job, and the two sides struck a deal late Friday for Walton to succeed Scott, who was fired last week. Part of the reason for Scott’s firing was the demand for Walton. He spoke with Knicks president Phil Jackson and was being considered by the Kings. The Lakers had to act now or risk losing Walton for good.

And now the question is: Was Walton’s amazing record with the Warriors due to Golden State being a polished and veteran team fueled by three All-Stars? Or did Walton show gobs of potential during his four-month stint? Maybe the truth is a bit of both.

Perception is everything, and the sight of Walton looking cool and composed with a clipboard, and standing next to Kerr when Kerr accepted the Coach of the Year Award the other day, weighed heavily in his favor. It also helps that Walton has been coached by Jackson and also Lute Olsen, and raised by his father Bill, a Hall of Famer.

Obviously Walton, 36, will step into a completely different situation. The Lakers have won 38 games the last two seasons and are loaded with young players and tapped out veterans. Yet: They’re expected to land a top-three pick in the lottery and now that Kobe Bryant is done, they have plenty of salary cap room and low expectations in the near future. That cushion will allow Walton to grow into the job.

For a team that just wrapped up a season of misery, this ranks as the first if only encouraging news of the year for the Lakers.

 

 

 

Blogtable: Who should be Lakers’ next coach?

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


BLOGTABLE: Can Warriors or Clippers better absorb loss of star guard? |
Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder? | Who should be the Lakers’ next coach?


> The Lakers have employed five head coaches in the last six seasons, and are looking to fill that position again. Who is the right man for the job this time? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Luke Walton seems like the right choice to me. He was remarkably calm and capable handling Golden State over the first half of the season. Granted, he was working within the league’s second-most respected organizational structure, with championship talent and a clear, achievable mission to repeat. Still, the slightest hiccup, whether injury or off-court mishap, could have been blamed on Walton. He’s at a point in his coaching arc — early — that synchs up with the Lakers’ roster and rebuild. If Walton doesn’t choose to leave the Warriors, though, someone like Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie would be a strong candidate, based on his NBA experience and his coaching apprenticeship.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comLuke Walton. He’s young, smart, has roots that run through the Lakers, Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr and would be able to grow even more on the job while bringing along a new young core. The Lakers fan base would also be get fully behind a new era on the court and on the bench. The bad news: He’s not going there.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Ettore Messina. Smart, hard worker, respected by basketball people around the world even if he isn’t recognizable to most fans in the U.S., has Laker ties, well-liked within the organization, now has a wealth of experience on NBA benches — he checks all the boxes. It’s easy to see the appeal of Luke Walton, who would be a popular choice. Walton could also be a very good choice. But someone is going to be glad they gave Messina his first NBA job. It should be the Lakers.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I like the idea of hiring Jay Wright of Villanova because he’s got a lot of Brad Stevens in him: Calm, smart and ambitious and he can grow into the job while the team develops. Besides, the Lakers are loaded with young players, which makes them idea for a college coach. But if they feel NBA experience is paramount, then Jeff Van Gundy over Luke Walton. My only issue with Van Gundy is he hasn’t been on the bench in almost a decade.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Scott Brooks, who did a great job of developing young talent in Oklahoma City, would have been my initial pick. With Brooks heading to Washington, I would still make player development my most important factor. Therefore, I would look at Heat assistant David Fizdale, Blazers assistant Nate Tibbets, or someone of that ilk. Don’t take shortcuts. If you have D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and maybe another top-three pick this year, making them better should be your top priority. If you can get those guys playing together and playing something other than bottom-five defense, you can take a step forward, both in the standings and in your team’s development, without making a big splash in free agency.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: All of the usual suspects will be mentioned. But if the Lakers are serious about grooming their youngsters for bigger and better things, they need a known player-development minded coach like David Fizdale, who is currently Erik Spoelstra’s top assistant in Miami. Fizdale has helped mold young talent, while also working with superstar talents like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others. His understanding of the culture that is needed to facilitate the maturation process for elite young talent is proven. He’s got championship experience and he’s a Los Angeles native who understands what comes with coaching one of the marquee teams in all of professional sports.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe identity of the right man depends entirely on the Lakers. Are Jeanie and Jimmy Buss unified? If Jimmy leaves after next season – as Jeanie has insisted he will, if the Lakers fail to reach the second round of the 2017 playoffs — then who will be running basketball operations? Do the Lakers realize they are going to need several years of focused development in order to return to contention? Or are they going to turn into the Knicks and sabotage themselves by pursuing quick fixes and continuing their current trend of changing their approach every couple of years? If the Lakers cannot answer these questions appropriately, then they are not going to be worthy of a high-level candidate like Jeff Van Gundy, Ettore Messina or Luke Walton. I don’t know how to answer the question, because the Lakers don’t appear to know who they are and what they stand for anymore.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, Pat Riley ain’t walking through that door. And neither are Magic, Kareem and Kobe. Point being, the Lakers need a lot of help, and no matter who the coach is, their roster needs more renovating than an HGTV show. So I guess I’d look to what Boston did, and hire a young coach who’s willing to be patient with the process and lose games for a few years while you teach your system and develop your guys. So I’d put in a call to a Kevin Ollie or, and here’s a crazy idea, if you want a caretaker for a few years to stay competitive while you develop younger guys, I bet Larry Brown would take your call.

