Posts Tagged ‘Marcus Smart’

Celtics’ Bradley ‘unlikely’ for remainder of series

 


VIDEO: Avery Bradley strains his right hamstring in the fourth quarter of Game 1 against the Hawks

ATLANTA — The Boston Celtics will have to work without Avery Bradley, their best perimeter defender, for what could be the remainder of their first round series against the Atlanta Hawks.

Bradley suffered a “significant strain” to his right hamstring with 6:42 to play in Game 1 Saturday night at Philips Arena and did not return. He left Philips Arena with one crutch and was not at practice with the Celtics Sunday afternoon.

“I would say he is doubtful for any of the remainder of the series,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “And he’s certainly, very unlikely (for Game 2) Tuesday night. As of right now, I’d say he is out Tuesday night. Obviously he’ll get treatment around the clock. And we’ll go from there. But I would say he is very unlikely for the rest of the series.”

Bradley was the primary defender on Hawks point guard Jeff Teague and also scored 18 points before he “felt something pop” in his right leg and fell to the floor. His absence forces Stevens to make adjustments to his starting lineup and rotation for  Game 2 and possibly the remainder of the series.

Veteran swingman Evan Turner is the likely replacement in the starting lineup with Marcus Smart and also rookie’s R.J. Hunter and Terry Rozier in line for increased roles.

“Right now it’s all about stepping up and playing tough,” Turner said. “It’s definitely tough because Avery competes and at the end of the day he’s a teammate and we’re worried about him and his well being. We know we really have to pull together. And over the last month we’ve been shorthanded and we’ve all had to fight through some adversity, so right now it’s just taking it for what it is and fighting and competing and not making any excuses.”

The Celtics are already at a height disadvantage against the Hawks. But without Bradley in the lineup, they’ll potentially be even smaller in the backcourt.

“The biggest challenge is we’re playing small anyways and we might have to go even deeper, ” Stevens said. “And that’s okay. We might have to go with some of those young guys and play four smalls again or we could play more traditional. We’ll look at it and figure that out over the next 48 hours.”

 

Numbers preview: Hawks-Celtics


VIDEO: Hawks vs. Celtics: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Atlanta Hawks took a step backward this season. After leading the Eastern Conference with a franchise-record 60 wins last season, they were unable to recapture the magic they had on the offensive end of the floor.

But while Atlanta isn’t the offensive team that it was a year ago, it has become an elite team defensively. The Hawks ranked second in defensive efficiency, and first since late December. And because they’re healthier this year, they may be a better playoff team than they were in 2015.

You can say the same thing about the Boston Celtics, who, like the Hawks, got swept out of the 2015 playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics made one key addition (Amir Johnson) this year, but also got better with internal improvement. And like the Hawks, they’ve done their best work on the defensive end of the floor.

The Hawks are making their ninth straight playoff appearance, a streak that began with a first-round loss to Boston in 2008. This is a much different Celtics team, one that seemingly has more steps to take in the future. Atlanta has home-court advantage and won the season series, but these teams were even in the Eastern Conference standings.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 4-5 series in the East, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Atlanta Hawks (48-34)

Pace: 99.4 (8)
OffRtg: 103.0 (18)
DefRtg: 98.8 (2)
NetRtg: +4.1 (7)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Boston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Hawks notes:

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Boston Celtics (48-34)

Pace: 101.1 (3)
OffRtg: 103.9 (13)
DefRtg: 100.9 (5)
NetRtg: +3.0 (9)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Atlanta: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Celtics notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Hawks won 3-1 (2-0 in Atlanta)
Nov. 13 – Celtics 106, Hawks 93
Nov. 24 – Hawks 121, Celtics 97
Dec. 18 – Hawks 109, Celtics 101
Apr. 9 – Hawks 118, Celtics 107

Pace: 103.3
ATL OffRtg: 107.0 (4th vs. BOS)
BOS OffRtg: 99.3 (15th vs. ATL)

Matchup notes:

Thomas-less minutes key to Celtics’ surge up East standings


VIDEO: Isaiah Thomas’ top plays from mid-February

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — On the morning of Jan. 13, the Boston Celtics sat in 10th place in the Eastern Conference at 19-19, having lost four straight games.

The last loss in that streak came against the New York Knicks, who have since gone 3-12. The Boston defense, which ranked in the top five, allowed the Knicks to shoot 53 percent and score 120 points in that game.

The Celtics scored 114 points themselves, 65 in a second half they started with a small lineup. At the time, coach Brad Stevens said that small ball was about defense, but it’s been the Celtics’ offense that has improved since then.

The Celtics were a bottom-10 offensive team through that loss in New York. Since then, they’ve been a top-10 offensive team and have gone 13-4 to go from 10th in the East to third.

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Isaiah Thomas has averaged 21.8 points and 6.2 assists over these last 17 games, leading the team in usage rate by a wide margin. But it’s been the minutes with Thomas off the floor that have been more critical to the Celtics’ improvement.

Through Jan. 12, the Celtics were downright awful offensively when Thomas sat down, scoring 94.3 points per 100 possessions, which is worse than the Sixers have been this season. Since Jan. 13, they’ve jumped to 107.9 points per 100 possessions with Thomas off the floor.

