Posts Tagged ‘Mark Cuban’

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 21


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Defensive woes plague Heat | Kobe vows to return as good as ever | ‘Melo: Knicks show no ‘fight’ vs. Nets | Cuban on his desire to be fined | Report: Wizards interested in Monroe

No. 1: Defensive woes plague stumbling Heat in defeat — Just yesterday, our own David Aldridge offered up three solid points in his Morning Tip column why Miami Heat fans shouldn’t fret over the team’s recent swoon. Still, the Heat’s falterings of late cannot be denied and after last night’s 121-114 loss on the road to the Atlanta Hawks, Miami has lost four of its last six games and is 5-5 in 2014. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald and Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com explain how defensive issues and a lack of overall energy may be at the root of Miami’s slide:

The midway point of the Heat’s season is here, and if one trend has emerged in recent games, it’s that the defending back-to-back champions aren’t interested in playing defense in the first halves of games.

Opponents are averaging 64.5 points in the first halves of the past four games against the Heat and, in Monday’s 121-114 loss to the Hawks, the Heat allowed a whopping 71 points before the break. The Hawks hadn’t beaten the Heat since Jan 2, 2012, a streak of nine games.

The runaway scoring led to some statistical oddities. For example, the Heat made 15 three-pointers and shot 45 percent from beyond the arc and somehow managed to lose to a team that is now just two games above .500.

“All across the board, ‘A’ through ‘Z’, there just was not a lot of pride [on defense],” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We tried to win on a shootout and then when our offense came up dry on the road toward the end … we weren’t able to secure a win.”

The Heat is now 2-1 against the Hawks (21-19) on the season and 9-2 against teams in the Southeast Division.

And here’s Arnovitz’s report on the Heat’s overall lethargic effort and poor defense against the Hawks:

It’s Day 13 of a six-game East Coast swing, and the Miami Heat are weary.

They’ve spent only five of the past 27 days at home, and the fatigue was apparent in the locker room pregame, as guys shuffled to and from the training room and on the floor against the Atlanta Hawks, where contests at the rim were late and half-hearted.

The Heat won’t say it publicly, of course, but they’re dog tired. LeBron James looks gassed. Dwyane Wade less so, but that’s only because he was on the bench in street clothes conserving his fuel. Chris Bosh’s eyelids were heavy as he offered explanations for the daze that surrounds the team. Even head coach Erik Spoelstra seems like he needs a double shot of espresso.

Whether it was exhaustion, a lack of focus, poor execution, iffy schemes or the lunar cycle, the result was defensive carnage at Philips Arena, where Miami fell 121-114 to Atlanta. The loss completes a lackluster 2-4 road trip.

“I can’t pinpoint what it is,” James said. “It was a little bit of everything. At some point we have to figure it out.”

That was the sentiment on Monday night as the team packed up to return home to face Boston on Tuesday. There was no specific diagnosis, no reference to pick-and-roll coverage or defending the point of attack or rim protection or defensive rotations. The Heat insist that the issues reside in the more general realms of focus, effort and accountability.

“We’re just not taking away much,” Shane Battier said. “Usually when our defense is clicking, we’re taking away a few things out of a team’s offense and living with other parts of the team’s offense. Right now, the other team has a full menu of what they want to get — paint shots, 3s, transition.”

When things are clicking, in Battier’s words, it’s not unusual to go 15 or 20 possessions without seeing a fundamental defensive mistake by Miami. Lately, the Heat are having trouble putting together consecutive stops. The Heat are failing NBA Defense 101. Simple angle pick-and-rolls — like the one the Hawks ran in the third quarter that yielded a wide-open 3-pointer for Williams — produce mass confusion with Heat defenders helping off the strong side perimeter (a major no-no).


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about Miami’s loss on the road to Atlanta

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No. 2: Bryant sees ‘no chance’ of slowing down, sounds off on NBA today — Before the L.A. Lakers played the Chicago Bulls at the United Center last night, injured Lakers star Kobe Bryant gave a state-of-the-Mamba address of sorts. In a wide-ranging interview conducted before a throng of media (including our own Steve Aschburner), Bryant talked about his recovery from his left knee fracture, Derrick Rose‘s comeback attempt and more:

Kobe Bryant didn’t delve into negative numbers Monday night in a hallway at United Center, but that’s the level of doubt he felt about his next return from injury. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar, out since Dec. 17 with a fracture in his left knee, didn’t hedge or blink when asked about the likelihood that he’ll come back as the player he was before.

Not just before this latest setback but before the left Achilles-tendon blowout he suffered in April, cutting short his 2012-13 season.

“Zero. Zero,” Bryant said, repeating for emphasis his doubt about his playing future and the quality of his game when he gets there. “There was [doubt] before I came back the first time, because I didn’t know how my Achilles was going to respond to playing, to changing directions. The game in Memphis, I felt I had a pretty good feel for it. I felt like I was getting back to doing what I normally could do.

“So I feel pretty confident about it.”

This media opportunity, coming in Derrick Rose‘s gym, meant he was asked about the Bulls’ MVP, who also is sidelined by his second serious injury in two years (and isn’t expected back till October). While Bryant’s response dealt with Rose, it surely applied to him as well, a nod to the drive and will he long has been known for and the younger Rose still is developing.

“Really there’s not too much you can do about it,” Bryant said. “It’s unfortunate, but you have two options. One is to lay down. The second is get up and get to work. I think the second one is more appealing [to Rose] for sure.”

He made it abundantly clear that he won’t be joining Team USA in the 2016 Olympics, but teased that he’d be an eager spectator to watch Lakers teammate Pau Gasol play for Spain again.

The most noticeable change in NBA basketball since his arrival in 1996? “It’s more of a finesse game. It’s more small ball. Which, personally, I don’t really care much for,” Bryant said. Like so many from the old-school – even at 35, Bryant qualifies – he is befuddled at the soft stuff now that passes for physical play. “Makes me nauseous,” he said. “You can’t touch a guy.”

The rule against hand-checking has made it easier for players to shine offensively, Bryant said. “Nowadays, anybody can get out there and get to the basket – you can’t touch ‘em,” he said. “Back then, if you have guys putting their hands on you, you have to have the skills to be able to go both ways, change directions, post up and have that mid-range game, because you didn’t want to go all the way to the basket because you’d get knocked [down].”

He’s no fan of the NBA’s one-and-done arrangement with NCAA basketball, which no longer permits players such as Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James to turn pro immediately after high school. “I think it worked out pretty well for all three of us,” Bryant said. “The system really isn’t teaching players anything when you go to college. … I’m always a firm believer in us being able to make our own decision.”

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No. 3:Melo says Knicks didn’t ‘fight’ against Nets — A 23-point loss at home is nothing any NBA team wants to stomach. But when a team like the up-and-down New York Knicks takes that in (before a national TV audience, no less), it becomes even harder to digest. Knicks star Carmelo Anthony was none-too-pleased after the game, telling ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Bagley that what upset him most about the defeat at the hands of the crosstown Brooklyn Nets was the lack of desire New York showed in trying to keep the game close:

A frustrated Carmelo Anthony said the New York Knicks failed to show fight in their 23-point loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Monday.

“That’s the only thing that kind of bothers me: Today we didn’t even fight. I felt like we didn’t fight as a team,” Anthony said after the Knicks’ 103-80 loss. “Them guys from the jump ball just came in and it felt like they owned us.”

“We couldn’t get into defensive sets and [were] just scrambling and double-teaming and switching, basically just scrambling the whole game,” Anthony said.

The Knicks have lost four straight and enter play Tuesday tied with Cleveland for 10th place in the Eastern Conference. They are on pace to win just 30 games.

“I didn’t think we would be in this situation,” said Anthony, who is expected to test free agency this summer. “I don’t really know how to deal with situations like this. I’m learning. This is the first time for me.”

Tyson Chandler didn’t knock New York’s effort after the loss. Instead, he said the Knicks were “outschemed” by Brooklyn.

“I think we came to play. They outschemed us,” Chandler said. “They played to our defense as far their offensive scheme, knowing our rotations and knowing what we wanted to accomplish. Kind of putting us in vulnerable situations.”

Chandler’s words could be interpreted as a thinly-veiled shot at Mike Woodson and the coaching staff. The Knicks were caught switching frequently on pick and rolls and late on rotations, which allowed the Nets to find open shooters all over the floor.

“I don’t want to switch. I personally don’t like it. You come with a defensive plan and then every guy kind of mans up and takes his responsibility,” Chandler said. “I think switching should always be your last resort.”

Anthony believes the Knicks’ four-game losing streak has impacted the team’s confidence, which was at an all-time high after New York won five in a row earlier this month.

“It seemed like everything was just going for us [during the winning streak], offensively, defensively, guys felt good about themselves,” Anthony said. “There was a lot of confidence within the team, with individuals. Right now it seems we don’t have that.”


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony talks about the Knicks’ blowout loss at home to the Nets

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No. 4: Cuban ready for Silver to ‘feel my wrath’Mavs owner Mark Cuban did little to hide the fact he wanted one last fine from soon-to-be-retired commissioner David Stern before he leaves office next month. Cuban got his wish earlier this week when the league levied a $100,000 fine against him for confronting officials after the Mavs’ loss to the Clippers last week. The owner doesn’t hold any ill feelings for getting the fine, of course, and told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram‘s Dwain Price he’s looking forward, in a sense, to getting to know new commissioner Adam Silver in his own unique way:

In his first interview since the NBA fined him $100,000 Saturday, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he just wanted to have some fun before commissioner David Stern retired.“I love it,” Cuban said about the fine, before Monday’s 102-97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. “It’s a business expense and it’s part of doing business.

“These franchises are worth hundreds of millions of dollars and I literally feel that if I could impact it to have some improvement, they could be worth a lot more.”

