Posts Tagged ‘Mark Cuban’

Morning shootaround — March 28


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks clinch Eastern Conference | Mavericks lose Ellis | What’s next for Thunder, Durant? | Shaq would have stayed in Orlando

No. 1: Hawks clinch Eastern Conference — Coming into this season, the Atlanta Hawks were dealing with an underwhelming free agency period, a GM on an indefinite leave of absence, and an ownership group that wanted to sell the franchise. And then the season started, which the Hawks used as a terrific reminder that all the off the court noise ends there, and what really matters is the results on the floor. Friday night, with a win over the Miami Heat, the Hawks moved to 55-17 on the season and clinched the Eastern Conference championship. Yet despite the incredible season and improbable title, as Jeff Schultz writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks acted like it was no big deal …

The Hawks clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs Friday night and they acted as if they had just beaten Milwaukee on a Tuesday in November.

That’s probably a good thing.

“Maybe we’ll do a little, ‘Hip-hip, hooray’ on the plane,” Kyle Korver said.

“I mean, it’s great,” Paul Millsap said. “But we really haven’t been focusing on it. We’ve got bigger goals ahead. We haven’t been looking at the scoreboard or looking at other teams. We’ve been looking at ourselves, trying to get ourselves right.”

The Hawks (55-17), playing the best defense they had in a few weeks, led Miami by 18 points at halftime (55-37) and cruised to a 99-86 win over the remains of the Heat.

Miami isn’t the same team without LeBron James (Cleveland) and Chris Bosh (injured), and with Dwyane Wade seemingly playing on one leg. The Heat’s bandwagon fan base, which used to fill Philips Arena, also appears to have shrunk, or at least morphed into Cleveland fans. Funny how that works.

But the Hawks’ win, combined with Cleveland’s loss to Brooklyn, officially clinched the East, even if it was a bit anti-climactic. It almost seemed fitting that when coach Mike Budenholzer walked into the locker room minutes after the game to tell his players that the Cavaliers had lost, half of the team was in the showers.

“Bud found out, came in and there were only like five guys in here,” Korver said. “He was like, ‘Good accomplishment, we won the East.’”

***

No. 2: Mavericks lose Ellis — The Dallas Mavericks have made several changes this season — trading for Rajon Rondo, signing Amar’e Stoudemire — and despite the growing pains involved they have managed to remain in the playoff picture. But a calf injury last night to Monta Ellis not only got Mark Cuban fired up on Twitter, but without Ellis on the floor, as Tim McMahon writes for ESPNDallas.com, the Mavericks offense was a “hot mess” …

The Dallas offense didn’t exactly look healthy without its leading scorer. The Mavs scored a grand total of 22 points in the final 18:43 without Ellis, finishing with their second-lowest point total of the season.

Of course, the Mavs didn’t quite light it up in the first half with a healthy Ellis, either. Dallas scored only 41 points in the first half, shooting 38.6 percent from the floor. But the Mavs closed the first half with a 10-2 run, capped by Ellis speeding through the Spurs for a coast-to-coast layup, and opened the second half with a 13-4 spurt to slash the Spurs’ lead to four.

Then Ellis limped off the floor with 6:43 remaining in the third quarter, a little bit after he got kneed in the calf while defending Manu Ginobili, and took the life out of the Mavs’ offense with him. Dallas didn’t score for the next 3:03 and managed only 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Forwards Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons failed to pick up the slack with Ellis out. They both failed to score in double figures, combining for only 16 points, none of which came in the fourth quarter.

Was that hot mess a preview of the Mavs’ offense minus Ellis?

“We’ll find out,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said before correcting himself. “Hopefully, we won’t have to find out.”

The Mavs will know more about Ellis’ status on Saturday, but his streak of playing in 237 consecutive games is certainly in jeopardy. The Mavs’ next game is Sunday night in Indiana.

“We just have to wait and see what the doctors say and how he feels tomorrow,” Nowitzki said. “Hopefully, he will be OK. We all know he plays injured and sick and he is always there for his team.”

It could be painful to watch the Mavs without their best creator by far, but it also might be in everyone’s best interest if Ellis misses some time. The Mavs have no hope of making a playoff run if Ellis isn’t at his best.

Ellis’ toughness can’t be questioned. He has proven repeatedly that he’ll fight through pain and play through injuries. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, particularly with the playoffs weeks away.

Ellis refused to even consider missing any games after straining his left hip two games before the All-Star break. The injury bothered Ellis for weeks, a major factor in an extended slump he finally busted out of with his 38-point performance in Tuesday’s home win over the Spurs.

“Our trainers will evaluate the situation, and we’ll communicate with him,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t see us putting him out there if he’s not feeling good. You can’t underestimate his ability to bounce back from things. He’s a fighter, he loves to compete and he hates missing games. That said, we aren’t going to put him in harm’s way.”

***

No. 3: What’s next for Thunder, Durant? — The Oklahoma City Thunder have had bad luck with injuries, but even as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have missed time the last few seasons, Kevin Durant was able to carry the load, logging heavy minutes and scoring hundreds of points. But after winning the MVP a season ago, this season Durant hasn’t been able to shake the injury bug, and after having two surgeries on his right foot since the summer, the Thunder announced yesterday that Durant will need a third surgery on that right foot that will keep him out four to six months. The bone graft procedure Durant is in for should give Durant his best shot yet at fixing his troublesome right foot. And with free agency for Durant looming in the summer of 2016, as Royce Young writes at Daily Thunder, there are plenty of questions left to answer …

The big question I’m seeing a lot is, “Did Durant come back too quickly?”

The answer is, yeah, probably, in hindsight. But also what you have to understand is the team is in constant consultation with specialists about this. And sometimes, things don’t go as anticipated. It’s not like they were just saying, “I don’t care, get Durant back out there before we lose more games.”

In these situations, it makes everyone feel better to assign blame. Point a finger at someone, lash out, yell, gripe, whatever. And in truth, it probably is someone’s fault in there. Maybe it’s Durant’s. Maybe it’s Sam Presti’s. Maybe it’s the medical team. Maybe it’s your fault, ever think of that?

What’s necessary to keep in mind, though, is no one was being irresponsible here. If Durant did return earlier than he should of, it’s only because he was cleared to do so. The team and Durant can only operate off of what they’re being told, and up until literally a week and a half ago, this thing was healing the way it was supposed to. The thought was that the screwhead had created a severe bone bruise from the constant rubbing, and Durant just couldn’t shake it off without significant time off. That’s what everyone thought. I was told by someone that’s pretty close to it all that he was going to play against the Celtics two weeks ago. That’s how unexpected this turn of events became.

Durant practiced on that Saturday before, doing some 3-on-3, then he played 1-on-1 in Dallas on Monday. And after that, he walked out of the arena with a severe limp, and pretty deflated. It wasn’t improving the way it was supposed to with the increased activity and at that point, the writing was really on the wall.

It doesn’t look good that Durant has had three surgeries on his foot. One is plenty. One is supposed to do the job. With what happened last season with Russell Westbrook, there’s good reason to wonder what’s going on. But I’d look at it this way: The Thunder’s conservative approach opens the door for them to get egg on their face. They didn’t mess around with Westbrook, taking a chance to let him play on a swollen knee. They pulled the plug, and made the decision to scope and deal with the consequences and fallout.

And then they did it again. They knew there would be skeptics and critics, questioning what the hell they were doing. But instead of delaying for the offseason to address it, they prioritized the long-term health of Westbrook and made the decision with only that in mind.