Morning shootaround — April 22


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry didn’t decide to miss Game 3 alone | Rockets’ front office gets vocal on social media | Why Wizards are hiring Brooks | Kings interview Mitchell

No. 1: Warriors decided collectively to rest Curry for Game 3 — Reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry has been itching to get back in the Golden State Warriors’ lineup ever since he tweaked his right ankle in Game 1 of the team’s first-round series. He hadn’t done so leading up to last night’s Game 3 in Houston and while he likely hoped to play then, he ultimately sat out on Thursday, too. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the decision to sit Curry was not made in a vacuum but rather in consultation with several Warriors officials:

Stephen Curry did not play Thursday night in Game 3, but only after prolonged conversation and contemplation among Warriors officials.

This time, Curry made his case to play. His much-scrutinized right ankle felt better than it did Monday night, when he cut short his pregame warm-up routine and essentially decided on his own he would not play in Game 2.

This time, Curry wanted to give it a shot. He went through Thursday morning’s shootaround, and afterward he spent several minutes talking to team trainers and team doctor Bill Maloney on the court at Toyota Center.

Head coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers joined a subsequent discussion, and a consensus emerged to give Curry at least two more days to recover.

Kerr said the ankle improved from Wednesday to Thursday. The decision was made by Kerr, Myers, Maloney and the training staff, with input from Curry.

“We made a collaborative decision,” Myers said. “Everyone had a voice, including Steph. The fact he hasn’t done much live work in practice, it’s hard to know what he can do in game situations.”

The decision means Curry will have seven full days between games. He injured the ankle Saturday in Game 1; now he hopes to return Sunday for Game 4.

Asked about his outlook for Curry on Sunday, Myers said, “I’m hopeful. Hopefully, he’ll have an opportunity to do a little more (the next two days) than he’s done.”

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — April 16




VIDEO: Season for the ages for Warriors

NEWS OF THE MORNING
LeBron is ready | Walton could talk to Knicks | Allen bows to Curry | Morey defends McHale firing

No. 1: All business LeBron ready for playoffs — What do you get when perhaps the best all-around player in the NBA zeroes in his focus down the stretch and raises his game to a new level over the final weeks of the regular season? That’s a LeBron James who has tunnel vision on the task at hand and says he’s as prepared as possible for the start of the playoffs, according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

Since March 20, he has averaged 28.4 points, 8.5 assists and eight rebounds, and his scoring coincides with improved shooting. James – who also boasts of his best health in the past five seasons – has made 62% of his shots, including a much-improved 51.9% on three-pointers, in his past 10 games.

“Going to the gym even more, focusing in, dialing in more on what needs to be done to help us be better (and) for me to be better,” James said as the top-seeded Cavaliers prepare for the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. “I’ve been in this league a long time. I know what I need to do for my game to be even more sharp.

“I’m where I want to be.”

James is trying to join a short list of players, including Boston’s Bill Russell, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, Tom Heinsohn and Satch Sanders, to appear in six consecutive Finals.

His outstanding play also parallels Cleveland’s increased efficiency. The Cavaliers have scored 120.7 points and allowed 101.2 points per 100 possessions in that span.

“If he plays like this, man, we’re going to be tough to beat,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “He’s just taken it to a whole other level the last three, four weeks, playing at a very high level, shooting the ball very well, shooting with it with confidence and getting it to the basket. I like the LeBron I see right now.”

***

No. 2: Walton could talk to Knicks during playoffs — Let’s get one thing straight. The first order of business for the Warriors is defending their NBA championship. But since the playoffs could stretch out over two months, it is possible that assistant coach Luke Walton could interview with the Knicks — or any other team — during the postseason, as long as it doesn’t interfere with his Golden State duties. That’s the word from Marc Berman of the New York Post:

If Knicks president Phil Jackson wanted to talk to Warriors stud assistant Luke Walton during their expected long playoff run, Golden State would not stand in the way, according to an NBA source.

Golden State’s position is that an assistant can interview for a head-coaching position “as long as it does not interfere with the team’s preparation during the playoffs,’’ the source said. For instance, an interview would need to happen in the Oakland, Calif., area at a convenient time with the club enjoying a couple of days off.

It’s unclear if Walton will want to grant any interviews as the Warriors embark on defending their title after breaking the record for best overall record with 73 wins, topping Jackson’s 1995-96 Bulls.

Jackson said he soon will embark on a narrow coaching search with coaches he “already knows.” He made a reference the search could go on until July, presumably referring to after Walton is done with The Finals.

