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Posts Tagged ‘Mario Chalmers’

Grizzlies’ woes grow as Chalmers hurt

VIDEO: Grizzlies’ Mario Chalmers hurts foot.

The road to the end of the regular season keeps getting longer, harder and also more dangerous in Memphis. The question might no longer be whether the Grizzlies can hang onto the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference playoff race, but if they can just make it to the end of the regular season.

Two nights after they pulled off a stunning win at Cleveland with just eight healthy players suited up, the Grizzlies suffered another loss when backup point guard Mario Chalmers was helped off the floor midway through the third period in Boston on Wednesday with what described by the team as a “right foot injury.”

Celtics sideline reporter Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports tweeted:

For a Grizzlies team that suffered 30- and 50-point losses with a full roster in the first week of the 2015-16 schedule, the season has turned into a punishing, unrelenting grind where the roster has been ground down practically to the bone.

Memphis already was playing without Zach Randolph (sore knee), Mike Conley (sore foot), Chris Andersen (partially separated shoulder), Brandan Wright (knee), Marc Gasol (broken foot) and Jordan Adams (knee).

According to Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, the Grizzlies have applied for an injury exception and plan to sign point guard Briante Weber of the NBA D-League if the exception is granted.

The Grizzlies trailed the Celtics by just 64-61 when Chalmers left the game with 6:57 left in the third quarter, but eventually lost 116-96. Memphis is now 38-26 with a 4 1/2 game lead over No. 6 seed Portland.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 21


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Feb. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Brad Stevens, an ex-college guy, NBA coach of the year?Pacers expecting big things from Myles Turner | Dave Joerger has a new team in Memphis | Jeff Green a difference maker?

No. 1: Brad Stevens, college guy, NBA coach of the year? — The Celtics are third in the East and there’s a lot of head-scratching to figure a reason why. Boston has no stars but it might have the next coach of the year in Brad Stevens, who by all accounts has done a stellar job just a few years after leaving Butler. Speaking of which, for one night against the Jazz, Stevens was reunited with two key players on those Cinderella Butler teams, Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack, the latter of whom was just traded to the Jazz. Here’s some good insight into Stevens and Hayward from Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:

Mack and Hayward are the only active NBA players from Butler, both recruited by Stevens. That is a source of pride with the Celtics coach, having guided two players to the NBA from a mid-major that was little known before Butler made consecutive trips to the national title game.

Each time Stevens visits Salt Lake City he’s asked about Hayward, how the swingman has developed in the NBA and impacted a franchise that, like the Celtics, is trying to rise from rubble. Hayward is a cornerstone, with the Jazz giving him a four-year, $63 million contract.

Hayward, averaging a career-best 19.9 points this season, is a borderline All-Star. He shot just 6 of 16 in Friday’s 111-93 win but still managed 22 points by making 15 trips to the foul line. He has progressed exponentially since Stevens recruited him from Brownsburg, Ind., nearly 10 years ago.

“When I first met with him when we were recruiting him, we talked about, ‘You actually have a chance to be a pro,’ ” Stevens said. “I don’t know that anybody could have envisioned [this]. At that time, he was a 13-point, six-rebound-a-game tennis player. He was growing into his own. He was a long, skinny kid. He was probably 6-foot-7, 180 [pounds] sopping wet.”

Hayward quickly developed into a top college player and left Butler after his sophomore season in 2009-10, following a 2-point loss to Duke in the national title game.

“I think he’s just gotten better, better, and better,” Stevens said. “His first couple of practices at Butler confirmed what the biggest mark would be with a guy of his talent level, and that is his grit and toughness. From that point on, we had no doubt that he had all that stuff. So you knew he was going to be a pro, it was just a matter of the level. He’s established himself as one of the better players around.

“He had a lot of natural talent. I don’t know if he believed me or not, [maybe] he thought I was just a recruiter that was lying to him. We had never had an NBA pro [prospect] in our time but it was obvious that he could do things other guys couldn’t do.”

Hayward is often asked about Stevens’s success in the NBA, having led the Celtics from a lottery team in 2013-14 to an Eastern Conference contender in just two years. The admiration is mutual.

“He told us he would never leave for another college,” Hayward said. “And that was very, very true; he left for the NBA. I’ve always said no matter where he’s at, he’ll be successful, if it’s basketball, if it’s business. Whatever it is. He’s just that type of person that, he’s going to be successful. He puts in the time. He puts in the effort. A very smart guy. No surprise that he’s successful where he’s at.”

Hayward and Stevens have formed a strong bond because they realize their importance to each other’s success. Hayward may not have reached the NBA without Stevens’s tutelage, while Stevens may not have gotten a call from the Celtics had Hayward not led Butler to the Final Four as a No. 5 seed six years ago.

“He knows how to make people successful,” Hayward said of Stevens. “He puts guys in the right positions. He’s very smart with reading defenses and knowing how teams are going to play and what they’re going to do, switches, whatever. They beat us on a last-second shot last year, on their play. He’s just a really smart coach and he always brings the best out of his players. Like I said, I’m proud of what he’s been able to do.”

                                                           ***

 No. 2: Pacers expecting big things from Myles Turner — He won’t win Rookie of the Year and might even face a battle just to make first-team All-Rookie, but don’t be fooled. The Pacers are very pleased with the development of Myles Turner and the potential of the 6-foot-10 post player is enormous. He began getting more playing time earlier this month and because of Turner, the Pacers still like their chances of making the playoffs. Here’s an excerpt of an examination of Turner done recently by Candace Bucker of the Indianapolis News:

In so many ways, he’s just a big kid. The teen-turned-starter still buys H&M clothes off the rack and watches SpongeBob in his spare time. He’s tasked with raiding the freezer in NBA visitors’ locker rooms so his veterans will have enough Gatorade on the bus rides to the airport. Inside his childhood bedroom, he still has a pair of size-10 Starbury One sneakers signed by Kevin Durant.

But in so many other ways, the Pacers need him to be a man, if not The Man. They have Paul George, Monta Ellis and several veterans approaching 30. But they also need 19-year-old Myles Turner, who averages 10.1 points on 53.5 percent shooting and 1.5 blocks per game this season.

“We’ve got a young, really talented, special big man in Myles Turner that is going to be up and down,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “I don’t know how fast and how far he develops in the final 29 games, but it will be a big factor in what our ceiling is.”

