Posts Tagged ‘Marc Gasol’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Loss to Rockets have the Heat, Bosh falling in the East standings | Change in ownership looming, Hawks sell themselves on courts | Reality bites the Wolves

No. 1: Loss to Houston has Heat dazed — Funny how the NBA grind goes sometime. The Rockets went into their game with Miami wobbly from a 28-point thumping against  the Pelicans that was so bad, Rockets coach Kevin McHale benched his entire starting five at one point and remarked afterward: “I wish we never played again … we’re falling apart.” Then on Saturday they turned around and beat Miami by 36. The NBA season is weird that way. The other interesting subplot in this game involved Chris Bosh, who weighed a free agent offer from the Rockets last summer before returning to Miami. It was a hectic period for Houston. Essentially, they lost Chandler Parsons in free agency because they were chasing Bosh, who was born and raised in Texas (Dallas). With Bosh, the Rockets envisioned a starting five of Parsons, Bosh, James Harden and Dwight Howard and figured to make a much more serious run in the West. As it was, Bosh took the max offer and stand in South Beach. Well, things worked out well financially for Bosh, but here in Year One without You Know Who, the Heat have lost four straight and are in eighth place in the East, one game ahead of the Pacers for the final playoff spot. Their ninth set of back-to-back games will conclude Sunday against the Nets. Bosh is among those wondering where the next winning streak will come. He could’ve taken less money and won more games in Houston but refuses to re-think his choice. Jenny Dial Creech of The Houston Chronicle has more:

“I wanted to see if I could have that increased role and still be successful and it’s out there in front of me and it’s out there in front of this team so I just have to make sure I do my part and make sure we don’t lose track of whats important, as far as our effort and energy on the court,” Bosh said. “We have to continue to bring it, no matter what happens.”

Bosh’s role has increased and he has been relied on to bring more offense to the Heat. He went from averaging 16.2 points per game last season to 21.4 this season.

With the added offensive responsibilities comes better defense. Bosh said teams play him differently this year and he is trying to use that competition to become a better player in his 12th season.

“That’s all I’m trying to concentrate on, most of the time,” Bosh said. “It’s different every night and I have to read and react very quickly throughout the course of the game and figure things out.”

***

No. 2: Change in ownership is coming, and so are Hawks — Well, look who’s in first place in the East all of a sudden. An unexpected season in Atlanta just turned up a notch when the Hawks went to Portland and had their way against the Blazers. They led for much of the night and kept holding off Portland and suddenly you must ask yourself: Are the Hawks for real? It looks that way. Not only are they leading the East, the Hawks have beaten some of the best teams in the West, including the Clippers, Mavericks, Rockets and now Blazers to win 18 of their last 20, including four straight. Paul Millsap scored 27 points and pretty much secured a spot on the All-Star team with another solid night and the Hawks once again used an offensive system built on finding the open man to confuse Portland,which was 18-2 and 9-0 against East teams at home. This comes on the heels of news that current Hawks ownership has agreed to sell 100 percent of the team. This might be the first time the Atlanta Spirit group agreed on anything. Since forming and buying the Hawks, the multi-layered group has clashed on issues. But after seeing the purchase price for the Bucks and Clippers, the owners have agreed to cash out in unison, which will only help hike the purchase price. The identity of the next owner remains to be seen but there is a chance the Hawks could change hands this season. And when that ownership swap happens, only then will the fate of Danny Ferry be decided. That’s the weird part about the Hawks and their first-place status. The guy who built them is in exile after a tumultuous summer, choosing to take a leave of absence. But you have to think Ferry will have an excellent chance to slide back into his office, given how the Hawks have played lately. We should also add that Jeff Teague is averaging 24 points and 8 assists over the last four games. Anyway, while it’s hard to single out one player on the Hawks who’s responsible for what we’re seeing, Millsap is having a strong season here in his walk year. The Hawks would love to extend not only him, but Al Horford, who’s deal has one more season left. Tony Jones of The Tribune has more on Millsap, the former Jazz forward:

The points. The rebounds. The career high numbers in assists and steals. The All-Star recognition of last season and the realization round the NBA that he’s one of the best power forwards in the league. None of it matters much to Paul Millsap. It’s nice and all and yes, he’s opened eyes since leaving the Utah Jazz two summers ago. But Millsap has been and always wants to be known for winning, and this may be his best chance.