***

No. 3: Allen says Curry in a league of his own — When the topic is greatest shooters in NBA history, the conversation usually finds Ray Allen at or near the top of the list. The Spurs, of course, will never forget what he did in the 2013 NBA Finals. But even Allen himself thinks Stephen Curry is taking the whole sharp-shooting thing to an entirely differently level, as he told SLAM online in a wide-ranging Q&A:

Ray Allen: Based on what he’s done, I think he has to be—he’s on his way to being the best ever. It’s always arguable, based on who’s telling the story. One thing I always tell people is, it’s hard to compare generations. Everybody has something or somebody that makes him feel special about the game, or the way they saw and the way they appreciate the game. I’ve sat back and watched a lot, and listened to a lot of people talk. He’s creating a lane all of his own. People comparing him to me, to Reggie [Miller]. But I think Steph is in a category of his own. Just being able to have great handles the way he has with the ball, to be able to score at will by getting to the basket. Myself, Reggie Miller, Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson—we play a different game. We’re shooters. We come off screens, pindowns—Steph can do that, but he’s creating a different lane. Point guards haven’t been able to do what he’s been able to do, because he’s mixing that 2 guard-ish in there with having the great handles of a point guard. When I broke the three-point record, they (Steph and Klay) watched that and it became something they said in their mind, this is what I want to do. Now, there are kids watching him, saying I want to work on these things, I want to be just like Steph.

***

No. 4: Morey defends firing of McHale — Even now after the firing of coach Kevin McHale back in November failed to ignite a fire under the disappointing 41-41 Rockets, general manager Daryl Morey said the move wasn’t fair, but insists it was the right thing to do. He explained in an answer to a question on QUORA:

Daryl Morey, GM Houston Rockets:

“One thing the Rockets have done well over the years under our owner Leslie Alexander is we have had very good coaches. All winning coaches and all have stayed for more than 4 years. Kevin’s long tenure with the Rockets by NBA standards was no exception. He was an amazing coach to work with who did a tremendous job. I believe he is the coach with the best winning percentage in Rockets history. Since owning the team, our owner has had fewer coaches than any team in the league except Utah. Bottom line, we have great coaches at the Rockets and they stay a long time.

Obviously, given this history the decision to change coaches was not taken lightly. Our team was reeling at the time of the change — in just our first 11 games we had lost multiple games to non playoff teams, including two at home, and none of the losses were close, most were double digit losses. In the West, you basically can’t do that for any stretch of the season and still reach our goals for the season. The prior year, for example, we had only 2 losses at home to non-playoff teams the whole season – we had already done it in only 2+ weeks. I believed that if we waited until what would be considered a normal timetable to make a change that it would likely be too late. Our only focus is on winning and I felt a material change was necessary.

Was this decision fair? No. Was it correct? That is unknown as we don’t know what coach McHale would have done if he had stayed. I am comfortable we made the best decision for the team with the information we had at the time. I know this, when Kevin coaches again a team is going to get one hell of a coach.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES:   The NBA responds to claims that Jeremy Lin is officiated any differently…The salary cap could jump to $92 million for the 2016-17 season…NBA hopes for change in North Carolina discrimination bill…Raptors hope return of DeMarre Carroll for the playoffs won’t disrupt their chemistry…Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t want a farewell tour like Kobe’s…Nic Batum expects to play in Game 1 vs. Miami.

Morning shootaround — April 13


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors ready for shot at No. 73 | Kobe’s finale is here | Report: Wittman likely done in Washington | Rockets not sweating final gamePistons’ Jackson: ‘I want to go and fight Goliath’

No. 1: Warriors ready for their shot at 73 A mere 48 minutes (and a victory, of course) is all that stands between the Golden State Warriors and a place all their own in NBA history. A win tonight against the visiting Memphis Grizzlies (10:30 ET, ESPN) gives the Warriors a 73-win season, surpassing the 72-win mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. The players on the team understand the weight of the moment ahead and while they somewhat wish they had wrapped this goal up sooner, they are nonetheless excited about tonight. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

“We have an opportunity to do something that no one has done,” Stephen Curry said. “So many great players have suited up, and for us 15 guys to say we’ve accomplished something as a group that’s never been done before, that’s remarkable.

“We earned the right to have a 48-minute game to eclipse the mark, and we have to go out and finish the job.”

Finishing the job means beating Memphis on Wednesday for what would be the Warriors’ 73rd win of the season, a mark not accomplished in NBA history and a standard that might not again be touched.

No team had won 70 games before the Bulls won 72 in 1995-96, and no team had threatened their record in the two decades since then — until this season.

“It would have been cool to take care of the games we were supposed to take care of and have it already out of the way, but the way this thing has played out, to be at home and have one shot it, it’s pretty amazing,” power forward Draymond Green said.

“It’s there for us now, so we’re going to try to get it, but the end-all, be-all for me is the championship ring,” center Andrew Bogut said. “That record, I don’t think it’s going to get broken again, but you never know. Five or 10 years down the track, that record could be broken.

“The records in 2015 and 2016 that say ‘champions’ won’t be. That’ll never change.”

The Warriors have juggled their attention between setting a seemingly immortal regular-season record and defending their championship all season. They finally decided that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Even during Tuesday’s practice, one that head coach Steve Kerr missed for a doctor’s appointment, the record was not mentioned. Instead, the Warriors watched video and drilled fundamentals.

“Our minds can’t switch strictly to that championship until this game is over,” lead assistant coach Luke Walton said.

Green has been more outspoken than anyone about his desire to chase the record.

On Monday, he decided to reward three high schoolers with the chance to witness history by giving each of them a pair of tickets to the game. He’s not worried about his gesture looking like a prediction of victory or becoming bulletin-board material.