Turner has always been this strange brew of a project, a normal, humble child and a rare bird, a player obsessed with shushing his skeptics and yet privately questioning himself. He nods when teammates give him tongue-lashings after mistakes, but there’s nothing they can say that he hasn’t heard from the chorus of critics inside his head.

“I doubted myself a lot,” Turner says of playing in the NBA.

* * *

Turner can take on the responsibility because he isn’t just any 19-year-old. He was raised for this, even if David and Mary Turner thought they were simply bringing up their eldest to earn a free college education and a good job.

So, the family would take part in conversational clashes, the loser getting bounced for using filler words “uhm” and “like.” If Myles slipped up with one of the forbidden words, his mother took no mercy.

“All of a sudden I’d break out and say, ‘I won!’ ” Mary exclaims. “He hated losing. So we had to play again.”

The Turners shut off the television from Monday to Thursday and hid the PlayStation in the garage until summer so Myles could do something that sounds insane to kids of his generation: play outside. Myles was 5 when David purchased a basketball goal, but dad couldn’t install it in the driveway unless the height was adjusted from 7½ feet to 10, regulation size. Mary’s idea.

Turner remembers getting penciled onto the “B” team during middle-school tryouts and being iced out at his first practice with the Trinity High School varsity team. These memories are old wounds that should’ve been patched up by all his recent triumphs. Still, Turner can’t help but to pick at his sutures.

“I’ve just always had to work my way up through the ranks,” Turner says. “I was definitely overlooked in high school.”

Older kids laughed at the way he ran, but Turner loved the game. He was piling up team championship trophies – not those participation throwaways. He had the potential to be great, so he played on. And really, how could he stop and listen to their taunts? Turner kept busy; for a while, he played on four teams at the same time.

He was improving, but not fast enough by his own standards. When Turner did watch TV and saw Shaq and D-Wade winning the NBA Finals, he wasn’t like the other kids who went to sleep dreaming about holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

“I never thought I’d be strong enough. I always got pushed around all the time,” Turner stresses. “As far as the NBA was concerned, I loved watching it … but I never thought I’d actually be able to do it one day.”

***

No. 3: Dave Joerger has a new team in Memphis — This isn’t the team he saw when the season tipped off. Still, it’s his team because it says “Memphis” across the jersey, so Dave Joerger must find a new playbook for a Grizzlies’ team that has changed overnight. Marc Gasol is injured and gone, maybe for the season if not a lengthy stretch. And the Grizz have welcomed Mario Chalmers, PJ Hairston, Lance Stephenson and Chris Andersen in the last few months. The task for the coach is to keep the Grizzlies in the playoff hunt, which won’t be easy, and make the new faces comfortable. This task was examined by Geoff Caulkins of the Commercial Appeal:

Dave Joerger, this is your test.

You’re going to have to try to win games without Marc Gasol, your best player, the guy you have built your entire team around.

And you’re going to have to try and win games without Courtney Lee, one of the few shooters on a team that has never been able to shoot.

And you’re going to have to try and win games without Jeff Green, your answer to everything, a player you coveted and believed in more than anyone else.

And you’re going to have to try and win games without Ryan Hollins, the backup center, the rim protector you wanted on the team all year long.

And you may have to try to win a game or two without Tony Allen, your inspirational leader, who is questionable with a gimpy knee.

Oh, and in case that’s not enough of a challenge, we’re going to give you Lance Stephenson, P.J. Hairston and a guy everyone knows as Birdman.

Let us know how it goes!

“The last couple of days have been pretty interesting,” said Joerger, because he really couldn’t say, “What did I do to deserve this?”

But he had to be thinking it, didn’t he? Somewhere underneath that Minnesota Nice? Or maybe just wondering when the hidden cameras would be revealed and he’d discover he’d been Punk’d?

The Memphis Grizzlies may have done the right thing for the Memphis Grizzlies this past week. They may have done the right thing for next year and beyond.

But for their head coach?

“It’s a big motivation,” said Joerger, and also the biggest challenge of his coaching career.

Not that there haven’t been other challenges, mind you. Joerger has seen and surmounted more than few.

It was a challenge to take over for a wildly successful and popular coach like Lionel Hollins.

It was a challenge to overcome an injury to Gasol to make the playoffs that first year.

It was a challenge to forge a working relationship with Robert Pera after some early tensions.

It was a challenge to win 50 and 55 games his first two years as a head coach.

And it was a challenge to lead the Grizzlies through a sluggish start to this season, turning a 16-16 record into 31-22 by the All-Star break.

But none of those challenges compares with the one Joerger will be facing over the next 28 games.

It really should be a reality show. Let’s see what our man Dave can do!

We’ll give him:

Five players who are 34 or older (Zach Randolph, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Birdman and Allen).

Five players who are essentially new to the team (Stephenson, Hairston, Birdman, James Ennis and Brandan Wright).

Six players who are known to be among the roughest and/or craziest in the league (Stephenson, Barnes, Allen, Hairston, Randolph and Birdman).

Two players the Miami Heat gave away just to get under the luxury tax (Birdman and Mario Chalmers).

Oh, and Mike Conley. Because we really do have a heart!

But that’s all that Joerger has at his disposal. Now he has to take that group and — without any extra days off to practice or install plays — win enough games to make the playoffs. And that’s not even the trickiest part. The trickiest part is making sure the players are all in.

***

No. 4: Jeff Green a difference maker? — One of the defections from the Grizzlies is Jeff Green, and stop me if you’ve heard this before: Green will be a difference maker for his new team. Well, he was supposed to play that role with the Celtics, and then with the Grizzlies, and now the Clippers. In Boston, Green was a solid player, nothing more. In Memphis, which needed scoring from the swing position (and still does), Green was a mild disappointment, a tease if anything. He’s now reunited with coach Doc Rivers, who briefly had him in Boston, and lo and behold, the Clippers need scoring from the wing. There’s no denying the gifts of the 6-foot-9 Green; he can run the floor and comes with a decent mid-range shot. But he often disappears for stretches; his inconsistency is maddening. Anyway, he’s the Clippers’ problem — or steal, whichever he decides to be. It didn’t work out with Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith; has Rivers finally found a solution in Green? Here’s a take from Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

Jeff Green might be happy about joining the Clippers.

He might be happy about playing for Doc Rivers, his old coach in Boston. He might be happy about reconnecting with Team Jordan buddies Chris Paul and Blake Griffin or old teammates Paul Pierce or Cole Aldrich.

But in his first appearance as a member of the Clippers at the team’s practice facility Friday, there wasn’t room for any real emotion.

Green, admittedly, was overwhelmed.

