Posts Tagged ‘Mark Jackson’

Hard to be a contender if hiding weak defenders

CLEVELAND – Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have, between them, a half dozen appearances in the NBA All-Star Game. But none on the league’s annual All-Defensive squads.

J.R. Smith is one of the streakiest and most dangerous 3-point shooters in the game, but by his own admission, he only made a commitment to the other side of the ball, as it’s called, within the last few months. He’s been in the NBA for 12 years.

Even LeBron James, who twice finished second for the Defensive Player of the Year award and strung together six top-10 finishes from 2009-2014, has slipped back in the balloting since his return to Cleveland. In the first two games of the 2016 Finals, James has been caught napping, neglecting his man or needlessly switching to create a liability in the Cavaliers’ attempts to stop (or slow down) Golden State.

Which leads to this question: Shouldn’t All-Star caliber offensive players be able to play good, if not stellar defense?

Physically, you’d think that any player who has the necessary quickness, instincts and elevation to score proficiently ought to be able to mirror some or most of that at the other end. But it isn’t always so, and in Cleveland’s case, the starting lineup is carrying two or three guys who seem overmatched defensively.

“Some of the skill sets, kids pick up when they’re younger,” Golden State assistant coach Ron Adams said over the weekend. “Some kids are two-way players – they enjoy it, they see the value of it. Some guys come up as one-way players. Having said that, everyone has different gifts. There are some guys who never commit to defense who maybe could be better.”

Adams, it should be noted, was speaking generically about NBA players. He wasn’t talking about any Cleveland players specifically, so this is a non-starter as bulletin board material heading into Game 3 Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena.

But as a longtime defensive guru wherever he has worked, Adams has seen players who come up as AAU darlings, expected only to flash their dazzling ball skills, as often or more than he’s seen real knee-bending, shorts-tugging defensive diggers who also happen to shoot lights out.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t change.

“Look at Kyle Korver, who transformed in our [Chicago Bulls] program to be a good defensive player,” Adams said. “Before that, he was not considered an asset. Watching him in Atlanta the last couple of years, they’ll put him on guys that we never would have put him on. And he’s guarding them pretty well.

“I think it’s your mentality. Sometimes it’s how you’re raised as a basketball player. A coach you have who’s maybe more offensive- than defensive-oriented. Or maybe if he’s defensive-oriented, you’re stunted offensively and you make up for it at some point.”

Steph Curry, Golden State’s two-time Most Valuable Player winner, has taken home two of those trophies while lugging around a reputation as a willing but mediocre defender. Other Warriors – Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala – are considered to be excellent on defense.

“Ever since I was a kid, I just hated to be scored on,” Thompson said. “Playing 1-on-1 with my brothers growing up, I think I developed that instinct not to have my big brother or little brother score on me, and I just carried it over to the pros.

“The best players to ever play this game were two-way players, and that’s what makes our team so good – we’ve got so many two-way players. Guys who play both sides of the ball, both in our starters and off our bench. Why not take pride in defense? It’s 50 percent of the game.”

So your typical All-Star has the tools, at least, to play defense well?

“All of those guys have the ability,” Thompson said. “But a lot of guys have big workloads for their teams. So you’ve got to cut ’em some slack.”

Given that it’s rare for even the best teams to have five defensive craftsmen in the lineup, Adams was asked how many slackers a good team can hide or survive?

“It can’t be too many,” he said. “If you have three really good core defenders, hopefully at least one of them’s a perimeter player, then that’s not a bad formula.

“You try to weave in the weaker defenders. Hide them in certain cases. Help them, so they have confidence they’re not going to be exposed.”

Adams gave credit to Mark Jackson, Golden State’s coach before Steve Kerr took over in 2014-15, with laying a strong defensive foundation.

“We had good defensive receptivity when we came in,” Adams said. “But you have to have guys who have defensive chips in ’em. That’s really the key thing, I think. It’s very hard to play good team defense without some defenders who have that innate ability or that mindset toward playing defense – and are good at it.

“You take Oklahoma City, they have a lot of good defenders on their team and they have a defensive mindset. Then Kevin [Durant] really committed to defense in that last series and when he does that, they’re fantastic.”

Morning shootaround — April 26


Injuries derail Clippers’ playoff path | Durant: Cuban ‘an idiot’ for Westbrook comments | How bad is Curry’s injury? | Lakers hope to find new coach quickly

No. 1: Injuries derail Clippers’ playoff hopes — A healthy roster is often what stands between success or failure during the regular season and the same is true — perhaps even moreso — come playoff time. The Los Angeles Clippers entered last night’s Game 4 in Portland with hopes of returning to L.A. with a 3-1 series edge and, of course, a fully healthy roster. By evening’s end, they had neither. Star point guard Chris Paul suffered a broken hand in the third quarter and star forward Blake Griffin left the game early due to an issue with his troublesome left quadriceps. Our Scott Howard-Cooper was on hand for the game and has more on the state of L.A. after its many losses:

Chris Paul knew.

The way he sat on the bench, the way he stared into some far-away place as emotions appeared to ricochet around his brain, a mix of disbelief and disgust on his face, he could tell even before the short walk to the visitor’s locker room that the season had just turned in a staggering way.

Paul was leaning back in the chair midway through the third quarter Monday night, his left arm draped over the top of the adjacent chair, a relaxed position while his mood was anything but. It’s like he couldn’t believe how everything had gone so wrong so fast. Then, when CP3 did stand up and walk to the locker room to confirm the bad news, he didn’t get more than a few steps before lashing out in frustration with his right leg, kicking what appeared to be a cushion on the floor in front of the Clippers bench.

There was not any attempt to hide the emotions because they would be impossible to bottle up, not from Paul as he left the court in uniform for what may have been the final time this season and not from teammates as they dressed afterward in near silence for the charter flight back to Los Angeles and the new series against the Trail Blazers. The Clippers had been rocked Monday night at Moda Center and there was no way to deny it.

