Posts Tagged ‘Matt Barnes’

Report: OKC dealing Lamb to Hornets

Having already picked up small forward Nicolas Batum earlier tonight, the Hornets are not done dealing.

Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer is reporting that the Hornets will obtain guard Jeremy Lamb from Oklahoma City in a deal that involves the contract of recently-acquired Matt Barnes.

Having already traded Lance Stephenson to the Clippers and then shipping out Gerald Henderson to Portland in the deal that landed Batum, the Hornets are clearly in need of a shooting guard.

The Thunder are believed to be moving Lamb to clear out salary space to keep a pair of their own restricted free agents, Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler.

The 6-foot-5 Lamb was a first-round pick (No. 12) by Houston in 2013, but never played a game for the Rockets before he was part of the package for James Harden.

The Thunder had hoped that Lamb would replace some of the scoring lost out on the wing by Harden’s departure. But over three seasons he’s shot just 42.2 percent from the field and only 34.8 percent from behind the 3-point line. The Hornets must be hoping that reuniting with former college teammate Kemba Walker will help Lamb find that old UConn magic.

Morning shootaround — June 16


VIDEO: Should the Cavs go to their big men more in Game 6?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant motivated by Curry, LeBron in Finals | Malone gets his chance in Denver | More moves ahead for Clippers? | Report: Embiid could miss all of 2015-16

No. 1: Durant motivated by Curry, LeBron in Finals — For five games through these NBA Finals, reigning MVP Stephen Curry and four-time former MVP LeBron James have keyed an epic series. Yet as the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers ready for Game 6 tonight (9 ET, ABC), one former MVP is keeping an eye on things as he recovers from injury. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant tells ESPN.com’s Royce Young he can’t wait to get back on the court and have a shot at the 2016 Finals:

Once upon a time — as in a little more than a year ago — Kevin Durant was probably the only player worthy of being included in any discussion alongside LeBron James for title of best player in the game.

But after three surgeries to repair a fracture in his right foot that caused him to miss 55 games this past season, the 2014 MVP understands why his name has slipped from a lot of minds as fans marvel at James’ and Stephen Curry’s electrifying performances in the NBA Finals.

“It used to piss me off, but I love it now,” Durant told ESPN.com. “Just gotta show and prove. I don’t deserve to be up there with them this year. Next year is a different story.”

In ESPN.com’s 2014 NBA Rank project, Durant finished a stunning eighth overall, after coming in No. 2 overall in 2012 and 2013. With his season clouded by foot surgery, the reason for the drop was obvious. But that doesn’t mean Durant isn’t using being overlooked as motivation.

“Sometimes you gotta remind people what you do,” Durant said last season. “They tend to forget.”

*** (more…)

Clippers acquire Lance Stephenson


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson’s Top 10 plays in Charlotte from 2014-15

The Charlotte Hornets traded enigmatic shooting guard Lance Stephenson to the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, giving Stephenson a new start to try to recapture his standout play as an Indiana Pacer and Los Angeles another in a series of attempts to find help on the wing.

Charlotte will get Spencer Hawes, who, like Stephenson, was a disappointment in 2014-15 after signing a free-agent deal. The Hornets also get veteran forward Matt Barnes. The Hornets will hope Hawes can be one of the moves to address the glaring lack of 3-point shooting, while they may exercise an option to pay $1 million to buy out Barnes before July 1 rather than guarantee the $3.5 million for next season.

“We are pleased to add a pair of proven veterans to our team,” Charlotte general manager Rich Cho said in a statement. “Spencer Hawes is an experienced big man whose outside shooting gives us additional flexibility on offense.  Matt Barnes is an experienced veteran who knows the NBA.”

The real benefit for the Hornets, though, is in ending the relationship with Stephenson. He was a fallback signing last summer after the Utah Jazz matched the Hornets’ offer sheet on Gordon Hayward with hopes Stephenson could supply some much-needed offense, only to be seen as a bad fit almost from the beginning.