Since Stern will retire on Feb. 1, Cuban said he wanted to get in one last fine as a lasting memory to the commissioner.

“I was just a little nostalgic for the commissioner,” Cuban said. “So I was trying to fund the donut fund.”

Asked if he thought Stern was happy to fine him one last time, Cuban said: “I think he was. They call you and make sure what you said is what you said.

“When I said yes, and then they say OK, here’s the fine. That’s the way it works.”

Adam Silver will take over for Stern on Feb. 2. Will Cuban have a present waiting for the new commissioner?

“We’ll see,” he said. “It depends on how things are handled.

“But there’s plenty to come. Now it’s time to let Adam feel my wrath.”

***

No. 5: Report: Wizards interested in Pistons’ MonroeFollowing their 107-99 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers last night, the Washington Wizards got to .500 for the fourth time this season. One player who had a big impact on the win was center Marcin Gortat, who finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds and helped set the tone for Washington’s interior play. But as the Wizards look to build on this newfound .500 mark and, surely, try to climb well over it, they could be looking to further upgrade their interior play. According to Alex Kennedy of BasketballInsiders.com, the Wizards are interested in acquiring Pistons big man Greg Monroe, either via free agency or trade:

The Detroit Pistons find themselves in a difficult position at the halfway point of the 2013-14 season.

After a big offseason that brought Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups (as well as playoff expectations) to Detroit, the team is currently 17-24 and barely holding onto the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference. Detroit has dropped 10 of their last 14 games and, according to multiple league sources, the organization isn’t sure what to do as the Feb. 20 trade deadline approaches.

One player who has been mentioned in trade rumors throughout this season is Greg Monroe, the young power forward who will be a restricted free agent this offseason since he couldn’t agree on an extension with the Pistons. It’s no secret that Josh Smith is better at the four, and it’s possible that Detroit moves the valuable Monroe to upgrade another position and slide Smith over to power forward.

One team that is interested in Monroe is the Washington Wizards, according to multiple league sources. It’s becoming clear that Washington is planning to pursue Monroe, either through trade or free agency.

Prior to joining the Pistons, Monroe starred at Georgetown for two seasons so he’s no stranger to Washington. The Wizards have $41,458,760 in guaranteed commitments for next season, since Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza among others are in the final year of their contracts.

The Pistons are certainly a team to keep an eye on over the next month. Rival executives have said that there is “turmoil” within the organization and that they haven’t decided what to do as the deadline approaches.

How the team performs in the coming weeks could determine what the front office does next, similar to what’s occurring with the Toronto Raptors right now. If the team plays well, the team will likely remain intact and the Pistons will try to make a postseason run. If the team continues to struggle, it’s very possible that Detroit makes a trade between now and the deadline.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Knicks reserve guard Beno Udrih has reportedly requested a trade … A little news nugget from Sam Smiththe Celtics might want to trade Jeff Green … Bucks guard Gary Neal might be having some second thoughts about signing with Milwaukee in the offseason … The Hawks are building something worth watching in Atlanta

ICYMI(s) of The Night: The Clippers and Pistons, two of the dunking-est teams in the league, put on quite a show above the rim yesterday. And since (around here, anyway) there’s no such thing as too many dunks, here’s a great one from Jan Vesely, too, for good measure:


VIDEO: The Pistons and Clippers get dunk-happy in Monday’s matinee


VIDEO: Jan Vesely gets way up to finish off the alley-oop vs. the Sixers

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 19



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Cuban docked $100,000 | Beverley return set | George’s All-Star choices | Blazers romp to top spot | Durant in a zone
No. 1: Cuban gets his wish — Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for weeks touted his desire to be fined one last time before commissioner David Stern steps down on Feb. 1. Stern granted his wish Saturday night with a hefty $100,000 fine for confronting officials on the court and directing inappropriate language toward them at the conclusion of the Mavs’ intense, 129-127 loss Wednesday night to the Los Angeles Clippers. Cuban’s team blew a 123-106 lead with 4:30 to go amid a storm of turnovers and fouls. The fine came down moments after Cuban had spoke to reporters as he typically does prior to games. Cuban beat the league in announcing the fine, using his Twitter account to let everybody know his pleasure: “I couldnt let the commish go without a proper farewell. Its been a fun 14 years of trying to create change and donating to the donut fund !” ESPNDallas’ Tim MacMahon has the details:

He added in another tweet that he would donate an equal amount to a charity.

Cuban’s latest outburst occurred after the Mavs blew a 17-point lead and Clippers guard Jamal Crawford scored the go-ahead points on free throws after a controversial foul call against Dallas forward Shawn Marion.

Cuban has said several times this season that he planned to draw the final fine of Stern’s 30-year tenure as commissioner. Cuban reiterated that intention to ESPN.com this week before his outburst Wednesday night.

This is the 20th time the league has publicly assessed a fine against Cuban since he bought the Mavs in Jan. 2000, including 14 fines that were the result of criticizing officials or interacting with them in ways the NBA deemed inappropriate.

Those fines have cost Cuban a total of $1.9 million, plus matching donations to charities of his choice.

***

No. 2: Beverley back Monday — The Rockets’ backcourt is about to get its starting point guard back. Patrick Beverley is expected to return to action Monday night at home against the Portland Trail Blazers roughly four weeks after he broke his right hand. Beverley went through the team’s full shootaround Saturday night and will practice Sunday as his final tune-up. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has more:

“I’m back now,” Beverley said. “I went through shootaround. We’ll see how it goes. I went through the whole shootaround like I did before, ran some drills, got a lot of shots up and went over the other team’s game plan.”

Though he prepared as if he was going to play against the Bucks, Beverley was held out to allow him one practice with the team before returning. He said he has been working out enough that he was “not rusty at all. Rockets coach Kevin McHale said the plan is to have Beverley return Monday pending that day’s final medical evaluation.

“I’ve been getting a lot of shots up the last past days,” Beverley said. “ I think our training staff has done a great job with my conditioning, helping me being ready when my number is called.”

Beverley said it is difficult to simulate the energy and intensity of actual games, but said he has made up for lost time with Rockets performance and rehabilitation coach Joe Rogowski.

“It was Camp Rogo,” Beverley said. “Went on like a hell week where just got after it, got stronger and quicker, more explosive. I think it’s going to pay off. Hard work always pays off.

“I felt I could have played last Thursday. I feel I could have played a couple days before that. Something with my body I just heal fast. I’m able to endure a lot of pain. I’m just happy to be back on the court and happy to mix it up with these guys.”

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No. 3: All-Star choices for George — Pacers wing Paul George is all but set to become a first-time starter in next month’s All-Star Game in New Orleans, and the NBA can’t get enough of the emerging superstar. George has been asked to participate in the 3-point shootout, the dunk contest and the skills competition. What are the chances he soaks up the entire weekend as a participant in one, two or all three events? Scott Agness of the Indianapolis Star has the odds:

The chances of him competing are slim, as he would prefer to rest and enjoy the weekend in The Big Easy. But he said that he hasn’t declined and was still open to the idea of taking part in at least one event. He plans to decide in the next few days.

When asked whether he had declined the offers, George said, “No, I haven’t declined. I’m keeping my options open.”

You know a player is at an elite level when he is considering turning down these invitations because All-Star weekend is typically a time where lesser-known guys or an up-and-coming player can be noticed.

George knows.

He has been actively involved at the past two All-Star weekends. In Houston last year, he played in the big game and was in the 3-point contest. The year before, George and his glow-in-dark-uniform placed third in the dunk contest and he played in the ‘Rising Stars Challenge,’ the same game he was left out of as a rookie.

Frank Vogel and his staff will be down there to coach the Eastern Conference team, which should have at least three members of the NBA’s best team. Lance Stephenson, the flashiest player on the Pacers, said he won’t be involved in any of those events, but he does have a message for his teammate.

“I ain’t got no dunks like that,” he said. “Paul, that’s the guy that needs to be in the dunk contest.”

***

No. 4: Hot Blazers soar again — For anyone thinking Portland’s recent slowdown signaled the start of a permanent trickle back to the pack in the Western Conference, the Blazers say believe what you want. One night after winning at San Antonio, 109-100, Portland went into Dallas and destroyed the Mavs with a near-flawless performance through three quarters. Led by LaMarcus Aldridge‘s 30 points and 12 rebounds, the Blazers led 104-70 after three quarters. Winners of five in a row, they’re now 31-9 and reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the West. Are they for real? Mike Tokito of The Oregonian has the latest:

Portland fans might hope the Blazers are truly one the league’s best teams, critics might suggest they’re interlopers in the elite class. Guess what? They don’t care.

“We just take it day-by-day and game-by-game,” forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. “We don’t get caught up in all the hype. We just focus on doing our things that we need to do. Getting better defensively, staying focused on us.”

The Blazers were very good defensively and focused like a laser Saturday as they put on as impressive a performance as they’ve had all season, running the Dallas Mavericks out of American Airlines Center for three quarters in a 127-111 victory. The fourth quarter was a different story, but more on that later.

First the dominance: One night after putting San Antonio away with a strong fourth-quarter stretch, the Blazers took that sharp play and extended into a dominant first half, when they outscored Dallas 71-52, then revved things up further in the third, when they outscored the Mavericks 33-18.

The Blazers (31-9) have a reputation of a team that relies heavily on three-pointers and tries to outscore the other team, but on this night the catalyst was defense as they held Dallas to 39.4 percent field goal shooting in the first three quarters.

“Having the lead at halftime and coming out with that defensive focus in the third quarter was a really good sign for us,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.

***

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No. 5: Durant in a (right) zone — Thunder forward Kevin Durant is again leading the league in scoring and he’s doing so with remarkable efficiency. No game highlighted this quite like Friday’s 54-point performance on 19-for-28 shooting. During a one-minute stretch of that win over the Warriors, Durant scored nine points all from the same zone on the floor. Which zone? And why is that important? Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman explains:

Kevin Durant was stuck on 41 points for more than three minutes of game action. And on Friday night, that stagnation felt like an eternity.