Paul was gone, the victim of a fractured right hand in as he tried to slow Gerald Henderson driving to the basket in the third quarter, an injury that could sideline him weeks, although the Clippers will wait for another evaluation Tuesday before putting a timeline on his return. And Blake Griffin may be gone, at least temporarily, with coach Doc Rivers saying Griffin is 50-50 for Game 5 in Los Angeles after re-injuring the quadriceps tendon in his left leg, the injury that cost him much of the regular season.

The chances of a long playoff run would have been reduced to a microscopic number without Paul, only now the Clippers have to come together in a big way just to get out of the first round while getting worked over by the likes of Mason Plumlee (21 rebounds and nine assists in Game 3, followed by 14 boards and 10 assists in Game 4), Al-Farouq Aminu (30 points and 10 rebounds in Game 4) and Ed Davis (12 rebounds in Game 4).

L.A. doesn’t just have the health issues, after all. L.A. has the health issues mixed with a pressing opponent issue, a resilient Trail Blazers team that spent the regular season upending expectations. The Blazers have now charged back into the series and they enter Game 5 with the momentum and a real opportunity to do more than scare the Clips.


“We have to take a very collective approach,” guard J.J. Redick said. “Everybody has to do a little more. We’ve been in this situation before. We played for a lot of stretches without Blake this year. I’m not saying he’s going to be out, but he’s obviously feeling something in his quad. And three years ago we had to play for a long stretch without Chris. Last year in the playoffs, the first two games in Houston we had to play without Chris. So we’ve done this before. It’s just got to be a collective effort.”

Starting right away.

“There’s no shellshock,” Doc Rivers said. “What it is is they love their players, their teammates, and Chris is taking this very hard. He’s worked all year to get back to the playoffs and for this to happen to him, he’s an emotional guy and so I think our guys, it’s a neat family and it’s things you don’t ever see, like you guys will never see, but it was a nice thing in the locker room. Everybody, the whole team, is in the locker room and it’s nice in that way. But the reality is that you don’t have Chris Paul.”

And, according to’s J.A. Adande, the prognosis for Paul is looking grim. Adande reports that Paul is ‘done’ for the playoffs:

“He’s done.”

Two different people with the same two words on the same subject: Chris Paul.

It appears the broken bone in his right hand will keep Paul out for the rest of the playoffs. What does that mean? Well, if we’ve learned from this postseason, it’s that we don’t know what anything means. The terms are too subject to change.

Last year, the Clippers split two playoff road games that they played without Paul. But that was with Griffin playing at a superstar level. Now Griffin can’t even guarantee he’ll play at all in Game 5 in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

“I’m not sure,” Griffin said. “Tomorrow, I think we’ll take a better look and hopefully go from there.”

Asking Griffin to reproduce his 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists from Game 1 of last year’s Rockets series is probably asking too much. Asking him to match his 19-12-6 line from Game 1 of this series with Portland could be a stretch. On Monday night, he tried to take off the way he used to, when he dunked on people with reckless abandon. He got fouled by Mason Plumlee, didn’t come anywhere close to throwing the ball through the hoop and soon found himself rubbing his quadriceps on the sideline and even heading back to the locker room to get checked out. He returned to the game, but his gait was noticeably affected.



Morning shootaround — April 22

VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games


Curry didn’t decide to miss Game 3 alone | Rockets’ front office gets vocal on social media | Why Wizards are hiring Brooks | Kings interview Mitchell

No. 1: Warriors decided collectively to rest Curry for Game 3 — Reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry has been itching to get back in the Golden State Warriors’ lineup ever since he tweaked his right ankle in Game 1 of the team’s first-round series. He hadn’t done so leading up to last night’s Game 3 in Houston and while he likely hoped to play then, he ultimately sat out on Thursday, too. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the decision to sit Curry was not made in a vacuum but rather in consultation with several Warriors officials:

Stephen Curry did not play Thursday night in Game 3, but only after prolonged conversation and contemplation among Warriors officials.

This time, Curry made his case to play. His much-scrutinized right ankle felt better than it did Monday night, when he cut short his pregame warm-up routine and essentially decided on his own he would not play in Game 2.

This time, Curry wanted to give it a shot. He went through Thursday morning’s shootaround, and afterward he spent several minutes talking to team trainers and team doctor Bill Maloney on the court at Toyota Center.

Head coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers joined a subsequent discussion, and a consensus emerged to give Curry at least two more days to recover.

Kerr said the ankle improved from Wednesday to Thursday. The decision was made by Kerr, Myers, Maloney and the training staff, with input from Curry.

“We made a collaborative decision,” Myers said. “Everyone had a voice, including Steph. The fact he hasn’t done much live work in practice, it’s hard to know what he can do in game situations.”

The decision means Curry will have seven full days between games. He injured the ankle Saturday in Game 1; now he hopes to return Sunday for Game 4.

Asked about his outlook for Curry on Sunday, Myers said, “I’m hopeful. Hopefully, he’ll have an opportunity to do a little more (the next two days) than he’s done.”



Morning Shootaround — Dec. 26

VIDEO: Top plays from Christmas Day games


Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better | James wants clarity from Cavaliers | Rockets leave coal for Spurs | Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting

No. 1: Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, even the most rabid Warriors fan, who truly thinks the Warriors have underperformed this season. After all, after last night’s 89-83 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the highly anticipated NBA Finals rematch, the Warriors moved to a ridiculous 28-1 on the season, which included a 24-game winning streak. That is, it’s hard to find criticism unless you talk to the actual Warriors players themselves, as our Scott Howard-Cooper did, where you find that the Warriors believe despite all the W’s, they aren’t playing all that great and still have room to grow

“Look,” center Andrew Bogut said, “we haven’t played great the last 10 games. That’s something that we’ve addressed in this locker room.”