The Clippers’ thinking is clear, even with Stephenson coming off a bad season that renewed questions about his attitude. They get a player who could make a big impact, if he returns to his 2013-14 form as a major contributor for Indiana, while giving up one starter (Barnes) and with a relatively minor financial risk. Stephenson has two seasons remaining on the three-year deal he signed with Charlotte, but the second is a team option. If there are problems, L.A. is only committed to Stephenson for 2015-16 at $9 million.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports first reported the sides had agreed to the deal.

 

Pop’s, Doc’s Game 7 Numbers Tell Story


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich poked his team after their Game 6 loss at home to the Clippers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ask most observers who they would like to have pushing buttons in a winner-take-all, NBA playoff Game 7 and they’d tell you Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers or both.

The most accomplished coach of his era (Pop) against the best motivator of his era (Doc), they’ve got the championships and big game experience oozing out of their pores with Saturday’s Game 7 of their first round series at Staples Center looming on an overstuffed sports weekend, the likes of which we might not see again anytime soon.

The NFL Draft, the Kentucky Derby, Mayweather-Pacquiao and, of course, that almighty Game 7 between the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs and wanna-be champs Los Angeles Clippers. It’s all there for your consumption this weekend.

But nothing beats the pressure-packed chaos of a Game 7 and to get it with two of the marquee coaches in the game, with Hollywood as the backdrop … it doesn’t get much better.

And when you toss in the metrics, things get even more interesting.

Doc has a 5-5 career record in Game 7s, 5-2 at home. Pop is 3-2 in his career, 1-1 on the road.

Doc and the Clippers have the most compelling numbers on their side is the 79.8 percent winning percentage (95-24) home teams own in Game 7s. But on the flip side, there has been a road win in a Game 7 in each of the past three postseasons and all in the first round (Brooklyn over Toronto in 2014, Chicago over Brooklyn in 2013 and the Clippers over Memphis in 2012).

Does it mean anything?

Not really. At least not in a tangible way that either the Clippers or Spurs will be able to use after opening tip.

Both Pop and Doc won Game 7s on their home floors last season, the Spurs beat back Dallas in the first round last season and the Clippers did it a day earlier against Golden State. So they have fresh memories of what needs to be done in this situation, as do their teams.

For all of Pop’s playoff experience, no active NBA coach knows the rigors of Game 7s the way Doc does. The Boston Celtics played in seven of them during his time running the show there, his veteran crew tested in each and every way imaginable during their glory days together.

All that said, the Spurs’ lone Game 7 win on the road in four tries, came in 2008 against the New Orleans Hornets and their All-Star point guard … one Chris Paul.

If you believe in any of the minutiae, that any of these numbers have a story tell, that should be more than enough to chew on between now and game time.

As much as we’d like to make this about the coaches, the bottom line is the players, on both sides, will have the final say.

Does Tim Duncan have one more superstar effort in him? Can CP3 finally slay the dragon and drive his team over the proverbial hump? Can Blake Griffin keep it going? Or will Kawhi Leonard win the battle of the young big men? Can J.J. Redick play hero? Will Tony Parker shake off whatever ails him and deliver like the former Finals MVP he is? Will DeAndre Jordan makes his free throws? And who serves as the Game 7 wild card among Jamal Crawford, Manu Ginobili, Austin Rivers, Patty Mills, Matt Barnes and Boris Diaw?

Someone will have to decide who moves on to the conference semifinals and that date with the Houston Rockets.

And instead of it being Pop or Doc, it will have to be someone else … then again, perhaps it’s best to go with the guys with the Game 7 track records.


VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers talks about his team’s mettle down the stretch in their Game 6 win over the Spurs

Morning shootaround — April 11


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry for MID award | Duncan hands Father Time first loss? | Cavs or not, Celtics can’t be choosy | Hawks’ Antic, NBPA talk N.Y. incident

No. 1: Curry for Most Improved Defender award — By now, most NBA observers expect Golden State’s floor leader and marvelous 3-point shooter Steph Curry to finish first or second in balloting for the league’s Most Valuable Player. But if you look closely at Curry’s performances on the other end of the court, listen to his coaches and study the Warriors’ numbers in thwarting the opposition, Curry might merit consideration for a wholly fictitious award: Most Improved Defender. Breaking down the components of good individual and team defense with Golden State assistant coach Ron Adams, ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss enumerated the many ways in which Curry has tightened up his game that way, and concluded:

The Warriors challenged their top player to get better, and it worked. They’re having the best regular season — in terms of point differential — we’ve witnessed since Jordan‘s Bulls.