It had been less than 24 hours since Memphis general manager Chris Wallace pulled him aside during the Grizzlies’ practice to deliver the news.

“It never does (get easier),” said Green, who was dealt in the middle of a season for the third time. “You think if you’ve been through it once, it would be easier to go through it again. But you get settled and comfortable in a situation, so it’s tough to break apart from that.”

Green had less than a day to pack up as many possessions as he would need, filling five suitcases and a carry-on with shoes, sweats and suits.

By the time he spoke to the media Friday, he still didn’t know where he was going to be living for the remainder of the season.

“It’s a whirlwind,” he said.

Jamal Crawford, who has been traded in the middle of a season, knows it’s not easy to have your life uprooted.

“I had no idea it was coming and it happened, and it took a little while, it took a few days to set in, like, ‘Did this really happen or am I dreaming?’ That was my first time being traded, so it’s tough,” Crawford remembered. “It’s not just you it affects. It affects your family, you may have to put kids out of school, if you’re renting or whatever, all that stuff. … Where to live, you may go to a city you haven’t spent a lot of time in before, you have to learn that.

“It’s almost like a new kid going to school in the middle of the year, like, ‘Oh, I have to make new friends.’”

Once Green settles in, he knows how he’ll help the Clippers.

“I’m a versatile guy who can play multiple positions and do multiple things on the floor, so I’m pretty sure Doc will put me in positions where I can succeed and help this team out,” Green said. “I’m sure it will vary from game to game, but there are going to be plenty of spots on the floor for me.”

Green should be on the court when the Clippers host the NBA’s top team, the defending champion Golden State Warriors, on Saturday night.

Despite dealing with the ramifications of the trade, Green, an unrestricted free agent this summer, said he likes the situation he’s found himself in.

“This is definitely a team with all the right pieces, and a team that is going in the right direction,” Green said. “The only thing I want to do is win, and that’s what it’s all about right now.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After getting his release, Andrea Bargnani is available and please, don’t all rush at once … The Mavericks remain the clear favorite to scoop up David Lee once he clears waivers on Monday … San Francisco radio station KNBR had an entertaining interview with Warriors coach Steve Kerr … What is it with the Jazz and point guards? They’re still looking for the next Deron Williams and John Stockton … It appears Cody Zeller is the center of the (near) future for the Hornets; not Al Jefferson?

Report: Memphis Grizzlies trade for Mario Chalmers

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Let the dealing begin.

The NBA season is only days old, but we have our first trade. According to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat have struck a deal, sending lifelong Heat guard Mario Chalmers north to Memphis …

The Grizzlies are off to a slow start, falling to 3-5 last night with a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Grizzlies are averaging just 91 points per game, next-to-last in the NBA, and are 27th in offensive rating (94.2). Acquiring Chalmers gives them a guard who can shoot from outside and provide versatility.

Chalmers also arrives with a connection to Memphis, one fans in the Bluff City would probably just as soon forget: It was Chalmers’ 3-pointer at the buzzer of the 2008 NCAA Championship Game against Derrick Rose and the University of Memphis that tied the game and sent it to overtime, where the Jayhawks beat the Tigers.

The mercurial Chalmers has played his entire NBA career with the Heat and started on Miami’s 2012 and ’13 NBA championship teams. Thus far this season, Chalmers was averaging 5.5 points and 3.2 assists in 20 minutes per game off the bench behind Goran Dragic. For Miami, dealing Chalmers not only clears playing time for younger backup Tyler Johnson, but also has positive financial ramifications …

Morning shootaround — Nov. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Butler calls out Bulls’ defense; Rose not fretting offensive woes | Mudiay motivated by Lakers passing on him | Reports: Grizzlies interested in Chalmers | Whiteside continues where he left off

No. 1: Butler calls out Bulls’ lack of defense; Rose not fretting offensive slump — Chicago is 3-2 after last night’s 130-105 drubbing in Charlotte at the hands of the Hornets, and even after it, to most the Bulls remain a solid contender in the East. But don’t go telling that to Chicago Bulls All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler. He blasted the team’s defense after the Charlotte loss, calling out a problem area for the Bulls that first reared its head in the preseason. Nick Friedell of ESPN.com has more:

Jimmy Butler saw this coming. He could sense in the way the Chicago Bulls have been playing lately that his team was destined for a defensive clunker. But few, if any, figured the Bulls could play as poorly as they did in a 130-105 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday night.

“We ain’t been playing no defense,” a frustrated Butler said after the game. “Other teams have just been missing shots to tell you the truth, to be honest. [Shoot] we score enough points, that’s not the problem. But when you don’t stop nobody, they put up 130 or whatever they did, we got to nip that in the bud now because that’s not winning basketball. It will never be winning basketball here and it never has been winning basketball here. We’ve always prided ourself on playing hard and not being pretty. Tonight, we were pretty, we were soft. Got our asses whipped.”

As angry as Butler was after the game, that’s how surprised Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg seemed after the destruction had come to an end.

“I’m shocked because we had a great shootaround this morning,” Hoiberg said. “We were as energetic in shootaround as we’ve been all year and I guess I’ve been around long enough to know that doesn’t always carry over, but I loved our energy and spirit in shootaround. Obviously that did not carry over into the game tonight.”

The difference in answers between Butler and Hoiberg is noteworthy. Both men acknowledge that their team played terribly and lacked the right amount of effort, but Butler saw something that his new coach either didn’t see or didn’t want to acknowledge publicly.

“I think the root comes from everybody that can score on the roster,” Butler said. “When you got guys that can put the ball in the basket they want to play basketball and try to outscore teams, instead of trying to get more stops than that other team. We ain’t never going to have a problem scoring because everybody knows all the freedom that we get on offense.”

But what can’t get lost in that comparison is that the Hornets, a team that came into the game with an 0-3 record, shot the lights out of the ball. They shot 51.6 percent from the field, 60.9 percent from the beyond the arc (14-for-23) and 95.7 percent from the free-throw line (22-for-23). They became just the fourth team since 2013 to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 60 percent from the 3-point line and 90 percent from the free-throw line in a single game.

The concerning part for Hoiberg and the Bulls is that they got outworked all night, a trait rarely seen in the Thibodeau era. They were out-rebounded 52-33 and beat them up and down the floor all night.

“It was a complete domination from the tip,” Hoiberg said. “And they just had their way with us. We didn’t have any fight, no resolve, we didn’t try and go back at them. We just kind of accepted it tonight.”