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Improved shooting from Jonas Jerebko, Marcus Smart and Tyler Zeller has been critical. But another key has been Stevens settling on a rotation.

Through Jan. 12 (38 games), no lineup that didn’t include Thomas played more than 31 minutes. But in the 17 games since then, the Celtics have a no-Thomas lineup — Smart, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, Jerebko and Kelly Olynyk — that has played 113 minutes and outscored its opponents by 16.0 points per 100 possessions. Neither Turner nor Smart can shoot very well, but their playmaking is complemented by two shooting bigs. David Lee had played 41 percent of the no-Thomas minutes before Jan. 12, but hasn’t played at all since then.

Some context: Only four of the Celtics’ 17 games in that stretch before the All-Star break were played against teams that currently rank in the top 10 defensively. They’ll face 10 top-10 defenses in their final 27 games, and that doesn’t include two meetings against the Utah Jazz, who rank 14th for the season, but fifth in the six weeks since Rudy Gobert returned from injury.

The first of those two meetings is Friday (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). The game is more important for the ninth-place Jazz, but it will also be a test of the Celtics’ improved, second-unit offense.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 26


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs GM not looking to deal Love | Report: Beal has broken nose | Report: Heat have standing offer for Allen | Durant free-agency talk remains quiet

No. 1: Cavs GM says Love not a part of trade talks — A midseason coaching change will get just about any NBA team in the headlines. A team like the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers doing so made the news that much bigger. As new coach Tyronn Lue gets himself more and more acclimated with the big chair, there has been talk that the Cavs need other changes — to the roster, perhaps? — to fully realize their championship dream. Don’t count on Kevin Love being a part of any potential deals, though, not with the big vote of confidence GM David Griffin gave Love yesterday. ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst has more:

“You’d have to go a long way to convince me that we’re a better team winning in the Finals without a player like Kevin on our team,” Griffin said in an interview on ESPN 850 AM in Cleveland. “We’ve never once put together an offer involving Kevin, nor have we taken a call on an offer for Kevin.”

Love has seen his offensive numbers dip since Kyrie Irving returned from injury last month. Love is averaging 15.6 points, his fewest since the 2009-10 season, and shooting 42 percent, the second-lowest of his career.

Griffin has shown he is not afraid to make major midseason moves, as he executed two major trades in January 2015 and fired coach David Blatt this January. Griffin has said the Cavs are open to making moves, and two weeks ago, he completed a minor deal to open a roster spot to use in a possible trade.

The Cavs own three trade exceptions, the largest of which is $10 million, that they could use in a deal. They have the league’s highest payroll, at $109 million, and are scheduled to pay more than $65 million in luxury taxes. That could limit them.

“We think very highly of Kevin, and we believe Kevin thinks very highly of this situation,” Griffin said. “But I can also tell you that we have been very clear from the beginning that there’s no such thing as untouchables.

“You’re either all the way in or all the way out in this process, and we believe our guys are all the way in. If it remains that way, then we are going to try and augment the group at the bottom and try to get some additional depth, and that’s what we’ll do. We’re not going to be afraid to do what needs to be done if something more significant comes along.”

Love’s numbers have not been helped by new coach Tyronn Lue’s up-tempo style as of yet.

Love finished with just 11 points on 5-for-11 shooting (1-for-7 from 3), six rebounds and two assists in Cleveland’s 114-107 win over Minnesota on Monday.

That performance was similar to his 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting (1-for-5 from 3-point range), five rebounds and two assists in Cleveland’s loss to Chicago on Saturday.

“Kev came to me today. He said, ‘Man, I’m so tired,'” Lue said afterward. “He said, ‘I’m tired.’ He said, ‘But I like what we’re doing.'”

One of Lue’s first conversations after taking over as coach of the Cavaliers included telling Love he would get the three-time All-Star more involved with elbow touches so he can facilitate the offense and more post touches so he can score. The problem is those types of sets require the team to slow down and play more of a half-court game.

“What I would like to do is get Kevin out early and let LeBron and Ky play, then bring Kevin back with the second unit, and we can kind of run our elbow actions and slow the game down for Kevin,” Lue said. “At times, playing fast, I guess he can get lost [in] the offense, so I got to do a better job of that.”

Love sounded open to testing the new substitution pattern.

“We want to get out and run with that first group, and especially with LeBron and Ky, we’re always talking about playing downhill,” Love said. “I think we’re better when we do that.

“The second unit will be able to play some of that elbow action, and I think that will evolve over time right now. You didn’t see it much tonight, but that’s something we can continue to work on in practice, and as we get in shape, getting better with those two styles.”


VIDEO: Relive Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game

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Analytics Art: The four worst shooters of the week in the NBA

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

As analytics nerds have continued to multiply and even permeate NBA front offices, emphasis on scoring efficiency has never been more robust — as evidenced by the introduction of stats like effective field goal percentage (eFG%) and true shooting percentage (TS%).