So he called for the ball on the right wing, got it, and immediately rose for an in-rhythm three. Swish.

Then, on two of the next three possessions, he did the exact same thing.

Nine points in less than a minute. All from an increasingly more comfortable spot on the floor.

“I’ve been working on that shot, the right wing,” Durant said. “It used to be the shot I missed the most.”

But now, it has just become another lethal option in his unguardable arsenal.

Of Durant’s career-high 54 points on Friday night, 10 came near the rim, 11 came at the free-throw line and 12 came from that right wing, the zone in which he produced the most damage. Overall, he was 4-of-6 on that shot.

And in the grand scheme, that only continued an upward trend that Durant has clearly identified and worked to produce.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwight Howard says he was promised a trade from Magic to Nets … Clippers center DeAndre Jordan wants All-Star invite, not (necessarily) dunk contest … Nets finalizing trades to open roster spot; Bulls give up on Marquis Teague

Long, Bumpy Road Finally Smooths Out For Former Dunk Champ Gerald Green


VIDEO: Gerald Green has emerged as a solid contributor for the Suns this season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The dunk was so unbelievable that TNT analyst Kenny Smith hyperventilated to broadcast partner Charles Barkley during the 2008 NBA All-Star slam dunk contest.

He blew it out, Chuck!” Smith gasped. “Chuck, he blew it out!

Gerald Green indeed puffed out a candle stuck into a cupcake on the back of the rim. The reigning slam dunk king soared above the cylinder, blew out the flame and flushed the basketball in a single, stunning move.

The joint blew up. Green lapped it up. And for one night, the then-22-year-old Green was no longer just a bench warmer for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Green is now days from turning 28, and he has never been happier. He is worlds removed from that sizzling February night in ’08, his cupcake dunk never more meaningless. These days, he is a key contributor for the surprising Phoenix Suns.

The wildly athletic wing wants substance to define the rest of his career, a journey that began as a straight-out-of-high-school phenom, the Boston’s Celtics’ first-round pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.

A rocky NBA start

Gerald Green (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Gerald Green
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Green came out of high school with a remarkable athleticism and a tantalizingly smooth jumper. He was a mostly good-natured but naive kid, a skinny baller from Houston’s southeast side. His dunks soon became the stuff of legend.

Still, Green was incapable of thinking the game beyond a playground level, oblivious to the pressures and demands of the NBA world.

“I always treated basketball when I was younger like a hobby, something I loved to do, something that kind of kept me away from doing something bad or doing something crazy,” Green told NBA.com during a phone conversation on the team’s recent road trip. “It was an extracurricular activity in my life. But once I did it for a living, I still kept treating it as a hobby instead of a job.”

After a forgettable 2008-09 season with the Dallas Mavericks, his fourth NBA team in four years, owner Mark Cuban laid out Green’s essential flaw in front of an audience of NBA executives and basketball writers at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the context of explaining how valuable advanced statistics can be, Cuban turned to fellow panel member and Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren and famously said: “We had Gerald Green. You had Green. He does stuff [athletically] that makes you say, ‘Oh My God!’ …  He just doesn’t understand the game of basketball.”

Most NBA executives were in agreement. Green just didn’t get it.

‘The tools to be successful’ now

There is irony today in Cuban’s comment. In ’05, Suns first-year general manager Ryan McDonough was cutting his teeth in the Celtics’ front office. He scouted Green extensively and liked what he saw. Boston drafted Green with the 18th pick overall, but two unimpressive seasons later packaged him in the deal to Minnesota that landed Kevin Garnett.

This summer, McDonough traded forward Luis Scola to Indiana for young center Miles Plumlee and Green.

“The way coach [Jeff] Hornacek and I wanted to play, we wanted to go up and down and try to make the team younger and more athletic and shoot a lot of 3s, and Gerald checked all of those boxes,” McDonough said. “I think he’s proved now that he does have the tools to be successful. It just took him a little while to put it together.”

It doesn’t mean Green’s sharpening basketball IQ is quite Kobe-esque yet. Last week at Minnesota, Green swished a difficult baseline fadeaway in the final seconds, first freeing himself to get the ball and then rising high to release it over the defender. On Monday, he went 2-for-16 in a painful overtime loss at New York to end a disappointing trip at 1-4. (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rondo to be on minutes limit in debut | Oden happy to make season debut | Cuban wants one last fine from Stern | Noel progressing, can do some on-court workouts | Howard won’t be in Dunk Contest

UPDATE — 11:39 a.m.: Celtics president Danny Ainge says Rondo, barring any setbacks today, will play Friday vs. the Lakers

No. 1: Rondo expected to play Friday vs. Lakers — From yesterday’s trade (which sent de facto point guard Jordan Crawford to Golden State) to an assignment (and recall) to the NBA D-League, things are clearing in Boston for Rajon Rondo to make his season debut. Coach Brad Stevens said Rondo enjoyed his (albeit) brief stint working out with the Maine Red Claws and, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com, Rondo is expected to play between 18 and 20 minutes when he does debut. ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg reports that Rondo was actually active for last night’s game against Toronto, but didn’t log a minute:

Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is still expected to play Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers, although he would be limited to 18-20 minutes according to coach Brad Stevens.

Stevens, who would not say if Rondo was in fact going to play Friday, did have Rondo on the bench dressed in uniform on Wednesday night.

However, Stevens made it clear after Boston’s 88-83 win over Toronto that there was never any plan to play Rondo against the Raptors.

Not even when the game got tight in the fourth quarter and the Celtics were in desperate need for someone to do what Rondo does best – pass the ball.

Up by three points with less than a minute to play, Boston had to call its final time-out because Jeff Green could not in-bound the ball immediately.

Coming out of the timeout, there was never any thought about putting Rondo out on the floor in that situation.

When asked if Rondo would have played if it were an emergency, Stevens quickly shot that down as something considered.

“Well we were up three points with no timeouts trying to get the ball in-bounds and one of the best passers in the world sitting right next to me, so, no,” Stevens said. “He would not have been. I told [assistant coach] Jay Larranaga he was next, and [assistant coach] Walter [McCarty] was right after him, depending on what we needed. So that’s the way we were going to roll tonight.”

And here’s Forsberg’s report on Rondo as well:

Thin on bodies, the Boston Celtics activated Rajon Rondo for Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors, but the point guard did not play and is still targeting Friday’s visit from the Los Angeles Lakers for his 2013-14 season debut.

“[Rondo is] going to go through and do some [pregame] shooting, and there is a chance that he would suit up tonight,” Stevens said before the game. “But I don’t see a chance that he would play tonight, that it would be more about getting back into that rhythm of pregame activity.”

“I think [Rondo] enjoyed it because they kept score. His team usually won,” Stevens said. “But it was more about getting up and down the floor more than anything. I got asked the other day, if and when he comes back, if there would be a minute restriction, and the answer is yes. We’ll cross those bridges with exact numbers when we get there. And go from there. But he looked pretty good.

“[The D-League workout] accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. I have not talked to anybody, including Rondo, since the workout was over. I watched it for a few minutes, and then I left. Because I needed to — obviously, we’ve got a lot going on around here, but we have a game tonight.”


VIDEO: Brad Stevens talks before last night’s game about Rajon Rondo’s D-League work

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No. 2: Oden happy to get his first NBA minutes — You’re probably already well aware that Greg Oden got his first NBA regular-season minutes since 2009 in the Heat’s blowout loss to the Wizards last night. And, as our own Sekou Smith framed it after the game, this is the first of several big baby steps for the former No. 1 overall pick. But what you might not know is all the details leading up to Oden’s activation and debut last night, which ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh details below:

Greg Oden was smiling about basketball again.

It took him four years to get back to this place. Four years, two microfracture surgeries, a broken knee cap and a battle with alcoholism later, Oden sat at his locker grinning in front of a pack of reporters. The former No. 1 pick in 2007 had played in a regular-season game again, the first time in 1,503 days.

No one really saw this coming. On the morning of Wednesday’s game, the Heat didn’t even know that Oden would make his season debut. They didn’t even think he’d be activated on the roster.

But around noon, a spot opened up for Oden. The Heat traded long-time reserve center Joel Anthony to the Boston Celtics along with two draft picks.

Toney Douglas, the former Golden State Warriors point guard whom the Heat traded for, would not arrive in the nation’s capital in time for the game.

So, Oden’s time had come. The Heat players found out about the trade over lunch and shortly after, Oden got word: he’d dress for the game.

“I didn’t know if I was going to play or not,” Oden said. “But I got out there and I did. And I’m happy I got the chance.”

Why bring Oden in then?

“We were down by 30,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.

As if there weren’t enough Heat surprises, Oden came out in the second half with the rest of the starters, subbing in for Shane Battier who watched the third-quarter’s opening minutes from the bench. The aggressive approach ensured that Oden wouldn’t get stiff like he did after four minutes of action in the preseason game in New Orleans. Oden rode a bike during halftime and Spoelstra gave him the nod.

Oden’s final line in eight minutes of action: six points on two dunks and a pair of free throws along with two rebounds. Not captured in the box score were several altered shots and screens.

“It felt good, just being able to be back out on the court,” Oden said. “Honestly, the big thing is, to be able to have now that connection now with my teammates. I’ve been here, I’ve been around, but when you’re not playing, sometimes deep down you don’t really feel part of the team as much. I’m happy I can do that now.”

LeBron James said he didn’t even know that Oden was playing until he saw his fellow No. 1 overall pick lacing up his basketball shoes just before the game.

“Oh, you active?” James recalled asking Oden. “I had no idea.”

James assisted on Oden’s second dunk of the game out of a pick-and-roll, something we’ll probably see many times again if Oden can stay healthy. But it was Oden’s first dunk that James couldn’t believe.