“I don’t think we’ve played well,” power forward Draymond Green said. “Even tonight. We did some good things, but I still don’t think we’ve played well.”

“I’m really impressed with our defense the last two games,” interim coach Luke Walton said. “Before that, our defense was struggling.”

Help is on the way, if only the Warriors can hold it together another couple weeks and avoid the all-out panic that will come if they slump all the way to, say, 75-win pace and only break the single-season record by three games as opposed to the current tracking to 79 victories. Good news is on the horizon for a change.

Coach Steve Kerr, out since the early days of training camp while recovering from the effects of two back surgeries in the offseason, is nearing a return. He stepped in for an ill Walton to run practice Tuesday, the interim to the interim, watched the Cleveland game from the coaches’ office in Oracle and plans to accompany the team on the Dallas-Houston back-to-back that begins Wednesday while Walton continues to lead. While the Warriors continue to avoid targeting a return date, the increased activity raises the possibility Kerr could be back as soon as Jan. 2 against the Nuggets in Oakland.

Forward Harrison Barnes, out the last 12 games with a sprained left ankle, was in some of the scrimmage Tuesday and Thursday participated in three-on-three drills with the team. Being listed as doubtful for Friday showed there was at least the thought he could play against the Cavaliers, so Monday against the Kings at Oracle or the two games in Texas are all possibilities.

The next week or two, depending on the actual return dates and how long Barnes will need to work back into game shape, could become an eventful time in the season of a defending champion, and that just doesn’t happen very often in early-January. Golden State will be whole again, assuming no one else gets hurt in the meantime, with Barnes an important piece as the starting small forward and also one of the triggers to the successful small-ball lineup when he moves to power forward.

It would have been impossible on opening night to imagine the Warriors would stand at 28-1 under any circumstances, let alone 28-1 with a coach younger than several players around the league and stepping in with two previous seasons as an assistant, with a concussion costing Bogut six games and Barnes’ absence. Now imagine the Warriors at 28-1 and thinking they will start to play better in the future.

“Maybe a little bit,” Bogut said.

Maybe more than a little bit.

“There’s part of it that [makes me mad] and there’s part of it that makes me very, very happy,” Green said. “I think we’ve got a lot of improving to do, and we will.”

Mad because the Warriors are not happy with how they have played lately. The happy: “Because what are we? Twenty-eight and one? You’re 28-1 and you’re not near playing well, that’s exciting. We know we know how to get to that point and we know we’ll reach that point. And when we do, I think that’s trouble because if we’re 28-1 and we’re not playing well, imagine where we are. That’s why it excites me.


No. 2: James wants clarity from Cavaliers Meanwhile, the Warriors’ vanquished Christmas Day foe, the Cleveland Cavaliers, drop to 19-8. That’s still good enough for the lead in the Eastern Conference, but with the Cavs getting more players back from injury and healthy, including Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert, the Cavs have more options available than ever before. And after the loss to the Warriors, as’s Joe Vardon writes, LeBron James would like to see the Cavs discover a rhythm going forward

After the Cavs lost 89-83 to the defending champion Warriors on Golden State’s home court, where it’s now won 32 in a row during the regular season, dating back to last year, James repeatedly mentioned the lack of continuity the Cavs had on the court and suggested that at least some of it had to do with David Blatt‘s rotation.

“It’s going to take some time to get back into rhythm, and all of us, not just the players, but everyone, to get back in rhythm,” James said.

The lineups and the newness need some context, and what James said about them was nothing like the cool attitude he directed toward Blatt at times last season.

In fact, James didn’t name his coach specifically on Friday, but the bottom line was James called for Blatt and his staff to gain perhaps a clearer sense of who they want to play, and when, now that the entire team is healthy.

“For us to have a full unit, we’ve got to practice, we’ve got to play some games where we know what we want to do, what lineups we want to play out there,” James said.

“It’s an adjustment period, it’s not just going to happen – you plug a guy in there, plug two guys in there and it automatically happens,” he continued. “It’s going to be an adjustment period, but we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine toward February and March.”

This was just the second game this season that the Cavs had all 15 players available, due to season-long injuries to Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert.

That’s not Blatt’s fault, but, it was the head coach who placed James, Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, and Tristan Thompson on the court to start the fourth quarter. It was the first time all season they’d all been on the court at the same time.

When Irving and Kevin Love subbed in for James and Smith with 10:06 left in the quarter, the Cavs still had a lineup that had never played together. Those are just two examples.

Richard Jefferson did not play at all against the Warriors. Mo Williams logged 4:39, and James Jones, a favorite of James, played just 1:34.

James led the Cavs with 25 points and contributed nine rebounds, but shot 10-of-26 and was a brutal 4-of-9 from the foul line. He took the blame for that, saying “I wasn’t very good, inefficient, and it trickled down to everybody else.”

The Cavs’ 83 points, 31.6 percent shooting from the field and 16.7 percent shooting from 3-point range were season lows. Irving (13 points) shot 4-of-15 and Love (10 points, 18 rebounds) was 5-of-16. Cleveland assisted on just 12-of-30 baskets.

“For the first time, for a long period of time we had some different lineups out there,” James explained, talking about the woes on offense. “And against a championship team like this, it’s kind of hard to do that on the fly. We’re not making no excuses, we still got to be a lot better, still got to move the ball, got to share the ball, get it moving from side to side, but offensively we were all out of rhythm.

“You credit to their defense, for sure, and then the lack of detail.”