It’s fair to assume even future Hall of Famer Allen Iverson would be ridiculed in today’s landscape. Though he was a relentless scorer, The Answer notched career marks of 42.5 percent shooting from the field and 31.3 percent from beyond the arc — not exactly the model of scoring efficiency. That’s certainly not to discount any of A.I.’s accomplishments, it’s simply a different era in the world of basketball.

So to embrace the emphasis put on scorers who rarely miss, the team at PointAfter will break down the least efficient (and most efficient) shooters of the week each Friday. We’ve got a lot of problems with these shot charts, and now, you’re going to hear about it.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between Jan. 8-14. Shot charts will update automatically to reflect the trailing seven days’ games.

Guard: Marcus Smart, Celtics

There’s simply no denying Smart’s chops as a bulldog on the defensive end. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens even had enough faith in the 6-foot-4 point guard to have him defend 7-foot-3 New York Knicks’ rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis on Tuesday in hopes of slowing the Latvian phenom down. The tactic worked, but Boston still suffered a 120-114 loss. In some respects, Smart’s shortcomings on the offensive end were to blame.

Dating back to Jan. 8, Smart is shooting a dreadful 24 percent from the field and has converted just one of his eight three-point attempts. In the month of January overall (seven games) the 21-year-old is shooting 26.7 percent from the floor and 13.6 percent from long distance.

Those ghastly figures are a microcosm of a sophomore slump for the Oklahoma State product, as his shooting percentages (save for free throw shooting) have all declined drastically compared to his rookie year.

His field goal percentage has dropped nearly six points, and he’s converting a lowly 20.6 percent of his triples (compared to 33.5 percent as a rookie). Smart still plays sound defense, but his per-game averages in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals have all remained completely stagnant in his second year as a pro.

Trailing seven days, Smart has nearly twice as many personal fouls (11) as made field goals (six).

Wing(s): P.J. Tucker and T.J. Warren, Suns

The Phoenix Suns only played two games over the past seven days and last played on Tuesday, Jan. 12. That has given Jeff Hornacek’s crew ample time to rest and reflect. They need all the help they can get, because the performances of late have not been pretty. In particular, the ugly shooting of small forwards P.J. Tucker and T.J. Warren stands out.

The pair combined to shoot 22.9 percent (8-of-35) over the course of those two games — both losses.

Warren has usually been a reliable scoring option for Phoenix, so this cold spell should be a bit worrisome. As for Tucker, well, he’s shooting a career-low 41.9 percent this season — hinting that the younger Warren deserves more play time in his stead.

But now that both guys are struggling to make shots, dark times are getting even darker in the Valley of the Sun.

Forward/Center: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies

The younger Gasol brother is in the midst of the worst shooting season of his career (44.7 percent). And while he’s rarely played up to his usual high standards throughout the latest campaign, the new year has been particularly unkind to the 7-foot-1 center.

On Jan. 8 and Jan. 10, Gasol doubled up on 5-of-17 shooting performances. He bounced back in a loss to the Houston Rockets on Jan. 12, converting eight of his 15 attempts, but he went 8-of-20 against Detroit Thursday night. All told, the big man is shooting 23.2 percent over his last seven days and 33.7 percent in 2016.

Those marks would be a totally unacceptable for an undersized guard. For a guy with the physical frame and skillset Gasol possesses? We’re forced to wonder if the 30-year-old is playing hurt.

Provided the veteran was awarded a five-year, $113 million contract last offseason, this continued cold shooting is a foreboding reality for the Grizzlies organization.

 

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players, NBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Numbers notes: Small Celtics, LeBron’s jumper, Spurs bench and more


VIDEO: Evaluating the NBA’s top teams

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Usually, we think of small ball (playing one traditional big and moving a small forward to power forward) as an offensive strategy. It doesn’t only give you an extra guy who can shoot from the outside, but that, in turn, creates extra space for ball-handlers to drive or screeners to roll to the rim.

But on Tuesday, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens went small to start the second half in New York, replacing Kelly Olynyk with Marcus Smart, who teamed with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson (the lone big). And afterward, Stevens said the change was for defensive purposes.

“I thought in the first half, we didn’t have any pressure on the ball,” Stevens said. “And that’s why we went smaller and quicker in the second.”

The Celtics did play better after the change, but the improvement came on offense. That lineup that started the second half outscored the Knicks 27-23 in less than 10 minutes of action (over the first and second halves) on Tuesday.

The next night, though, the same lineup had the desired effect against the Indiana Pacers. In eight minutes on Wednesday, the Celtics outscored the Pacers 26-10 in a little over eight minutes. That included a 17-4 run over the final 5:08, where they turned four steals into four layups and turned a four-point deficit into a nine-point win.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel somewhat foreshadowed that whole sequence, as ESPN.com’s Chris Forsberg wrote

Before Wednesday’s tilt, Indiana coach Frank Vogel noted that Boston’s three-guard lineup of Crowder, Smart, and Bradley was full of “pitbulls.” Added Vogel: “The defensive pressure that their guards bring to the table is unparalleled in this NBA season. They have great defensive guards. It’s a big reason for their season.”

That Thomas-Bradley-Smart-Crowder-Johnson lineup played a few minutes in the Celtics’ first game of the season, but had been on the floor together for just a few possessions between then and Tuesday. The Celtics have a plethora of serviceable bigs on their roster and have played about 75 percent of their minutes with two of them on the floor.