“How is this possible that every time you sit out long periods of time, you decide to come back and you keep getting a dunk on your first attempt?” James said. “That’s pretty cool, man. Hopefully he can continue to stride, getting three minutes a half to five minutes a half to 12. He can be a big plus for us. Obviously in the short amount of minutes tonight, he was pretty good for us.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew talks about Greg Oden’s impact on the Heat

***

No. 3: Cuban wants one last fine from Stern — Since becoming owner of the Dallas Mavericks in 2000, Mark Cuban has racked up plenty of fines from the NBA for his outspoken nature regarding officiating, the league office and, at times, commissioner David Stern. With Stern set to retire from his post in about a month, Cuban told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that he wants to get one last fine from the outgoing league boss if for nothing more than old times’ sake. (Worth noting: Cuban may get his wish sooner than he thinks. He walked on the court to berate the officials after the Mavs’ loss to the Clippers last night … fast-forward to the 2:08 mark to see what we mean.):

In an interview with ESPN.com this week to reflect on David Stern’s 30-year run as NBA commissioner, which ends Feb. 1, Cuban said he has been telling Stern for months that he is determined to get dinged one last time before his longtime foil leaves his post.

“We talk about it all the time,” Cuban said. “I’m going to have one final fine before he leaves.”

The outspoken owner made the comments in a lighthearted manner before the Mavericks went to Los Angeles on Wednesday night and suffered a disappointing 129-127 defeat to the Clippers that prompted a heated Cuban to walk onto the floor after the final buzzer at Staples Center and chastise the referees who worked the game.

As Mavs owner, Cuban has been assessed 19 league fines that were made public, 13 of which were triggered by either criticizing referees or interacting with them in ways the NBA deemed inappropriate.

Cuban has paid in excess of $1.8 million in fines during his 14 years of Mavs ownership. The most expensive of those sanctions was the infamous $500,000 that Cuban was docked in January 2002 for declaring he wouldn’t hire then-NBA head of officiating Ed Rush to manage a Dairy Queen. The most recent was a $50,000 fine assessed in January 2013 after Cuban responded to a home loss to New Orleans by tweeting: “Im sorry NBA fans. Ive tried for 13 years to fix the officiating in this league and I have failed miserably. Any Suggestions ? I need help.”

Yet Cuban has mostly praise for Stern with slightly more than two weeks to go before Stern’s longtime deputy Adam Silver takes over and the longest tenure of any commissioner in North American professional team sports comes to an end.

“One reason that I truly respect David is that he followed the rules,” Cuban said. “He didn’t want to be king. He wanted to be successful and make the NBA successful. He was less concerned with his legacy than with creating results for the NBA. He knows that the results will stand the test of time and define his legacy.”

Cuban said he would give Stern “an 85 to 90″ out of 100 when grading his three decades in charge and said his only bone of contention with the commissioner during his time in the league — besides the state of officiating — was the amount of money invested in China at Stern’s behest in the continued pursuit of globalizing the NBA brand.

“He’s always been receptive [to me]. We kind of have two relationships. There’s the public relationship about the officiating. And then there’s the business side. On the business side, we get along great.

“On the officiating side, that’s probably the one thing I’d say he’s failed miserably on, but I understand where he’s coming from, because he doesn’t have a horse in the race. Win, lose or draw, as long as the business of the NBA is good, he’s happy. I obviously have a completely different perspective, and that’s where we clash. He doesn’t care who wins. That’s the difference, because I do.

“But on the business side, we’ve agreed far more than we’ve disagreed.”

***

No. 4: Sixers’ Noel OK’d for ‘limited on-court work’The last thing we told you in this space about Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel, it was that Philly’s coaching staff was working on a ‘total rebuild’ of his shot. In addition, Sixers coaches were warning fans that Noel may not even take the court this season. Some of that news has changed, however, as ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman reports that Noel has been cleared by the team for some on-court work and he could play within 4-6 weeks:

The Philadelphia 76ers have cleared rookie center Nerlens Noel for “limited on-court work,” but several benchmarks remain before he can return to game action, the team announced Wednesday night.

“After careful consideration and numerous discussions with our medical and performance teams, the consulting physician and rehabilitation staff, and Nerlens’ representatives, some of the restrictions on Nerlens have been lifted and he is now able to participate in limited on-court work,” 76ers president and general manager Sam Hinkie said in a statement.

“There are several benchmarks Nerlens still must meet, and during that time we will closely monitor his progress and regularly evaluate his status. Our goal remains the same, which is to give Nerlens every opportunity to ensure a long, productive NBA career.”

Noel, who suffered a torn ACL in February while playing for Kentucky, visited Dr. James Andrews in Florida last week.

“He is doing excellent, and the team is taking good care of him,” Andrews told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Andrews said he was unable to provide more information because of privacy laws, but sources told ESPN.com that Noel, the No. 6 pick in this past June’s NBA draft, could return to game action within the next four to six weeks barring a setback.

“He tested really well, and his knee looks great,” one source said. “Dr. Andrews suggested he be cleared to do on-court drills, but the team still has to clear him.”

CSNPhilly.com reported that Noel was seen playing one-on-one against assistant coach and former NBA big man Greg Foster on Tuesday.

***

No. 5: Howard won’t participate in Dunk Contest — Back in 2008, a young Dwight Howard — then with the Orlando Magic — burst onto the national scene with his performance in the Dunk Contest during All-Star weekend in New Orleans. Since then, Howard’s star has risen and fallen, and with the All-Star weekend being back in the Big Easy, there was some thought that Howard might give the Dunk Contest another try. That’s not going to happen, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Howard, who won the 2008 dunk contest at New Orleans Arena, said the NBA invited him to dunk again this season in New Orleans, but he declined.“Couldn’t do it,” Howard said.

Howard, 28, said he would participate again, “If I wasn’t so old. I’m getting up there in age, man, I tell you. I got a lot of years.”

Howard, however, said he had thought about that night just because with the return to New Orleans.

“It was a night to remember,” Howard said. “It was probably one of the best memories of me being in the NBA being in the dunk contest here in New Orleans. The fans were amazing here. Every time I come in this building, I get chills thinking about it.”

“I remember that whole experience,” Howard said. “Being here, the fans were amazing. I saw in past years, nobody tried to really engage the crowd. I like to entertain. I tried to really engage the fans, give them something they’ll remember.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Veteran guard Keith Bogans has been ‘excused’ from team activities with the Celtics … In an interview with an Italian media outlet, Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari isn’t sure when or if he’ll return this season … Fantastic read about Blazers guard Wesley Matthews and the strained relationship he has with his dad … Clippers coach Doc Rivers can’t help but marvel at Dirk Nowitzki‘s career … Ex-Spurs forward Richard Jefferson sounds a little bitter about all the hype Kawhi Leonard is getting in San Antonio

ICYMI(s) of The Night: On a 12-game night, it’s tough to find the best plays because so many of them stand out. But today, we’re going with a pair of nice backdoor alley-oops — one from Nicolas Batum to Damian Lillard and another one from Giannis Antetokounmpo to Larry Sanders:


VIDEO: Damian Lillard skies high on the baseline to finish off Nicolas Batum’s alley-oop


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo finds Larry Sanders for the reverse alley-oop

Dallas Must Have A Wide-Eyed Dalembert


VIDEO: Jose Calderon finds Samuel Dalember for an easy dunk vs. Orlando

DALLAS – All the latest statistical computations reveal the same thickening plot for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference: Dogfight!

Dallas, Phoenix, Denver, Minnesota and Memphis are all separated by 4.5 games. Each team can point to one significant key that could put them over the top. For the hottest team in the group, the 23-16 Mavericks point to good-natured and well-intentioned, but not always, ahem, eye-opening center Samuel Dalembert. They don’t ask him for him to be a force, but rather, a consistent presence on defense and on the boards.

“You know, we don’t ask a tremendous amount from our 5-men,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “We ask them to bring what they can bring to our team at their best possible level. For [Dalembert], we need him active, we need him rebounding, we need him screening, rolling; he’s been making free throws. We ask those guys to play to exhaustion and then we’ll get them out.”

Exhaustion is an interesting choice of words.

The 6-foot-11 Dalembert has had something of an issue getting out of bed, already twice punished for oversleeping and showing up late. He’s paid for it by being benched and even losing his starting job for a spell. Dalembert is a starter again, in the lineup the last three games and eight of the last 11 because there are too many mismatches that hurt the hustling (but defensively liable) 6-foot-7 DeJuan Blair. The lanky, 6-foot-10 Brandan Wright is an offensive commodity off the bench, but he’s not a strong defender or rebounder.

“We start [Dalembert] because it’s the best thing for our team,” Carlisle said. “The last three or four games I like what he’s done. His focus has been good. It’s evident what he brings to the team. It’s good.”

Dalembert says he’s dealing with a sleep disorder, but it’s not as if this kind of thing hasn’t frustrated coaches and front office-types at his previous three stops over the last three seasons. Mavs owner Mark Cuban recently said he doesn’t know if Dalembert has a sleep disorder or not, but he’s seen enough know to he needs the big man playing with both eyes wide open.

“I told him he’s All-Star caliber when he’s laying it out there,” Cuban said.

After both oversleeping episodes, Dalembert, who signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract last summer, expressed guilt and remorse. On Nov. 25, his oversleeping made him late for a morning shootaround and led to a first-quarter benching in Dallas’ eventual 110-96 loss to Denver. Afterward, he somberly offered up this classic, no-pun-intended analysis: “It was a wake-up call for us.”

Dallas sorely needs an engaged Dalembert to compete against the West’s bigger frontcourts. The Mavs are a poor rebounding team (27th in rebound percentage) and are porous defensively (19th in defensive rating, 22nd in opponent field-goal percentage) and sport with a soft perimeter defense that must have back-up from an active rim protector.