No. 3: Rockets leave coal for Spurs While the Warriors have romped through the NBA this season, the San Antonio Spurs have quietly put in work as well, and entered yesterday’s Christmas game against the Houston Rockets with a sparkling 25-5 record. Their opponent, the Houston Rockets, have struggled to find an identity, firing a coach (Kevin McHale) and getting inconsistent play from their superstars, James Harden and Dwight Howard. But on a big stage yesterday, the Rockets turned to their defense to grind out an 88-84 win over the Spurs, and as our Fran Blinebury writes, Houston got a present from their veteran reserve guard, Jason Terry

Jason Terry is long past the days of being the shiny new toy. He has stockings that have hung from chimneys far longer than some of his teammates have hung around the planet.

So even after the Rockets had spent most of the night standing toe-to-toe and going push-to-shove with the Spurs, there came a time to seal the deal and the closer had to come out of the attic.

It wasn’t just Terry’s nine points and three steals in the last 10½ minutes of the bone-jarring 88-84 victory Friday night at the Toyota Center. It was the way he did everything. Like he owned the place.

Ever since the shocking 5-10 start to the season that got coach Kevin McHale fired, the Rockets have been trying to convince everybody, including themselves, that they’re really a very good team, capable of getting back again to the Western Conference finals.

Trouble is, since the opening tip back in October, every time the Rockets have put another stake in the ground with a signature win over the Thunder, at Dallas or sweeping a pair of duels from the Clippers, they have also put a stake or a half dozen into their own foot. A combined 0-5 record against the lowly Nuggets and Nets. A whipping in Sacramento. A comeback that came up just short in Orlando.

You don’t get to call yourself a real contender until you stop pretending to show up consistently and take the job seriously every night. Dwight Howard and James Harden talk the talk.

“The Jet” puts his arms out at his sides and takes flight on the wings of drive and emotion that have carried him into a 17th NBA season.

“That’s what I’ve prided myself on, being ready, always stepping up to the moment,” Terry said. “In big moments like tonight when my team needed me most, I want to show up and be effective.”

He buried a big 3-pointer. He hit a mid-range jumper from the wing. He stepped into the San Antonio passing lanes to snatch away three balls to get the Rockets headed in the other direction.

But now, more than being the fire-starter in a big holiday event — the first time the Rockets hosted a home Christmas Day game since moving to Houston in 1971 — Terry’s task and bigger challenge will be to instill a sense of every day urgency that goes from the locker room out onto the court. Even in too many of their wins this season, the Rockets have started games lazily and had to come scrambling back from double-digit holes. Which is why this latest so-called statement win lifts their record back to just 16-15.

Harden’s pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers were big and it’s good to know that you’ve got that arrow in your quiver, but it can’t be enough to think he’ll be able to bail you out game after game with offensive heroics. And it was Terry’s spark that ignited the flame.

Terry had been inserted into the starting lineup for the first four games after J.B. Bickerstaff took over the team. But as the team kept struggling, the interim coach began to shuffle his guards like a casino dealer until finally he turned Terry back face up in this one. In fact, the veteran has played less than 15 minutes in 11 games this season and also has six DNPs, including the previous game, which the Rockets lost at Orlando. That’s now likely to change.

“I just feel like we need him on the floor,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s times where he needs the rest, obviously. But big moments in big games, he’s one of the guys that I trust the most. I trust not only that he’ll do the right thing, but I trust that he’ll perform and then I trust that he’ll carry his teammates in a positive direction.

“You can’t speak enough about him. He’s a class guy. He’s a winner. He’s a champion. He’s a leader. He’ll sacrifice, whatever it takes to win. That’s what he does. That’s who he is. Every since I’ve known him he’s been that way.”


No. 4: Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting The first 2016 All-Star voting results are in, and while there are still several more rounds to go, at least for now, Kobe Bryant has a huge lead over everyone else in the NBA, including Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Considering Kobe’s global appeal and previously announced retirement plans, it shouldn’t come a complete surprise that fans want to see him on the NBA’s big stage one final time. But as ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, the numbers apparently shocked at least one person: Kobe Bryant.

Bryant has 719,235 votes — well ahead of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry (510,202), the next-highest vote-getter, and more than twice as many as Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James (357,937).

After the Lakers’ 94-84, Christmas night loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Bryant said he was more than a little surprised he had such a wide lead.

“Listen, I was making a little coffee run this morning, got some gas and decided to just go on Instagram and peruse,” he said, “and [I] saw the damn votes, and I was like, ‘What the hell?’ Shocked doesn’t do it justice.”

He added, “It’s exciting. What can I say? Just thankful.”

The 2016 NBA All-Star Game, to be held in Toronto, would be Bryant’s last, as he has announced his plans to retire after this season, his 20th in the NBA. His 17 All-Star selections are second all-time behind former Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had 19. Bryant, 37, is the leading scorer in NBA All-Star history (280 points).

This year marks the first time that the 6-foot-6 Bryant is being listed as a member of the frontcourt in All-Star voting. In previous years, he has been listed as a guard. The second-highest vote-getter among Western Conference frontcourt players is Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (349,473).

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Friday’s game that Bryant deserves a spot on the All-Star team.

“A lot of people disagree with me on that. That’s fine. I have my opinion. I think Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I don’t care if he’s a starter of if they figure out a 13th spot for him. [With] what he’s done in his career, he should be on the All-Star team, and I don’t see any debate in that. You can have one, but I’m not hearing it.”

But what if someone else were left off, such as one of Rivers’ players?

“It would be awful, but Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I think they should have a special exception and put 13 guys on if that’s the case if he wasn’t in one of the top 12 as far as voting or whatever. But I just believe he should be on it. Magic [Johnson] was on, Michael [Jordan] was on with the Wizards. I think certain guys earn that right, and unfortunately for other guys who can’t make it, they have to earn that right too.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Chicago Bulls may have turned a corner with their win over the Oklahoma City Thunder yesterday … Steph Curry doesn’t think he’s “hurting” basketball, regardless of what his former coach Mark Jackson says … Chris Bosh punctuated Miami’s win over New Orleans yesterday by talking trash to Anthony Davis down the stretchEvan Fournier has broken out of his slump in Orlando … You can ask him questions, but doesn’t have to answer them …

New offense energizes Wizards

VIDEO: Bradley Beal’s evolution is crucial to the Wizards’ season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Bradley Beal insists it’s the best the Washington Wizards have looked during his time with the team.