I’d say it worked out pretty well for them, and Westbrook.

The Thunder could’ve taken a different measure here with Durant. They could’ve rested him the next few weeks, then put him back on the practice floor and tried to ease him back on the floor for the postseason. That option was absolutely on the table.

But in collaboration with literally three of the top foot and ankle specialists in the world, the consensus was to go ahead and take the steps to end Durant’s season and do the bone graft. Instead of risking anything in his future, they’re going to just take advantage of the coming offseason which should let him completely heal, and then start over next season.

***

No. 4: Shaq would have stayed in OrlandoShaquille O’Neal began his pro career with the Orlando Magic, and he lasted four seasons before leaving Orlando in bitter circumstances and signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. But time heals all wounds, or at least it does in the Magic Kingdom, and last night the Magic welcomed Shaq back and inducted him into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. In his remarks during the festivities, as Josh Robbins writes in the Orlando Sentinel, Shaq said if he could do it over again, he would have played out his seven-year contract in Orlando and handled things differently …

Flanked by Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, the mammoth center led Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals, where the Magic lost to Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston Rockets in four games.

The next year, the Magic fell to Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals in four games.

O’Neal never played for the Magic again.

The Magic initially made him a low offer, and the Lakers swooped in with a $121 million offer and the lure of Hollywood.

The Magic eventually offered O’Neal a deal that eclipsed the Lakers’ offer, but it was too late. Restricted free agency didn’t exist in those days, so the Magic were powerless to prevent O’Neal from leaving.

And he left.

“We came back later and beat the Lakers’ offer at the closing minutes,” said Magic co-founder and Magic Hall of Famer Pat Williams. “But, emotionally, Shaq was gone.”

O’Neal was 24-years-old when he spurned the Magic in favor of the Lakers.

“It was all business,” O’Neal said. “Do I regret it? I never fully answered. I regret it sometimes. This is where I started, where I should’ve stayed. I actually wish that they [had] made it a law that whoever drafted you, you’ve got to stay there your whole career. No trades. No nothing. No free agency. No anything like that. Do I regret it? I regret it only because the DeVos family, they deserve a couple [of NBA titles].”

As it turned out, he didn’t finally win a title with the Lakers until 2000 — four years after he left the Magic.

“I just wish I would’ve had more patience,” O’Neal revealed. “It was all about I wanted to be protected from the bashing. What I mean by that [is] I wanted to win then. Even when I got there [to L.A.], I still got bashed and it still took four years to win. But I was very impatient. I was very young, and I thought that if I go there with those guys out there, that I could win right away. And that wasn’t the case.

“So now that I’m older now, I wish as a youngster, I wish I had had more patience.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Jazz player and announcer Hot Rod Hundley has died at 80 … Warriors big man Draymond Green has launched a line of t-shirts poking fun at Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers … The Rockets got Dwight Howard back from injury and now lose big man Donatas Motiejunas for a few weeks with a back injury … The Heat hope to get Hassan Whiteside back by the playoffs … The Nets have signed Earl Clark to a 10-day contract

Cuban defends Ellis on Twitter

Mark Cuban is upset with the officiating and in other news, the basketball is round.

OK, jokes aside, Cuban took to Twitter to complain about the calls, or lack of them, against Monta Ellis during a crucial stage of the Mavericks’ 18-point loss to the Spurs. Yes, an 18-point loss was a lot closer than that when the game changed. Ellis took a whack to the right leg midway through the third quarter with the Mavs down four points. He left for good and the Spurs tore away from the Mavs for good.

As for Cuban? Well, he wasn’t good with that.

Does commissioner Adam Silver and his team in the league office study film sent in by fans? Well, maybe they should brace themselves. Cuban has 2.8 million followers on Twitter.

A better question: Is that tweet from Cuban a fineable offense? Probably so, because it involves criticizing the officials. Not that Cuban is hurting for cash or even cares.

Cuban had a right to be upset about Ellis not being able to finish the game. Just three days earlier Ellis erupted for 38 against the Spurs in what was easily his best game of the season and allowed him to break free from a shooting slump. And now, this.

In the big picture, the loss allowed the Spurs to split the season series at 2 apiece and increase their lead over Dallas to 1 1/2 games for sixth place. The Mavericks probably aren’t in danger of being caught by OKC, not with Kevin Durant done for the season, if that’s any consolation.

There was no immediate word on the seriousness of Ellis’ injury and he’ll likely be re-evaluated Saturday.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Amazing Klay | Hawks soaring | Here come the Cavs? | Teletovic out for the season

No. 1: Amazing Klay — Last night against the Sacramento Kings, Golden State’s Klay Thompson did something last night nobody in the history of the NBA had ever managed to do: He scored 37 points in one quarter. He was so hot that nothing slowed him down, not double-teams, not timeouts. Thompson didn’t miss a shot in the period and scored 37 of Golden State’s 41 in the third, effectively ending the Kings’ chances with each increasingly improbable three. Diamond Leung, the Warriors’ beat writer from the Bay Area Media Group, writes that after the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr even compared Thompson to another wing player who was known to get buckets

He delivered the most electrifying game of his career, going 16-for-25 from the field and 11-for-15 from 3-point range in 33 minutes to lift the Warriors to their 35th win of the season at the midway point and a franchise-record 18th straight victory at home.

Thompson was 9-for-9 from 3-point range in the third as the rest of the Warriors kept passing him the ball in a quarter when he scored 37 of their 41 points.

“As many spectacular things as Michael (Jordan) did, which he did nightly, I never saw him do that,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who won three NBA championships playing with Jordan.

“It was reminiscent of Michael because it’s sort of otherworldly.”

The Kings as a team scored 22 in the third, and their hopes for an upset were dashed after Thompson began flicking his wrist.

Thompson made a steal, stepped back and made a 3-pointer to put the Warriors ahead 63-60 before hitting another to make it 66-64.

Stephen Curry fed him on a one-handed alley-oop after which Thompson continued his barrage. He even got a shooter’s roll on one of the 3-pointers.

Thompson brought down the house going it alone against the Kings defense with a jumper that gave the Warriors an 89-70 lead. Another 3-pointer made it 95-71.

“I was taking a lot of bad shots out there, but I was taking one until I missed, and I just got lucky,” Thompson said.

With 4.9 seconds in the third, Thompson hit two free throws that gave him 50 points for the game to become the 12th player in franchise history to score at least that number. His previous career highs were 41 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in November and eight 3-pointers at Sacramento last season.

Thompson hit two free throws in the fourth before checking out of the game to an ovation with 9:28 left.

“He was typical Klay,” Draymond Green said of Thompson on the sideline. “Just sitting there. His favorite line: ‘It’s crazy.’ That’s all he said.”

His third quarter had set the NBA record for points, and falling with it was a significant franchise mark. Wilt Chamberlain in his 100-point game in 1962 held the previous record with 31 points in a quarter.

“It’s that number 37 in a quarter that’s unbelievable. I thought I’d never see that,” Curry said after using his phone to watch video of Thompson’s performance again.

Up until Thompson began hoisting shots into history, the Warriors were struggling to put away Sacramento, which entered the game having lost five in a row.

Kerr was angry at halftime, telling his players he wouldn’t be calling plays in order to let them figure things out themselves. The Warriors had led by 18 points in the first quarter, but the Kings grabbed the lead after halftime.