As the calendar turns to 2015, Millsap and the Hawks have a common goal: Taking the Eastern Conference.

“We feel like we have a shot,” Millsap said. “We know that last year didn’t end up the way we wanted. We thought we should’ve won that seventh game at Indiana (in the first round of the playoffs). We want to go farther this year.”

Millsap is a walking nightly mismatch. Yes, he’s undersized as a 6-8 power forward. But he now possesses three-point range, and the ability to take bigger guys out with him on the perimeter. He’s never stopped rebounding the ball. Him and Al Horford are difficult to contain on the interior.

“When I first came to the team, my relationship with Paul was just a normal teammate to teammate kind of thing,” said Gordon Hayward. “But once I started playing more, and me and Paul started talking more, I got to know him a lot better. We got a lot closer. I’ve always admired how hard he works.”

Millsap figures to be a hot commodity once July rolls around. And with the way he’s played the last two years, deservedly so.

“I just try to stay in the moment,” Millsap said. “We have a great team, and we have an opportunity to do some special things as a team this season. That’s all I’m focused on right now.”

***

No. 3: Reality bites the Wolves after 11th straight loss — You’re tempted to yell “tim-berrrrrrrr” at the Wolves, but that would suggest they’re falling from a high perch. The reality is the Wolves were never high to begin with, and right now this young and injured team is clearly struggling. Not only are they playing a batch of rookies and second-year players, they’re missing three starters and playing in the West. That’s a recipe for what you’re now seeing, nights when the Wolves are barely competitive. For the second time in five days, they lost to the Jazz, and Utah isn’t exactly a powerhouse. All of a sudden, coach Flip Saunders is talking possible lineup changes, but is there really any way to fix the Wolves this season? Eventually they’ll get Ricky Rubio, Nik Pekovic and Kevin Martin hack from injuries, so that’ll help a little. But probably not a lot, not in the deep and very dangerous West. Basically, this season is shaping up to be as expected, with Minnesota playing young players and giving them room and time to grow, while taking it on a chin hard enough to land another high lottery pick next June. It will be considered a successful year if these young players are more consistent by February and March and making fewer mistakes. Until then, there will be more nights like Saturday, when the Wolves, who have only won once since the day after Thanksgiving, giving up 15 rebounds to guys like Trevor Booker and a career high 13 points to guys like Rudy Gobert. Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune explains:

Saunders vowed lineup changes and other corrective measures to help right a listing ship. It’s one that tilted even further toward the horizon Saturday. Saunders lamented his young team’s lack of energy and willingness to compete against a Utah team that, while also undermanned, has won six of nine games.

“Energy comes from within,” Wolves rookie Andrew Wiggins said. “No one can tell you to play hard. You have to want to play hard.”

“They beat us on energy plays and they ripped in and took our hearts away,” Saunders said.

The Wolves also had no answer for Jazz point guard Trey Burke, who shook Friday’s 2-for-19 shooting performance (including 0-for-11 on three pointers) against the Hawks and scored a season-high 28 points.

“He’s be first team all-league if he played against us every time,” Saunders said of Burke. “Maybe I should’ve drafted him based on how he’s played against us and in this arena.”

“Like I told our guys, don’t think it can’t get any worse,” said Saunders. “It definitely can.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Byron Scott wants Kobe Bryant to shoot more, not less … Kobe took a shot at the AAU system, but didn’t KD and CP3 and LeBron go through that very same system? … Knicks still contemplating whether to shelve Carmelo for the year  …

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Jazz center Rudy Gobert made one of the best blocks of the season on Shabazz Muhammad…


VIDEO: Block of the night
 

James, Curry remain All-Star voting leaders

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The King still reigns.

In the latest NBA All-Star balloting results, released this morning, Cleveland’s LeBron James remains the leading overall vote-getter. James, who had 552,967 in the initial voting results, has 775,810 votes in the second balloting totals.

Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who was the leading Western Conference vote-getter in the first results, remains atop the Western Conference though just behind James in overall balloting, with 755,486 votes.