The Mavs’ defensive rating is 101.3 with Dalembert on the floor. He owns the second-best individual rating among rotation players behind reserve forward Jae Crowder. With Dalembert on the bench, the Mavs’ defensive rating soars to 106.3, the second-largest jump on the team, again behind Crowder. Dalembert is never again going to be a 30-minute-a-night player. So the 20 he gets — or should get — have to be good.

Wednesday brings a massive road test when Dallas puts its three-game win streak up against the Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). L.A. has won three in a row since All-Star point guard Chris Paul suffered a right shoulder separation on Jan. 3 in Dallas. The Clippers rallied to win the game behind this combined stat line from power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan: 50 points (18-for-32 shooting, including nine dunks), 33 rebounds (11 offensive), six assists and four blocked shots. Dalembert started the game, played 21 minutes and had nine points, five rebounds and one block.

On Friday, Dallas plays at Phoenix (9 ET, League Pass). The Suns trounced the Mavs on Dec. 21. Dalembert didn’t start, played seven minutes and Dallas got outrebounded, 45-36.

During Dallas’ three-game win streak, Dalembert has logged a total of 60 minutes, his second-highest minutes total over a three-game span since late November. He’s averaged 5.0 ppg on 58.3 percent shooting, 7.7 rpg with four blocked shots.

It’s all nothing terribly eye-popping. But with Dalembert, it’s all about presence.

“I go by the recent trends and the recent trends are that he’s been ready and he’s been into it and that’s what we need from him,” Carlisle said. “It’s pretty clear. We’ve laid it out to him: We want it simple and do what you do.”

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Woodson challenges Smith to ‘be more of a pro’ | Prokhorov to attend Nets-Hawks in London | Report: Teammates tiring of Waiters’ actions | Cuban praises NBA’s transparency | Gasol, Henry a game-time decision

No. 1: Woodson issues simple message to Smith — If you aren’t aware of the recent misdeeds of on J.R. Smith, you haven’t been paying to the NBA as close as you should. Apart from last week’s $50,000 NBA-sanctioned fine for untying opponents’ shoes during free-throw attempts, Smith was benched for last week’s TNT matchup with the Miami Heat and saw his name bandied about in trade talks as well. Knicks coach Mike Woodson has grown frustrated with Smith and issued a simple challenge to him, writes Ian Bagley of ESPNNewYork.com, after Smith chipped in 10 points in Monday’s overtime victory over the Suns:

“The bottom line is he’s got to be more of a pro and do the right things and just concentrate on playing basketball,” the Knicks coach said Monday. “That’s the name of the game, nothing else. You got to concentrate on your craft and what you’re being paid to do — that’s play basketball. … That’s all I want him to do.”

Smith has angered Woodson and many in the Knicks organization for his on and off-court transgressions this season.

Smith returned to the court against Philadelphia on Saturday and scored 14 points to lift New York to a 102-92 win. In Monday night’s 98-96 win over the Suns, he scored 10 points on 5-11 shooting from the floor.

Afterward, Smith said he’d learned a lesson from the fine and benching.

“Don’t goof around, I guess. Be serious. Be a professional. And just don’t take this opportunity here you have for granted,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in this world that want our jobs. You can’t take it for granted. It can be taken away just that fast.”

Woodson addressed the Smith incident for the first time on Monday. Smith said he spoke to the head coach on Friday.

“Bottom line is I expect J.R. to be a pro on and off the court and concentrate on playing basketball and that’s all I want him to do,” Woodson said.

Smith signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the Knicks in the offseason, though he admitted last week that he is unsure of his future with the organization.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com last week that the Knicks have become increasingly frustrated with Smith’s on- and off-court transgressions and have in recent days begun exploring the potential trade market for him, though they realize it will be difficult to move him.

Smith can’t be traded until Jan. 15 because the Knicks are over the salary cap and Smith signed for more than 120 percent of his previous salary.


VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses J.R. Smith’s actions of late and the Knicks’ improved play

***

No. 2: Prokhorov to attend Nets-Hawks game in London — Nets owner and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has been largely absent from the picture this season. That is expected to change Thursday night in London, though, as Brooklyn “visits” the Hawks in a game at London’s O2 arena. According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, if Prokhorov — who was reportedly last seen skiing in the French Alps with group of 20 women this month — attends, he’ll be speaking to the media in mid-season for first time since Avery Johnson‘s ouster last season:

Mikhail Prokhorov hasn’t been to a Nets game since the home opener on Nov. 1, but the Russian billionaire is planning to attend Thursday’s match- up against the Hawks at the O2 Arena in London, a club official confirmed.

Prokhorov has mostly been silent amid Brooklyn’s surprisingly bad start to the season, aside from preaching patience in an email exchange with The New York Times. The Nets are 15-22, but have won five out of their last six behind a stingy defense.

The last time Prokhorov spoke to the media during the middle of the season was just after firing Avery Johnson. He then spoke again to reporters at the press conference introducing Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, reiterating his championship aspirations and expectations.

At the time, Prokhorov explained why Jason Kidd would make a good coach — in a way that only Prokhorov can.

“Maybe you do remember a film, ‘Top Gun.’ This film just arrived in Russia one week ago. I want to refresh your memory,” he said. “Tom Cruise plays Maverick, and he was a top pilot, he was a real leader. At the end of the day he made decision to be an instructor because it was the highest value just to be a leader. So Jason Kidd is our Top Gun. And he will do his best, I am sure, all his skills to elevate the whole team.”

Prokhorov, a 48-year-old bachelor, was reportedly spotted partying in the French Alps this month with a group of “20 women.” He’s also still involved in Russian politics and doubles as president of the Russian Biathlon Union, setting the bar at the Sochi Winter Olympics for his athletes to win “two or three gold medals …minimum.”

Since Prokhorov took over the Nets in 2010, he has pushed the idea that the Nets would become “the first really global team in the NBA.” They spent parts of training camp and preseason in China and Moscow during his first season as owner, and previously played two regular-season games in London.

Prokhorov has been pushing for a regular-season game to be played in Russia.

***

No. 3: Report: Teammates tiring of Waiters’ actions — The Cavs’ last game was nothing to write home about — a 124-80 loss in Sacramento that if it is not the low point of the season, it’s at least a contender for that dubious honor. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal termed it as one of the worst losses he’s seen the team suffer in the last four years and after the defeat, a topic he covered was that of Dion Waiters‘ play. Waiters finished with four points on 1-for-7 (including a 1-for-5 night from deep) in 20 minutes off the bench. His reported dust-up with teammate Kyrie Irving was a hot topic earlier in the season, but it seems now that grumbles are growing about Waiters’ shot selection and attitude, both of which are wearing thin on teammates:

When he was pulled from the game Sunday after throwing a bad pass in the first quarter, Mike Brown was visibly irritated with him and subbed him out of the game. Waiters was standing near half-court when he realized he was coming out and he threw his hands in the air out of frustration as if to say, “Why me?”During the next timeout, Waiters sat pouting on the bench while the rest of the team huddled together. Assistant coach Jim Boylan casually walked down and talked to him and soon Waiters joined the huddle. But it was still a bad look.When Waiters’ shot is falling, he can carry a team. When it’s not, he tends to shut down. He doesn’t defend, he gets careless with the ball … Players have quietly grumbled about Waiters’ act off and on all season, and those grumbles were growing louder Sunday night.

As one player put it, stars can get away with the stuff Waiters pulls on occasion, but Waiters hasn’t even established himself yet in this league, let alone carved out star status. The thing about him is he’s not a bad guy. He’s not a locker room cancer or a coach killer. He just sulks, pouts, broods … whatever word you want to use. And it has to stop if he’s ever going to reach his potential, because I believe he could be a very good player in this league. But he has to stop the nonsense.

***

No. 4: Cuban praises NBA’s transparency in officiatingPerhaps no owner in NBA history has been more adamant about challenging the notions and rules of NBA officiating than the Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Cuban. Throughout the years, Cuban has never been afraid to question (sometimes vehemently) the calls NBA officials make during the course of a game, even if it means paying a hefty fine for his outburst. Before last night’s game between the Magic and Mavs in Dallas, Cuban spoke with reporters and praised the improved transparency in officiating in the league. But, as ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon notes, Cuban is still expecting more:

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban considers the NBA office’s willingness to acknowledge officiating mistakes that occur late in close games to be an encouraging first step.

But Cuban, whose crusade to improve NBA officiating has resulted in seven figures worth of fines during his 14-year ownership tenure, is asking for much more.

“I love the transparency,” Cuban said Monday. “Now if I could just get them to do the same level of transparency for the other 47 minutes and 55 seconds, I’d really be making progress.”

Cuban, whose team benefited twice in the last two weeks from last-second no-calls the league office later acknowledged should have been fouls, is lobbying for a list of blown calls to be published for every NBA game.

This doesn’t necessarily need to be done on a timely basis, Cuban said. He would strongly prefer that it would be done publicly, though.

“No one ever wants or expects perfection, but when you’re not transparent, people tend to think you’re hiding something,” Cuban said. “And I think that hurts us. That hurts just the connection we have with our fan base. That’s my opinion.”

Cuban isn’t nearly as critical of officiating as he used to be, in large part because of steps taken by the NBA office to address the issue. However, he will always firmly believe that poor officiating played a critical role in the Mavs losing the 2006 Finals. He was fined $250,000 after Game 5 of that series, when Miami’s Dwyane Wade hit the deciding free throws after a controversial foul call.

“After all this, I firmly believe that every 14 years it does balance out,” Cuban cracked about the two recent no-calls that benefited the Mavs.

Yet Cuban is completely serious about his concern regarding NBA fans’ lack of trust of referees, an issue that was especially sensitive in the wake of disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy’s gambling scandal. The desire to prove that the integrity of officiating in today’s NBA is beyond reproach is why Cuban argues the league would benefit from making every call subject to review publicly.