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Those numbers follow the conventional wisdom that small equals better offense. But that small-ball lineup with Crowder at the four may be something that Stevens turns to more often when he wants to crank up the defense.

Tracking LeBron from outside

You probably saw the story where a particular stat about LeBron James‘ outside shooting found its way to the four-time MVP and motivated him to put some more work in.

“I actually saw [it] on my Instagram feed that I was the worst-shooting player in the NBA,” James said. “I actually saw that when I woke up from a nap. I remember exactly when that was. Denver. Right before the Denver game, so I answered the call.”

He was 3-of-5 from 3-point range on Sunday and hit multiple midrange shots. He’s shooting 43 percent from deep since that game in Denver. When asked if graphics like that bother him, James said, “It doesn’t bother me. It puts me back in the gym.”

James immediately started shooting better that night in Denver. And though he was just 3-for-9 from outside the paint in San Antonio on Thursday, the post-wake-up-call numbers still look much better.

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James’ jumper has seen gradual improvement over the course of his career, but still comes and goes and will always be under the microscope in the postseason, when opposing defenses are more likely to play him soft on the perimeter.


VIDEO: The Starters on LeBron’s recent shooting upswing (more…)

Morning shootaround — Nov. 16


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Nov. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe to sit again with sore back and legs | LeBron rips Cavs | Marcus Smart stands up to Russell Westbrook and wins | Battle of the future … Davis vs Porzingis

No. 1: Kobe to sit again with sore back and legs — Father Time is winning his battle against Kobe Bryant. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar will sit for the third time in four games and miss today’s game against the Phoenix Suns to rest his aching body. Apparently 37 is not the new 27, as Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com writes:

“Right now, I’m barely standing up. My back and my legs, man, it’s killing me,” he said Sunday after playing a season-high 36 minutes in a 97-85 win over the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center.

Bryant, who is in his 20th season with the Lakers, finished with 17 points on an inefficient 6-of-19 shooting from the field. He added a game-high nine assists and eight rebounds.

“I’m not looking forward to walking to the car right now,” Bryant said. “Seriously.”

Lakers coach Byron Scott said he and Bryant agreed Bryant, whose past three seasons have been cut short by injury, would play the entire fourth quarter because the game was close.

“We needed this [win],” Scott said. “I just wanted him to go the rest of the game and see if he could get the [win].”

Bryant agreed with the approach.

“We hadn’t won one at home,” Bryant said. “To lose another one at home would be disastrous.”

Bryant said he was mildly concerned about playing too many minutes, given his injury history.

“But we talked about it … we had to push through,” Bryant said. “We had to get this one done and take a day tomorrow.”

The Lakers improved to 2-8 and avoided tying their worst 10-game start in franchise history, a mark they set last season.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks after the Lakers’ win over the Pistons

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No. 2: LeBron rips Cavs — The words came from the mouth of the man running the show in Cleveland, so they should not be taken lightly. “We’re not a great team right now,” LeBron James said of his Cavaliers the day after  double-overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, it’s only their second loss of the season, their first since the season opener against Chicago. But if LeBron sees signs of slippage in his team, perhaps we should all listen. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more:

LeBron James is worried about the Cavaliers.

Or maybe he isn’t, maybe “worried” is too strong a word. Perhaps he’s challenging them. Or he’s using Saturday night as a teaching tool, an opportunity that has rarely presented itself in this young season because, for once, the Cavs lost.

Whatever the case, after Cleveland fell to the Milwaukee Bucks, 108-105 in double overtime, for its first loss since the season opener, James made one point very clear to the reporters whose attention he held around his locker afterwards:

“We’re not a great team right now.”

“I think we’re a good team. I think we expect we’re a great team, and we’re not,” James said, following his eye-popping 37-point, 12-rebound performance. “We have to get better in every facet of the game, and that’s every single facet of the game.”

It was just one loss. After eight consecutive wins. The Cavs equaled their best record (8-1) through nine games in team history. And they have injuries.

Isn’t this all a little, harsh?

“Records are meant to be broken, but that don’t mean you’re great,” James said. “It’s for us, we have to play a lot more sustainable effort throughout the 48 minutes. And we don’t do that.

“We give a half-ass effort sometimes and expect that we can just make a run at the end. We’re not good enough to do that right now.”

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No. 3: Marcus Smart stands up to Russell Westbrook and wins — Has the NBA found a Russell Westbrook stopper in Marcus Smart? The Boston Celtics’ young guard certainly played that part Sunday in an impressive road win for his team over Westbrook and the Thunder, who are still playing without Kevin Durant (hamstring). It was a revealing performance from Smart, a defensive-minded competitor who was more than up to the challenge of dealing with one of the league’s most mercurial talents. Barry Tramel of The Oklahoman was impressed with Smart’s resolve:

Westbrook is always up for a mental macho game and usually prevails. Not Sunday night. Smart, picked sixth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, rarely has been tougher. He matched Westbrook’s physicality and intensity, and though no one can match Westbrook’s explosiveness, on this night, it didn’t matter.