The notion of Curry as defensive ace might be subversive, but perhaps not as subversive as the next statement: Curry got better not just because he wants to be the best player alive, but also because he thinks it’s within his reach.

“He wants to be the best,” [coach Steve] Kerr said. “He knew that to be the best he had to be better at that end.”

Even as Curry is favored to win an MVP award, the concept of a skinny, 6-3 point guard as league alpha strikes people strangely. That spot is usually reserved for physical freaks like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. It all just smacks of basketball heresy.

Curry’s star continues to rise in defiance of convention, though. He markets himself as “the patron saint of the underdog” for a reason. Curry doesn’t look like a good defensive player, but then again, he never looked like a Division I college player, he never looked like an NBA draft pick, and he never looked like an NBA superstar. But he has accomplished all of those things. If reputations are often based on appearances, Curry aims to forge a reputation as someone who transcends that expectation. And his aim is excellent.

*** (more…)

Do the Clippers have the D to contend?


VIDEO: NBA Action: What makes the Clippers tick

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Los Angeles Clippers are in a unique position. They’re the only team that won a playoff series last year and is set to hold home-court advantage in the first round this year.

Note: Winning the Northwest Division guarantees the Blazers a top-4 seed, but they wouldn’t have home-court advantage against a lower seed with a better record (like L.A. has right now).

The Clippers are also the worst defensive team among Western Conference playoff squads. They rank 18th in defensive efficiency through Wednesday, having allowed 103.1 points per 100 possessions.

For the fourth straight season, the Clippers have a top-five offense. But each of the last two seasons, the they’ve complemented and elite offense with a top-10 defense. This year, they have not. They’re below average on D, with the sixth biggest regression on that end of the floor from last season to this one.

History tells us that you need a top-10 defense to contend for a championship. The Clippers play the Sixers on Friday and have two more games against the Lakers, but that’s probably not enough to get them near the top-10 by April 15.

So where have the Clippers fallen off? The numbers point to 3-point defense and an inability to keep their opponents off the free throw line.

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The 3-point defense had nowhere to go but down after ranking No. 1 last season, and it’s been better (fewer attempts) since the All-Star break. The free throws continue to be a problem. The Clippers have given up 19.2 points per game at the free throw line, 2.0 more than the league average. Take away those two points per game and they’re a top-10 defense.

The Clippers’ defensive system puts pressure on both their bigs and their perimeter players. They bring the bigs out high to defend pick-and-rolls…

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This scheme usually takes the ball out of the ball-handler’s hands. Opposing ball-handler’s have passed the ball on 68 percent of ball screens that the Clippers have defended, the highest rate in the league, according to SportVU.

But the scheme, in turn, puts pressure on the Clippers’ wings, who have to help on the opposing big when he rolls to the basket. And if he catches the ball, those wings are often in a position to do nothing but foul or concede a layup…

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If the ball doesn’t go to the roll man, that guy who was helping on the roll now has to close out on the perimeter to both contest a shot and contain a drive…

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And if the drive isn’t contained, the pressure goes back to the bigs to defend both the driver and his own man.

Other teams employ a similar scheme. The Miami Heat often suffocated their opponents with it when they had LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the wings. But when the Heat’s defense wasn’t on point, it could be broken down by teams that passed the ball well (see Spurs, San Antonio).

The Clippers don’t have James or Wade. They have J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers trying to help on those rolls, recover out to those shooters, and contain those drives. And those guys aren’t quick enough or disciplined enough to do all that on a high level and on a consistent basis.

The opponents’ free throw rate has been highest with the Clippers’ reserves on the floor. When it comes to both the opponent free throw rate and overall defense, there’s a big gap drop-off when at least one of their starters takes a seat.