“Why not? What’s to hide?” Cuban said. “All you’ve got to do is just do a tweet search for ‘NBA refs’ during any multi-game night and it’s an interesting source of knowledge. I think the more transparency we have, the stronger connection we make with our fans.”

***

No. 5: Gasol, Henry a game-time decision for LakersFrom Kobe Bryant to Steve Nash to Pau Gasol and Xavier Henry, injuries have wreaked havoc on the Los Angeles Lakers’ lineup all season. Gasol left last week’s blowout loss to the Clippers with a foot injury and Henry has been out of the lineup since Dec. 29 (bone bruise on his right knee). Both players are on the mend and may or may not play tonight as the Lakers host the Cavaliers, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

The Los Angeles Lakers’ injury woes continued Monday as an MRI revealed Pau Gasol has a moderate strain of the flexor tendon of the big toe of his left foot.Gasol will be a game-time decision on for Tuesday’s game against Cleveland.

With Gasol out of Monday’s practice, the Lakers were down to eight healthy players for the session. Lakers assistant coach, Mark Madsen, and video coordinator, J.J. Outlaw, filled in to give the team enough bodies to field a 5-on-5 game.

“J.J., we can sign him up for a 10-day [contract],” joked Nick Young. “And Mark, Mark’s coming out of retirement.”

Xavier Henry, who underwent an individual on-court workout Sunday for the first time since suffering a bone bruise in his right knee on Dec. 29, did not practice Monday.

Henry was originally scheduled to have his knee re-evaluated Monday, but that examination has been pushed to Tuesday, according to the Lakers. The Lakers host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night.

“I don’t think he’ll get the all-clear yet,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said of Henry. “They’ll want to get him on the floor and have him go through some stuff. Hopefully sometime soon, but [playing against Cleveland] would surprise me.”


VIDEO: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni addresses Gasol, Henry’s status

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The GameTime crew provides a great look at why the Knicks are off to a 6-1 January start … Hall of Famer Larry Bird used to do what J.R. Smith got in trouble for last week: untie opponents’ shoes at the free-throw line … Hall of Famer Bill Walton shares some odd comments about Gilbert Arenas during a Arizona-UCLA telecast … Mavs owner Mark Cuban reiterates that he is clearly not a fan of the Miami Heat … Celtics coach Brad Stevens used the Hack-a-Dwight strategy last night, but Stevens says he wouldn’t be upset if that practice went away altogether

ICYMI(s) of The Night: What did Marvin Williams ever do to the Denver Nuggets? After J.J. Hickson banged on him earlier this season, Quincy Miller and Evan Fournier got into the act last night: 


VIDEO: Quincy Miller goes strong to the hoop and dunks on Marvin Williams


VIDEO: Evan Fournier dunks on Marvin Williams

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Grizz may re-sign Randolph | Gasol (illness) misses Lakers’ trip to Salt Lake City  | Bucks’ Sanders expected to play tonight | Cuban no fan of Christmas Day unis

No. 1: Report: Grizz may be open to re-signing Randolph — Just two weeks ago, Grizzlies All-Star forward Zach Randolph told our Fran Blinebury he was well aware of his name being bandied about in trade rumors. Said Randolph then: “The truth is there ain’t no loyalty or love, except in certain organizations where they keep players around, value them. Only a very few organizations seem like they want to keep players around to retire there.” As such, there’s a common thought around the league that Randolph, who has a player option on his contract this summer, will opt out and test the free-agent waters. But as Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reports in a lengthy look at the Grizzlies’ up-and-down season, Z-Bo might be willing to stick around in Memphis:

With coaching change, modest roster turnover and a recent bout with injuries, the Grizzlies are 12-15 and 3 1-2 games out of a playoff spot. Is it time to panic?”When I got here, we were deep,” Randolph said. “We had O.J. [Mayo] and Rudy [Gay]. It’s different. But it gives guys a chance to play and have an opportunity to get better.”

Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince have been in and out of the lineup, and Gasol is likely out until mid-to-late January with a knee injury. Quincy Pondexter has a stress fracture in his foot that could keep him out for the rest of the season. But despite the potential riches that could be acquired in the 2014 draft, the Grizzlies aren’t looking to tear down in the short term. League sources say they’re active in trade discussions that would inject some wing athleticism into the mix and improve the team.

If Randolph exercises his player option for next season, the Grizzlies’ $62 million in committed salary will leave them comfortably under the tax but will afford no room to shop for free agents. League sources expect Randolph, 32, to opt out and try to score one more multi-year deal. But two people familiar with the situation say Memphis is not out of the mix to retain Randolph in such a scenario. The team is determined not to lose Randolph for nothing, so unless Randolph expresses a strong desire to leave — which he hasn’t — there’s no immediate pressure to trade him.

“It’s a business and we’ve got new ownership, but I’ve still got a job,” Randolph said. “That’s why I go out and play hard no matter what.”

***

No. 2: Lakers’ Gasol (respiratory infection) won’t play vs. Jazz — The Lakers got some good news on Christmas Day when point guard Jordan Farmar returned to the lineup, helping to offset L.A.’s recent loss of guard Steve Blake. But L.A.’s frontcourt will be thin for tonight’s game in Utah against the Jazz as power forward Pau Gasol stayed behind to deal with a lingering respiratory infection. Trevor Wong of Lakers.com has more:

The Lakers received good news when Jordan Farmar returned to the lineup on Christmas Day, but now they will be without Pau Gasol at Utah on Friday evening. Gasol has been dealing with an upper respiratory illness and is being listed as day-to-day, according to Lakers PR.

Gasol did not practice on Thursday in advance of the team’s flight and will not accompany the team to Salt Lake City.

“I think it’s lingering a little bit,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I think it does affect him.”

The 7-foot Spaniard missed the team’s game at Golden State on Saturday, Dec. 21, because of the same issue. Prior to the Warriors contest, he was the lone player to appear in the starting lineup through the first 26 games.

“Like anything else, you’re not 100 percent physically and you’re going to have shorter times of energy and stuff like that,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll get over it. He’ll be fine.”

***

No. 3: Sanders expected to return to Bucks’ lineup Friday — The last time Larry Sanders played a game for the Milwaukee Bucks, he scored four points and pulled down four rebounds in 21 minutes in a loss to the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 2. Since then, Sanders has been out as he recovers from a torn ligament in his right thumb that was suffered during an incident at a downtown Milwaukee bar after the loss to Toronto. He was expected to miss six weeks of action — which he roughly has — and should play tonight against as Milwaukee travels to Brooklyn. As Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel points out, though, Sanders is returning to a markedly different Bucks team and his role may be different as well.:

Milwaukee Bucks coach Larry Drew received a late Christmas present when he arrived for work Thursday at the team’s Cousins Center practice facility.

Center Larry Sanders, considered a key part of the team’s rebuilding plans, was back on the practice court.

“It’s good to have him back,” Drew said after the practice session. “He was really good today. The energy, he was real bouncy. Defensively, he was very active and energized.”

Power forward Ersan Ilyasova, who did not play in the last three games while resting his sore right ankle, also returned to practice and should be available against the Nets.

Drew said he did not know what role Sanders would play against the Nets, only that he would play.

“We’ll think about it a little bit,” Drew said. “I don’t know what I’ll do yet, but I like having the options.”

Milwaukee (6-22) has the league’s worst record but has played more competitively lately, winning once and losing three games in overtime.

Now, Sanders will join a young lineup featuring Brandon Knight, 19-year-old rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and John Henson.

“We’ll definitely have more bodies, so that will be good to give some guys some rest,” Sanders said. “Maybe we’ll be able to have that extra boost at the end of the game that we’ve been lacking. There’s a small margin of winning and losing. Hopefully, we can make that margin up a little bit.”

Sanders was asked if he learned anything from this experience, being injured off the court and being absent while his teammates struggled on the court.

“Definitely a lot of learning,” Sanders said. “I feel like I’ve recommitted myself to the game and other areas of my life. Things have been ironed out a little bit more. I’m looking forward to being out there with a clear mind and helping my team win.

“This team has a lot of fight in them. They’ve been fighting. It’s not like we’ve been getting blown out terribly in all of our games. I feel it and it makes me more excited to get back.”

Sanders will wear a tight glove with a hard plastic piece protecting his thumb, and a wrap will cover that.

.***

No. 4: Cuban no fan of NBA’s Christmas Day jerseys – You can always count on Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to have an opinion on just about any topic. So it’s not surprise that when asked about the short-sleeved jerseys the Bulls, Nets, Heat, Lakers, Thunder, Knicks, Warriors, Spurs, Rockets and Clippers wore on Christmas Day, Cuban piped in with his view that is sure to please NBA brass. Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com has more on Cuban’s view of the NBA’s new fashion venture:

As far as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is concerned, the NBA committed a major fashion faux pas by having all 10 teams that played Christmas Day suited up in short-sleeved jerseys.

“Hated them,” Cuban said before the Mavs hosted the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night. “I just thought it made our guys look more like a high school wrestling team or a college wrestling team.”

Cuban, whose Mavs had Christmas off, understands the NBA is attempting to market the short-sleeved jerseys to fans who might not want to wear tank tops. He just doesn’t believe it’s necessary for superstars such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant to wear the T-shirt-style jerseys in games to get them to sell.

“I could have thought of better ways to sell [the short-sleeved jerseys] and a lot of different ways by having them in a casual-wear situation,” Cuban said. “We would have been better off, if we want people to wear them casually, to get the trainers and everybody else to wear them to show them in a realistic setting. So I would have done it a little differently, but we’ll see what happens.”

“I think the people that will buy them are more the jersey heads and the people who are trying to be hip and cool as opposed to the mainstream fan who just wants something to wear to work or something to wear to school,” Cuban said. “I don’t think schools are going to be happy if 16-year-old boys come in wearing skin-tight gym wrestling gear. My opinion, they’ll sell, but we could have sold more.