Smart scored a career high 26 points, making nine of 14 shots to go with eight rebounds and three assists. Better yet was Smart’s defense — that’s his specialty, after all — which got plenty of help from Celtic teammates like Avery Bradley. Westbrook had 27 points, but he made just five of 20 shots, and his playmaking was minimal. None of Westbrook’s five assists came in the final 181/2 minutes, when a nine-point Thunder lead disintegrated.

Westbrook got to Smart early. Even drew a technical foul on Smart when Smart argued a call in which he wasn’t even involved. But Smart’s confidence grew the longer the game went.

“That’s the type of guy Russ is,” Smart said. “He loves challenges and he’s going to try to do his best every time. Vice versa with me. You put two guys like that going against each other, obviously you’re going to knock heads.

“Russ knows that and understands it. I know it. I love those type of challenges.”

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No. 4: Battle of the future … Davis vs Porzingis? — Is it too soon for the Anthony Davis vs. Kristaps Porzingis comparisons? Probably, given that Davis is mentioned in MVP conversations and Porzingis is still working to complete his first full month in the league. But that won’t stop folks in New York from projecting a future involving the two. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News details their historic first matchup:

So what was biggest takeaway from getting outplayed by Anthony Davis? At least the Knicks won.

“He had a great game, but we got the win,” Porzingis said after New York snapped a two-game losing streak Sunday by beating the Pelicans, 95-87. “That’s the important thing.”

Davis, the next super-duper star in the NBA, was as good as advertised while matched head-to-head with Porzingis, finishing with 36 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots in 40 minutes.

Davis had missed the previous two games with a bruised hip, but returned just in time to give a lesson that included a block on Porzingis’ running hook in the second quarter.

Porzingis, meanwhile, struggled offensively while missing 11 of his 15 shot attempts, scoring 10 points with four rebounds in 22 minutes. He did block one of Davis’ attempts.

“He’s one of the guys that I look up and try to learn the game from,” Porzingis said. “He proved once again why he’s so good. He just — all the baskets he got, he knows what he’s doing. He shoots at the right time. He’s running fast breaks. It’s hard to stop him, his all-around game. I try to be aggressive at the beginning. He came back to me. I think he’s the best power forward right now in the NBA. It’s tough for sure, but it was a good experience for me.

“It was a bad shooting game for me. I shot the ball bad,” Porzingis added. “There’s other things that I can do on the floor without trying to score every shot I take. On the defensive end, offensively, try to get my teammates open, little stuff like that. Coach sees that, not everybody sees that, but coach sees it.”

Davis left impressed with a future nemesis.

“Porzingis is a great player. He can shoot, he can drive and he is active,” the Pelicans forward said. “It is going to be fun battling him.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Lakers got the win but remain behind the Pistons in the rebuilding effort … The Knicks paid tribute to the victims of the attacks in Paris with their hair … Where are they now? Zan Tabak is coaching in Israel … The young Utah Jazz are doing their best to turn the corner so many predicted they would this season … All DeMarcus Cousins has done since the Kings aired their issues is dominate, on and off the floor … Derrick Rose could have double vision for months, per Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg

Morning shootaround — July 18


VIDEO: Sophomores delivering at Summer League

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Giannis sees Bucks as (more) family | Project Durant on track in Washington | Knicks, if not Jackson, kept ‘Melo in loop | Smart to miss Africa game

No. 1: Giannis sees Bucks as (more) family — It’s too bad, when Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo writes about himself on his official blog, that he doesn’t lapse into third-person references to himself. If he did, he’d face the same challenge – spelling and typing that last name repeatedly – other scribes face. Nonetheless, the Bucks’ rising star posted Friday about the bond he feels with his team and how his sense of family extends these days to his workplace:

The Bucks and John Hammond chose me in the draft, got me in the NBA, kept me in the team with a role from my very first season and they are my basketball family. Not only that, but already at this young age, they have enough faith in me as a leader and they are doing everything in order to develop all of my potential. From my side, I feel that I want to be playing in the Bucks. I’m not talking about my next contract. The way I feel now, I want to keep playing for the Milwaukee Bucks for the next 20 years!

You never know how life turns out. Three years ago I was thinking that I might be playing for Filathlitikos forever! All of a sudden, the draft emerged, the NBA, the Bucks and everything that followed. I don’t know how I’ll be feeling and thinking in 2, 3 or more years. Right now I feel like I want to play for the Milwaukee Bucks forever.

I’m a guy who doesn’t really care about glamour and big markets. I like to be home all day. I get up in the morning, I take a shower and I go to practice. When I’m finished, the only thing that’s on my mind is to go back home and spend time with my family. I usually feel that I prefer to hide from people.

Okay, if LeBron said to me ‘Come to my team and play with me,’ I’d think about it! (laughs) He’s the best player in the world and a member of that exclusive group of the best that have ever played the game. Still, though, the Milwaukee Bucks would come first. They will always be the team that gave me my chance and opened up the doors to paradise.