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And that goes back to the big issue regarding the Clippers. Their starting lineup is among the best in the league, while their bench (especially with Crawford out) is a liability. The roster moves of team president Doc Rivers are going to test the patience of head coach Doc Rivers when his reserves are on the floor in the playoffs.

Chris Paul isn’t worried too much about where his team stands defensively in the regular season, believing that, once the postseason begins, it’s all about matchups.

“When you get to the playoffs, all of the other stuff that you did during the season goes out the window,” Paul said Wednesday. “All of those stats ain’t going to mean nothing if you’re playing against a team that you can never beat.”

The Clippers have played all of their fellow Western Conference playoff teams pretty evenly. And they have a top-10 defense against four of the seven, including the team – Portland – they’re currently in position to face in the first round and the team – Golden State – they’d most likely face in the conference semifinals if they got there.

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But history disagrees with Paul. In the last 37 years (since turnovers started being counted in 1977), only one team has ranked as low as 18th defensively and reached The Finals. That team was the 2000-01 Lakers (defending champs at the time), who ranked 19th defensively, flipped the switch once the playoffs began, and went 15-1 with the best defense in the postseason.

The Clippers don’t have championship experience on which they can fall back. Nor, does it seem, do they have a defense on which they can rely.

Blogtable: What’s up with the Clippers?

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


BLOGTABLE: Clippers soft | Forsooth, this fortnight | LeBron’s move


Is Blake Griffin relying too much on his newfound jumper? (Andrew Bernstein/NBAE)

Is Blake Griffin relying too much on his newfound jumper?
(Andrew Bernstein/NBAE)

> In the never-too-early-to-worry department: What’s up with the Clippers? Missing something? Are they really too soft, do you think?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Maybe the Clippers underestimated all that goes into being Los Angeles’ glamour team. What, they thought the Lakers just showed up, smiled and sprinted all those years, or just let Kobe be Kobe? I’ve talked with a couple of Clippers people and the fact that they still mention last year – the Donald Sterling remarks and how poorly timed that was for a playoff team – suggests they haven’t fully moved on. It’s as if the Clippers still blame Sterling for last spring and feel entitled now that they’ve gotten all their wounds balmed (Ballmer-ed?). Nope, they’re going to have to earn it with way tougher defense and a more orchestrated offense. They’re playing with one eye on the mirror.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Yes, it is too early to go into a full-blown panic. But I have to say that I’ve never bought into the Clippers as elite level championship contenders.  Too soft?  At times.  Too uncommitted to doing the dirty work?  At times.  Too distracted by things like fouls against Blake Griffin or chippiness from the Warriors?  At times.  All in all, they are a collection of individual talent, but less than a sum of their parts.  Sure, we’ll see them in the playoffs again, but not likely for long.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Except that it is too early to worry. Don’t confuse lurching start with overall direction. If this continues through, say, Christmas, then the Clippers have a problem. For now, they have an annoyance. The lack of intensity, showing mostly on defense, won’t last. Doc Rivers is a lot of things for this organization. Motivator is one of them. Plus, it’s a good locker room. Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and others are not too soft.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I wonder if the Clippers already feel the burden of a championship-or-bust season. Yes, it is November, and true, this topic needs to be readdressed in April. Still, the reputations of Chris Paul (mainly) and Blake Griffin and to a lesser extent, Doc Rivers, are riding on this team reaching the Finals. Paul is a superstar who hasn’t won anything, Griffin is supposed to be a franchise player and Rivers makes a ton of money for one reason and one reason only. I look at the Clippers and see mental issues, not talent issues.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Even if Blake Griffin has turned himself into a good mid-range shooter, he shouldn’t turn himself into a high-volume mid-range shooter. He’s one of the best finishers in the league, and he’s hurting his team by shooting too many jumpers. The Clippers can get him out in the open floor and to the basket more often by getting more stops, but those are harder to come by when they’re playing J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford together at the wings. That lineup has played only 59 minutes so far, but their starting lineup with those two guys has been abysmal defensively. So, either Matt Barnes needs to start making shots, Reggie Bullock needs to step up as a two-way rotation wing, or they need to make a trade.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comSomething is missing. The fire. That proverbial chip that is supposed to be permanently implanted in and on the collective shoulder of this team. The air of confidence in each other that should be a part of the equation for an incumbent power with expectations, internal and external. Doc Rivers doesn’t talk the way he has this season to impress us. He’s speaking the truth about his team. Doc is right, they are a bit soft. They don’t play with the edge you’d expect of a team with this many championship components already assembled. Maybe they’ve gotten caught up in the Hollywood aspect of the situation and lost sight of the fact that they’re fighting for respect and a place in the pecking order in a rugged Western Conference that does not suffer impostors. The Clippers have plenty of time to shed this current crustiness. But they don’t have forever.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The rebounding stat is a great truth teller. It reveals discipline, toughness and effort. Anybody can rebound; it’s just about wanting to. As the Clippers improve in those areas, so will their rebounding numbers improve – and with it their chances for contention.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I don’t think they’re soft, I think they’re just still trying to find their footing. Steve Ballmer’s Clippers 2.0 haven’t had the same defensive intensity as last season, and offensively they’ve looked confused and sputtered from time to time. While turning to Jamal Crawford for help in the starting five on the wing should kickstart their offense, I’m not sure how it makes them a better defensive team. Either Matt Barnes needs to get his groove back or Ballmer may have to ready Clippers v. 2.5.