NBA All-Star 2015The top five players in each Conference remain unchanged in the second results. Kobe Bryant and Curry are the top guards in the Western Conference, with Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol the top three frontcourt players. Tim Duncan and James Harden are the two Western Conference players closest to moving into the starting five, with Duncan roughly 50,000 votes behind Marc Gasol, and Harden about 180,000 votes behind Kobe Bryant.

In the Eastern Conference, the only move among the starting five is a flip-flop between two starters. Chicago’s Pau Gasol, who was roughly 18,000 votes behind New York’s Carmelo Anthony in the first voting returns, has moved into second place among Eastern Conference forwards, with 372,109 votes to Anthony’s 365,449.

Chris Bosh is currently in fourth place among Eastern Conference forwards, about 70,000 votes behind Anthony for a starting spot.

John Wall and Dwyane Wade remain atop the Eastern Conference guards, with Kyrie Irving about 90,000 in third, about votes off the pace.

The biggest gainer overall is Portland’s Damian Lillard, who was eighth among Western guard in the first results, but has jumped to fifth in these second results, leapfrogging Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson and Rajon Rondo. Lillard, however, remains about 550,000 votes behind Bryant for a starting guard position.

The team most under-represented in regard to their record is the Atlanta Hawks, who currently have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 23-8, but their highest-ranked player in the second voting results is Paul Millsap, who is 13th among Eastern Conference forwards (34,751 votes).

This year, for the first time ever, fans have the power to vote for any active player in the NBA using the new online ballot. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.

LeBron, Curry lead initial All-Star voting

HANG TIME HQ — Two weeks after voting began for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, despite finding a new home in the offseason, the King remains on top.

The first results for the 2015 All-Star Game starting lineup voting were announced, and Cleveland’s LeBron James is the overall leading vote getter, with 552,967 overall votes. But right on James’ heels is Golden State’s Stephen Curry, voting leader in the Western Conference and second overall with 549,095 votes.

NBA All-Star 2015James, who finished as last season’s leading vote-getter while a member of the Miami Heat, is followed in the Eastern Conference by Washington’s John Wall with 299,209 overall votes. In the Western Conference, close behind Curry is New Orleans’ do-everything big man Anthony Davis, with 524,623 votes. If the voting holds, Curry, Wall and Davis would all be making just their second All-Star appearances.

Interestingly, the third place spot in each Conference is currently occupied by an All-Star veterans, Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant (521,542 votes), a 16-time All-Star, and Miami’s Dwyane Wade (265,917 votes), a 10-time All-Star.

Just several hundred votes behind Wade in the East is New York’s Carmelo Anthony, while Chicago’s Pau Gasol currently rounds out the East’s starting five. Out West, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol are are currently leading in the race to win the remaining starting spots.

Several starters from last season’s game are, at least initially, off the pace to make the starting lineup. Kevin Love started for the Western Conference last season, but since being traded to Cleveland over the summer, Love is fifth among frontcourt players in initial voting with 169,818 votes. Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving started for the East last season and ended up winning the All-Star MVP award after going for 31 points and 14 assists. But in these first returns, Irving is third among Eastern Conference guards, behind Wall and Wade, with 237,356 overall votes.

Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, the reigning NBA MVP, also started for the West last season, but after missing 17 games due to a foot fracture, Durant is currently fifth in the West with 191,881 votes. His teammate Russell Westbrook, a three-time All-Star who missed 14 games this season with a broken hand, is seventh among guards in the West with 84,686 votes.

This year, for the first time ever, fans have the power to vote for any active player in the NBA using the new online ballot. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.

Blogtable: Your All-Star starters

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: Build with offense or defense? | Who will get traded? | Your All-Star starters