“Get the ball to Klay, and Klay get the ball,” Kerr said. “Those are the two plays they ran.”

Said Thompson: “They just kept wanting to see the show. That’s what they kept telling me. When your teammates have confidence in you like that, you can do extraordinary things.”

***

No. 2: Hawks Soaring — Meanwhile, on the other coast, the Atlanta Hawks just keep winning. They entered last night’s game against Oklahoma City with a gaudy 35-8 record, winners of 14 in a row and 27 or their last 29. But that streak got put to a serious test last night as they hosted a potent Oklahoma City Thunder team hungry for a win. And through one half, after a dozen turnovers, the Hawks looked like they didn’t mind if their win streak came to an end. But that turned around in the second half, and the Hawks won going away, 103-93, for a franchise-record 15th win in a row

The Atlanta Hawks romped to their 15th straight victory, the longest streak in franchise history.

Don’t expect them to savor it for long.

This team is focused firmly on what’s in front of them.

Paul Millsap scored 22 points, Jeff Teague added 17 and the Hawks broke the record with a 103-93 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

“It’s a good accomplishment,” Millsap said, sitting in a rather somber locker room. “But it’s just another win.”

The wins keep piling up for a team that no one expected to be a title contender at the beginning of the season. Before a raucous sellout crowd, the Hawks came out on top for the 29th time in 31 games to extend their Eastern-best record to 36-8.

As usual, pretty much everyone chipped in.

Four starters were in double figures and backup point guard Dennis Schröder led a spurt at the start of the fourth quarter that helped the Hawks pull away. He finished with 13 points and five assists, igniting the arena with a towering finger roll that dropped gently through the net.

“Give me five really good guys,” Millsap said, “and I’ll go out there and win with ‘em.”

Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 22 points, but it wasn’t enough to extend their four-game winning streak.

Kevin Durant added 21 points, while Serge Ibaka with 13 was the only other Thunder player in double figures.

The Hawks were much more balanced. Al Horford had 14 points and 12 rebounds, while DeMarre Carroll chipped in with 13 points. Kyle Korver was the only starter who didn’t reach double figures, but even he chipped in with a play that had everyone talking: another dunk in the waning seconds of the first half that sent the Hawks to the locker room with a 48-47 lead.

They never trailed again, strolling off the court at the end with the public-address announcer screaming “15 in a row!”

“It’s cool to get your name in the record book,” Carroll said. “At the same time, we’ve got bigger tasks at hand. That’s making it to the playoffs and bringing an NBA championship to Atlanta.”

The crowd of 19,203 marked the third sellout in Atlanta’s last four games. In a sign that the attendance-challenged city is really getting behind its team, most of the crowd came to cheer for the home team rather than to see an out-of-town star.

“They’ve jumped on the bandwagon now,” Durant said. “The crowd was great tonight and really helped them out.”

He’s also impressed with what Atlanta is putting on the court.

“They’re a really good team,” he said – over and over again.

***

No. 3: Here come the Cavs? — It’s been a rough start for the Cleveland Cavaliers, marked by losing streaks, coaching questions, trades and injuries. But last night, with all the principles healthy and on the court together, the Cavaliers swatted the Charlotte Hornets, 129-90. It was Cleveland’s fifth straight win, and exactly the kind of dominant performance LeBron James and the Cavs were looking for when they constructed this team, writes the Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Joe Vardon

That’s five wins in a row for the Cavs after losing six straight. They limited the Hornets to 40 percent shooting and caused 12 turnovers.

“Right now, I feel like this is the team that I envisioned,” James said.

In the middle of a long season, there really isn’t anything more important James could say than that.

It’s been a turbulent return campaign for James in Cleveland, and even with these last five victories the Cavs are only 24-20 and in fifth place in the East.

James admitted his team is just one losing streak from all the progress, all the good feeling, unraveling again. He sounded, and looks, like he plans to guard against that.

A three-minute, 20-second stretch in the second quarter said it all.

Cleveland was already up by 22 when James came charging into the lane before pulling up for a short floater. Thirty-seven seconds later, he drove in for a finger roll and was fouled.

Then, a steal. After that, another layup. Next possession, two free throws.

Oh, there’s more.

James stole the ball again, this time dribbling down for a left-handed windmill dunk that sounds easier than it looked. [Kyrie] Irving drained a three and then he stole the ball. Four seconds later, [J.R.] Smith tossed a half-court alley-oop to James that he might not have even tried to catch a few weeks ago.

Still not done. James stole the ball, again, and the Cavs scored on a lob, again. James passed (from halfcourt, no less) and Kevin Love caught it for a layup.

At the end of that sequence, it was 62-27 with 5:48 to play in the half.

“This is the style of basketball I envisioned,” James said. “Obviously the points we put up I don’t envision that every night, but how we share the ball, how we defend, that should be our staple.”

Charlotte coach Steve Clifford was asked before the game if James looked different on film recently than when the Hornets last played him on Dec. 15. The reason for the question – James’ obvious progress athletically since his two-week rest from nagging injury.

“He always looks pretty good,” Clifford said. “So yesterday when I started, he’s always fun to watch. And then as you get closer to the game time and making decisions about how you’re going to try to stop him, it’s not nearly as much fun.”

***

No. 4: Teletovic out for the season — It hasn’t been a great season for the Brooklyn Nets, who’ve had to deal with injuries to Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, trade rumors, and talk that their owner wants to sell the franchise. And now they’re out another player, as forward Mirza Teletovic has been diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs, ending his season as he seeks treatment, writes Andrew Keh of the New York Times

Teletovic, a 29-year-old forward from Bosnia and Herzegovina, left Thursday’s game in Los Angeles after experiencing a shortness of breath and was transported to the California Medical Center.

The Nets on Friday morning said Teletovic would remain hospitalized to undergo further examination and begin treatment with blood thinners.

“Our first thoughts are with Mirza and his family,” General Manager Billy King said in a statement, praising the team’s medical staff and the emergency room doctors for their work. “I have visited with Mirza this morning and he is in good spirits as he begins his treatment and recovery.”

Blood clots can form for a variety of reasons, with long travel and surgical procedures among the most common risk factors. Blood clots near the lungs carry an increased risk of sudden death, said Dr. Alexis C. Colvin, a sports medicine specialist at Mt. Sinai Hospital, who was speaking generally and not about Teletovic’s specific case.

Teletovic posted a message on Twitter late Thursday night that read, “I had a small problem, but now everything is ok… Thx all fans from Bosnia, Spain and USA for support.”

The struggling Nets will miss Teletovic, who was averaging a career-high 22.3 minutes per game this season. They lost by 39 points to the Clippers, and their record dropped to 18-25. They had already been missing point guard Deron Williams, who fractured a left rib earlier this month.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Lakers and Kobe Bryant should get some clarity regarding the options for his injured shoulder after a meeting with doctors on Monday … Dallas’s Rajon Rondo sat down the stretch last night against Chicago, but Rondo and coach Rick Carlisle say it’s no big dealMark Cuban says the All-Star voting process is “absolutely, positively broken” … The Brandon Jennings/Brandon Knight trade is one of those rare deals that worked out well for both teams … Could the Clippers be free agent Nate Robinson‘s destination? …

Morning shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: Trevor Booker taps in possibly the shot of the year

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Booker practices those ‘circus’ shots | Tarpley, dead at 50, ‘could do it all’ | Cavs find sunshine through dark clouds | Rock bottom in 5 seconds for Nets

No. 1: Booker practices those ‘circus’ shots — Necessity is the mother of invention, but it occasionally can be the father of ridiculous. That’s how it felt Friday night in Oklahoma City, when Utah Jazz forward Trevor Booker took resourcefulness to an outrageous level and made not just the play of the night but the shot of the 2014-15 NBA season, at least based on rarity and degree of difficulty. Booker’s back-to-the-basket, no-time-except-to-tip, underhanded flip of a field goal attempt stunned pretty much everyone in the gym. Here’s Jazz beat writer Jody Genessey on the play:

With 0.2 seconds remaining on the shot clock, the Jazz got the ball out of bounds on the far sideline. The only shot that can even be completed in that amount of time is a tip, and that’s what Jazz coach Quin Snyder called for.