So what if he’s talking about the often flimsy sample size that is NBA preseason.

When you basically pass on free agency (until next summer’s Kevin Durant free-for-all), install a new offensive system and ask everyone to buy into new and tweaked roles heading into what is sure to be a pivotal season, a seamless transition to a decidedly different way of operating offensively should ease whatever tensions might have lingered.

A comfort zone for Beal and All-Star point guard John Wall has to be the top priority for a Wizards team few people mention a contender in the Eastern Conference this season. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are at the top of everyone’s list, followed in some order by the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat … and then the Wizards.

That dynamic backcourt is not only the key to the Wizards’ season, they’re also the selling point for the future, along with this new, player-friendly offense that coach Randy Wittman unveiled during the preseason. If the Wizards are serious about making noise this season in the Eastern Conference playoff chase and carrying that momentum into the summer of 2016, it all starts with this emphasis on the faster pace, which takes advantage of what Wall and Beal do best.

The Wizards had the highest offensive rating in the preseason (106.8 points per 100 possessions) and were fourth in pace (104.45 possessions per 48 minutes), a stark contrast from a team that finished 19th and 16th, respectively, in those categories last season.

We saw signs of the shift in the playoffs, when the Wizards threw a scare into the Hawks in the conference semifinals with their small-ball lineup. A summer of tinkering, training and a preseason of on-the-job training gives a team with basically the same core personnel (sans Paul Pierce, of course, who moved on to the Los Angeles Clippers) a chance to reinvent itself on the fly.

Otto Porter and Jared Dudley inherit the minutes and responsibilities Pierce handled last season, including the floor-stretching duties that opened things up for Beal and Wall in the postseason.

VIDEO:’s John Schuhmann breaks down the Wizards’ new look on offense

Beal spoke of improved team camaraderie, better focus on the details and the always important good health that evaded him and the Wizards this time a year go. An improved and more efficient offensive system that the players “love,” according to Wall, paired with a top-10 defense that’s been a staple under Wittman, could serve as the wrinkle the Wizards need to move into the East’s upper echelon.

“Well, I think the Wizards obviously are a dangerous team, and they’ve proven that,” ABC/ESPN analyst Mark Jackson said, “and Randy Wittman has done an outstanding job coaching that team, leading that team, being strong in the face of tough times, holding on to the rope, which became contagious with the players where they bought in.

“I think it’s a different look for them because they certainly have post-up players that are skilled that they can take advantage of, at certain points of the game, but it really gives — adds versatility to that basketball team when you look at that dynamic backcourt in Wall and Beal, playing at a faster pace, creating an offense, stretching the floor is only going to make them tougher to defend, and I think ultimately a tough out in the Eastern Conference.”

If anyone knows about the importance of playing to the skills and abilities of a dynamic young backcourt duo, it’s Jackson. It’s what led to the rise of the Golden State Warriors during his tenure as he catered his system to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Wall and Beal are not Curry and Thompson, and there’s no one suggesting as much.

But they are talented in their own right and on a trajectory that could very well push the Wizards into the realm of teams capable of upsetting the projected East order before whatever free agent splash the team is planning for the summer.

Yes, we’re working on the fumes of the preseason, and that’s always a dangerous predicament.

But if you’re trying to both engineer a revolution and outperform expectations, as Beal and the Wizards are this season, you have to start somewhere.


A photo posted by Bradley Beal (@bradbeal3) on


Morning shootaround — August 3

VIDEO: Steve Smith shines a light on the offseason winners and losers


Noah active, energized this summer | Thunder coach Donovan tough as they come | Okafor has great expectations for Sixers

No. 1: Noah active, energized this summer — Change has been good for Joakim Noah. The Chicago Bulls’ All-Star big man has been active this summer and energized this summer, both in the community and where basketball is concerned. Noah feels good. His mind is clear and his focus is sharp. And as far as his new coach, Fred Hoiberg, is concerned, the vibes are good. K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune has more on Noah’s big summer:

Given that Joakim Noah spoke Saturday at an anti-violence community event his foundation organized, the Bulls’ big man placed last season’s personal struggles in perspective.

“Last year was a tough year for me. I feel it was very humbling,” Noah said. “We went through a lot. Right now, I’m feeling healthy both physically and mentally. I’m really excited about our upcoming opportunity. I never take anything for granted.”

Noah, who attended Saturday’s ONE CITY youth basketball tournament at the Major Adams Community Center near the United Center with his mother and sister, has been working out this offseason in California. Recently, new coach Fred Hoiberg visited.

He’s confident his summer at a sports science academy has put the health issues he experienced last season after May 2014 left knee surgery behind him.

“I feel great,” Noah said. “This is the first time I’ve taken a lot of time for myself to just focus on what I need to get done. Sometimes when you go through humbling experiences, (you) hungrier than ever. And I feel ready to prove I can help this team win big.”

Noah said he enjoyed “vibing” with Hoiberg.

“We got to break bread together,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed talking to the coaching staff, spending time with Fred. I think it’s going to be very different.”

Asked to elaborate, Noah smiled.

“Time will tell,” he said. “But it will definitely be different. We had a lot great times with Tom Thibodeau. He’s a great coach. I learned a lot from him. I’ve experienced a lot with him. I only have good things to say about him. I’m looking forward to this new chapter in my career.”

Before the tournament, Noah and his mother, Cecilia Rodhe, unveiled his Noah’s Arc Foundation’s latest public service announcement centered on its “Rock Your Drop” movement. It’s centered on peace, unity and positive change in the face of Chicago’s rampant gun violence.