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No. 2: Project Durant on track in Washington — The Washington Wizards aren’t running afoul of NBA tampering rules, but within the letter of the law, they’re not hiding the fact that they hope to be players in what most expect to be a Kevin Durant Sweeptakes next July. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post looked at the Wizards’ plan, which will be competing with approximately 28 other teams’ plans 11.5 months from now in trying to lure the NBA’s 2014 MVP away from Oklahoma City:

The Washington Wizards have meticulously prepared for the opportunity to coax Durant, born in the District and a product of Montrose Christian School, to Washington once the clock strikes midnight on July 1, 2016. But the courting of Durant, 26, will be wildly competitive: Thanks to the coming flood of money from a new television contract that will kick in next July, a bevy of franchises will have the salary cap space to offer the maximum possible contract to Durant, the 2014 league MVP. Other teams are only a couple moves away from getting in the mix. It could become a free-for-all, raising the risks of going all-in for one player.

“The one thing I know about my brother is he wants to win,” said Damion James, Durant’s best friend and a member of the Wizards’ summer league team. “He’ll do whatever it takes to win. Whoever gives him the best chance to win is where he’s going to end up.”

“It’s difficult to imagine him leaving [the Thunder],” said a Western Conference executive, who spoke under condition of anonymity because league tampering rules bar discussing potential free agents who are still under contract with another team. “That team is loaded. If they can stay healthy, they’re championship favorites.”

Oklahoma City is one of the NBA’s smallest markets, a factor that would’ve repelled a player of Durant’s caliber just a few years ago, but technology has altered the NBA terrain. No longer does a player need to play in a metropolis to become a superstar and procure endorsement dollars. Every game is available to anyone, anywhere. Highlights are instantly accessible on the Internet. Social media is replete with NBA fandom. Durant, a Nike pillar, and [Russell] Westbrook, a fashion impresario of sorts, are two poster boys of the shift. The fact that [LaMarcus] Aldridge spurned a meeting with the Knicks and turned down the Lakers to sign this month with the San Antonio Spurs seemed to solidify the change.

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No. 3: Knicks, if not Jackson, kept ‘Melo in loop — Lest anyone fret that Carmelo Anthony was being kept in the dark on the New York Knicks’ offseason maneuvers, the New York Post stepped up to report that the veteran All-Star scorer actually was in the loop on team transactions. Certainly no Knicks fan could aide Anthony not being consulted, considering how, er, well thing have gone around Madison Square Garden lately:

According to an NBA source, general manager Steve Mills has been in communication with Anthony across the free-agent process to explain the recent additions.

As president, [Phil] Jackson delegates a lot, and Mills is in charge of directly speaking with agents and other teams regarding potential trades or free-agent acquisitions. According to the source, Mills also handles reaching out to players on matters such as recent transactions.

In fact, Mills has said publicly Anthony spent a lot of time in his office going over “the boards’’ regarding potential free agents they were after. One of the combinations, Mills has said, was the trifecta of Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo and Kyle O’Quinn. The Knicks still had enough cap space to sign 2011 draft bust Derrick Williams and re-up with Lou Amundson and Lance Thomas for more than their minimums.

Jackson raised eyebrows on Monday when he said he had yet to speak with the vacationing Anthony, sparking speculation perhaps the Knicks rehabbing superstar was displeased with the signings. The Post reported on Wednesday Anthony had been in touch with Knicks officials this week and expressed frustration he was being perceived as a malcontent, and said he still “had trust in Phil.’’

After the draft, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported Anthony felt “hoodwinked’’ by Jackson’s selection of European project Kristaps Porzingis with the No. 4 overall pick. The Post reported Anthony was indeed disappointed on Draft night but more because his friend Tim Hardaway Jr. was traded for a college prospect he barely saw play — point guard Jerian Grant. No one, other than Anthony, remains from the roster since Jackson took over 16 months ago.

Since, Anthony has been outspoken about his “love’’ for Porzingis and called him directly to tell him he wasn’t upset. Anthony watched Porzingis’ Knicks workout and multiple sources said he felt the Latvian big man would be a good pick.

***

No. 4: Smart to miss Africa game — The good news for Boston guard Marcus Smart and the Celtics was that the two fingers on his right hand that Smart injured Thursday in the Las Vegas Summer League won’t require surgery. The unfortunate news is that Smart will miss participating in the NBA’s exhibition game in South Africa Aug. 1. Here is some more on that situation from the Boston Globe:

Smart, guard Evan Turner, and coach Brad Stevens were to be among a contingent of NBA players and coaches taking part in the first NBA game played in Africa. But Smart will now stay in Boston as his fingers heal.

Smart has not been available to speak to reporters since suffering the injury. One source said the guard is disappointed about missing the game in Africa but relieved that his injury is not more serious.

With 6:34 left in the second quarter of Boston’s summer league game against Portland, Smart, guard Terry Rozier, and Trail Blazers forward Noah Vonleh all converged on a loose ball. Smart braced himself with his right hand as he fell, and his right index and middle fingers were dislocated.

A bone in Smart’s hand also punctured his skin, requiring five stitches. Those sutures could slow Smart’s recovery, as they will affect his ability to regain range of motion in his fingers. Still, the Celtics were relieved that the X-rays on Smart’s hand were negative.

Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry said Smart will remain with the team as long as they are in the summer league playoffs, partly because he wants to support his team, and partly because the medical staff is here. Smart will undergo further evaluation when he returns to Boston.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Cleveland Cavaliers might be adding another Russian center, this one a player whose NBA rights they’ve had for the past eight years. … Jimmy Butler said again, on yet another media platform, that his relationship with Derrick Rose is friction-free. … New Nuggets head coach Mike Malone talks with Grantland.com about Ty Lawson, what he learned in Sacramento and a little Boogie Cousins. … Seth Curry writes about what he hopes is the end of his D League days. … Everything old is new again, as some NBA rookies remind ESPN.com of certain predecessors. …

Smart finally healing from ankle injury

SALT LAKE CITY — The official word is that Marcus Smart missed 10 Celtics games last season with a sprained left ankle, from Nov. 8 through Dec. 2, and two more with a strained Achilles’ tendon in the same leg in what was probably a related injury.

Lies, all lies.

The truth as Smart sees it, the truth as he looks back in reflection, is that the ankle injury cost him essentially his 2014-15, even as he made 67 appearances in the regular season and four more in the first-round sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers, even as he played well enough to make second-team All-Rookie.

The injury was that bad, Smart says as his second season officially begins with the Celtics at the Utah Jazz Summer League. It was worse than he let on at the time.

“It was,” Smart said Tuesday night after resting as Boston lost to the 76ers 76-62 at EnergySolutions Arena. “I had times when I would wake up in the morning and could barely walk out of bed. I would get to the gym three or four hours before practice or before a game just to get it warmed up and make it bearable for me to actually get out there and run up and down on it. If you watch carefully you can kind of see it. I still played with a little limp. I just tried not to show it.

“I couldn’t really drive the ball. Everybody wondered why I wasn’t driving the ball, why I was taking so many (outside) shots. I couldn’t really explode and get where I wanted to go. Being a right-handed player, you jump off your left foot. Not being able to do that, it kind of stopped me from being able to do the things that I like to do. On the defensive end it slowed me down a little bit. My physicality made up for it, though.”

Smart estimated he played months at about 60 percent strength in the leg and was never better than the 75 percent late in the season and into the playoffs. The ankle injury in the fifth game of the season led to a three-week layoff, then to problems with the Achilles’ tendon, then to adversity until the very end.

“The whole season,” he said. “It bothered me the whole season while I was playing.”

It hurt for a month after the season ended. The lower left leg is feeling better now, he reports, with plans to continue to play in the summer league after logging 30 minutes in the opener Monday against the Jazz, and bigger plans for fall: reminding the Celtics why they used the No. 6 pick to get him and the rest of the league how good he can be as an athletic, physical point guard at 6-4 and 220 pounds.

“Just go out there and show I can get to the rim, I can get where I want to go when I’m healthy,” Smart said. “I could be a special player in this league, especially if I’m healthy and I keep working.”

 

Morning shootaround — April 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Streaking Celtics adopt ‘win now’ approach  | Grizzlies in fight for playoff positioning | Blazers must shore up their D | Dirk gives Shaun Livingston a pass for low blow

No. 1: Celtics make convincing playoff push — They very easily could justify missing the playoffs this season and then cashing in on their growing cache of draft picks, but the rebuilding Celtics have evidently decided to go for it. When Marcus Smart dropped a buzzer-beater Saturday night against the Raptors, it only confirmed as much. Boston entered Sunday with the No. 8 spot in the East, a half-game lead over the Heat, and to hear the players and brass, the playoffs are where this young team belongs. It’s a rather refreshing tone considering how much tanking has dominated the conversation in the NBA this season. Zach Lowe of Grantland did a study on the Celtics during this playoff push and here’s some of what he found out:

“The playoff-chasing Celtics of 2015 are a cute feel-good story — and little more. The rebuild is moving faster than expected, with a surprise run at the no. 8 seed in a dreadful conference, but there is a giant chasm separating this plucky, starless group from what it aspires to be.

“The important thing to remember about us,” coach Brad Stevens said in a sit-down with Grantland last week, “is that we have a long, long way to go.”

It says everything about the difficulty of rebuilding that Boston has absolutely nailed Phase 1 and yet has no clear path to 50 wins. Multiple rival executives described Boston’s trading spree of the last two years as “a masterpiece” in rebuilding. Contract timetables, injuries, and other variables made it impossible for Boston to deal its aging stars at peak sell-high times, and yet Danny Ainge still nabbed great value for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo. The Celtics have as many as six extra first-round picks1 coming and oodles of cap space, they’ve drafted solid players across the first round, and they just acquired a dynamic young point guard — Isaiah Thomas — on the cheap.

But they have no stars and no clear path to getting one outside a major break in free agency or the trade market. The Celtics have made the leap to mediocrity so fast that they may have no easy way out. They’re still not good, but they’re not bad enough to get an early first-round pick — to get a clear shot at a star, in other words. Even if they lose this season’s slap fight for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, they will likely pick in the late lottery — a range that looks like their draft ceiling for the next few seasons. “That’s a concern for all 30 teams,” Ainge says of being stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity. “It’s the nature of our league. You definitely need good fortune.”