Booker said he didn’t even know the play that his coach barked out, so he headed to the hoop thinking Gordon Hayward would probably throw a lob. When that didn’t materialize, Booker rushed over toward Hayward and stopped with his back toward the basket.

That’s when, as the NBA marketing department might say, amazing happened.

Hayward made a bounce pass to Booker, who creatively and instinctively tipped the ball with both hands and flipped it up and over his head in the nick of time. It’s a move that might come in handy next summer when he plays volleyball again.

Incredibly, the ball plopped into the net, helping the Jazz take a 50-44 lead into the break.

“We try to cover a lot of game situations. That was not one,” Jazz coach Snyder said. “I have to say they manufactured that.”

While Snyder, Hayward and everyone else was startled, Booker grinned and immediately thought to the hours he and his cousin, Lakers forward Jordan Hill, spent practicing – yes, practicing – such goofball shots and situations. As cited by Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune:

“I know you won’t believe me, but I really do practice those shots,” he said in the locker room afterward. “My cousin [Lakers forward] Jordan Hill, he texted me after the game and said, ‘They’re not going to believe we practiced those shots all the time growing up.’ I guess you could say the hard work finally paid off.”

The Jazz lost the game, 99-94, and dropped to 13-24. But Booker was buoyant afterward about his team as well as that shot.

“That’s a good [team] right there,” he said of the Thunder. “Let’s not forget that they went to the Finals a couple years ago. We’re playing good ball right now, playing hard. I told the group, there’s no group I’d rather go to war with than these guys. We’re still trying to figure everything out, but as long as we keep playing hard the way we are, we’re going to be fine.”

***

No. 2: Tarpley, dead at 50, ‘could do it all’ — He was a child of the ’60s, which meant that Roy Tarpley was a young professional athlete in the ’80s, and while no decade has held exclusive rights to illegal drug use among major sports figures, that one ranks high. Tarpley was the seventh player picked in the 1986 NBA Draft – five spots after Len Bias, the poster guy for squandered dreams and tragic ends even today. Others taken early that day included Chris Washburn and William Bedford, two more whose careers washed out to substance abuse. Other sports had similar tales, and Tarpley’s came to an end with the news Friday that the former Dallas Mavericks forward had died at age 50. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News chronicled the sad news:

Cause of death was not immediately known Friday night, although when the Mavericks arrived in Los Angeles for their game Saturday against the Clippers, several members of the traveling party had been informed that liver failure was at least partly to blame.

The 6-11 Tarpley was the seventh pick in the 1986 draft by the Mavericks out of Michigan. In his second season, he was the NBA’s sixth man of the year before drugs and controversy shrouded the rest of his six seasons in the league.

According to a medical examiner’s report, Tarpley’s death happened at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. It is a sad ending to one of the most gifted players in franchise history. Tarpley had a rare combination of strength and speed that made him one of the best athletes of his era.

“Our condolences go out to the family of Roy Tarpley,” Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban said via Twitter. “RIP Roy. Mavs fans everywhere will remember you fondly.”

Tarpley’s off-court troubles probably followed him into the NBA from the University of Michigan and largely defined his time in Dallas, with the Mavericks assisting in significant ways. When he was right, he was very right; the 6-foot-11 native of Detroit averaged 12.6 and 10.0 rebounds in 280 regular season games over parts of six seasons. In 24 playoff games, his numbers were even better: 17.0 points, 12.8 rebounds and a 20.8 PER. He led the NBA in total rebound percentage (22.6) while winning the Sixth Man Award in 1987-88 and he led in that category again two years later. That’s the Tarpley fans would prefer to remember.

“If Roy had stayed healthy, he could have been one of the top 50 players ever,” said Brad Davis, the Mavericks’ radio analyst and player-development coach who played with Tarpley. “He could do it all, shoot, score, rebound, pass and defend. We’re all sorry to hear of his passing.”

Tarpley would spend most of his career battling personal problems. He was suspended by the NBA after five games in the 1989-90 season after being arrested for driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest. In 1991, he drew another suspension after a second DWI arrest and, a few months later, had a third violation and was banned from the league for violating the NBA’s drug-use policies.

He returned to the Mavericks briefly in 1994 but then was permanently barred in December 1995 for violating terms of his aftercare program.

***

No. 3: Cavs find sunshine through dark clouds — Some of us at Hang Time HQ have chided some of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ knee-jerk critics for ignoring the one thing everyone said that team would need in 2014-15, namely patience. Then again, a stretch of seven defeats in eight games, a four-game losing streak and two weeks without LeBron James – all while nearing the mid-point of January – might be an appropriate time to … PANIC! And yet, there was a calm of sorts about the Cavs after their 18-point drubbing at Golden State Friday and even some rays of optimism, as Cleveland beat guy Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com saw it:

It’s amazing how much the direction of a team can change once its members change the perception of their situation.

Monday in Philadelphia it seemed as low as you could go, with the Cavs blowing an early lead and losing to the laughingstock of the league with Kyrie Irving not making the trip because of a back injury and LeBron James away from the team, also nursing strains to his back and left knee while making a quick rehab trip down in Miami.

Five days later, with the team having pulled off two trades (in essence Dion Waiters for J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, and a couple of first-round picks for Timofey Mozgov and a second-rounder), Irving back in the lineup, and James back with the team for its five-game road trip — and even going through “minor” on-court activities for the first time since sitting out Dec. 30 — there’s some sunshine peaking through the clouds, according to coach David Blatt.

“It’s tough right now and I know it’s tough to see, but when we do get back to full strength, we’re going to be good,” said Kevin Love.

It was particularly noteworthy that Love was waving the encouragement flag because he took only 11 shots — compared to 23 apiece for Smith and Irving — but instead of focusing on his involvement in the offense after the fact, he set his sights on what the Cavs will look like in the near future.

Blatt took the same tone.

“I think you see we’re a better team today than we were yesterday and we were a week ago,” Blatt said. “I’m not even going to talk about the guys that aren’t playing, because we’re a better team today.”

The signs are more encouraging than sappy stuff like playing tough teams close – Houston, the Warriors – without their best player. There are no guarantees, but at least there have been some changes and the LeBron arrow is pointing up:

The new faces are already making their presence felt, whether it was Smith’s 27 points against the Warriors (“I told you coming in; I had nothing but a good feeling about J.R. joining our team,” Blatt said), or it was Mozgov’s nine points and eight rebounds in his debut and his reaction to how he was received (“The guys meet me so good,” the Russian-born Mozgov said in endearing broken English, “make me be the part of the family on the first day. … So, I love it”), or Shumpert’s competitive side relishing the fact he was leaving a sinking ship for a team that’s playoff-bound (“I didn’t want my season to end early,” Shumpert said).