“Effort,” Butler said. “Effort will fix all of that on the defensive end. It’s all if you want to do it or not, to tell you the truth. I think we got guys capable of it. I think we focus too much on offense a lot of the time. Not most of the time, a lot of the time. And we forget about what you got to do on the other end of the floor. Speaking for myself, speaking for a lot of guys on this team, we got to guard. That’s where it’s got to start for us. We got to be the dogs that everybody in Chicago knows we are, we’ve always been. Just some hard-playing guys that play harder than everybody.”

 

The other component of Chicago’s loss last night was the play of point guard Derrick Rose, particularly his lack of offense. He finished with four points on 2-for-8 shooting in 24 minutes, marking his third straight game he has scored less than 10 points. As upset as Butler was about the defense, Rose was equally as cool about his struggles and said he expects to bounce back soon. ESPN.com’s Nick Fridell has more on that, too:

Tuesday’s 130-105 loss to the Charlotte Hornets marked the first time in Rose’s eight year NBA career that the former MVP scored in single digits in three straight games, according to ESPN Stats and Information. When asked what he had to do to get his offense going, Rose remained steadfast in the belief he has in himself.

“Nothing,” he said. “I’m not worried about my offense. It’s all about conditioning, running, getting my body in shape, getting used to moving around. All the other stuff like offensive looks and all that, that’s going to come.”

For their part, Bulls officials remain outwardly confident that Rose is just rounding his game back into form after missing almost all of training camp after the orbital fracture.

“Yeah, we gotta keep working on it, and I think that’s the biggest thing, getting him reps,” Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You know, again, he basically had the first 20-25 days off, and then came back. The first game he came back he was great with the pace against Dallas. We gotta get him back to playing that way.’’

Hoiberg believes Rose simply needs more time with his teammates on the floor.

“Conditioning is part of it, but I think a big thing for Derrick is just getting his rhythm back,” Hoiberg said. “I understand, it’s going to take some time, but again, hopefully we’ll bounce back with a good solid effort in practice tomorrow, and hopefully that carries over to Thursday [against Oklahoma City].”

“This is the first time we ever looked like this as a unit,” Rose said. “It seemed like everybody was off their square and the only thing you can do from it is learn. But as far as my performance, I love the way that I pushed the ball. Trying to get my conditioning under me, my legs under me a little bit more and wait til everything heals.”


VIDEO: BullsTV looks back at Chicago’s loss in Charlotte

*** (more…)

One Team, One Stat: Miami in Transition


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Miami Heat

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Miami Heat, who picked up the pace with a new point guard.

The stat

20151017_mia_pace_incr

The context

20151017_mia_basicsThe Heat ranked in the bottom 10 in pace after the All-Star break, but they came a long way from ranking dead last before it.

The obvious catalyst for the pace increase was Goran Dragic, who was acquired at the trade deadline. Dragic ranked fourth in the league in fast break points and third in shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock last season.

Those shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock are much more valuable (worth an extra point per every five shots) than ones that come later.

20151015_sac_shot_clock

Dragic helped the Heat get more of those first-six-seconds shots than they did before he arrived, and he helped them make more of them too.

20151017_mia_first6

In just 26 games with the Heat, Dragic ranked third on the team with 115 fast break points last season, more than Mario Chalmers accumulated in 80 games. Before Dragic could play any of those 26 games, the Heat lost Chris Bosh for the rest of the season. But their offense didn’t fall off at all after the break.

20151017_mia_before-after

While the Heat increased the pace and didn’t fall off at all offensively, Dragic’s old team – the Phoenix Suns, who also lost Isaiah Thomaswent in the opposite direction. No team decreased its pace (-1.5 possessions per 48 minutes) and no team fell off more offensively (-8.8 points scored per 100 possessions) after the break than the Suns did.

With Dragic and Bosh playing together for the first time, the Heat could be one of the league’s most improved teams, especially offensively. Not only should Dragic and Bosh be a potent pick-and-pop combination, but the point guard will push the pace and get them more shots early in the clock.

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

Report: Magic get Napier from Heat for 2nd round pick


VIDEO: Shabazz Napier shares some of the lessons learned from his rookie season in Miami

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Shabazz Napier‘s time with the Miami Heat is up.

He’s headed to Orlando in exchange for a second round pick, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, ending his brief tenure with the Heat after just one season. A first round Draft pick in 2014, and the player LeBron James declared his favorite heading into that Draft, Napier will join a crowded point guard situation in Orlando.

Orlando already has a budding young talent in starter Elfrid Payton and a veteran backup in C.J. Watson. Napier averaged 5.8 points, 2.5 assists and 2.2 rebounds in just 19.8 minutes per game for the Heat, who have three point guards — Goran Dragic, Mario Chalmers and Tyler Johnson — remaining on their roster.

The Heat wills save money ($1.3 million salary for Napier) and give themselves some roster flexibility by making the move. The Magic, meanwhile, fill out their point guard rotation with yet another first round talent and a young player they can mold in whatever way coach Scott Skiles wants to in his first season on the job.

 

 

Morning shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay | Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick | Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple | Bulls flirting with disappointment?

No. 1: Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay — So what if Minnesota, even at full strength, is far from an NBA powerhouse and on Friday happened to be playing without its three best big men. Nikola Vucevic didn’t have to apologize to anyone for his career-high 37 points and his 17 rebounds. More important, the Orlando center doesn’t want to have to apologize to Magic fans after saying goodbye in a few years, abandoning the franchise’s long-term plans the way Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard did. The big man spoke recently with Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel about loyalty and the vision he has for his career and his team’s future:

“Yeah, I’m here for the long haul. I hope to stay here my whole career,” he told me. “I love it here. I really love the city. I’ve improved here a lot as a player. I’d love to stay for a long, long time and make something special happen.

“If it takes years, it takes years … I ain’t going anywhere.”

Vucevic is inspired by the loyalty displayed by Italian soccer superstar Francesco Totti. Totti, 38, has played his entire career for Roma.

“Totti could have gone to bigger teams, made more money, do whatever he wanted. He didn’t,” he said. “He stayed with that team. He’s pretty much a god to that team.”

Rather humbly, Vucevic doesn’t consider himself in the class of Shaq and Dwight – repeat All-Stars and No. 1 overall picks.

The list of great big men here is short, but Vooch is already the third-best center the Magic have ever had. Eight long years passed between Shaq’s departure and Dwight’s arrival. Vooch has cut the wait time considerably after Howard departed.