Spike Lee, Bears running back Matt Forte, “Chicago Fire” actor David Eichenberg and St. Sabina’s Rev. Michael Pfleger are some of the spot’s prominent cameos.

“‘Rock Your Drop’ is a movement that started with my mother. It has been part of my vision as a basketball player since I was a kid,” Noah said. “For it to be finally here and feel this love really means so much to me and to my family. To launch this PSA is huge. To be able to play for the Chicago Bulls is something other than just basketball. When I see people wearing their drops, it means the world to me and my mom.”

Rodhe, an artist, chiseled the small drop out of stone 18 years ago. Noah wore one on a necklace.

“We’re all one. We’ve all been given life,” Rodhe said. “It doesn’t matter where we’re from. I’m from Sweden. You may say, ‘What are you doing here, blonde lady, on the South Side of Chicago? This isn’t your problem.’ I say no. When something is as strong as gun violence and you see the pain of moms, that’s all of ours problem.”

Noah is very hands-on with his foundation. He joked about converting now-teenage kids who razzed him about Kevin Durant fans five or six years ago.

“This will be my ninth season here and I don’t take that for granted,” Noah said. “Guys move around in my profession. They get traded. To be with a team for that long is special.

“I’m working as hard as I can on the court and this is a part of what I wanted to do since I started playing basketball. This is like home. We’ve been putting in a lot of work here. This is not a gimmick. It’s for the right reasons. To be able to do all this work makes me happy.”


No. 2: Thunder coach Donovan tough as they come — Anybody wondering what kind of transition Billy Donovan will make to the NBA after years as one of the nation’s elite college coaches need only peek into his past. Donovan is as tough as they come, having honed his game and his basketball sensibilities in Queens and, later, the Big East. If Donovan’s pedigree is any indication, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and the Co. are in good hands. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman explains:

After the Big East formed in 1979, basketball interest in the northeast spiked. The early ‘80s produced a golden age for high school point guards in NYC, meaning the 1983 Wheelchair event, the 10th annual, was a must-see edition.

That graduating class had Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, the playground legend and soon-to-be Syracuse star, and future NBA starters Kenny Smith and Mark Jackson.

But it was a sub 6-foot white kid from an affluent area of Long Island who stole the show in that showcase game. His name was Billy Donovan.

“Oh, Billy went off,” said his high school teammate, Frank Williams.

Donovan’s Queens team faced the Brooklyn squad led by Pearl Washington, the game’s headliner. Months earlier, Donovan battled Washington’s in a six-quarter high school scrimmage. Pearl had 82 points.

“We pressed the whole game and he just weaved in and out,” Donovan said. “I learned a lot.”

Donovan was a game-control point guard. Slick ball-handling was his greatest strength. Pearl was a wizard with the ball, his moves legendary. At the Wheelchair Classic, Donovan put his mental notes from the scrimmage to use.

“I don’t think Pearl was ready for it,” Williams laughed.

In the highlight play of his highlight day, Donovan sent Pearl sprawling on a left-handed, inside-out crossover dribble, cruising past him for a layup.

“Pearl nearly fell down,” said Billy’s childhood best friend Kevin Quigley. “The crowd went nuts. Just hooting and hollering. The little white boy just juked Pearl out of his shoes.”

Billy Donovan made a career out of willing himself to success. Too small and athletically limited to compete against premiere athletes? He molded himself into a player and led Providence to an unlikely Final Four run. Florida is a second-tier hoops program at a football school? He quickly turned them into a national powerhouse. Too inexperienced to coach in the NBA? Sam Presti just handed him the keys to the most important season in the Thunder’s brief franchise history.

But before there was Billy Donovan the iconic coach or Billy The Kid bombing 3s at Providence College there was Billy the kid, a Long Island youth addicted to basketball.

“It was almost an obsession,” Quigley said.


No. 3: Okafor has great expectations for Sixers — Philadelphia 76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor is well aware of the struggles that have gone on prior to his arrival in the City of Brotherly Love. But that has not soured him on what could be. He has great expectations for what he and the Sixers will get done in his rookie season. Marc Narducci of the Philadelphia Inquirer has the details:

Okafor averaged 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in two Las Vegas Summer League games. Before that, he averaged 14.0 points and 8.3 rebounds in three summer league games in Utah.

“I was satisfied,” Okafor said of his summer performance. “I got better every game and worked on everything.”

Covington said Okafor has already made an impact.

“He has brought a whole lot of excitement to this team,” Covington said. “He is a big man who has made his presence known already.”

Another big man, Joel Embiid, will miss a second straight season because of another procedure on his foot.

“It is hard to do, but he is doing well, and he is keeping his head high,” Covington said.

Just as the focus last season was on Nerlens Noel, this season it will be on Okafor. He said he can’t wait to get settled in the Philadelphia area and is looking for a place to live.

Okafor won’t lack confidence. He expects a lot from a Sixers team coming off an 18-64 season. He knows the expectations will again be low, but he doesn’t care.

“Everybody knows we have expectations, and the fans have expectations, and that is all that matters,” he said.

Okafor will be a trendy choice for rookie of the year because he is expected to play major minutes.