Matt Barnes ( Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Matt Barnes ( Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: First of all they miss the aggressiveness. A team that wants to make the big step forward has to be more “nasty”, using the term inserted in the NBA life by the one and only Gregg Popovich. I don’t believe that Blake Griffin facing up and shooting the ball from the perimeter is the way to go. They have the depth in the bench, they have the talent and the experience to go all the way. If they get more nasty.

Ole Frerks, NBA.com/Germany: I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re soft, I just think their roster dynamic has taken a hit with Matt Barnes in his shooting funk. He was supposed to be the guy who provides toughness on defense, but if he’s not making open 3s, defenses are able to ignore him and clog the paint against Griffin and Paul. Rivers has answered by inserting Jamal Crawford into their lineup, but he doesn’t defend anybody and makes it tough for the team to survive in that regard. He is also by far the best scorer they have to come off the bench, so inserting him into the starting 5 robs the second unit of their most lethal threat. It’s obviously early, but I think they might need to add a Three-and-D specialist to balance their roster.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I think that between Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, and new owner Steve Ballmer, the Clippers built unrealistic expectations of their capabilities without actually the body of work to prove that they are indeed capable. This team has never been past the Second Round of the playoffs, remember. But to answer the question in more tangible terms, the Clippers have a major hole in the wing position, with no small forward capable of providing them quality minutes right now. Griffin should get back on track soon but Chris Paul seems to have taken one step past his prime. And yes, I do think that the team as a whole is a bit too soft, lacking the killer instinct to take the jump up from being good to great.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: There’s a few concerns here on both ends of the floor, but I don’t think these are long-term issues. Offensively, it might sound really simple but they’re just not making shots at the moment. Prior to their win over the Blazers over the weekend, J.J. Redick couldn’t actually buy a three. The crazy thing about the misses is that generally they’ve been wide open looks that they haven’t been able to make. They were 7-for-30 from three against the Oklahoma City Thunder, 12-for-33 against the Los Angeles Lakers and 9-for-31 against the Sacramento Kings. For guys like Redick and Jamal Crawford, those shots will eventually fall but Matt Barnes’ lack of production is concerning. He’s shooting just 31 percent from three and lineups with Barnes in them are really struggling. Defensively, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin paired well last season and took their defense to a decent level. This season, their defensive rating has slipped to 104.7, good enough for 20th in the league and their rebounding rate has dropped significantly from last season, hovering around 30th in the league. Lineups with Crawford and Redick are not working and their lack of depth at the small forward position is concerning.