There are no “gimme” games in the Western Conference, but Sacramento should be a winnable game on Sunday; and then, if James comes back just slightly ahead of his two-week rest schedule he could be in the lineup Tuesday in Phoenix, and if that happens you get the lame-duck Lakers next, and possibly have picked up a full head of steam going into the trip finale Friday against the Clippers.

***

No. 4: Rock bottom in 5 seconds for Nets — Realists in this league have a saying they occasionally invoke: “You are what your record is.” Pessimists around the Brooklyn Nets woke up Saturday believing that their team is about 10 games worse than its record, though, because the 16-19 Nets somehow blew a game against the 6-29 Philadelphia 76ers Friday night at the Barclays Center. The blog TheBrooklynGame.com had an intriguing snapshot of the team hitting rock bottom – actually, it was more of a film analysis, second-by-second, of Brooklyn’s best last chance in the game. It began with coach Lionel Hollins‘ admonitions that the Nets really aren’t a good team and then dissected an inbounds play that led to center Brook Lopez launching a prayer from beyond 3-point range on a failed attempt to win or tie:

With may-day approaching after three failed screens and little misdirection, Lopez shot up towards [Alan] Anderson, extending his left arm away from Nerlens Noel to catch the ball, as the only player left who had a chance.

The option was doomed from the start. The seven-footer, who has never made a three-pointer in the regular season, caught a wide pass from Anderson one-handed, spun counterclockwise to the middle of the floor, performed a ball-fake against the long and talented Noel to no avail, and flung a contested, fallaway three-pointer wide right, officially listed at 27 feet away but might as well have been from the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk.

“We’re honestly playing down to these teams these last few games,” Lopez said. “We’re better than this, and we’re doing it to ourselves. And we have to be better than this for the entirety of the game.”

It should’ve never come down to Lopez taking that final shot, because it never should’ve come down to a final shot at all.

“When we executed and made good decisions, and defended, and rebounded, we were ahead. Soon as we relaxed and made some bad decisions on offense, made some bad decisions on defense, they came back.”

Now, the Nets can only look ahead, and the road is ugly. 13 of the team’s 17 games before the All-Star break (and the trade deadline) come against teams slated to be in the playoffs, and that’s not including tomorrow night’s contest against the Detroit Pistons, who had won seven straight games before barely losing to the Atlanta Hawks, the Eastern Conference’s best team, Friday night.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Phoenix Suns considered Brandan Wright the “best backup center in the league” even before they acquired him from Boston. … Skip the soap-opera stuff, Mark Jackson‘s return to Golden State scarcely could have been more moving. … Don’t assume the Boston Celtics are done, even after they spend the weekend working out the kinks of their Jeff Green-to-Memphis trade. … No Kobe, no problem for the Lakers, who got a big boost off the bench from new guy Tarik Black. …

Rondo on the move to Dallas


VIDEO: The Inside crew talks Rondo

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Forget February’s trade deadline. Rajon Rondo didn’t even make it to Christmas.

The Boston Celtics agreed in principle to trade Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks for Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder and perhaps most important two future Draft picks, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

Rondo went into this season as one of the most likely All-Star caliber players to get moved at the deadline. The idea that a former All-Star and NBA champion would be comfortable sticking around for the arduous rebuilding project underway in Boston always seemed far-fetched. And yet both Rondo and Celtics boss Danny Ainge repeatedly dismissed trade chatter in training camp and earlier this season.

But with the Celtics’ season already destined for another trip to the lottery and the Mavericks recognition that an upgrade at point guard would give them a significant boost in a Western Conference race that is there for whatever team is willing to take the risk to chase it, grabbing Rondo seems like a no-brainer.

Pairing him with Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, Chandler Parsons and Monta Ellis gives the Mavericks one of the most talented and potent starting fives in the entire league.

Rondo is, or better yet, was, the last remaining member of the starting five from the Celtics’ “Big Three” championship team of 2008 — a group that included of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins.

UPDATE (12:04 AM): Rondo hits Twitter to thank his Boston fans and say hello to his new fans in Dallas …

Blogtable: Taking the best 16

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


BLOGTABLE: The best 2s | Charlotte vs. New York | A sweet 16


> Lately we’ve had some talk on conference imbalance and what can be done about it. One question: Do you like the idea of seeding the top 16 teams in the playoffs, regardless of conference? Any drawbacks?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI like this plan. Some East teams still would have an edge anyway, right, because their records get fattened against the lousiest clubs in their conference? Even so, it would help to squelch the six months of bellyaching we get from some in the media on this topic. I mostly consider this a pendulum problem that will swing the other way in time. But some seem hung up on fixing instantly anything they perceive isn’t “faaaair.” If instituted, their next freak-out would be over the travel demands of a Portland-Atlanta series.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Looking forward to that Miami-Portland first round playoff series. Boston-LA? Memphis-Sacramento? You think the media whining is loud now? Team complaints about travel fatigue? Wait til those happen. So Mark Cuban wants to go to the Eastern Conference because its so hard for his team in the West. For a guy who lives in the “Shark Tank,” he should know life sometimes bites. This is a solution in search of a problem.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The only drawback is that one conference will face a much easier schedule in the regular season and throw off the records that will determine the seedings. Beyond that, rank away. Just make sure to build in enough time. There could be coast-to-coast travel in the first round. If teams are going back and forth in a 2-2-1-1-1 format, and maybe on more than one occasion in that postseason, play will suffer.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The screaming you hear about conference imbalance is based on recent events, or lack thereof, in the East. As you know, these things are cyclical and who’s to say the East won’t be the better conference in another few years? There’s no need to push the red button and force change. Stick with the status quo and keep the conferences balanced in the postseason.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m not crazy about the idea, but I think it has to be done at this point. This is now 15 of the last 16 years in which the West has been the better conference. Some good teams are missing the playoffs and some bad teams are making them. But if you do it, you have to look at balancing the schedule, which will be tougher to do.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I feel like such a grumpy old man here, but I do not. I don’t think everyone should get a trophy for participation either. Seriously. Enough of this fairness doctrine being spread around the league. I’m reminded of the cyclical nature of sports and the fact that what appears one way now can change dramatically before you know it, rendering a hasty reaction foolish if we’re not careful. The divisional and conference format of the league has to mean something. There has to be some method to this madness. I understand we’re trying to reward teams in the tougher conference and a top-16 would make it “fair” to some. But I don’t believe that solves the problem when, say in a year or two, the Eastern Conference sees the balance of power shift in its direction.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It would be good if everyone played to a similar schedule. The hard problem to solve here is the scheduling: To fix it without losing a sense of regional rivalry and without adding to travel for the teams.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I do not like the idea. I understand the arguments in favor of the change, specifically that it should ostensibly make for more competitive matchups in the playoffs, which would make the entire league must-see TV and raise ratings (and revenues). But I’m also something of a new-school traditionalist, and I like the conferences and divisions, gerrymandered though they may be. Conferences will have ups and downs and at some point in the future the East will once again have the power while the West will struggle. Until then, that’s just the way it is. (Word to Bruce Hornsby.)

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: Why not? I’m a fan of this approach. The best 16 teams should battle for the title. The question is, do we still need the divisions and conferences? Traveling in our time is so comfortable that this isn’t an argument anymore. And it would be unfair if you change the system but keep the conferences. The teams in the East would have an advantage, because of the easier schedule. You have to change the schedule system. Every team would have to play three times against every team in the league. That would mean 87 regular season games. Too much? I don’t know. But changing things isn’t as easy as you’d expect.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: For sure! It’s very similar to the European point of view, where the winning record is the only criteria. We will miss some rivalries, but I think that this way the playoffs will be even better.