“You can’t not talk about it at this point. The whole world is talking about it now,” Green said. “… It’s everywhere. There’s nowhere to hide from it now. …

“I’m definitely not predicting a loss.”

As for the Grizzlies, they have no intention of rolling over and taking a loss. ESPN.com has more here:

“They’re chasing history,” Memphis forward Matt Barnes said after the Grizzlies’ 110-84 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night. “We have a chance to interrupt history. Playing in Golden State, I know how alive that crowd is going to be, and I’m going to be very excited to be part of that game.”

Coach David Joerger said he expects the Grizzlies to rise to the occasion against the Warriors.

“It’s for history, baby,” Joerger said. “We’re going to give it our best shot.”

The injury-riddled Grizzlies have fought for their playoff hopes for the past two months but are in free fall, having lost nine of their past 10 games and three in a row. With Tuesday’s defeat, they dropped into a tie with the Dallas Mavericks for sixth place in the Western Conference.

“Yeah, the emotional tank is a little bit empty right now,” Joerger said.

“You also know that sitting out there 24 hours you’ve got a chance to be the answer on every Trivial Pursuit card for the next 75 years. We’ll see what we’re going to do with that tomorrow.”

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — March 7


VIDEO: Highlight’s from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors were due for a game like this | Lebron’s tweets can cause nightmares | Gentry, Pelicans ready to look to the future? | Curry skeptical he could ever score 81

No. 1: The Warriors were due for a game like this Kobe Bryant credited the socks the Lakers wore for their stunning upset victory over the Golden State Warriors Sunday at Staples Center. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team got what it deserved, a beat down from the team with the second worst record in the league. But Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News believes the mighty Warriors, who host the Orlando Magic tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), were simply due for a game when they literally could not shoot straight from their normal sweet spots:

Every NBA team is susceptible to the big road clunker, even the Warriors.

Every really good team sometimes plays a really bad game.

Every championship contender will have wobbly focus and heavy legs once in a while, especially when the game is in Los Angeles, when tipoff is before 1 p.m., and when they’re overwhelming favorites over the Lakers.

So yes, the Warriors were due for a loss like they just suffered on Sunday, yes, they deserved it, and yes, I’m sure they were also pretty embarrassed by it.

For the greatest teams, what matters most is what happens next, and for the Warriors that means Monday night at Oracle against Orlando.

If the Warriors lose back-to-back games for the first time this season, well, then there might be cause for emergency sirens to blare and panic to strike throughout the Bay Area.

Not until then, and I doubt any of that will be necessary, anyway.

Every time a great team loses, it seems to come out of nowhere — just as Sunday’s 112-95 Lakers triumph over the Warriors was a tale of shock and astonishment.

But when you look back, you can always figure out the rhyme and reason — just as you can for this Warriors loss, which dropped them to 55-6, still on pace to break whatever record you want them to.

The Warriors lost this game because Curry and Thompson combined to miss 17 of their 18 3-point attempts, because the Lakers attacked the Warriors’ sluggish defense, and because sometimes you’re just due.

Did this game expose glaring weaknesses in the Warriors? No, it did not; they can be beaten by a lot of the same things that can beat everybody else, but it just happens to the Warriors less often.

***

No. 2: LeBron’s tweets can cause nightmares … if you let them: Yes, people are still trying to decipher the meaning of tweets LeBron James sent out last week, the same ones that caused a frenzy (with everyone weighing in on what he meant with those words). And yes, LeBron’s tweets can drive you crazy, if you let them, as Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com makes clear. But wouldn’t this time be better spent focusing on more pressing matters, like the Memphis Grizzlies, who visit Quicken Loans Arena tonight (7 ET, NBA TV)?

LeBron James and that Twitter account of his…together they’re either wreaking havoc and spelling doom for the Cavaliers, or simply messing with us.

Here’s James’ latest blast, to some more than 28.5 million followers, this morning, around the time many are finishing up with church:

We’re not going to speculate here as to whom or what he’s referring.

But there’s been a lot of speculating over the past week, mostly because James has unleashed a string of cryptic, either virtually innocuous or potentially loaded tweets since Tuesday.

James was asked about the first two on Thursday, and didn’t want to talk about it. He’ll be asked again Monday following Cleveland’s shootaround in preparation for the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Cavs are 44-17, lead the Raptors by 2.5 games for first place in the East, and beat their last two opponents by a combined 42 points over the weekend.

So, what’s the problem? Is there one? Is it all a ruse? Motivation tactic?

***

No. 3: Gentry,Pelicans ready to look to the future? The New Orleans Pelicans have already acknowledged that their pursuit of a playoff berth this season is dead. There have been too many injuries, too many missed opportunities for Alvin Gentry‘s bunch, they host the the Sacramento Kings tonight (8 ET, NBA League Pass), to repeat last season’s late-season push that saw the Pelicans punch their postseason ticket in the regular-season finale. So instead of waiting any longer, it’s perhaps time for Gentry and the Pelicans to look to the future, as Justin Verrier of ESPN.com suggests:

“At some stage we have to start thinking about the future, looking at the future,” Gentry said after a 106-94 loss to the Utah Jazz dropped the Pelicans to 3-5 since the All-Star break. “That’s one of the reasons why I stuck Jrue [Holiday] out there to start the second half. We have to start looking at Jrue as a starter some and playing him. And trying to find ways to get Anthony [Davis] the ball more in the flow of the game. Even if they’re double-teaming him, that’s gotta be something as coaches that we try to figure out also.