“You live and you learn. That’s just my opinion. Maybe I’ll be wrong. Maybe they’ll sell like gangbusters in China.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: If you ever wanted to look like Chris “Birdman” Andersen, but didn’t want to have all those painful tattoos, there’s a new way to get his look without getting some ink … A statistical look at how those short-sleeved Christmas Day jerseys affected shooting … While we’re at it, here’s a cool infographic of the history of NBA uniforms … A great breakdown of how and why the Blazers’ starting five has worked so well together … The Mavs’ Devin Harris is shooting for a return in January

ICYMI Of The Night: Journeyman James Johnson has played all of five games for the Grizz this season, but his field goal percentage is a career-best 53.8 percent. Shots like this might be why he’s scoring so well …


VIDEO: James Johnson soars in for the one-handed power slam

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: Highlights from all of Monday’s NBA games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo sprains ankle | Pierce, Nets implode, Kidd explodes | Dirk climbs all-time list | Wade sits, LeBron shines | End of the Lottery?

No. 1: Melo leaves with sprained ankle– As if enough hasn’t happened to the New York Knicks in the season’s first two months, now they’re dealing with a sprained left ankle to their best player, Carmelo Anthony. The club’s leading scorer limped to the locker room in the third quarter of New York’s 103-98 win over Orlando. Yes, the Knicks still managed to hold on and win. Oh, to make matters worse, point guard Raymond Felton, who had just returned from injury, left in the fourth quarter with a strained right groin. Both players will be reevaluated Tuesday and Anthony insisted he’s hoping to play on Wednesday, Christmas Day, when the Knicks play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder (2:30 ET, ABC).

More from Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“It’s on. I still have it. It ain’t going nowhere, so I’ll be there,” Anthony said of his sprained ankle. “Hopefully, I’ll be there. … It’s Christmas in the Garden. I don’t want to miss that game. I don’t know, I’m hard-headed sometimes when it comes to that. But I’ve got two days.”

The Knicks (9-18) constructed a 24-point cushion at halftime and still led 72-52 when Anthony went up for a rebound of his own miss and landed awkwardly, with his left foot coming down on the foot of Orlando forward and Long Island product Tobias Harris with 7:26 remaining in the third.
“Melo’s a tough kid. He don’t sit down very often,” Mike Woodson said.

Anthony, who also battled knee and shoulder problems last season, described this ankle injury as “not as severe” as one that kept him out of two games this time last year.
Still, Anthony limped to the bench and remained there for several minutes while receiving treatment from trainer Roger Hinds. During a timeout with 5:43 remaining in the quarter, the pending free agent headed for the locker room and did not return.

“The pain was too much. I was actually trying to walk to see if I could get back in the game. There wasn’t no reason for me to go out there and risk it anymore,” Anthony said. “But I’m walking. I think I caught it before it rolled all the way, but it rolled pretty bad. We’ll evaluate everything (Tuesday), but the good thing is I am able to walk with a little bit of pain.”

Felton was back in the lineup after missing the previous six games with a strained left hamstring, scoring 13 points with four assists in 25 minutes before he collapsed to the floor following a midair collision with Jameer Nelson with 3:21 to go.
Felton, who also missed time earlier this season with a pinched nerve in his hip, admitted he “felt a pop” in his right groin.

***

No. 2: Pierce ejected, Kidd explodes – With the Nets down 19 points to the East-leading Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce, in the midst of a horrible personal season, took down Indiana’s George Hill on a fastbreak. The play was ruled a Flagrant 2 resulting in the automatic ejection of the former Celtics great. But that’s not as bad as it got. Following the Nets’ 103-86 to fall to 9-18, rookie head coach Jason Kidd went off on his underachieving team that just two days ago lost All-Star center Brook Lopez to a broken foot. Kidd’s most damning quote of his club: “Well I think it is getting very close to just accepting losing. We are kind of getting comfortable with losing. And we got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in and most of the time right now we do.”

ESPNNY.com’s Mike Mazzeo has more:

The Nets came into the season with the NBA’s highest payroll — an estimated $190 million counting the impending luxury tax — and extremely high expectations. But they’ve failed to meet them.

During the summer, Nets general manager Billy King mortgaged the future, relinquishing several future assets to acquire veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry in an effort to try and win now. But so far, it hasn’t worked out.

On Monday night, Garnett and Pierce both left without talking to the media. Pierce was automatically ejected after being accessed a flagrant foul 2 for clotheslining Pacers point guard George Hill, who tried to finish a layup in transition with 4:22 remaining in the third quarter. He could face a fine or suspension from the NBA league office as a result.

Pierce (0-for-7) was held scoreless for the first time since March 9, 1999 — the 16th professional game of his 16-year career. Garnett went 3-for-10 from the field in 19 minutes. Both players have struggled mightily while trying to fit in with their new team for the majority of the season.

Told of Kidd’s comment, point guard Deron Williams said, “I’m not. I’m not comfortable losing. It’s not fun. Not only when we’re losing during the game, but when I go home sitting there and thinking about it, it’s not fun.”

***

No. 3: Dirk passes English, destroy RocketsEvery few games it seems Dirk Nowitzki is passing another legend of the game on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. On Monday night, Nowitzki overtook Denver great Alex English for No. 13. The Mavs’ sweet-shooting 7-footer did it in style, dropping 31 points on Dwight Howard and the Rockets to move to 2-1 against their Southwest Division rival this season. Nowitzki, of course, traveled to Los Angeles with owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle over the summer to recruit the free-agent Howard, who preferred the situation in Houston. Nowitzki scored 10 points in the final nine minutes to help Dallas protect the lead and end a two-game skid.

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News was there:

Dirk Nowitzki simply said: Come on, boys, and climb on my back.
“Listen, he’s the great Dirk Nowitzki,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “The guy has changed the game with the way he plays. The game is not the same. He changed the power forward game forever, and it’s reflected in the modern game now. He’s a great player.”

Nowitzki piled up 31 points, including 10 points in the final nine minutes when the Mavericks were protecting a nice lead they had earned in the third quarter. Along the way, Nowitzki passed Alex English for 13th place on the all-time NBA scoring list.

His play was made possible in part by the shooting of Vince Carter, Jae Crowder and Jose Calderon, all of whom loosened up the Houston defense in a third quarter that the Mavericks won by 15 points to turn the game around.

“They had a lot of respect for our shooting at that point,” Nowitzki said. “So they were a little hesitant to double me. And I got to take advantage of the matchups when they play me with 6-7, 6-8 guys and I can shoot over them. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole career.”
And so the Mavericks still have not had a three-game losing streak this season. They stopped the skid at two with their gutsiest victory of the season.

It’s worth noting that the Rockets were playing without leading scorer James Harden (ankle), point guard Patrick Beverley (hand) and center Omer Asik (thigh).

As such, the Rockets leaned heavily on Dwight Howard, who was a beast all night. But the Mavericks held most of the other Rockets in check in the second half.

.***

No. 4: Wade sits, LeBron shinesThe Miami Heat continued their cautious approach toward Dwyane Wade and his cranky news, sitting the superstar yet again Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks. This time it seemed it would be too much for Miami to overcome. Then again, they do have LeBron James, who had 38 points and one massive late fourth-quarter dunk over Paul Millsap that helped get the game to overtime and allow the Heat to take a 121-119 decision.

David J. Neal of the Miami Herald has more:

No Dwyane Wade. Later, after an elbow to the jaw, no Chris Bosh, either. But the Heat still had a LeBron James, and could pull a Michael Beasley off the bench. And then a Ray Allen and, even for the last 2.3 seconds, Bosh.

Which is how the Heat outlasted the Hawks 121-119 in overtime Monday night. Allen got the Heat to overtime. Beasley provided the game-winning free throws. Bosh provided the long arms.

“The one thing I did like about this game, in the last couple of years with this group, if we’d given up 17 threes in a game, we don’t win that game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s ninth win in a row over the Hawks. “It would collapse our spirit and our mind.”

Beasley had 10 points. Allen had 19. James scored 38 points on 16 of 28 shooting, six of his last seven as the Heat came from 11 down in the second half. As remarkable, James had six assists without a turnover. About the only thing James didn’t do well was hit free throws (two of six).

“For the basketball aficionado out there, this is a game where you see his full skill set,” Spoelstra said.

***

No. 5: End of the LotteryWith a multitude of front offices seemingly setting up their teams to be very bad this season with an eye toward what is believed to be a very talented draft class, and the league quite sensitive this whole notion, a proposal for a change to lottery system might be floated to owners in 2014.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe has the story:

We can also search for solutions, and there are lots of folks in the league office and among the 30 teams who find tanking abhorrent — who bristle at the idea that the league has incentivized teams to be anything but their best every single season. One detailed proposal, submitted by a team official, has gained initial traction among some high-level NBA officials — to the point that the NBA may float the proposal to owners sometime in 2014, according to league sources. Other top officials in the league office have expressed early opposition to the proposal, sources say.

The Proposal

Grantland obtained a copy of the proposal, which would eliminate the draft lottery and replace it with a system in which each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once — and exactly once — every 30 years. Each team would simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year. Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year, up to 30 years out from the start of every 30-year cycle. The practice of protecting picks would disappear; there would never be a Harrison Barnes–Golden State situation again, and it wouldn’t require a law degree to track ownership of every traded pick leaguewide..