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: I am leaning towards the top 16 teams in the playoffs, because a lot of talented and exciting teams from the West will be left off again come post-season. Teams like the Pelicans, Suns and Kings all have great young talent. The Western and Eastern Conference format always builds up rivalries, but a great example is the NCAA tournament, no one bothers from what conference or state the schools belong to, it’s just the top teams in the country, period.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I do like the seeding of the top 16 teams for the playoffs as the first step towards fixing the playoffs imbalance. Too many good teams and superstar players are standing out the playoff picture in the West every year; and meanwhile out East, teams that start 4-13 are still optimistic of finishing in the top six. The drawback obviously is that it will eliminate some of the historical rivalries a little as teams that face each other regularly in the playoffs will now be playing more inter-conference matchups earlier in the playoffs. To be honest, I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing: with new alignments and rules, there will be new traditions. The top 16 seeding shouldn’t be the final solution either, because teams in the East will still continue to have an easier schedule during the regular season as they play teams in their weaker conference more often. In the ideal NBA world, I will be hoping that all teams play each other equal number of times through the season for a truly fair idea of where they should stand before the postseason begins.

Nacho Albarrán, NBA.com/Espana: Yes, and we don’t see any drawbacks, because that system could improve the overall competition.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: I really like the idea of seeding the top 16 teams in the playoffs regardless of conference. Traveling isn’t an issue anymore, so why don’t have a postseason with the 16 best teams out of the regular season? It would be really interesting, and I’m pretty sure most teams would like it. Especially Western Conference teams …

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: I do! Let’s get the best teams in the playoffs! It was a complete injustice that the 48-win Suns missed the playoffs last season. Not only did they win 48 games, they won them in the West! No offense to Atlanta, but how does a team that won 38 games make the playoffs? The Hornets really struggled to start the season, but given they’re in the East there’s a chance that they get themselves together and win enough games to qualify. Obviously, the entire system would have to change so that’s probably a drawback, but if you get the best teams in the playoffs then it’s worth it.

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

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo the Bull? | East meets West? | Larry Sanders is back

No. 1: Melo the Bull?Carmelo Anthony was one of this summer’s marquee free agents, entertaining offers from teams like Houston and Chicago before eventually re-signing with the New York Knicks. But how close was Anthony to actually leaving the Knicks? According to a new documentary, he was halfway out the door before deciding to stick around. In the upcoming documentary, “Carmelo Anthony: Made In NY,” which will air on the MSG Network, Anthony talks about the choice. As the NY Post reports:

The Post obtained footage of the half-hour program, which was produced by Melo Enterprises Inc. and Tollin Productions, that shows inside conversations between Anthony, his manager, Bay Frazier, who normally keeps a low profile, agent Leon Rose and personal assistant Asani Swann. One person familiar with the program said edits are still being made to the film and it was not the final version.

“It came down to Chicago and New York,” Anthony said during the program. “Chicago was the one from Day 1 [and] was something I was very impressed with. They were looking for someone like me to come in and take them to the next level. So it was perfect.

“It was a perfect setup and perfect fit for me in Chicago. But also I had to think about just living in Chicago. Do I want to live in Chicago? Do I want to take everything I created in New York and move all of that? It came down to that. But there was one point in time I was like — oh, I’m going.”

During one conversation, Anthony and his entourage agreed they would need a sign-and-trade with the Bulls to get the maximum contract. During the show, Frazier states the Bulls could only offer $74 million.

On their plane ride from Chicago to Houston following the get-together with the Bulls, Anthony tells Rose, his agent: “Great meeting. You could see the culture they have over there. The seriousness they have, what they’re about. It comes down to winning to me, and that’s what they’re about. That’s what I like. They hit everything right on the nail. That’s hard to do.”

***

No. 2: East meets West? — During a media interview on Wednesday, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban floated the idea of realignment. The West has generally been stronger the last few seasons, and Cuban’s plan would help restore some competitive balance between the conferences. As Tim McMahon writes:

In Cuban’s plan, the Mavs, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans would move to the Eastern Conference. The Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks would move to the West.

“It’s not like it’d be the first time we’ve ever realigned,” Cuban said. “It’s happened many times before, so there’s precedent and I just think it shakes things up and makes things interesting.”

Cuban, whose Mavs were the West’s eighth seed with a 49-33 record last season but would have been a No. 3 seed in the East, acknowledged that he had some selfish motivation for the plan. However, he believes the league would benefit as a whole.

“It’s not like you’re reducing competition,” said Cuban, who noted that the teams he suggested moving to the West are approximately the same distance from Portland as Dallas and closer than New Orleans, San Antonio and Houston. “You keep Cleveland, Washington and other good teams in the East. It kind of shakes things up in terms of not just interest but also in terms of how people rebuild.

“It just changes things up and it changes the thought process of a lot of teams. It makes both conferences very competitive, at least for the short term and I think, based on the history of the teams, for the long term as well.”

***

No. 3: Larry Sanders is back — After being one of the NBA’s most promising big men two seasons ago, last season was something of a lost campaign for Milwaukee big man Larry Sanders, who missed over half of the season with injuries and suspensions. But under new Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd, Sanders is reinvigorated, writes Charles Gardner:

Kidd and his staff made Sanders a centerpiece of their efforts from the beginning, working with him in Las Vegas during the summer and continuing during training camp.

“They came in and changed the culture; the (new) owners came in and changed the culture,” Sanders said. “It’s a whole different mind-set than I’ve ever had.

“We’re really trying to build something new here and you could feel it. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

The 26-year-old Sanders is not playing heavy minutes and that has helped him keep his energy flowing. He played 26 minutes against the Pistons on Tuesday and 28 against the Timberwolves.

Kidd has used him effectively in tandem with veteran Zaza Pachulia, who is adept in the offensive system and can battle bigger centers with his strength.

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: The Pelicans are aiming to get the ball to Anthony Davis more often … Cuban also took a verbal jab at Knicks coach Derek Fisher … The 76ers appear close to bringing in Turkish big man Furkan Aldemir

Morning shootaround — Nov. 27


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Nov. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Stephenson not a star yet | Suns point guards slow to adjust | Butler has risen against the odds | Lopez a perfect fit in Portland

No. 1: Stephenson not a star yet — With a 4-12 record and the second longest losing streak in the league, the Charlotte Hornets have been the most disappointing team outside of Cleveland. The arrival of Lance Stephenson was supposed to give their offense a boost, but they rank 25th on that end of the floor and have regressed defensively. Stephenson is still starting, but has seen his playing time drop quite a bit in the last week. After he logged just 23 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Blazers, Hornets coach Steve Clifford provided a dose of reality regarding his team’s new “star,” as Michael Wallace of ESPN writes:

Hornets coach Steve Clifford believes Lance Stephenson’s problems adjusting during his first season in Charlotte are partly due to the guard’s struggles to live up to external expectations.

“To be fair, one of the things that’s made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar,” Clifford said Wednesday. “He’s not a star. He’s a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years.”

Clifford’s comments came after Stephenson was left on the bench for the entire fourth quarter for a second consecutive game, this time during Wednesday’s 105-97 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that extended the Hornets’ losing streak to seven straight games.