“At this stage, like I said, it would be a miracle almost for us to make the playoffs. We really have to start looking at developing a culture and how we’re gonna play in the future and figuring out guys on this team, how they fit into the system and if they’re going to be able to fit in a system.”

Despite mounting evidence that the team plays better with Holiday on the floor — his plus-1.0 net rating is best on the team, per NBA.com/Stats — and that Davis, the main cog in the team’s future, is more effective with Holiday alongside him — 5.3 points better in true shooting percentage, to be exact — the Pelicans have brought the 25-year-old guard off the bench since Dec. 4 to give a depleted second unit an extra “punch.” Gentry said he didn’t envision changing the setup as recently as two weeks ago, even though it put their two best players on the court together for only 19.3 minutes a game.

But a lot has changed even in the past two days. In his fourth game back, Eric Gordon refractured the same right ring finger that kept him out of 16 games. With three players (Tyreke EvansQuincy PondexterBryce Dejean-Jones) out for the season, the Pelicans have lost the fourth-most games (183) in the NBA to injuries and illness, according to InStreetClothes.com. And after a fourth straight loss, the Pelicans are now 6 ½ games behind the Rockets for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs with 21 still to play. Even the most optimistic would admit that the odds — 0.3 percent entering Saturday’s games, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index — are against them.

Holiday hadn’t heard about Gentry’s intentions after the loss to Utah, but when told by reporters his response was tantamount to: Oh, nice.

“Nah, that’s the first I’m hearing about it. I’m cool with it,” Holiday said. “With the lack of bodies I feel like [we] kinda have to. Whatever it is we need to win. Obviously our last three games haven’t gone the way we wanted them to, but we still gonna try to win every game.”

Even with the obstacles the Pelicans have faced, Davis made sure to note that he isn’t ready to concede.

“I’m playing every game,” he said after putting up 29 points on 11-for-31 shooting and 11 rebounds in the loss to the Jazz. “I still got hope for this team, still got faith in these guys. I feel like we still can do it. We just got to believe.”

***

No. 4: Curry skeptical he could ever top Kobe’s 81: For all of the magic Stephen Curry has created this season, he knows his limitations. He knows that even with is seemingly otherworldly ability to shoot the ball from distances and angles few can, he’s skeptical that he could ever reach the 81-point zenith that Kobe Bryant did. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News explains:

The question made Stephen Curry smile and shake his head. He showed the same disbelief many have when they watch him play.

The Golden State Warriors’ guard and defending regular-season MVP has seemingly made any shot at any angle and from any distance. But he cast serious doubts on accomplishing something else even more miraculous.

Could Curry ever break Kobe Bryant’s career-high 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors nearly a decade ago?

“Not a chance,” Curry told Los Angeles News Group. “There’s a reason why people are still talking about that game to this day. It’s so special.”

Yes, Bryant’s career game still represents the NBA’s second-highest scoring performance behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962. But Bryant does not consider the milestone special enough to think his record will remain sacred.

Said Bryant: “It’s just a matter of you have to believe it’s possible.”

The Lakers (12-51) enter Sunday’s game against the Golden State Warriors (55-5) at Staples Center with Curry doing what was once considered impossible.

He has averaged a league-leading 30.7 points per game despite playing only 33.9 minutes per contest. He has ranked first this season in posting 30-point games (29), 40-point games (11) and 50-point games (three). He shattered his own single-season three-point record (293) still with 22 games remaining.

According to NBA.com, Curry has made 3-pointers from basically anywhere, including the right corner (53.3%), the left corner (45.3%) and at the top of the key (46.5%). Very few can guard Curry no matter the distance, including shots from 10-14 feet (54.5%), 15-19 feet (39.7%), 20-24 feet (48%), 25-29 feet (45.9%) and 30-34 feet (58.3%).

Could all those numbers add up to what Bryant did on Jan. 22, 2006?

“Steph is a talented enough scorer that you could definitely say it’s a possibility.”said Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton, who played with Bryant during his record-setting night. “But it’s not very realistic. If we’re blowing someone out, he’s going to rest.”

Curry needed all 48 minutes to post a career-high 54 points on Feb. 27, 2013 against New York. Curry logged 36 minutes to score a season-high 53 points on Oct. 31, 2015 against New Orleans. Then there marked six games Curry played under 30 minutes this season amid the Warriors coasting to a double-digit victory. Through swarming double teams or rare off nights, Curry can still dish to Klay Thompson, Draymond Green or Andre Iguodala.