Orr Ziv, NBA.com/Israel: The Clippers will be fine. Obviously, they have yet to play 48 minutes of solid basketball, but the offense started clicking against the Spurs. Two of their three losses came against the champs and the red-hot Warriors, which are acceptable losses. If they will continue to take care of the ball (only New Orleans is ahead in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio), I’m sure the record will reflect it soon enough.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: A team is truly great, with the means to fight in the championship, when it concludes the process of stabilizing their game. This process will let them gain trust among each other and feel more powerful. I do not see LA Clippers in trouble now, especially this early in the season. They’re in the process. Perhaps it’s a matter of anxiety because they have a new owner who wants fast success, like he had in the business world.

For more NBA Debates, go to #AmexNBA

Rejuvenated Barnes ready for new start


VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers and players discuss upcoming season

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — One of the reporters at Clippers media day Monday asked about Blake Griffin.

“He has really nice hair,” Matt Barnes responded.

It was on.

“Did you guys see his abs in the GQ issue?” another teammate, J.J. Redick, jumped in.

Barnes: “Oh, my gosh.”

Redick: “They’re amazing.”

Barnes: “I couldn’t believe it.”

Redick: “Amazing. They had to oil those up.”

Barnes: “But I don’t think it’s Photoshopped. I think that’s real life.”

So it was that the Clippers had their first controversy of the season, and who knows if they have ever faced such an off-court distraction before.

Besides, Barnes should talk. He’s the one who reported about 20 pounds lighter than last season and re-energized despite never exactly lacking for energy in the first place. He’s the one who, pushed by losing 19 games to injury in 2013-14, spent his summer eating better, stretching more and reversing the aging process.

“It’s crazy because I keep feeling like I’m getting better, and I’m getting older at the same time,” said Barnes, who is 34. “This summer was amazing for me, just to be able to avoid all the injuries, kind of rebuild my body and understand my body and just being ready. I have so much (energy) built up from last year and the motivation, with everything we have going on and the opportunity we have this year. I’m going to be out there flying around.”

An increased contribution from Barnes would be a big lift for the Clippers, whether he returns to his usual role as a high-energy reserve able to defend multiple positions or the early plan comes true and he starts at small forward. The Clips know Barnes feeling better potentially means the rest of the Western Conference feels worse.

So even though the biggest 2013-14 injury problem was 16 games lost to problems with the left eye, not the kind of thing that can be helped by improved conditioning, he made the offseason about working on his body.

He went to his first yoga class, very out of place with tattoos and a white tank-top undershirt among the group of older women, and felt as foreign. He kept coming back and they kept encouraging him. The next thing Barnes knew, he was at 210 pounds, the lightest, he recalled, since 10th or 11th grade.

“Yoga. Eating right. A lot of stretching,” Barnes said. “I think the eating right kind of food went hand in hand with the weight program I was doing. For me to be able to drop 20 pounds and still feel strong and as fast as I’ve ever been and back to jumping how I used to jump. Just the whole package. I’m excited to get back and get my game legs and just get back to work with these guys.

“Last year was, personally for me, a tough season, to be hurt in the summer, hurt in training, hurt the whole (first) half of the season, and then kind of finally catch my groove after All-Star break. I just sat back and took some time off and just re-focused and re-dedicated myself to basketball as far as my body…. I feel great. It’s as fast as I’ve been, jumping. I feel good. I just took a step back and let the dust clear and really went hard this summer.”

Barnes is feeling better, has a new layer of energy and now a unique opportunity after starting more than 41 games just once in a career that began in 2003-04. Even if someone else on the team made GQ instead.

First Team: ‘Bron still after one award

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Despite being hailed as a stellar defender, LeBron has yet to nab a coveted Defensive Player of the Year award.

Despite being hailed as a stellar defender, LeBron James has yet to nab a coveted Defensive Player of the Year nod.

Many will remember the 2013-14 season for what LeBron James didn’t accomplish.

No third straight MVP. No third straight championship. No Defensive Player of the Year award. No … well, that’s about it. When you’ve turned the NBA upside down over the past 11 years, your list of failures is short.

Last season, ‘Bron scored 27 points per game on 57 percent from the field. What gives for the outlandish accuracy? He has mastered the drive. He can certainly shoot it, but his dominance is due to his pronounced ability to control the area closest to the rim. It’s the same strategy his transcendent high-flying predecessors — Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, Michael Jordan — adopted.