VIDEO: The Starters reveal their early All-Star starter picks

> You’ll get a chance to you change your mind in about three weeks, but give me your starting five (East and West) for February’s All-Star Game, based ONLY on performance this season.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The guys I think earned it in the West are names who might actually get enough votes in the real balloting: Stephen Curry and James Harden in the backcourt, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt. Out East, I’m not sure my five all would prevail in the popularity contest but on merit, they should go: John Wall and Kyle Lowry at guard, with LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Kyle Korver up front. Korver, you ask? He’s having a season to make analytics fans swoon, someone from Atlanta deserves a spot and I like the idea of two Kyles in a five-man lineup.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comEast: Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol. West: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol. Durability counts, that’s why Dwyane Wade loses out to Irving and DeMarcus Cousins to Marc Gasol.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comEast: LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh (forwards), Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry (guards). West: Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins (forwards), Stephen Curry and James Harden (guards). The option to change my mind in three weeks comes in especially handy with Cousins. If he returns strong from the viral meningitis, he holds the spot. If he struggles physically for long, his place becomes more precarious. It gets even worse if the Kings continue to drop in the standings — which dooms Carmelo Anthony on the East front line –or Cousins has a choppy adjustment to the Kings’ coaching change increased emphasis on playing up-tempo. Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge are waiting.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWest: James Harden, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol. Pretty clear-cut there. They’ve been healthy and productive. East: Kyle Lowry, John Wall, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony. Yeah, folks will hold their nose about ‘Melo, but that’s more because of the Knicks. He’s No. 6 in scoring and the East is lacking in star power on the front line.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Going by the positions on the ballot (veiled shot at my colleagues who included Lowry, Wall and Butler) … East guards: Kyle Lowry and John Wall.  East frontcourt: LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol. West guards: Stephen Curry and James Harden. West frontcourt: Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis and Tim Duncan. Duncan gets my final spot in the crowded West frontcourt (for now), because he’s more of a two-way player than LaMarcus Aldridge and his minutes are over 30 per game this season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Based only on performance, in the East it has to be Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Jimmy Butler, LeBron James and Pau Gasol. In the Western Conference, where a preposterous surplus of candidates for five spots, I’m going with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol. I don’t think I’ll need that mulligan in three weeks either, even with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant coming on the way they are for Oklahoma City and Kobe Bryant playing the way he has all season. I want to reserve my injury replacement spot for Klay Thompson, too. He’s been that good this season and the Warriors are rocking. He belongs in New York for the festivities.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: In the East, I’ve got LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh in the frontcourt, with Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler in the backcourt. In the West, it’s Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis up front, with James Harden and Stephen Curry in the backcourt.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogEast: John Wall, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, Chris Bosh. If I could put Kobe at the 3, I would, because I think he deserves to make the starting five. But there are literally only two players in the West that I’d rate ahead of him, and they are both guards. Sorry, Mamba. West: Steph Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron fired up to play before the royals | Changes don’t fix Lakers’ problems | Reality bites the Heat

No. 1: LeBron relishes opportunity to dazzle the royals — LeBron James, a self-anointed “King”playing before Britain’s Prince William and his wife, Duchess  Kate Middleton tonight in Brooklyn has a certain royal ring to it, no? It does for Cleveland’s King. LeBron is looking forward to showing off for the high-profile visitors, yet another opportunity for the world’s best player to brandish his global brand. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com has more:

“It’s an honor,” James said before the Cavs practiced in New York City on Sunday. “It’s a huge honor. The stuff that you read about, people like them are only in books growing up. And to hear that they’re coming to town to see me play and they want to see me do what I do best, it’s a huge honor.”

The royal couple will also meet with President Barack Obama on their U.S. tour. Count the president as another dignitary who has come to witness James play in person.

“Well I’ve had people from all across the board as far as stature, but the President of the United States, that was pretty huge,” James said. “To have those two, to say they were traveling here and one of the things that they wanted to do was see me play, it’s a pretty big deal in my household.”

James told reporters he has only seen Will and Kate “on television and the Internet and things, just like the rest of you,” and hopes to get a personal audience with the pair at Barclays Center.

“I would like to,” James said. “They are going to be at the game so hopefully I get the opportunity to interact with them a little bit. We’ll see what happens.”

Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving joked that he owns a DVD of the prince and duchess’ royal wedding from back in April, 2011.

“It will be great to see them in person,” Irving said. “I mean, for me, seeing celebrities in person is awesome. I don’t really know too much about them, but they’re celebrities in our world so I guess it’s great to see them.”