He gets it done differently. Although he’s nearly 7-feet and weighs 260 pounds, Vucevic isn’t as dominating and demonstrative as his powerhouse predecessors. But he is a rare double-double machine, running quietly and efficiently.

More steady than spectacular, he relies on finesse instead of force, having learned the game overseas in Montenegro. Vooch does have a shooting stroke that Shaq and Dwight would envy (and he can make free throws).

“Both Shaq and Dwight had great legacies while they were here. I want to achieve what they achieved,” he said. “When I’m done, I’d love to have people talk about me the way they talk about them. I hope to get to the same level.

“I want to get there.”

***

No. 2: Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick — Unlike his team’s runaway atop the Western Conference, Golden State’s Stephen Curry likely is going to find himself locked in a tight race for the NBA’s Kia Most Valuable Player award. Some voters probably won’t submit their ballots until the deadline on Thursday, April 16, the day after the regular season ends. But that won’t stop others – those with votes and those without – from floating their opinions sooner, and one who did was ABC/ESPN analyst Mark Jackson, Curry’s former Warriors coach. Jackson’s choice of Houston’s James Harden caught Curry off-guard, as evidence by his reaction. But Golden State teammate Andrew Bogut rushed to his point guard’s defense vs. Jackson, as reported by ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

ESPN analyst and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Wednesday on the “Dan Patrick Show” that while Curry, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, are all worthy candidates, he’d give his MVP vote to James Harden of the Houston Rockets.

“If you twisted my arm today, I would probably vote for James Harden,” Jackson said. “The reason why is because he single-handedly has put that Houston Rockets team in the position that they’re in today.”

The comments come as a stark contrast to the way Jackson had previously championed his former charge as a superstar in the league, while he was coach of the Warriors.

“It’s his opinion obviously,” Curry said. “He’s probably been watching the league. People are going to ask what he thinks, especially his ties to the Warriors organization and myself specifically. Surprised me he said that. But, it is what it is.”

Curry had been vocally supportive of Jackson prior to the coach’s dismissal last offseason, something the Warriors point guard made mention of Friday.

“Obviously I wasn’t shy about trying to defend him last year when things were rumbling outside of our locker room,” Curry said. “But for him to … it’s kind of a different situation, but it is surprising that he didn’t.”

On Thursday, center Andrew Bogut, who had a less friendly relationship with Jackson, made light of his former coach’s opinion.

“Well what’s his name said no,” Bogut joked. “What’s that guy’s name? Mark? Mark? I don’t remember his name.”

***

No. 3: Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple — If you’re an NBA fan of college age or younger, you probably can’t remember a season in which the San Antonio Spurs did not win at least 50 games in a season. Their remarkable streak at that level stretches 16 years now, a testament to the staying power of coach Gregg Popovich and his Hall-of-Fame-bound core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Our man Fran Blinebury wrote about the uncommon professional and personal relationships that have produced all that success, and here’s a taste to whet your appetite for more:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half the marriages in the United States are over by the eighth year, which makes the union of the Spurs and consistent excellence — at twice that length — an accomplishment of tolerance, dedication and bliss.

By defeating Denver on Friday night, the Spurs have now won 50 games for 16 consecutive seasons, extending their NBA record half a decade beyond the next longest strings. The Los Angeles Lakers (1980-91) are in second place with 12.

“Think about it. There’s not many marriages that last 16 years,” said ESPN analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy. “Think about working that closely together in a relationship, under that pressure and scrutiny and still enjoying each other’s company.

“What they’ve done is sustained greatness. I think that’s much more telling than five championships. First of all, it’s something that nobody’s done before. Winning 50 and having a plus-.500 road record all that time, to me that’s incredible.

“I am totally against the whole mindset that everything is about championships when it comes to evaluating players, evaluating teams. ‘Did they win a championship?’ Really, is that all you’ve got? I’m telling you, sustaining greatness is much harder than a one-, two- or three-year greatness.”

The Spurs’ run has been much like their style of play — more of a steady hum than a loud roar.

***

No. 4: Bulls flirting with disappointment?Pau Gasol showed emotion near the end of the Chicago Bulls’ victory beyond his normal veteran’s range, yelling and mugging as a release after his offensive rebound and putback against Detroit’s formidable Andre Drummond secured a victory Friday at United Center. But it was Gasol’s more measured comments afterward that ought to get a rise out of Chicago fans, because he speaks from experience when talking about championship teams and the edge they need in the postseason. The Bulls, in Gasol’s view, still are searching, according to the report filed by ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell:

The 14-year veteran, who earned two championships as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, knows what it takes to win a title, and that’s why he’s a little concerned by what he has seen from his new team, the Chicago Bulls, over the past couple of games. After a poor performance on Wednesday night in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bulls followed up by sleepwalking through the second half and almost blowing a winnable game against the Detroit Pistons on Friday night. Like the rest of his teammates, Gasol is still convinced the Bulls have time to turn around their bad habits, but unlike most of his younger teammates, the All-Star center understands that time is running out.

“There’s not a magic button here,” Gasol said. “What you see in the regular season is what you’re going to get in the playoffs. So we have to try to be more consistent in the last six games that we have and that’s going to determine what we’ll see probably in the playoffs. Now every game, it’s meaningful, and that we have to be aware of that because you can’t expect things to click when it’s crunch time, when everybody is on. So you just got to do whatever you have to on a daily basis to put yourself in the best place regularly so you get to the playoffs and maybe try to turn it up like everybody else.”

The good news for the Bulls is that they found a way to win on Friday night. So often during this up-and-down season they have found ways to lose games like this — to weaker teams that don’t have the same level of talent. But as the Bulls get set for what they hope is a long run in the postseason, veterans such as Gasol and fellow championship club member, Nazr Mohammed, know that the great teams have to play better than the Bulls are playing right now.