“If there’s one guy in the league that has a chance of doing it, it would be him,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said of Curry. “But they’ve got so many weapons that’s it not needed from him to have that type of game to shoot it 40 times.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES:  It appears that former Atlanta Hawks lottery pick Josh Childress is taking his talents to the D-League … The Los Angeles Clippers stumbled through a Thunder hangover when they fell at home to the Hawks … Erik Spoelstra says Chris Bosh is working out with the Heat staff … Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has a fan in Kevin Durant … The Rockets fire back at their critics with a big win in Toronto

 

As Kerr returns, Walton, Lue in play as possible All-Star coaches

Golden State head coach Steve Kerr, after being sidelined from the Warriors’ first 43 games this season, finally was back on the sideline for their home game against Indiana Friday night at Oracle Arena (10:30 ET, ESPN).

But Luke Walton still might want to hold off making any personal plans for All-Star 2016.

Walton served as Golden State’s interim coach while Kerr recovered and rehabilitated from two offseason back surgeries. Kerr is back now as the Warriors’ coach of record, but the NBA reportedly still is considering whether Walton might be invited to coach the Western Conference All-Stars, assuming Golden State has the conference’s best record through games of Sunday, Jan. 31.

“We are reviewing our rules around the West coach situation to determine what is appropriate,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said late Friday.

All-Star coaches, by NBA rules, are drawn from the team with its conference’s best record as of the official cutoff date, which is Jan. 31 this season. The exception is when a coach and his staff earned that honor the previous season, in which case the coaches of the second-place team handle All-Star duties. Kerr and the Golden State staff, including Walton, oversaw the West squad at the 2015 All-Star Game in New York.

Some had wondered, however, if Walton – because he had not served as “head coach” last February – might be eligible this time for the Feb. 14 game in Toronto. He was, after all, reported to be eligible for NBA Coach of the Year consideration even though his official head coaching record remains 0-0. The Warriors’ 39-4 mark technically goes on Kerr’s coaching record.

If Walton doesn’t coach the West All-Stars, the likely candidate is San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. Either because of the “Riley rule” – the NBA spared coaches from working the All-Star Game in consecutive seasons in the 1980s when Lakers coach Pat Riley annually had his team atop the standings at the cutoff date – or because the Spurs overtake the Warriors, Popovich would be in line to go with his staff for the fourth time. He previously coach the West All-Stars in 2005, 2011 and 2013.

The Spurs (37-6) can’t be caught by the West’s third-best team, Oklahoma City (33-12). After Friday’s OKC victory at Dallas, both teams have four games by the Jan. 31 cutoff – even if San Antonio loses all four and OKC wins all four, the Spurs still would have the better record.

In another interesting twist, if the Cleveland Cavaliers remain in first place on Jan. 31, new head coach Tyronn Lue will be invited to coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars, the NBA also confirmed.

Lue, the Cleveland associate promoted to head coach Friday with the Cavaliers’ decision to fire David Blatt, would be accompanied by the rest of Cavs staff. Blatt not included, presumably.

Then again, there is some precedent for NBA figures no longer in the league to participate on All-Star Weekend. Guard Craig Hodges was invited to defend his title in the 3-Point Shootout in 1993 after the Chicago Bulls had waived him following the 1991-92 season. Back in 1977, forward Larry McNeil competed in the NBA’s first Slam Dunk contest at the All-Star Game in Milwaukee between being waived by the Nets in December and signed by Golden State in late February.

And of course, Magic Johnson famously played in and was named MVP of the 1992 All-Star Game after abruptly retiring when he announced in November 1991 that he had contracted the HIV virus.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
No panic in Warriors after another loss| Kevin Durant loves the media | Kyrie says Cavs are in a better space | The Clippers’ schedule is about to crank up

No. 1:  No panic in Warriors after another loss — It’s happened so rarely this season that the shock of it all could be a little much to take for the Golden State Warriors. They’ve walked off the court after a loss just four times all season, but lost their second straight road game Saturday night in Detroit. But there is no panic now that the Warriors have come back to earth, a bit, from their unbelievable start to the season. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle explains:

The Warriors’ post-practice session Sunday started with Draymond Green playfully mocking Luke Walton’s work ethic and ended with Stephen Curry proudly wearing a Carolina Panthers cap while singing the team’s theme song.

If the Warriors are panicking about their declining play during the past 11 games, including an 18-point spanking by Detroit on Saturday, they sure weren’t conveying it before flying to Cleveland for an NBA Finals rematch.

“There’s no need to panic, turn on each other or point a finger. We all sucked,” Green said. “… You want to keep the environment loose. You don’t want to tense up and feel like it’s the end of the world and play like that. Yeah, we have to play with a chip on our shoulder, and we have to play with that fire and intensity, but you don’t want to play like you’re in a panic.”

The Warriors (37-4) will have a good barometer for their keep-it-loose approach during the next five games. They play road games at Cleveland and Chicago before hosting Indiana, San Antonio and Dallas — teams that went into Sunday’s games a combined 131-68 (.775).

To have success during the challenging stretch, the Warriors know they’re going to have to play better than they have in the past 11 games.

“It matters to us, every game that we don’t play well. We’re trying to figure it out,” Curry said. “At 37-4, I’m happy that it bothers us. … It shows that it’s a long season, but we’re on a mission to do something big this year. The game (Saturday) night was not in line with our identity and who we are as a team.”

The Warriors went 28-2 in their first 30 games, beating opponents by an average of 13.4 points per game. They’ve gone 9-2 in their past 11 games, beating opponents by an average of 4.8 points per game.