A combination of preseason injuries and struggles since then to find his rhythm and a consistent role in Clifford’s offense has made Stephenson’s transition much more difficult than some anticipated.

***

No. 2: Suns point guards slow to adjust — At 10-6 after a win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Phoenix Suns are in a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference. But they’re still trying to find their way, especially offensively, where they’ve taken a small step backward. One adjustment is the addition of point guard Isaiah Thomas, who joins Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in an unconventional backcourt. Though the team is winning, it’s impossible for all three to get their deserved playing time every night. As Thomas tells CBS Sports‘ James Herbert, that can be tough to deal with:

With the Kings, he was shuffled in and out of the starting lineup, especially in his first two seasons. He watched Tyreke Evans, Aaron Brooks, Greivis Vasquez and Jimmer Fredette play the point in front of him. Thomas has learned that he can’t worry about the things he can’t control. Still, this is challenging. Thomas has proven he’s capable of producing like an All-Star, and so have Dragic and Bledsoe.

“It’s a tough situation,” Thomas said. “But you’ve just got to be ready for whatever circumstances coach puts you in. You gotta be ready when your name is called, but I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s tough.

“It’s not what I expected,” Thomas continued. “But coach has a tough job. Putting all of us on the floor and trying to mix up the minutes, it’s tough for him. So it’s not just tough for us as players, we just gotta be ready when our name’s called and just know, I mean, coach is trying to do what he thinks is best for the team to put us in a position to win. But the key word is it’s a tough situation. For all of us.”

***

No. 3: Butler has risen against the odds — The Chicago Bulls have one of the most improved offenses in the league, despite the fact that Derrick Rose has played just 6 1/2 of their 15 games. One reason is the continued development of Jimmy Butler, who has the best field goal percentage of the five players in the league averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. Butler was the 30th pick in the 2011 Draft out of Marquette, where most teams didn’t see much talent in the 6-7 guard. ESPN’s Nick Friedell profiles Butler and his path to becoming a big piece of a title contender:

Jimmy Butler isn’t supposed to be here.

He’s not supposed to be in the NBA. He’s not supposed to be a key member of a Chicago Bulls team that has championship aspirations. He’s not supposed to be in the midst of an All-Star type season — the best of his career — in which he has carried the Bulls on both ends of the floor at various times. And he’s certainly not supposed to be on the verge of cashing in on a contract offer at season’s end that will likely pay him well over $50 million over the next four seasons.

The odds have always been against Butler. His path to the NBA is as unlikely as anyone who plays in the league given that his backstory (of being homeless at 13 before moving in with a friend’s family) reads like the basketball version of “The Blind Side.” No matter how many ups and downs Butler endured in his journey to the precipice of NBA stardom, the 25-year-old never stopped believing in himself. The same drive that helped get him out of Tomball, Texas, and into Marquette University is the same fuel that’s pushed him to average over 20 points a game early this season.

***

No. 4: Lopez a perfect fit in Portland — The Portland Trail Blazers made a 21-win leap from Lottery team to the second round of the playoffs last season, and have continued rolling with a 12-3 start this year. They’ve gotten improvement from all of their high-profile players, but the key to the transformation was the addition of a low-profile center. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian details the importance of Robin Lopez to the Blazers’ success:

After 96 regular season games and one memorable playoff series victory, it’s become clear that Lopez was the missing link for this franchise. A city that has watched the downfall of the beloved yet brittle Bill Walton, and the depressing breakdowns of Sam Bowie and Greg Oden, finally has a stabilizing force at the NBA’s most important position.

And while Lopez’s made-for-Portland personality and rugged, hustle-infused game have made him a Rip City fan favorite, it’s the things you don’t notice — the unselfishness, the unassuming disposition, the way he connects the Blazers’ chemistry — that have made the towering 7-foot, 265-pound center so important.

LaMarcus Aldridge is the Blazers’ best player. Lillard brings the big shots and big plays. Matthews provides defense, leadership and heart. And Batum is the glue, offering a touch of everything.

But Lopez is perhaps the most important piece, the linchpin to one of the most cohesive and talented starting lineups in the NBA. When general manager Neil Olshey shrewdly snatched Lopez in a trade for next to nothing, he didn’t just nab a starting center entering his prime, but also the 21st Century version of Buck Williams, a player plugged into an established core at just the right time that helped catapult the Blazers to the next level.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony doesn’t know how long back spasms will keep him out of the Knicks’ lineupThe Thunder waived Sebastian TelfairThe Lakers are close to signing Earl ClarkDavid West hopes to make his season debut on FridayMarcus Smart started, but couldn’t finish practice on WednesdayThe Celtics are going to EuropeMark Cuban wants to join the Eastern ConferenceSome trash talk from Philly fans motivated Kevin GarnettKyrie Irving wants to guard the league’s best point guards … and The New York Times profiled TNT’s “Inside the NBA.”

ICYMI of The Night: Tyson Chandler helped the Mavs to an overtime victory over his old team with 25 rebounds, an NBA high for the season:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Tyson Chandler grabs 25 boards

Cuban rides with Silver on gambling

HOUSTON — If NBA commissioner Adam Silver needs a wing man to help his bid to get sports betting legalized in the United States, Mark Cuban is just a text message or phone call away.

The Mavericks owner agreed with Silver’s recent op-ed column in The New York Times on the subject of gambling on professional sports and says he expects it to be legalized in the U.S. soon.

“I agree 100 percent,” Cuban said Saturday night before his Mavs played the Rockets at the Toyota Center. “I think we’re the world’s biggest hypocrites when we say, ‘Oh, we don’t want you betting on our games,’ and then we get all excited about the sports betting line and people go to Vegas on trips won from the NBA or NFL. I mean, it’s hugely hypocritical.

“I just think that Adam did the exact right thing. I think by focusing on the federal regulations and making the changes there, that it will change. It’s just a question of when. I think over the next three to five years, it will change.”

In his piece in the Times, Silver said gambling on the NBA and other sports leagues should be subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards and the U.S. could take a lead from the sports betting laws in England. Outside of Nevada, sports betting is currently illegal in the U.S.

“All you’ve got to do is look overseas,” Cuban said. “You can go and legally bet on the NBA in the U.K. and a bunch of other countries, and they’re actually big customers of NBA video.

“It’s crazy that we allow it in the rest of the world but it’s really upsetting that sports leagues don’t think Americans are good enough to gamble on our sports, but the rest of the world is. That’s un-American.”

Morning shootaround — Nov. 22


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wall aces crash course | Crisis time in Cleveland? | Report: Jeff Taylor won’t appeal | Scene of the ouch! for Bulls

No. 1: Wall aces crash course — Two nights earlier, Washington point guard John Wall had been in the middle of a crash-and-burn against the Dallas Mavericks. Coach Randy Wittman directed some criticism directly at his point guard while imploring the Wizards to prove they truly had grown up.
That crash-and-burn turned out to be a crash course for them, Wall in particular, as Washington righted itself in a key third-quarter stretch to beat the highly touted (if currently sideways) Cleveland Cavaliers in the first sellout of the season at Verizon Center. Here’s how Michael Wallace of ESPN.com saw the performance as more than just a one-off for the hungry Washington team:

Two days after Wall was called out and took responsibility for the Dallas loss, he shouted back with one of his most complete games of the season. It was a transformation from third-quarter scapegoat on Wednesday to third-quarter catalyst Friday, having scored 17 of his game-high 28 in that period.