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook throws down the thunder dunk

***

No. 2: Changes don’t fix what’s wrong with the Lakers — Change Lakers fans can believe in still hasn’t come. Byron Scott shook up his lineup, benching Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin for Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans, and got the same result as usual this season. Another loss for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers means that Scott is still searching for the right mix as time is quickly running out on any faint hope for this season in Los Angeles. Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times sheds some light on the dark times in LA:

Fans booed as the Lakers fell behind by 20 points going into the fourth quarter at Staples Center.

Kobe Bryant took nearly an hour before talking to reporters after the game. Boozer tried to one-up Bryant by not talking to reporters, period. Lin called the demotion “one of the toughest situations I’ve been in.”

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014-15 Lakers.

“If you look at our record, you have to make changes,” Scott said. “I’m not going to stand back and just watch it continue to be played this way. To me it was a no-brainer.”

Ed Davis had 12 points in place of Boozer and Ronnie Price had three points and three assists in Lin’s spot.

Bryant spoke matter-of-factly, not angrily, when he finally emerged to talk to reporters.

“Not everything is going to be great, champagne, celebrations and winning championships,” he said after scoring 14 points. “You’ve got to go through some hard stuff too. If this was the Titanic, I’d go down with that. … I’m not jumping off.”

This is all too familiar for Lin, demoted last season in Houston after being outplayed by Patrick Beverley. Boozer also had his time shortened in Chicago, benched in the second and fourth quarters toward the end of last season in favor of Taj Gibson.

***

No. 3: Reality bites the Heat after fourth straight loss — All of those conversations about the Miami Heat and their place in history that were had over the past four seasons seems like a lifetime ago these days. The Heat, losers of four straight games after falling to the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday, are feeling reality’s bite right now. They are no longer the juggernaut they were with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh headlining the show. It’s a different world for the Heat, as Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald explains:

Chris Bosh slammed the ball against his head in a display of exasperation.

Dwyane Wade just walked off the court laughing and shaking his head.

Even when the Heat did everything right defensively, the Memphis Grizzlies still scored and scored and scored on Sunday at FedEx Forum in their 103-87 victory, but Courtney Lee’s desperation three-pointer from 30 feet seemed especially cruel.

Both Mario Chalmers and Josh McRoberts had their hands on the ball, but neither player could come away with the steal. Instead, the loose ball found Lee, who heaved a prayer toward the rim. It swished the net, of course, because everything goes down against this Heat defense these days.

The Grizzlies shot better than 60 percent until the final two minutes of the game, settling for 58.9 percent from the field. It was the highest shooting percentage of the season for Memphis (16-4), and the high-water mark came on a night star center Marc Gasol was 1 of 6 from the field for two points.

“They didn’t even hurt us in our normal game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what’s disappointing. It was all the miscellaneous actions.”

The Heat (9-11) has lost five of its past six games, including four in a row, and in each of those losses opponents shot at least 54 percent from the field.

“It’s open season,” said Bosh, who had 12 points and two rebounds. “Until we take more pride in that as a unit, it’s just not going to happen. We’ve got to individually guard the ball with passion, and everything else with follow.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rockets coach Kevin McHale says Dwight Howard isn’t coming back anytime soon …  Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob apologizes for his comments about former coach Mark Jackson …  Thunder stretch reeling Pistons’ slide to 12 straight … Mum is the word from Phil Jackson on the Knicks …

ICYMI of the Night: The entire cast of Top Five, Chris Rock’s latest comedy, sat down for an interview with our very own Lang Whitaker of the All Ball Blog … 


VIDEO: Lang Whitaker sits down with the cast of Top Five

 

 

Time enough for Thunder to rise in West? For Durant to repeat as MVP?


VIDEO: Does KD have an honest shot at the 2014-15 MVP?

With Christmas Eve and Christmas morning coming for the Oklahoma City Thunder both early and separated by 96 hours this year – getting Russell Westbrook back last Friday vs. New York and Kevin Durant in time to play at New Orleans Tuesday night – the best way to assess the Thunder’s situation is:

A) No worries.

B) In the nick of time.

C) Too late to matter.

The same set of answers can apply to two questions spinning off the Thunder stars’ comebacks: Is 65 games enough time for the OKC to position itself as a championship contender in the rugged Western Conference? And does Durant have a legitimate chance to repeat as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player?