The other side of the ball holds his lingering individual motivation. James has made no secret about his desire to capture the top defensive award. After famously shedding serious weight this offseason, he promises to be quicker and more agile and disruptive than ever.

A Defensive Player of the Year award may come to Cleveland, although the franchise would gladly accept a championship first.

Here are his top games last season:

November 15, 2013 — Torching The Old Nemesis

The Line: 39 points on 14-for-18 shooting

The Quote:If I get 37 shots in a game, I’m going to put up 60. Easy.” — James


VIDEO: LeBron James runs wild on the Mavericks for 39 points

Earlier in the week, Rudy Gay set an NBA record with 37 field goal attempts. On this night, LeBron shot about half that number for 10 more points.

Drifting jumpers, quick dribble-drives, long 2s … in short, James had the full repertoire working. The Mavs elected to follow the Spurs’ 2013 Finals strategy of not double teaming, but contesting every perimeter shot he took. In other words, Shawn Marion, Jae Crowder and Monta Ellis were on their own.

A one-legged Dirkian fadeaway by James with a little over two minutes left gave the Heat the cushion needed to put Dallas away. (more…)

Clips rejoice as Hurricane Steve blows in

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Steve Ballmer get the Clippers’ crowd fired up at the team’s pep rally

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The Los Angeles Clippers won’t be changing their name. But if they were, Hurricanes would be appropriate.

L.A. is known for earthquakes, not howling tropical storms. But the latter is exactly what comes to mind after the franchise’s new owner blew into the city Monday afternoon.

Hurricane Steve.

Clippers players on stage at Staples Center on Monday couldn’t help but smile wide and long as they welcomed new owner Steve Ballmer. Some covered their mouths as they chuckled under their breath. Others cocked their heads in wonderment as this big, bouncing, balding billionaire bellowed into the microphone during a rally attended by nearly 5,000 fans.

The fans were issued T-shirts that read, simply: “It’s A New Day.”

Hurricane Steve barreled out of an arena tunnel like a bull unleashed in the streets of Pamplona. Eminem’s raucous “Lose Yourself” blared as he fervently clapped his hands, slapped high-fives with fans and double-pumped his fists as if he’d just been called to come on down as the next contestant on the “Price is Right.”

“When he came through the crowd, I literally had goose bumps,” said Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin, who was joined by coach Doc Rivers and teammates Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Matt Barnes and others on stage. “I don’t know if there’s one good word to describe him. I know all our guys are excited about the energy he brings. It’s completely different.”

Ballmer’s price to acquire the team from banned-for-life former owner Donald Sterling was huge, a record $2 billion. This for a franchise that for most of Sterling’s 33 years of ownership was labeled as the worst-run organization in all of sports.

But that started to change over the last few years. Sterling paid Griffin. He paid Paul. He paid to get Rivers from Boston to ensure keeping Paul. Before that he paid $50 million to build a state-of-the-art training facility in L.A.’s upscale Playa Vista neighborhood. There were other signs of fiscal change, too, that raised curiosity within the organization.

Former Clippers center Chris Kaman was drafted sixth overall by L.A. in 2003 , playing there for eight seasons before being traded to New Orleans in the deal that gifted Paul to the Clippers in December 2011, following the lockout. In a 2012 interview, a year after the trade, Kaman reflected on how far the franchise had come:  “The worst possible franchise in NBA and all sports history … to one of the top ones.”

He then quipped that such a transformation could really go the distance, “if Sterling sold the team.”

Well … hey.

Ironically, after decades of stinginess, the surfacing of Sterling’s better judgment in running the team has set up the giddy Ballmer with the most talented, most championship-ready roster in the franchise’s history in L.A. Paul and Griffin are locked in for the next four years. Rivers isn’t going anywhere. Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO from Seattle, promised Clippers fans the team isn’t going anywhere either. He said he loves Seattle, but he loves L.A., too, and he won’t move the team “for a hundred reasons.”

He said at least a hundred more things that drew applause as his booming voice grew hoarse.

It is a new day in Clipperland. A much different day.

Hurricane Steve will take it from here.