***

No. 2: Kevin Durant loves the media —  He has a strange way of showing it, but Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant does not hate the media. In fact, Durant said he has nothing but love for the folks covering him and his team on a regular basis. Sure, he’s had some heated exchanges with reporters recently and has criticized the media for not holding his Thunder in the same regard as other elite teams around the league, for “nit-picking” the way he and Russell Westbrook operate, for disrespecting Kobe Bryant and various other perceived transgressions. But in the end it’s, all love. Erik Horne of the Oklahoman has more:

“I also have something else to say, if you guys don’t mind. I was talking to Matty earlier and I’ve seen over the last couple days – couple of years, actually – that I hate the media. I actually do love you guys. If I hated someone I wouldn’t talk to them. I wouldn’t interact with them. I wouldn’t laugh and joke with them. I wouldn’t talk with them about anything other than what you guys ask me. When I disagree, that doesn’t mean that I hate you guys, so … my whole deal is to spark a conversation and hopefully we can talk about the topic, or whatever it is at hand we can talk about, and we all can grow from it. That’s my whole deal.

“I know I’m not necessarily talking to all you guys – all you guys with all these mics here. My whole thing is when I disagree that doesn’t mean I hate you, that just means … what you guys really wanted is someone who’s open and honest with you and who’s opinionated and that’s who I am. I haven’t changed, I’m the same person. I just grew as a man. Hopefully you just appreciate it and know that I don’t hate you. That’s a harsh word and my mom never brought me up to be a hater of anyone. I always believe that if I’m open and honest and opinionated that I can grow as a person and hopefully you can learn that’s what I’m about, and hopefully you all can get better. The main goal is to help the fans know the game a little bit more than they know today, so that’s my goal and hopefully that’s your goal instead of getting headlines and clicks. That’s my take on it, that’s the last time I’ll talk about it, but I had something I had to get off my chest. I appreciate it.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant clarifies his recent comments about the media

***

No. 3: Kyrie says Cavs are in a better space — It stands to reason that weeks after Christmas, the Cleveland Cavaliers are something of a different monster than the one we saw that day against the Golden State Warriors. Kyrie Irving, who made his debut just a week before that game, is in a different place now. He says the Cavs are in a better space. And he’s ready for tonight’s rematch of the rematch between The Finals combatants (8 p.m. ET, TNT). Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com has the details:

In the first meeting between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, an NBA Finals rematch, point guard Kyrie Irving was playing in his third game, trying to get back in rhythm after a rehab-filled off-season.

Heading into Monday night, another crack at the league’s best team that celebrated inside Quicken Loans Arena about seven months ago, Irving feels different, inching closer to his old form.

“A lot better,” Irving said following Sunday’s practice, the first workout since returning home from a season-long six-game road trip. “Definitely trying to prove it out there every single time I go out there and play. Just trying to continue to be better every single game for my teammates.”

Since that Christmas Day showdown, an 89-83 loss, Irving has hypnotized defenses with his slick ball handling, made a pair of clutch three-pointers in the closing minutes and had a few scoring outbursts. He has given Cleveland an offensive boost, averaging 103.8 points in his 12 games.

“Coming back it was a tough adjustment at first, missing a few shots here and there, being on the minute restriction, just had some things to get used to,” Irving said. “And as I continue to progress and the more games I play, the better I am getting.

“I just didn’t want to come in and break anyone’s rhythm. We had a great thing going, and me just being an added piece, just wanted to come in and make it seem seamless and do whatever it takes to win. I mean, it was a tough transition coming back, I’m not going to lie, but I think it’s getting easier and easier every single game.”

Irving is averaging 17.0 points on 42 percent from the field, including 26 percent from three-point range. He’s also averaging 3.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds.

His numbers are down and his play has been dotted with inconsistency. But Cavs head coach David Blatt is focusing on the positives.

“Kyrie has been doing well,” Blatt said Sunday. “I said on a few occasions after some of his bigger games that still we had to understand and show patience. And he has gone more or less up and down a little bit and it’s totally understandable. He missed a long time, came off a serious injury. But he’s worked hard and he’s played well since he’s come back. Some games better than others. And it’s just part of the process and we understand it. And that will continue for a little while.”

***

No. 4: The Clippers’ schedule is about to crank up — Winning feels great, and the Los Angeles Clippers have been doing it as well as anyone lately — even after their 10-game win streak was snapped Saturday — as they head into tonight’s matchup against Houston (10:30 p.m. on TNT). But the schedule is about get a lot tougher and Clippers coach Doc Rivers knows what’s coming. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times explains:

Starting with Monday night’s game against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center, five of their next six opponents have records above .500. And the only team below .500, the 20-22 New York Knicks, has been playing better recently.

Not only that, but five of the six games are on the road, including a back-to-back set at Cleveland and New York on Thursday and Friday and, after a game at Toronto on Sunday, another back-to-back Jan. 26-27 at Indiana and Atlanta.

“I don’t look ahead but to the next game, obviously,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Saturday night after the loss to the Kings at Staples Center. “[But] defensively we’re a better team. And that’s all you need to be is a better team defensively. Offensively, I’m never that concerned about us. I think most nights we’re going to be a good offensive team. . . . I just think our team has grown and that’s where we’re a better team.”