Here at Hang Time HQ, the first question seems easier to answer than the first. The 5-12 Thunder woke up Tuesday in 12th place in the West standings. They were 4.5 games behind No. 8 Phoenix (10-8). For a team as playoff-savvy as Oklahoma City, just qualifying for the postseason would put them in position to push toward The Finals – they’d just have to do it without either homecourt advantage or a relatively easy first-round matchup (since this is the West, we stress relatively).

OKC also was eight games out of a Top 4 berth, where it would enjoy home court for at least one round. Realistic to think the Thunder could climb over that many rivals? Durant, Westbrook, coach Scott Brooks and the rest have won 72.1 percent of their games the past three seasons. If they were to win at that clip over their final 65 this season, they’d finish about 52-30.

Only once in the last eight years would that record be good enough to finish fourth or higher. And that worked out for Utah in 2006-07 because its 51-31 finish was good enough to win the Northwest Division, earning it a Top 4 berth even though No. 5 Houston went 52-30. The same sort of thing occurred in 2005-06 (Denver’s 44-38 earned homecourt over Memphis’ 49-33).

Also, the Lakers and the Grizzlies secured the Nos. 3 and 4 slots in the post-lockout 2011-12 season by finishing 41-25 (.621), the equivalent of 51-31 in an 82-game season.

So it’s not too late for the Thunder. How ’bout Durant?

If OKC does push toward a playoff spot or a top seed, odds are good that the NBA’s 2014 MVP will have something significant to do with it. He’ll already have on his side the unofficial criterion of how his team did/does without him: the Thunder are a 5-12 team in his absence. If they were to turn that around and go 45-20 or 47-18 with Durant after his return from foot surgery, that would be compelling apart from his individual stats.

The MVP field has no early runaway favorite: Marc Gasol has gotten attention for Memphis’ start, Stephen Curry is a possibility from Golden State and LeBron James always is a factor. Durant would face a particular hurdle in an injury-shortened season: Would MVP voters consider a player who missed so many games?

Only three previous Most Valuable Players, out of 59 in NBA history, appeared in fewer than 70 games in a full season. Boston’s Bob Cousy played 64 of a possible 72 in 1956-57, his teammate Bill Russell played 69 of 72 the next year and Portland’s Bill Walton played in just 58 of 82 in 1977-78 – with most of his absences coming at the end, missing the Blazers’ final 22 games. Portland went 48-10 with Walton, 10-14 without him.

As for other individual stats, Durant shouldn’t have much trouble grabbing voters’ attention. Since his rookie season, he has averaged 28.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 38.9 minutes, while shooting 48.7 percent from the field and 38.5 percent on 3-pointers.

And actually, if someone were to begrudge Durant his raw numbers, consider this: A scoring average of 28.6 played out over 65 games would get him to 1,859 points – the equivalent of a 22.6 average over 82 games. Fourteen NBA MVPs averaged less than 22.6 in their hardware-winning seasons.

None of this, of course, addresses the likelihood of Westbrook splitting votes with his freshly healed Thunder teammate. Fresh off his hand surgery, Westbrook grabbed a 1-0 lead in OKC impact by scoring 32 points and sparking the Thunder past the Knicks last weekend.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers struggling to live up to the hype | Rockets will be short-handed in battle of unbeatens | The “dark side” of the triangle

No. 1: Clippers struggling to live up to the hype — Don’t believe the hype, especially when it’s self-generated. The Los Angeles Clippers are finding that out the hard way this season, struggling early on to play up to expectations (both internally and externally) that had many folks picking them as the favorite to win the Western Conference and perhaps the NBA title. We’re barely two weeks into this NBA season, but it’s clear they are not playing at a level that was expected of them. Ben Bolch of The Los Angeles Times breaks it down in advance of the Clippers’ afternoon tussle with the Portland Trail Blazers:

Everyone, it seems, is playing pop psychologist, diagnosing the problems of a team widely expected to contend for the Western Conference title that has gotten off to an underwhelming start.

With the Lakers winless through the season’s first five games, the Clippers could color Los Angeles red and blue beyond their “BE RELENTLESS” ads adorning buildings and billboards. It hasn’t happened.