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni tells fans to find another team if they’re discouraged … According to a report, attempts to revive Kyle Lowry trade talks failed … Metta World Peace to have same blood-spinning procedure as Kobe Bryant … In wake of Brook Lopez injury, Nets will file the paperwork for a Disabled Player Exemption

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 5


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook tunes out praise, criticism | Cuban glad Mavs aren’t ‘stuck’ like Nets | Docs able to preserve Rose’s meniscus | Jazz get good look at their young duo

No. 1: Westbrook tunes out criticism (and praise) of his game — When Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook went down with a knee injury during Game 2 of the first round of last season’s playoffs against Houston, the Thunder’s hopes for a Finals run left, too. Although OKC managed to oust the Rockets in the first round, they were defeated in the West semifinals by Memphis. Before Westbrook’s injury, though, many in the media had criticized Westbrook for his (pick one or many) shot selection, turnovers, refusal to cede control to Kevin Durant and more. In a great interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Westbrook explains how neither that criticism nor the praise he’s getting now as many see how valuable to OKC, has affected him:

For Russell Westbrook to admit he likes being appreciated by the basketball world that once simultaneously loved and loathed him, the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard would have to confess to caring about all the endless criticism that used to come his way.

Post-injury, after the long-overdue realization that his strengths far outweighed his weaknesses and with the Thunder (13-3 entering Wednesday night’s game at the Portland Trail Blazers) looking like a title contender again, he was the guy who could wear a tutu on the court and still command respect from all corners.

Pre-injury, he was seen by some as the guy who shot too much and shared too little — of both the ball and of himself. He didn’t help his cause with the news media, often clenching his teeth and oozing impatience during interviews and — intentional or not — feeding into his devil-may-care persona that came in such stark contrast to fellow Thunder star Kevin Durant.

From being a late-bloomer at Leuzinger High School in Los Angeles County to a bona fide NBA star, Westbrook’s days of dealing with doubters may finally be behind him. As for getting him to admit that the change in tone warms his ice-cold veins? That’s another story altogether.

“The outside voices, and those people, kind of look at (me) in a different way, in a different view, but it all depends on who’s saying it, to tell you the truth,” Westbrook told USA TODAY Sports. “If it’s my teammates, and my teammates appreciate (his play), then I’m good. Everybody else? I don’t really care about. It doesn’t matter if they appreciate what I do or not. I’m not playing for them.”

His smile isn’t as much of a stranger as it was before, even if it’s clear his competitive fire still burns much hotter than most. Case in point came Tuesday night, when he was too filled with frustration to conduct this interview after the Thunder barely survived against the Sacramento Kings, but — in a move that may not have happened in years past — agreed to chat by phone a day later when those pistons that drive him had finally cooled. Little by little, it seems, he’s letting the outside world in.

“It’s just getting older, man; just getting older,” Westbrook said of the maturation process. “That’s just part of it. Getting older you learn more, you see more, you know who’s who. You know who’s what.”

Asked if he was finally letting his guard down after all these years, Westbrook chuckled and said, “Nah. My guard is just how I was brought up. That’s the only way I know. That’s what got me to this point, to where I am now. If that comes down, I’ll be in trouble.”

“(The criticism) was always something that I never really paid attention to personally, because those (people) weren’t playing with me,” Westbrook said. “My teammates weren’t ever complaining about anything I was doing, so I never really worried about it. Obviously it looked different to different people. Everybody wants me to play a certain way and all that, and they think it’d be best if we play this way and we win.

“But it’s more than just shots, or how many shots I shot and if I shot more (than others). That ain’t the whole game. There’s a lot of other things that go on in the game that you help your team out with.”

***

No. 2: Cuban glad Mavs aren’t ‘stuck’ like Nets are — Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has taken a lot of flak from his team’s fans (and some NBA pundits at large) for how what he chose to do with the team after it won the championship in 2011. In case you forgot, Cuban let the starting center of that squad, Tyson Chandler, bolt for New York, and last season, went with many one-year contract players on his roster to maintain cap flexibility. While doing so hasn’t netted Cuban and the Mavs the big free-agent fish (like Dwight Howard or Deron Williams) that they hoped for, the Mavs are remaining as a playoff team while also keeping their cap situation fluid for the future. Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com caught up with Cuban on Wednesday night to gauge his thoughts on his roster and more:

Mark Cuban’s greatest fear for the Dallas Mavericks is playing out in Brooklyn.The Mavs owner was heavily criticized for stripping down his 2011 championship roster after the ensuing NBA lockout, opting to create space under the salary cap by not making competitive bids for several key players once they became free agents. His concern was that the franchise would deteriorate into an expensive team that wasn’t good enough to contend and didn’t have any realistic avenues to improve under the new collective bargaining agreement.

That appears to be the scenario for the Brooklyn Nets, who have stumbled to a 5-13 start despite a veteran-loaded roster with a bloated payroll that will cost owner Mikhail Prokhorov $190 million including the luxury tax this season.

“That’s exactly right,” Cuban said Wednesday night. “You get stuck. That’s exactly what I thought. … That was definitely a fear.”

Cuban had paid the luxury tax every season of its existence until 2011-12. The new CBA includes much harsher luxury tax penalties, which escalate for repeater taxpaying teams and at an incremental rate based on how much teams are over the limit.

However, it’s not necessarily the money that concerned Cuban. Rather, it’s the difficulty of improving a roster as a team paying the luxury tax under the current set of rules that led him to bid farewell to key championship pieces such as Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and current Nets guard Jason Terry.

“Those two go hand in hand,” Cuban said. “If we were [a team full of 25-year-olds], the massive luxury tax bill is nothing. But when you know as you get older, you get stuck. … It’s not just that you’re stuck for a week or a half a season, you’re stuck. Now that the rules got even more stringent, you’re even more stuck.”

The Nets did manage to make bold moves last summer, acquiring 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 36-year-old Paul Pierce and 36-year old Terry in a trade with the Boston Celtics. Their contracts are worth a combined $33.4 million plus luxury-tax penalties this season. Garnett and Terry are signed through next season.

“There was a reason they were trying to get rid of them,” Cuban said of those contracts.

That trade created a lot of positive publicity for the Nets at the time, but it hasn’t panned out so far. The production of Pierce (12.4 points per game), Garnett (6.5) and Terry (5.3) has dropped off dramatically from last season in Boston, much less the prime of their careers. Now, the Nets are in the news for the wrong reasons.

“It was almost like the Lakers, right?” Cuban said, referring to last season’s heavily hyped Los Angeles team after its summer acquisitions of Howard and Steve Nash. “It was just preordained, a super team, and it’s just tough. We went into last season thinking the Lakers [would be great]. The discussion was, would they win 70 games? Super teams are tough, particularly as guys get older. Again, they could still turn it all around. It’s just not easy.”

Asked if he had any advice for Prokhorov, Cuban cracked, “Drink more? I don’t know.”

***

No. 3: Report: Doctors able to preserve all of Rose’s meniscus — The season for the Chicago Bulls and their fans took a decided turn on Nov. 22 in Portland when Derrick Rose suffered a torn medial meniscus and subsequently was lost for the season. Some good news for Bulls fans, though, comes courtesy of BleacherReport.com’s Ric Bucher, who reports that doctors were able to keep all of Rose’s meniscus during the surgery:

One small bit of good news on Bulls point guard Derrick Rose: Apparently, the surgeon was able to preserve “100 percent” of the torn meniscus in his right knee, according to a source. He will miss the remainder of the season, but retaining the meniscus offers a much better chance that he can avoid the kind of chronic knee issues that Dwyane Wade and Tim Hardaway Sr. endured after having their meniscus removed.

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No. 4: Jazz finally get a glimpse of what Kanter, Favors can do together — When the Utah Jazz decided to forgo re-signing veterans Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson in the offseason, it was clear they were turning the low-post keys to the offense over to youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Throughout most of the season, though, the duo has failed to perform well together in the same game, but that wasn’t the case last night against the Pacers. Trevor Phibbs of the Deseret News writes on how the Favors-Kanter matchup gave Utah fans a glimpse of what they’ve long been waiting for:

In Wednesday’s 95-86 loss against Indiana, however, the Jazz witnessed the potential they’ve expected from their two young post players.

For only the third time this season, and the first time against a quality opponent, Favors and Kanter both reached the double-figure plateau in points and rebounds. Favors finished with a game-high 22 points and 13 rebounds, his eighth double-double, while Kanter added 20 points and 10 boards, his fourth double-double.

“There were some things there that you can grow from,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin said. “You look at numbers and they’re a great game, but there’s still some improvement. We’ll break it down and we were glad to see them give us the effort (we) were looking for.”

“Obviously we can pull either one of them away from the basket with D-Fav hitting that jump shot more consistently now,” said Jazz rookie point guard Trey Burke, who finished with a career-high nine assists. “It’s really a matter of continuing to find out the best way we play with them out there on the court. I wouldn’t want to say experiment, but we really are. We’re trying to see the areas we’re best at.”

Kanter returned to the starting lineup in Marvin Williams‘ absence after coming off the bench for several games. He played a team-high 39 minutes.

“I’m just a player and I’m just doing my job,” Kanter said. “It don’t matter if it comes from the bench or the starting five, in the end you play for the Jazz. That’s fine for me.”

There were several bright moments, including Favors’ successful and-one with 3:22 left in the fourth quarter in response to a jumper by Indiana’s David West, but there were also moments for growth. Kanter missed several squared-away hook shots, and Favors mistakenly finished softly on a blocked layup after failing to recognizing Hibbert’s presence.

“Nobody likes to lose, but at the same time that was one of the best teams in the NBA,” Favors said. “We learned a lot tonight mentally and physically.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rockets center Dwight Howard was none too pleased with the team’s loss to the Suns last night … Former Kings center Keon Clark has been sentenced to eight years in prison … Rookie Otto Porter Jr. is close to making his debut with the Wizards … Pistons center Andre Drummond makes some history in Detroit’s win over Milwaukee

ICYMI Of The Night: The Pistons are just a game shy of .500 and have become a pretty exciting team to catch on League Pass, as this Brandon Jennings-to-Andre Drummond sequence illustrates …


VIDEO: Brandon Jennings finds Andre Drummond on the break with the nifty dish