“We just got to keep getting better,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “We got to understand what we’re playing for. We’re playing for a lot at stake right now. It was good to see guys like Naz [Mohammed] and some of our veterans speak up tonight and understand how crucial this win was.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Portland guard Wesley Matthews long trek back from a torn Achilles is getting serialized by The Oregonian. … Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic also is facing issues – and surgery – on his aching right foot, and sounds a little concerned about his future both on and off the court. … Hall of Famer John Stockton is helping as an assistant coach with Gonzaga Prep’s girls team, lending his hoops wisdom and getting valuable father-daughter time with Laura Stockton. … Kyle Lowry wants to play again before the playoffs, but the Toronto Raptors point guard also wants to be cautious with the back spasms that have sidelined him. … Boston’s Jared Sullinger came back Friday earlier than expected from a stress fracture, and he has lightened the load on that foot by 20 pounds. … Sounding more like part of the problem than part of the solution in Miami, Heat guard Mario Chalmers says he doesn’t know his role these days.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 23


VIDEO: Highlights of Sunday’s action from around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Everybody is knocking the Knicks these days, even Phil | Emotional Heat rallying behind Bosh, Dragic | Westbrook takes control in Oklahoma City | Fire still burns for Scott (and Bryant) in Lakers-Celtics rivalry

No. 1:  Everybody is knocking the Knicks these days, even Phil — You, too, Phil Jackson? As if the Knicks didn’t have it bad enough this season, now their boss is taking shots at them. In the aftermath of Sunday’s woeful performance at Madison Square Garden against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the critics were out in full force on social media and everywhere else. And that includes Jackson, who took to Twitter to level the team he’s been charged with fixing. Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com provides the dirty details:

 

The Knicks lost by 18 points to the Cavs on Sunday to extend their losing streak to seven games. New York is an NBA-worst 10-45.

Sunday’s loss to Cleveland might have hit Jackson a little harder than others.

J.R. Smith — the ex-Knick Jackson traded away in a salary dump last month — torched the Knicks for 17 points and four assists in the blowout. Smith hooked up with Iman Shumpert — the fourth-year guard Jackson sent to Cleveland in the same trade — for an eye-popping alley-oop in the fourth quarter that is sure to make all the highlight shows.

The Knicks, on the other hand, couldn’t muster any highlights for their home crowd. They fell behind by 19 in the first quarter and shot just 37 percent from the floor overall, including 3-for-19 (16 percent) from beyond the arc.

New York is well on its way to establishing the worst record in franchise history (the previous mark is 21 wins).

It’s been a nightmare season for Jackson, who stated publicly at the beginning of the season that he believed the Knicks were a playoff team.

***

No. 2: Emotional Heat rallying behind Bosh, Dragic — Chris Bosh‘s season is over. His Miami Heat teammates digested that blow during an exhausting long weekend (from the trade deadline through a weekend loss to the New Orleans Pelicans). And now they have begun the process of trying to recover emotionally from the news that the blood clots in Bosh’s lungs will change all of their lives to welcoming new point Goran Dragic and trying to salvage this season with a playoff berth. They will find out what they are made of this season, what with all of the adversity they will have dealt with by the regular season’s end. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald provides some perspective:

After an emotional 55-hour whirlwind in which Miami split back to-back games, acquired a former third-team All-NBA point guard and learned that All-Star forward Chris Bosh will miss the rest of the season with blood clots in his lungs, most Heat players resisted any temptation to exhale or enjoy a lazy Sunday morning.

Instead, they convened at AmericanAirlines Arena for a voluntary on-court session designed to expedite the acclimation of new Heat point guard Goran Dragic, in advance of Monday’s home game against Philadelphia.

“One of my biggest priorities will be to make Goran feel comfortable as soon as we can,” coach Erik Spoelstra said Sunday afternoon at the Heat’s annual Family Festival. “That’s why we came in… [for] an optional workout that most of the guys showed up to.

“We’ve had to do this already, three, four, five times, where we’ve had to try to get organized with a different lineup, and we’ve become pretty efficient in fast-tracking that process. How long that will take for him, I don’t know, but it’s a priority for me. He’s a high-IQ player. He’ll be able to pick thing up quickly, find out where he can be aggressive and help the team, and that’s what [Sunday] was about.”

Dragic bemoaned his Heat debut Saturday in which he scored 12 points (all in the second half) and shot 4 for 11 with one assist and one turnover in 33 minutes in Miami’s 105-91 loss to New Orleans.

“It was tough. Sometimes you didn’t know where to go,” he said.

Spoelstra noted that “much of our plan early in the season was built around either Chris Bosh or Josh [McRoberts] having the ball in their hands and facilitating the next action. Obviously, that is a big change now.”

On Saturday, Spoelstra at times experimented with a smaller lineup with Luol Deng, Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers paired with one natural power-rotation player.

“It gives us an opportunity to make some plays off the dribble,” Spoelstra said. “As we move forward, we’ll find out if that’s something I go to more. It wasn’t necessarily successful [Saturday]. The alternative wasn’t necessarily successful, either, so I can’t really gauge that right now. But I can certainly see that being a strength of ours, having three guys that can make plays.”

Dragic was often at his best for Phoenix when he pushed the ball and played at a faster tempo. He now joins a team that was last in the league in average possessions per game. So does Spoelstra want to play faster?

“The team will tell us ultimately, but we want to play to his strengths,” Spoelstra said. “We have to defend. We have to be able to play off of misses.”

Regarding the Heat’s pace, Dragic said: “I talked with coach, and I want to play a little bit faster. But it takes time, of course, because last year with LeBron [James], all those guys played fast, but with all the situations with the injuries, coach put that system in that’s slow. Everyone needs to adjust. First of all, I need to adjust to all the players because I’m new here.”

Wade said Sunday he would be “fine” with running more: “When a team misses, let’s get out and see if we can get in transition and get some easy buckets. I need some easy buckets, especially right now to get my rhythm back.”

Wade loved the trade for Dragic but admits “I have to get used to a guy that can create so much attention by putting the ball on the floor. I’m normally that guy.

“It was different when LeBron was here because I was in a different place on the court. Now I have to kind of get used to playing with him and vice versa. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to take some trial and error, but I think we can make it up with his ability to attack and finish. It’s going to be good for us. He’s dynamic.”

***


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook’s not a point guard, huh?

***

No. 3: Westbrook takes control in Oklahoma City — The question has lingered for years, whose team is it anyway in Oklahoma City? Kevin Durant is the MVP, the star of stars. But Russell Westbrook has always been their emotional leader, the guy who makes them go, even when Durant is on the floor and healthy. Now that Durant is sidelined again with foot soreness, Westbrook has taken complete control of the situation and is driving the Thunder up the standings. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman has more:

A fabulous first quarter was quickly coming undone.

Six empty possessions, marred by four missed shots and two turnovers, to start the second quarter were all Scotty Brooks needed to see. All the momentum the Thunder had constructed in closing the opening period on a 24-6 run was being squandered before his eyes. An 18-point lead had been trimmed to 12.

And so Brooks did what any sensible coach would do.

He reinserted Russell Westbrook.