“This is a chance for the Clippers to take over the city and they don’t want it,” Hall of Fame shooting guard and TNT analyst Reggie Miller said Friday in a phone interview. “You should have people in the barber shop buzzing about the Clippers. As opposed to talking about their effort, they should be saying, ‘Did you see that play?'”

A more common refrain after the season’s first week: Oy vey.

The Clippers are 3-2 but were blown out by Golden State and lost at home to a Sacramento team that won only 28 games last season. They have been outrebounded in every game and couldn’t hold double-digit leads in four games.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers called his players “soft” after their 17-point loss to the Warriors and didn’t seem impressed by a team meeting afterward.

“When I read about team meetings in the league, I’m thinking, ‘I hope we play them next,'” Rivers said Friday. “We all know we didn’t play hard. I don’t think I need a team meeting for that.”

One observer who watched the Warriors’ demolition of the Clippers has remained Zen about the team’s prospects.

“I think everybody in Clipperland has to do the Aaron Rodgers thing right now,” ESPN analyst and former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said, referring to the Green Bay Packers quarterback who told fans to loosen up amid a slow start. “Relax. Let it play out. If at 20 games, you get to a quarter of the year and there’s issues, that’s when I think you start evaluating more so than after five games.”

Van Gundy said what’s more important than the Clippers’ spotty play is what they do next. They play the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.

It’s a chance to start resembling the team the Clippers want to be. Of course, even a blowout victory wouldn’t end their concerns.

“It’s not like we go out against Portland, have a good game and we’re like, ‘Well, thank God that’s over,'” Griffin said. “We’ve just got to stay with it and keep working on the things we have to work on.”


VIDEO: Hornets guard Lance Stephenson sinks the game winner against the Hawks

*** (more…)

Superman’s return(?) lifts Rockets


VIDEO: Dwight Howard goes alley-oop crazy on the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We haven’t seen him in a couple of years, the smiling big guy who wore the cape and leaped over all things.

The dominant Dwight Howard we all grew accustomed to seeing while he starred in Orlando, the one who disappeared two years ago in Los Angeles and struggled a bit adjusting early on in Houston last season, was back on the floor Thursday night in Houston.  Howard crushed the (Tim Duncan-less) San Antonio Spurs, executing a series of alley-oop dunks early against the reigning world champs in the Rockets’ 98-81 demolition job.

Howard finished with 32 points and 16 rebounds and was unstoppable inside. The Rockets are 6-0 with James Harden and Howard leading the way.

Harden was splendid last season, a first-team All-NBA pick on a good team that couldn’t get out of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Could Superman’s return lift them up to that next level this season?

I don’t see  why not.

If this is the Howard we’re going to see all season, maybe I need to take another look at the landscape in the West and put the Rockets in their proper position among the elite teams. Originally I saw them as a team capable of chasing that fourth spot behind San Antonio, the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder.

But early on it’s the undefeated Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors who are leading the pack. The Grizzlies have their own dominant big men in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. They’d be hard-pressed to look any better than Howard did against the Spurs.

Blogtable: The Grizz, title contenders

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: Harden an MVP? | Are the Grizzlies legit? | Kobe and the Lakers


Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

> Few mention the Grizzlies – the 4-0 Grizzlies – as a true title contender (one of the top, say, three teams in the league). Do you?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Memphis isn’t even one of the top five teams in the NBA in the broad sense, in my view. Cleveland, Chicago, San Antonio, Oklahoma City (when healthy, if ever) and the Clippers are better equipped to handle 82 games-plus-another-25. The Grizzlies’ depth doesn’t seem all that, well, deep. But if they’re relatively healthy at the start of any 7-game series, be it first round or Finals, I give them a terrific chance because they do what they do so darn well: Pound it inside, exploit their bigs’ size and skill advantages, create offense out of defend and prosper with timely shooting. They had the Thunder on the ropes last spring and I expect them to have someone there again in six months. But seven?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comI just don’t think they score enough points or have an offense that is diversified enough. In today’s NBA, you’ve got to be able to shoot from the outside and the Grizzlies’ perennial search continues.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comNot as a top-three team in the league, no. But I see them as a playoff team, which is more credit than I saw a lot of other people giving Memphis. Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Tony Allen — that’s not a lottery foundation. The Grizz won 50 games last season with Gasol making 59 appearances and Allen 55. I’m saying postseason again. I’m just not saying true title contender yet.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Grizzlies once again have the look of a team with a Western Conference Finals ceiling. Nothing about them screams championship, and nothing about them screams collapse. They’re an upper-echelon team that’s too good to falter, too flawed to rise above all others. Their only significant improvement this summer was adding Vince Carter, and not the 2002 Vince Carter. Plenty of teams would kill to do what Memphis has done the last few years, and will probably do again in 2014-15. But championship contender? Memphis would need a few things to go right and a bit of luck.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. They have an elite defense, and that’s important. But they haven’t  had an above-average offense since they had Pau Gasol for a full season (2006-07). The addition of Vince Carter, who brings more playmaking than Mike Miller, was a good one. But they still have just one guy in their starting lineup – Mike Conley – who’s made at least 100 threes in a season, and his career high is 106. The lack of shooting gives them an offensive ceiling in the middle of the pack, which keeps them from being a title contender.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Grizzlies don’t need the undefeated record to legitimize their contender status this season. They’re a team that, when healthy, belongs in that conversation of the best of the very best in the Western Conference and the league. We forget they were in the conference finals two years ago under Lionel Hollins. They are a different team under Dave Joerger, perhaps a better team as well now that Mike Conley has matured into an accomplished floor leader, and certainly a dark horse crew capable of grinding its way to the conference finals again. But I think it’s a bit early to toss them into the top three of the entire league.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I don’t. But I should. They lack a top-10 player but they have three stars (including Mike Conley, who is turning into the Doc Rivers of his day) who can finish each other’s sentences, and their bench looks capable of doing more good than harm. Winning the West is a realistic goal for at least a half-dozen teams, and the Grizzlies deserve to be ranked among them.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I contend that it’s too early to call the Grizzlies contenders, at least when they’re in the same conference as the Spurs, Clippers and the injury-riddled group which wears the same uniforms the Oklahoma City Thunder used to wear. They are 4-0, yes, but they have yet to play a team with a winning record. If they finish this season healthy and without drama on court or off, and if they’re able to develop a bench that works, we can reevaluate their contender status heading into the postseason. But for now, let’s pump the brakes.

For more NBA Debates, go to #AmexNBA

Morning shootaround — Nov. 4


VIDEO: Highlights of games played Nov. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Grizz stay undefeated | Rose, Gibson listed as probable vs. Magic | Durant: George’s injury led me to leave Team USA | Scott wants more defense from Boozer

No. 1: Physical Grizzlies improve to 4-0 — Don’t look now, but the Memphis Grizzlies are in the midst of their best-ever start … and show little sign of slowing up. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol led the charge last night in a 93-81 pasting of the New Orleans Pelicans, who had gotten some bright, early-season play from their own big man combo of Anthony Davis and Omer Asik. But as Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal notes, the Grizz went to their tried-and-true gameplan of pounding on foes in the paint and it worked wonderfully:

The Grizzlies remained unbeaten Monday night with a defensive effort that silenced the Pelicans’ main scorers throughout a 93-81 victory. Memphis (4-0) held New Orleans (1-2) to 33.7 percent shooting in a game in which neither team found an offensive rhythm.

And that was just how Griz coach Dave Joerger wanted to see the game play out.

“We got it the way we play. We got them in the mud,” Joerger said. “We got our hands and bodies on people. We were physical.”

Pelicans forward Anthony Davis finished with just 14 points, eight rebounds and a block after entering the game averaging 28 points, 16 boards and six blocks in his first two games.

The Griz, however, had all five starters score in double digits despite shooting 40.8 percent as a team. Marc Gasol’s 16 points led the Griz, who had three players with double-doubles. Gasol also had 11 rebounds. Zach Randolph added 15 points and 11 boards, while Tony Allen chipped in 12 points and 11 rebounds.

In the end, Memphis’ defense made the difference. Over the past two games, the Griz have held opponents to 34.8-percent shooting.

“We did a pretty good job of being tied together, talking and finishing possessions with a rebound,” Gasol said about the Grizzlies’ defense. “We felt like we made things tough for them. They weren’t in a rhythm.”


VIDEO: Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies plow past the Pelicans (more…)