“It’s definitely a possible goal,” he said about earning the award. “Definitely.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Michael Jordan is still the G.O.A.T., just ask Jimmy ButlerNancy Lieberman called Muhammad Ali after joining the Sacramento Kings as an assistant coach … Got cash? You’ll need plenty of it to buy the New York penthouse of former Brooklyn star Deron Williams

Morning shootaround — May 31

VIDEO: Steve Kerr talks about Klay Thompson’s concussion


Gentry to unleash Unibrow | Klay expected to be cleared | Drafting Curry not just Nellie’s revenge | Bulls like Hoiberg’s Kerr appeal

No. 1: Gentry to unleash Unibrow — There apparently was a good reason the New Orleans Pelicans never reached out to Tom Thibodeau as a candidate to fill their head coaching vacancy, even though chronologically the fired Chicago Bulls’ bench boss was available. And even if the disinterest had anything to do with Thibodeau’s good friendship with the man who most recently held the job, Monty Williams, that probably wasn’t the biggest reason. Thibodeau is known for coaching transformative defense. New Orleans is more eager to goose its offense. That’s why Alvin Gentry, Steve Kerr‘s right-hand man in Golden State and a contributor to Phoenix’s blistering attacks a few years back, has the job today. With one big mandate to match the Pelicans’ one big budding star, per

…[One] of the league’s slowest teams in recent years plans to significantly pick up the tempo. That’s a frightening proposition for opponents, who now must contemplate Anthony Davis like they’ve never seen him before, in a fast and loose system that should utilize his obscene athleticism and above-the-rim finishing ability.

That wasn’t necessarily the guiding principle in New Orleans under Williams. Despite the presence of Davis and the attack-minded Tyreke Evans, the Pelicans ranked No. 27 in pace this season. During Williams’s tenure, the Pelicans were the league’s slowest team twice, and they never ranked higher than 22nd in pace. This wasn’t a fluke: before being hired by New Orleans, Williams was an assistant in Portland under former coach Nate McMillan, who oversaw the league’s slowest team in 2009-10 and 2010-11

[Gentry’s] arrival promises a new era in which New Orleans’ guards are encouraged to push the pace and Davis is called on to open and close transition opportunities by running the court. Look for the Pelicans to regularly use him as a center, structuring spread lineups around him to create space for pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll. When New Orleans does play big, Davis will likely be given free reign to create from the elbow, and it wouldn’t be that shocking if he started to work the corner three into his offensive repertoire either.

The statistical ramifications for Davis here are mouth-watering. Last season, at age 21, he averaged 24.4 points and 10.2 rebounds while posting a 30.8 PER despite playing at a snail’s pace. By comparison, a 22-year-old Amar’e Stoudemire averaged 26 points and 8.9 rebounds while posting a 26.6 PER in 2004-05 under Mike D’Antoni, with Gentry as an assistant. “Young Amar’e” was a phenom in his own right, but he was no Davis. If things fall into place and Davis continues to blossom, it’s not outlandish to envision the two-time All-Star making a run at averaging 28/12, a threshold achieved by only Shaquille O’Neal over the last 30 years.


No. 2: Klay expected to be cleared — As antsy as NBA fans are for the 2015 Finals to begin – we must be entertained! – there is yet another silver lining to the eight-day gap between the end of the conference championship round and Game 1 Thursday in Oakland. Concussion protocols often take time, as do concussion recoveries. So this layoff is helpful to Golden State’s Klay Thompson, who took that nasty knee-to-the-head from Houston’s Trevor Ariza, and to the Warriors, but also to the integrity of the Finals. Golden State coach Steve Kerr, as noted by the Bay Area News Group, said he expects his shooting guard to be ready when the series against Cleveland begins at Oracle Arena.

Thompson has been “progressing well,” according to Kerr, since being kneed in the head as the Warriors won in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals Wednesday.

Kerr said he hasn’t thought about how Thompson might be replaced if he isn’t ready for the NBA Finals. Kerr did note that Leandro Barbosa has played a major role in the playoffs and that Justin Holiday could see some minutes as well.

The Warriors won’t have to play for another five days, which gives them time to possibly have Thompson practice before returning to action.

“It’s good that we have this break because he has the time to go through what he’s going through,” Kerr said.


No. 3: Drafting Curry not just Nellie’s revenge — If the conspiracy nuts are to be believed, there never were any lunar landings and—wait, wrong conspiracy. The one we care about here at Hang Time HQ is the one about Golden State drafting NBA MVP Steph Curry at No. 7 in 2009 simply because the Warriors’ powerful coach, Don Nelson, wanted to screw the New York Knicks for firing him 13 years earlier. But Nelson denied that Saturday in an interview with the New York Post and it seems reasonable; if the Knicks’ brain trust of Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D’Antoni could love Curry’s game and potential, so could the similarly offensive-minded Nelson. Besides, none of them would have been in position to pick Curry if David Kahn, Minnesota’s overmatched basketball boss at the time, hadn’t botched his consecutive picks at Nos. 5 and 6. Here’s part of the report by the Post’s Marc Berman:

Knicks brass always has believed their much-publicized interest in Curry, the 2014-15 MVP, in the lead-up to the draft swayed Nelson away from Arizona power forward Jordan Hill and onto the scent of Dell Curry’s son out of tiny Davidson College. Nelson had final say on the Warriors’ personnel decisions.

One conspiracy theory charges Nelson with taking Curry over Hill to spite the Knicks, who unceremoniously fired him midseason at disgruntled Patrick Ewing’s request.

Nelson, who retired four years ago, will watch proudly from his Hawaii homestead as Curry’s Warriors battle Cleveland in the NBA Finals starting Thursday.

The Hall of Fame coach roundly denied Donnie Walsh’s and Mike D’Antoni’s love affair with Curry influenced his opinion. Nelson told The Post on Saturday from Maui he would have taken Curry second in the draft that year, after Blake Griffin. James Harden was third.

“The guy’s a 10 as a human being, 10 as a player,’’ Nelson said. “We would’ve taken him No. 2. I saw him in the NCAA Tournament vs. St. Mary’s and fell in love with him. People were saying he didn’t have a handle to be a point guard. I saw a point guard the whole way. He had a handle, could shoot and be creative. In Davidson he wasn’t asked to make plays for others. I thought he was going to be terrific. I saw him as an All-Star. Not an MVP this soon but certainly All-Star caliber.’’

Whether revisionist history or not, the Knicks lost hope in the final two days entering the draft as it became clear Nelson, from Bay Area reports, was serious about Curry. Nelson said he worried Minnesota would use one of its two top-six picks for Curry, and he tried to trade up. Instead, the Timberwolves selected point guards Ricky Rubio (No. 5) and Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn (6), who no longer is in the league.