Wall relished the opportunity for redemption on several levels. In addition to his stretch of turnover problems Wednesday, Wall also missed 12 of his 17 shots against the Mavericks. That kept him in the practice facility for an extended shooting workout that lasted nearly an hour after Thursday’s practice.

Another motivating factor, although Wall repeatedly downplayed it publicly, was his matchup with point guard Kyrie Irving, who was selected No. 1 overall a year after Wall was taken with the top pick in 2010. Wall has felt overlooked and underappreciated nationally when compared with Irving.

And it was also an opportunity for Wall to shine in a nationally televised game and return some of the same lessons on patience and process to the star-studded but struggling Cavaliers that [LeBron] James, then with the Miami Heat, used to routinely offer to Wall during tough stretches for the Wizards. The Wizards (8-3) are off to their best start in 40 years, but they lacked a signature victory over a quality opponent after losing to Miami in the season opener and recently to Toronto and Dallas.

***

No. 2: Crisis time in Cleveland? — At the other end of the floor in Washington on Friday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers were in such disarray that even those inclined to cut them slack – Hey, this is what Miami went through with its initial Big Three team in 2010 – were backing off that rationale. These Cavaliers have issues specific to them, because their roster is different from that Miami squad and so is their personality. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are not Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, in terms of their games or their accomplishments when they teamed with LeBron James four years ago. And though he might over time establish himself as a peer, coach David Blatt is an NBA tenderfoot compared to Erik Spoelstra when he had “The Heatles” land in his lap. Spoelstra already had coached two full NBA seasons, which gave him 164 games and two playoff appearances in this league more than Blatt arrived with this summer. The Cavs’ senior traveling beat writer, Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, offered his impressions after the disconcerting, double-digit loss Friday in his enumerated fashion. Here are some of his thoughts:

1. Eleven games into the season, the Cavs are in the dark, David Blatt is concerned about everything and LeBron James is quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. If there is a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” fire alarm inside Cleveland Clinic Courts, you get the feeling Lou Amundson is looking for the hammer.
2. I’m not sure how we’ve advanced so quickly from James saying he was happy with the progress the Cavs made in Thursday’s loss to the Spurs to now James writing this King quote on Twitter: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” It all feels like a bit of an overreaction, even though admittedly this was a terrible loss to a quality opponent.
3. The most alarming part of this loss, at least for me, was the awful body language displayed by most everyone – beginning with James. He failed to get back defensively on multiple plays, hung his head and walked off the floor when he was clearly irritated with a Dion Waiters 3-point attempt and simply did not set the right example. He wasn’t alone, but as the leader of the team the rest of the players are going to follow his lead.
4. He got away with some pouting in Portland. I understood the message he was delivering about sharing the basketball and selfish behavior. But he can’t keep doing it. James admitted Friday he saw the bad body language displayed by just about everyone.

7. In their recent four-game winning streak, which included victories against the Nuggets, Pelicans, Celtics and Hawks, the Cavs averaged 119.3 points, 28 assists, 11 turnovers and shot 51 percent. In the three losses since they’re averaging 88.3 points, 18 assists, 17 turnovers and are shooting 41 percent.
8. There is no excuse, ever, for a team with this much offensive firepower to score 78 points in a game. It was easily a season low, as was the 36 percent shooting night.

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No. 3: Report: Jeff Taylor won’t appeal — Given the length of the suspension (24 games) imposed by NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Charlotte’s Jeff Taylor for his domestic assault case, it was expected that the NBA players’ union would step up to challenge the penalty. It was, after all, far longer and more harsh than had been imposed in the past for similar and even worse transgressions, as pro sports and the culture at large look anew at such incidents. What wasn’t expected was that Taylor might opt not to appeal, accept Silver’s determination rather than seek arbitration, get his name and reputation out of the media and serve out the final 13 games (on top of 11 already missed) before resuming his NBA career. But that’s what Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported:

Despite the pronounced public backing of his union, Charlotte Hornets forward Jeff Taylor will not file an appeal to the NBA for a 24-game suspension centered on a domestic abuse incident, league sources told Yahoo Sports on Friday.

National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts ripped NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s punishment as “excessive and without precedent” in a statement on Thursday. The union was eager to challenge the NBA on the severity of the suspension based on the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

Nevertheless, Taylor, 25, and his agent chose to accept the suspension and sit the remaining 13 games until he can return to the lineup. Taylor has already missed 11 games stemming from the incident, which occurred prior to the start of the Hornets’ training camp in late September.

Taylor could’ve appealed the decision to an independent arbiter, but Silver and the NBA believed strongly that the commissioner has wide authority to consider domestic violence cases on a per-incident basis.

Taylor pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in Michigan. Taylor had a physical encounter with a woman with whom he was having a relationship at an East Lansing, Mich., hotel.

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No. 4: Scene of the ouch! for Bulls — Maybe no one ever promised the Chicago Bulls a Rose Garden on their visits to Portland, but this Moda Center trend is getting ridiculous. Playing in the arena where they lost Derrick Rose last November to a second season-scuttling knee injury, the Bulls knew a day earlier they’d be without Rose again (left hamstring), as well as Pau Gasol (left calf) and Kirk Hinrich (chest contusion) when they faced the Trail Blazers on Friday night. So the outcome, a lopsided 105-87 loss, wasn’t a surprise. But adding another injury — Taj Gibson (left ankle) to their already lengthy list of sidelined vital pieces was. And it won’t service Chicago well as it continues its lengthy “circus trip” that won’t end until December. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com had details:

Every time the Bulls come to Portland lately it seems as if something bad happens. Friday night’s game was just the latest example of that. Damian Lillard dominated a depleted Bulls’ squad … The Bulls came into the game having lost eight of their last 10 games in Portland, giving up an average of 101.5 points in each contest according to ESPN Stats & Information. After the Trail Blazers’ latest triumph, the Bulls have now lost seven straight games here.

Aside from the loss, the bigger issue on this night for the Bulls was the fact they lost [Gibson] to a sprained left ankle that could keep him out a little while. Gibson had to be helped off the court by his teammates in a scene similar to the one Rose endured last season. While Gibson’s ankle injury isn’t nearly as serious as Rose’s knee injury was, it had to feel like déjà vu for Bulls’ personnel to see Gibson head to the locker room on crutches and in a walking boot after the game.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t want to hear about the parallel storylines after the game, believing the injuries Rose and Gibson sustained could have happened anywhere.

“I don’t get caught up in that stuff,” he said. “Injuries are part of the game. If a guy gets hurt, he gets hurt. But it’s not the building, it’s not any of that stuff. Injuries are part of the game so you just deal with them.”

His players understand that, but they didn’t feel the same way about the bad mojo that seems to come their way every time they play in Portland.

“F— this place,” one player muttered in the locker room as he peeled off his jersey.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Breaking: Indiana’s Paul George is still out – and likely to stay that way, no matter how good he looks in civilian life. … Ever wonder what Dallas owner Mark Cuban has to say during games (other than to referees, that is)? HBO’s Real Sports provides answers. … Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoewalks back” some of that bravado about the University of Kentucky being able to whomp the Philadelphia 76ers. … That might have changed anyway if a report about Andrei Kirilenko landing in Philly proves to be accurate. … The Minnesota Timberwolves walked in the Indiana Pacers’ shoes, having to face the NBA champions without four-fifths of the Wolves’ starting lineup. And no, wise guys, it wasn’t a good thing.