And Westbrook proceeded to do what he’ll need to do for at least the next week while Kevin Durant recovers from a second surgery on his troublesome right foot.

He dominated play.

Westbrook scored a game-high 21 points, tied his career high of 17 assists and added eight rebounds to lead the Thunder to an authoritative 119-94 win over Denver on Sunday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“He was nearly flawless,” Brooks said.

With four new players added at this year’s trade deadline and, more importantly, news of Durant being out at least one week after undergoing surgery Sunday to place a new screw in his foot to alleviate chronic soreness, Westbrook will have to be at his best in the weeks ahead.

If Sunday was any indication, Westbrook is up for the challenge.

One night after posting 33 points and 10 assists in a win at Charlotte, Westbrook was even better against the Nuggets.

He made 8 of 12 shots and turned the ball over only twice, the first of which didn’t come until 9:41 was left in the third quarter.

“I’m just trying to do a better job of leading, man,” Westbrook said. “That’s my job is to integrate the new guys and lead them into the direction of where we want to go.”

Westbrook was sensational in that second quarter.

That’s when he racked up 10 of his assists after retaking the floor with 8:40 left in the period. It was in that stretch that Westbrook put on the kind of rare passing display that the best point guards regularly use to dominate a game without even shooting.

“I just don’t dominate the game scoring,” Westbrook said, smiling.

Westbrook hooked up with five different teammates during those final nine minutes, making each of them threats and the Thunder a nightmare for the Nuggets to defend.

By the time he was done, Westbrook had scored or assisted on 29 of the Thunder’s 31 points in the period. The Thunder ended the frame on a 31-18 run and took a 25-point lead into the locker room.

Westbrook attempted only two shots in the second quarter. Both were 3-point tries. And he made both.

“I think it’s great not just for myself but good for the rest of my teammates,” Westbrook said of his playmaking. “I think they feel comfortable about their game. I can get mine and take shots when I have the opportunity. But I think it’s great for them to have open shots and open looks and feel great about their game. And as you see it works out for us.”

***

No. 4: Fire still burns for Scott (and Bryant) in Lakers-Celtics rivalry — Don’t tell Lakers coach Byron Scott the NBA’s bi-coastal cold war is over. He is still caught up in the Lakers-Celtics rivalry from decades ago, the one he played a major part in as a player.  When two of the most storied franchises in all of sports are down and out simultaneously, the folks on the inside have to find motivation wherever they can get it. For Scott, whose star Kobe Bryant is down for the season, that means keeping the fire burning in terms of his disdain for the Celtics. Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com explains:

The players and coaches that made the Lakers-Celtics rivalry one of the most storied in sports history are nearly all gone now.

The only one left, on the court anyway, as the two teams met at Staples Center on Sunday was Byron Scott, whose disdain for the Boston Celtics as a Los Angeles Lakers player in the 1980s has carried over to his time as a Lakers coach.

“Probably not,” Scott said Sunday when asked if he could have coached the Celtics. “Seriously. Probably not, coached or played for them. I couldn’t be like Rick Fox and played for both.”

When they reminisce about great Lakers and Celtics games in history, Sunday’s game will be nothing more than a forgotten footnote. A momentary blip in the radar as both teams attempt to quickly rebuild into the championship contending teams again.

The only two that probably felt like Sunday’s game had any added significance was Scott and Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations.

“It’s probably more of a rivalry between Danny and me than the guys in the locker room,” Scott said. “He’s in the front office sitting there probably saying if we don’t win another game, let’s beat them. The guys in the locker room probably don’t understand the history of the rivalry between these two franchises and that’s unfortunate. … It’s the best rivalry in all of sports.”

The chances of the Lakers and Celtics ever rekindling the decade-long magic they had in the 1960s and 1980s are pretty slim in the current NBA. It’s more likely they could get together for a three-year reunion like they enjoyed from 2008 to 2010.

“Guys jump up and move around so much so often nowadays, Scott said. “They don’t have the same type of loyalty that we used to in those days with one organization.”

The one player who does is Kobe Bryant, who is going into the last year of his contract with the Lakers next season, which will give him an unprecedented 20 seasons with one team.

Bryant told the “Grantland Basketball Hour” on Sunday that he isn’t looking for a Derek Jeter-like farewell tour next season and isn’t even sure if next season will be his last. Scott this week even raised the possibility of Bryant playing a season or two past his current deal depending on how he looks.

No matter what Bryant decides to do after next season, he will play a big role in the Lakers’ plans at recruiting free agents this summer and getting them to believe that the Lakers are not far from becoming a contending team again if they came on board.

“I think Kobe still has that pull and it’s an attraction for guys,” Scott said. “I think this organization speaks for itself as far as what we’re all about and that’s an attraction in itself.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Portland Trail Blazers’ fourth quarter troubles could be paralysis by analysis … Don’t look now, but the Indiana Pacers are warming up at just the right time … Every move made and the analysis to go with it from NBA.com’s Trade Tracker … The new-look Pistons look ready to rock

ICYMI:  Admit it Knicks fans, this is one of those times when you actually miss J.R. Smith …


VIDEO: J.R. Smith goes showtime at the Garden

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 22




VIDEO: Highlights of games played Feb. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No roar for Dragon | Davis hurt again | Rockets get bench blast | J.R. returns to Garden | No buyout for Prince

No. 1: Dragic can’t light fire in Miami debut — Only hours after being officially introduced as a member of the Heat, Goran Dragic had to cram to learn the Miami playbook on his iPad, but he couldn’t learn enough or adjust fast enough to overcome the loss of Chris Bosh and avoid a loss to the visiting Pelicans. Dragic missed his first five shots of the games and the Heat could never quite get comfortable in their first game with the new point guard, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

“We have some work to do,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re not going to make excuses for it. It was a very emotional day.”

Even with the Pelicans losing forward Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson for the night, and perhaps longer, with injuries in the first half, the Heat fell behind by 25 early in the third quarter on the way to falling to 9-16 at home and 23-31 overall, now in an even more tenuous position in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

“Bringing in a dynamic player and losing a dynamic player, we have to start over,” guard Dwyane Wade said. “We can’t feel story for ourselves. We still have an opportunity to make the playoffs.”

With Goran Dragic missing his first five shots, and with Wade uneven in completing a back-to-back set in his first home game since Jan. 27, the Heat lacked nearly enough, even with Mario Chalmers making his first seven shots and closing with 20 points and with center Hassan Whiteside getting back on double-double track with 11 points and 16 rebounds.