“I didn’t think he’d be there,’’ Nelson said. “Minnesota bailed us out. I didn’t care for the Syracuse kid and Rubio couldn’t shoot it.”

Some within the Knicks believe had Curry, and not Hill, fallen to them, as it once seemed, their franchise fortunes would have been drastically different. Hill was traded during his rookie year to open more cap space for 2010. Nevertheless, Walsh had a chance at All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Jeff Teague, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson or Jrue Holiday at No. 8.

“Whoever would’ve drafted [Curry] would’ve turned their franchise around,’’ Nelson said. “We were lucky to get him. You build a franchise around those guys. Point guard nowadays is more important than centers.’’


No. 3: Bulls like Hoiberg’s Kerr appealFred Hoiberg played for the Chicago Bulls, one small, natural connection when it came time for Bulls management to cast about for someone to replace Tom Thibodeau as head coach. Hoiberg also has a pre-existing relationship with Chicago GM Gar Forman – Forman was an assistant coach at Iowa State when Hoiberg played there, the school he has been coaching to solid NCAA success. And then there’s the Steve Kerr thing – Hoiberg became something of a 3-point specialist in his 10 NBA seasons with the Bulls, the Pacers and the Timberwolves and shares that slender, blond-haired look. And next season he’ll be a rookie NBA head coach seeking something approximating the first-year success Kerr has enjoyed at Golden State. The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson provided some details on the man who will take over for Mr. Thibs:

All that’s left is the official announcement that Hoiberg, 42, will replace Tom Thibodeau as the 19th coach in franchise history, which two sources said is expected no later than Wednesday. The day for Hoiberg’s official introduction is unknown as the two youngest of his four children are finishing school on Monday and he’s recovering from open heart surgery on April 17.

The New York Daily News first reported Hoiberg’s deal is “believed to be for five years and $25 million.” The Tribune couldn’t confirm that independently, but one source said Hoiberg would receive more than the $20 million extension he signed with Iowa State in March 2013, which contains a $500,000 buyout for an NBA job. …

That’s the going rate for recent hires. Both the Knicks’ Derek Fisher and the Warriors’ Steve Kerr have similar deals, while the Thunder gave Billy Donovan $30 million over five years.

Speaking of Kerr, [former Bulls GM Jerry] Krause, who also signed [Kerr] as a free agent in 1993, sees similarities in both their personalities and offensive philosophies. Kerr took over for a popular and successful coach in Mark Jackson and used levity and an upbeat temperament while guiding a team that had won 51 games the previous season to 67 victories and a trip to the NBA Finals.

The Bulls are hoping for a similar injection.

“Iowa State’s offensive is aggressive,” Krause said. “They go after you. Personality-wise, Hoiberg is very straight with you. I don’t think Freddie knows what the word “con” means.”

“He’d earn respect of players right away,” Krause said. “If you don’t respect Fred Hoiberg, you don’t respect people. He’s an outstanding individual and student of the game. He has been in the league. He knows what the league is. He has been an executive. He has been around a bunch of good coaches.

“He improved the team’s character wherever he went because he’s so much a character guy.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The day LeBron James paid an unscheduled visit to watch NCAA Steph Curry. … Allen Iverson is turning 40 years old? Man, where did that time go? A look back. … Go on, you know you want to ask it: Would Golden State be in the Finals if Mark Jackson still were coaching there? … Much-traveled former NBA big man Chris Gatling is in trouble in a credit card scam, and it’s not his first brush with the law. … Basketball shifts to business swiftly as Patrick Beverley and the Houston Rockets head into offseason.

Morning Shootaround — May 11

VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 10

Kyrie dealing with more than he’s letting on | Clippers hack their way to cusp of history | Wall unlikely to play in Game 4 | Vultures circling Warriors

No. 1: Kyrie dealing with more than he’s letting on — Cleveland’s Big 3 of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love has been reduced to a injury unit Big 1.5. Even LeBron is hobbled right now with a sore ankle he turned in Sunday’s buzzer-beating win over the Chicago Bulls. Love is gone for the postseason after shoulder surgery. But Irving is dealing with more than just a sore left ankle. He’s dealing with more than he’s letting on, a gusty but dangerous move for the young point guard in the midst of his first ever playoff experience. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group explains:

Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving is hurting more than he is letting on.

He’s dealing with more than just the right foot strain that was made public by coach David Blatt on Friday, even though the injury occurred almost three weeks ago in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Boston Celtics.

After the huge Game 4 victory over the Chicago Bulls to even the series, I asked him directly in the media scrum to address if there’s anything wrong with his left leg, and he paused briefly, before responding “Nah. Nah, there’s nothing wrong.”

As soon as the media contingent dissipated, Irving said, “Chris, you’re very observant.”

Irving’s left leg has been wrapped in dynamic taping, which is elastic that helps support the structure of the body. The pain is believed to be caused due to overcompensating. Upon exiting the arena last night with a grimacing expression plastered to his face, Irving walked gingerly and limped extremely noticeably.

However, it wasn’t his right foot that he was favoring. He was very cautious with each step not to place weight on his left leg. The Cavaliers are calling it a “sore left leg,” for the time being.

Irving is guarded when it comes to not revealing injuries and their extent, not wanting to give the opponent any sort of an advantage. He said “that’s Basketball 101.”

He’s laboring out there. The speed, the acceleration, the first step isn’t there. He’s giving it all he has, and has no plans of letting his team down. He’s in it until the very end.

“I’d rather will it out and give it a chance, than sitting back and watching my brothers compete without me,” Irving said.

VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks after the Cavs’ Game 4 win

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — April 4

VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I want to get there.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Morning shootaround — Jan. 10

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Blatt took the same tone.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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