Only two of the opponents during the 10-game win streak were above .500 when the Clippers played them, and only one is now. They won nine of the games without Blake Griffin (partially torn left quadriceps) and went 1-1 in the games DeAndre Jordan missed because of pneumonia.

The Clippers are hopeful Jordan can return against Houston, and they expect Griffin to return during the trip — hoping it will be at Cleveland but figuring it’s more likely to happen at Toronto or Indiana.

The fact that the Clippers haven’t faltered without Griffin prompted a question to Rivers: Had they sent a message to the NBA about how strong they can be despite missing their All-Star?

“No, we’re not trying to send any messages,” said Rivers, whose team didn’t practice Sunday. “We’re just trying to win games. The messages have to be sent at the end of the year by winning.

“We just have to keep getting better. I think through this stretch we have improved as a basketball team. And I think when DJ comes back first and then Blake, we’re going to be a much better team because of all of this. But we’ve still got a long way to go. Neither one of them are back yet. So, we’ve just got to keep plugging away.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: If you had plans Saturday night and missed out on the raucous celebration at The Palace of Auburn Hills, relive the moment the Detroit Pistons retired Ben Wallace‘s No. 3 … Washington Wizards swingman Jarrell Eddie has found his dream job … You won’t have to think long and hard about who has been voted the NBA’s dirtiest player (here’s a hint, it rhymes with sell him a nova) … Even after all of these years, Kobe Bryant is still reaching milestones in the Lakers’ record books

Blogtable: Most impressive thing about Warriors’ start is ______?

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


BLOGTABLE: Player who needs to be an All-Star starter? |
Most impressive thing about Warriors is _____? | New coach and GM for Nets?



VIDEOWarriors focused as ever to dominate

> The Warriors continue to roll, and are already halfway to 72 wins. Watching this team night after night, what impresses you the most?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: The connectivity they have at both ends of the floor. When a team has an individual player as great as Steph Curry, the other guys on the floor with him often find themselves isolated, standing around watching. It happened a lot when Michael Jordan was with the Chicago Bulls. But with the Warriors, you never get the sense that Curry is just out there pounding the ball to create an opening for himself. Everything he gets seems to be on the move, whether it’s in transition or off their sets. But it seems like he’s always moving WITH his teammates; his action comes off of some other action. Same at the defensive end. There’s always someone moving, whether it’s a pre-rotation or something else. It’s five-man basketball. Beautiful to watch.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Equal parts optimism/confidence and versatility. It’s impossible in my opinion to separate those qualities because they build on each other. Golden State has been built to handle just about any situation and its players and coaches know it. No Steve Kerr? No problem. Harrison Barnes goes down? They got this. Chris Bosh hangs on the perimeter? Fine, Andrew Bogut will match up with Luol Deng and Justise Winslow. Having success with nearly every adjustment fuels their view that they can do it tomorrow and straight through June. The Warriors are unflappable.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The sheer joy, enthusiasm and relentless sense of purpose that they bring to the gym every night.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: How they have been so locked in this early in the season. I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating: The Warriors could have had a champagne hangover, they could have been fazed by the absence of coach Steve Kerr, they could have been tripped up by injuries, and yet they roll on. They have incredible focus, to the point of not merely accepting the big moments but searching them out.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Warriors are ready to play every night. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but over the course of 82 games, most teams will take a night off, so to speak, in terms of energy or mental preparation or whatever. Not the Warriors, who take pride in putting themselves in position to win, no matter how good or bad the opponent. I haven’t seen this from a team since the 72-win Chicago Bulls of 1995-96.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s the cohesion on both ends of the floor. Stephen Curry obviously has the ability to do things alone on offense, but he rarely does. The Warriors lead the league in assist rate and in the second year of Steve Kerr‘s offensive system, the offense is sharper than it was last season. There’s freelancing within the system, but guys are mostly on the same page when it happens. And while the champs have taken a small step backward defensively, they’re generally on a string on that end of the floor as well.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The energy they bring to the floor every night is flat out remarkable. To win 67 games last season, ride that wave to The Finals and handle their business there how they did, you’d expect the Warriors be a little fatigued by now. But they always seem to find the wind needed to run you off the floor. Night after night they always seem to find that extra gear, from Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green down the roster to Brandon Rush, James Michael McAdoo and Ian Clark, when they are called upon to contribute. I’ve covered a team that won 61 games and made the conference finals and the next season, you could see the wear and tear, both physically and emotionally, on that group. The Warriors, however, seem as fresh now as they did in training camp before the 2014-15 season. Simply remarkable.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They play for each other at both ends of the floor. There is a spirit to their teamwork that is inspiring. The Spurs are efficient, while the Warriors appear to feed off each other emotionally. They reveal their hearts.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Their versatility. In the past when we’ve seen great teams, they seem to do whatever it is that they do, and that is what defines them. But the Warriors aren’t just one thing. Want to play big? They can play big. Trying to go small? They can go small. The Warriors can mix and match their deep collective of starters and bench players to meet any sort of challenge presented to them, without losing any potency, and to me that makes them such a remarkable group.