“It looked like we were strangers out there on both ends of the court,” Spoelstra said. “We can fix that. We’ll continue to try to simplify the package.”

“We’ll keep scaling back until everybody feels comfortable with whatever package we have. We looked cluttered in the mind.”
For the Heat, the search for continuity presented another ragged ride, with assists at a premium.

“We have some work to do,” Spoelstra said. “We have some work to do and I think tonight showed that.”

***

No. 2: Pelicans get win, but lose A.D., Anderson — For a team with just four wins in its last 10 games and fading hopes of keeping pace in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, it was a costly victory for the Pelicans Saturday night. They beat Miami, but saw forwards Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson both leave the game with injuries. John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune has the details:

Pelicans star forward Anthony Davis was forced out of Saturday night’s game against the Miami Heat in the first quarter after re-injuring his right shoulder when he collided into Heat center Hassan Whiteside on a shot attempt.
Davis grimmaced in pain as he walked toward the Pelicans’ bench before coach Monty Williams was forced to call a timeout with 3:06 remaining in the quarter.

The Pelicans said Davis aggravated his right shoulder and was unable to return.

Backup forward Ryan Anderson also was forced out of the game in the second quarter after he suffered a sprained right knee.
Last week, Davis was forced to miss two games and skip this past Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game after spraining his right shoulder after a Feb. 7 game against the Chicago Bulls after he fell hard following a dunk. He returned on Friday night against the Orlando Magic.

***

No. 3: Brewer picks Rockets off the deck — It’s not always the James Harden Solo Show in Houston, even though it most often seems that way. One night after they were flat and flattened in Dallas, Corey Brewer came off the bench to provide the spark the Rockets needed to end the Raptors club record five-game road winning streak. Our man Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has the report:

Yet, a night after a lethargic, sloppy loss in Dallas, no matter what might have gone wrong, the Rockets did one thing right. They played hard, with energy and effort that the Raptors could not match. A game that seemed about its headline stars became instead about Corey Brewer flying around the court like a live electrical wire until he and the Rockets high-voltage reserves drove the Rockets to a 98-76 rout of the Raptors Saturday at Toyota Center.
“Last night was a rough game,” said Brewer, who had season-highs with 26 points and 10 rebounds. “We didn’t have any energy coming back from the break and they beat us, they beat us pretty bad. Tonight, I feel like personally I had to bring energy. I just came out and played hard and everything worked out.”
The energy off the bench from Brewer, Josh Smith and Terrence Jones so completely took the game from the muck of the first half to a second-half blowout, that the Rockets seemed revived, as if they had recaptured something lost long before they were overwhelmed in losses heading in and out of the break.
“We talked about it today,” said Harden, who escaped from an 0 for 6 first half to score 16 of his 20 points in the third quarter. “Early in the season, we were locking teams down. We were the … No. 2 defensive efficiency in the league. We have to get back to those ways.
“It’s about effort and energy. When you have the entire team like that for four quarters it’s tough to beat us.”

***

No. 4: J.R. Smith comes back with more shots at the triangle — He’s settling in comfortably in the rotation of the surging Cavaliers and his new coach David Blatt is calling him a dream. But approaching the first game back at Madison Square Garden since being traded by the Knicks, J.R. Smith is still hammering away at Phil Jackson’s triangle in a conversation with Marc Berman of the N.Y. Post:

“I don’t want to say I felt different [since the trade], [the system] was just easier to play,” Smith said. “The style of basketball we play suits my game — run and gun, shoot open shots. Just play.
“It was tough from a mental standpoint. You start second-guessing yourself and your talent to a certain point. So many guys thrived in that triangle, and you want to put yourself in that class. Not living up to it is kind of disappointing.”

Asked the toughest part of mastering the Derek Fisher/Jackson system, Smith gave his most detailed complaint yet.

“The toughest thing is we didn’t run enough,” Smith said. “With the talent we had, there was no transition offense. It was bring the ball up, run our set and go from there. Everything is a read. So I may not be reading the same thing as the next person is reading. Before you know it, you got turnovers, missed shots and bad transition defense.”

***

No. 5: Van Gundy says Prince buyout would be “dumb” — Let’s get this straight. Stan Van Gundy might have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. The Pistons coach and team president said he didn’t trade for veteran Tayshaun Prince at the deadline on Thursday just to buy out the contract of the former Detroit champion. SVG told Brendan Savage of mlive.com that a buyout of Prince would simply make no sense:

“The reason Boston made the trade is to save money,” said Van Gundy, the Pistons coach and team president. “We’re paying Tayshaun more money. If he was going to get bought out, he should have done it in Boston. They should let him be bought out. That’s not on me to buy him out. That’s not part of the deal.
“We weren’t told of this until after we made the trade by Tayshaun’s agent. Why would we trade guys who are making less money to take on more money to waive him? That would have been the dumbest personnel move ever.

“It’s not on us.”

Van Gundy was asked if the Pistons should give a veteran like Prince, who doesn’t fit in their long-term plans, the chance to play for another championship.

“I understand he didn’t get what he wanted but the question you’re asking should be asked of (Celtics president) Danny Ainge, not of us,” Van Gundy said. “We didn’t break any agreement with him. There’s no reason for us to buy him out. They could have bought him out if that’s what they wanted to do.

“We wouldn’t have traded for a guy to take on an additional $1.2 million … to waive the guy. Why would we do that? And then we’d still need another guy at that position. If that were the case, we would have kept the guys we traded out and Boston could have waived him.

“I understand he’s upset because he was led to believe one thing but that’s certainly not on us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Andrei Kirilenko is headed back to Europe…Kobe Bryant says he will “die trying” in his comeback next season…Arron Afflalo writes that he’s chasing a championship at new home in Portland..Isaiah Canaan is the starting point guard in Philly.

Love leaves game with eye injury


VIDEO: Love leaves game with eye injury

As if Kevin Love‘s first season in Cleveland wasn’t already uncomfortable enough, it turned painful when the power forward was raked in the eye Wednesday night.

Love was hit in the face by Miami’s Mario Chalmers early in the third quarter and immediately dropped to the floor near the Cleveland bench.

Love appeared to be in a good bit of pain as he headed to the Cavaliers’ locker room with a towel covering his eye.

Cleveland held a 64-48 lead at the time of the injury and the Cavaliers announced that Love would not return to the game. He had scored 12 points with six rebounds and six assists in 20 minutes.


VIDEO: Kevin Love discusses the eye injury he suffered vs. the Heat

 


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