The Celtics discussed holding off on the Thomas deal to deflate their win total, but decided after some debate that they could lose out — or pay a higher price — if they waited until the summer. “Ideally, he might have been someone you pick up in the summer,” Ainge says. “But someone else might trade for him. You might be in a bidding war. You have to move while the iron is hot.”

***

No. 2: Grizzlies in fight for playoff positioning — The most intriguing April drama in the West is about playoff positioning near the top. The Rockets now hold a half-game lead over the Grizzlies for the No. 2 spot, and why is that so important? Well, the No. 2 team will most likely get the Mavericks and avoid the suddenly-smoking Spurs in the first round. Memphis had successfully fended off all threats for the No. 2 spot until now. And while the race is hardly over, the contest between Memphis and Houston will only intensify, especially with Dwight Howard back in the mix for the Rockets (though on a minutes restriction). Here’s Michael Wallace of ESPN on the Grizzlies, who lost a tough game to the Wizards on Saturday:

“I don’t think it’s the toughest division in our league; it’s the toughest division in all major leagues,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “Year in and year out, it’s ridiculous. So for our guys to get rewarded for their hard work, it would be positive.

“It’s what’s important to you. You hear about San Antonio, right? They don’t care about a division title. They don’t care about seeding. Well, we’re not them.”

While it’s all about the end game for the Spurs, who are going for their second straight championship and sixth in the past 16 years, the Grizzlies are still focused on the intermediate steps toward success. Winning an NBA championship remains the top goal for Memphis, but hanging the franchise’s first division banner in the rafters of the 10-year-old FedEx Forum along the way is a major priority.

The last time every team from an NBA division made the playoffs was in the 2005-06 season, when the Pistons, Pacers, Cavaliers, Bulls and Bucks advanced. That’s never happened in the NFL or Major League Baseball, although it’s occurred in two different divisions in the NHL over the past five seasons.

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No. 3: Blazers must shore up their D or else — If you’re a Blazers fan you, must be thrilled with the way the team has hung in there in the rugged West despite missing Wesley Matthews and an inconsistent season from Damian Lillard and with LaMarcus Aldridge playing through a thumb that’ll require surgery in the offseason. Portland once again is in position to do damage in the playoffs (ask the Rockets, who are still stinging from Lillard’s series winner last spring), but not if they don’t clean up their biggest issue first: defense. Oregonian writer John Canzano, still stung by the Blazers surrendering 126 to the Clippers last week, discusses:

But on the other hand, Chris Kaman was willing to address the biggest issue that coach Terry Stotts whiffed on — atrocious team defense by the Blazers. The biggest problem for Portland if any of this should come to a Clippers-Blazers playoff series.

Decide for yourself which guy had the worse post-game peformance. I’m not up in the air. Kaman settled it when he said, “We scored 122 points. That’s not stopping anybody. And we didn’t stop them either, they had more points (126) than we did. We got hurt on transition and on threes.” He was only saying what everyone could obviously see at Moda Center.

I like Stotts. I championed his hiring. I banged the drum for his contract extension even before the end of last season. I like where he’s headed with this rig, but if he’s unable to get real about the deficiencies of this team and remains in denial, I’m concerned about the short-term prognosis for a team that has fought to this point.

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No. 4: Dirk gives Shaun Livingston a pass for low blowDirk Nowitzki is usually a cool customer except when threatened with severe physical pain, as anyone else would (see Chris Kaman last week regarding Chris Paul). So at first, he was taken aback when he was whacked in the private area by Shaun Livingston. But when these things happen, you must take into account the history of the offending party. Livingston doesn’t exactly conjure up memories of flagrant assaults. And so, while Mark Cuban wasn’t in a forgiving mood Saturday, Dirk gave Livingston a pass. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News has some golden quotes from Dirk:

Livingston, trying to defend Nowitzki in the post, was using his right hand to hand-check Nowitzki in the back. Somehow, his hand got in between Nowitzki’s legs and clearly caught Nowitzki in the groin area.

For the rest of the game, the AAC crowd booed Livingston every time he touched the ball and in the fourth quarter, Livingston and coach Rick Carlisle exchanged words briefly after a foul was called on J.J. Barea against Livingston.

Things escalated after the game when owner Mark Cuban talked to Golden State coach Steve Kerr and Livingston, then assistant coach Alvin Gentry, as they left the court.

Nowitzki had this to say about the play, which was reviewed and ended up with Livingston called for a flagrant foul, penalty one.

“Well, I give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s really not that type of player,” Nowitzki said. “He hasn’t been his entire career. I’m not really sure what he was trying to do there, if he was trying to get to the ball through my legs or anything. But like I said, he’s not a dirty player.

“But I really enjoyed his tight grip he got. I really enjoyed that.”

Nowitzki was laughing as he said that last line.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Millsap’s shoulder injury should be defined a bit better today. The Hawks forward suffered the injury Saturday against the Nets and did not return in that game. … Boston’s Evan Turner has joined exclusive company: One of only 5 Celtics with 3 or more triple doubles in a season … All systems go for Paul George in his return tonight.