Posts Tagged ‘Matt Barnes’

On brink of elimination, Grizzlies not ready to give up yet

Memphis, TN — As the media scrum around him broke up and the assorted journalists headed out into a bright Memphis afternoon, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger tried to be supportive. “Enjoy the rest of your day,” he urged, while allowing with a laugh, “I don’t know what day of the week it is.”

Joerger should be forgiven for being a little out of sorts. What the Memphis Grizzlies have been through the last few weeks would make any coach’s head spin.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the Grizzlies. This Grizz team entered the season with a nice mix of older and younger players, and made a trade to add veterans Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen. After signing a new long-term contract last summer, Marc Gasol lasted 52 games before breaking his foot. A few days after Gasol’s injury, Mike Conley went down as well, and then Chalmers just weeks later.

The list of Grizzlies players currently unavailable due to injury is impressive — All-Stars like Conley and Gasol, rotation players like Chalmers and Brandan Wright, as well as a bunch of role players and prospects, from Jarrell Martin to Jordan Adams. All told, they’ve used an NBA-record 28 players this season, and could probably stand to add a few more if their roster wasn’t locked for the duration of the playoffs. According to Joerger, the personnel fluctuation has led to some challenging circumstances.

“Difficult from the standpoint of a lot of moving parts, a lot of re-teaching,” he said. “Frustrating from the level as coach, when you see — especially San Antonio, they’re at the doctoral level as far as some of the things they run. We had to go backwards — and backwards not being a negative word, just making it more simple as all kinds of new guys have come in. That’s a fairly easy adjustment for an experienced group that’s been together. It’s just difficult when you have new guys, new faces. Defense is built on trust and being able to know where your help is. It would be fun to be able to have this group together for a little bit longer, and I’ve seen a great deal of improvement from our guys. They come in every day, they’re playing hard.”

While a good job and good effort is always appreciated, the NBA only recognizes wins and losses. And the Grizzlies went 3-14 over the last four weeks of the regular season, and have yet to notch a win in the playoffs against the mighty Spurs. Moral victories are great and all, but Joerger is still hopeful for a tangible result from his rag-tag roster.

“I want those guys to have some success,” he said. “They deserve to get some results. The battles that we’ve had since the All-Star break, to get a couple of wins — certainly the Cleveland game was terrific, and the Clippers win, New Orleans, some of those things are memorable. But to see guys out there — Matt Barnes, banging away at LaMarcus Aldridge. Or [Andersen] getting on the floor, Vince [Carter] giving everything he’s got left. I’d like to see them be rewarded for that. They deserve it.”

To get what they deserve, the Grizzlies have to go through the San Antonio Spurs, who have not only won all three games in the series, they’ve won 10 of the 12 quarters the teams have played. To have a chance at winning Game 4, the Grizzlies have to attack relentlessly, particularly on the glass.

Said Joerger: “There’s a big, big difference in going out there and not trying to get embarrassed or being like, ‘Let’s just try to keep it close,’ or, ‘They’re the Spurs…’ No. That group in there comes with the attitude, and I would expect they come with the attitude that we’re trying to win tomorrow and we’re going to win. I’m not saying that we are, but I’m hoping we come with that attitude.”

If there was ever a city perfect for supporting a team that seems to have the deck stacked against them, it’s Memphis. The entire downtown area is wallpapered with Grizzlies logos and banners, with citizens wearing enough Grizz gear to make it look like an NBA Store commercial shoot. Following Game 3, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich noted the “pride” the Grizzlies played with, and that pride seemed to be mirrored by the crowd. As the game ended, the fans in attendance gave the remaining Grizzlies a standing ovation despite the loss, acknowledging the work they put in, even if they didn’t get the W.

With a noon local tipoff tomorrow, meaning only about 36 hours recuperation time, the schedule-makers didn’t do the Grizz many favors. But while the circumstances aren’t in the Grizzlies’ favor, Joerger expects them to grit and grind tomorrow, even if it is for the final time during a season that started strong and has limped toward the finish line.

“We feel like we’re right there,” he said. “We made a couple of mistakes in transition, where we ran at some balls and ran up on guys and reached a little bit. I thought our defense flew around for the most part, and we helped each other. So we have to take that attitude into the game, and you just never know what can happen. You have to give yourself that chance that something can happen.”

Morning shootaround — April 13


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors ready for shot at No. 73 | Kobe’s finale is here | Report: Wittman likely done in Washington | Rockets not sweating final gamePistons’ Jackson: ‘I want to go and fight Goliath’

No. 1: Warriors ready for their shot at 73 A mere 48 minutes (and a victory, of course) is all that stands between the Golden State Warriors and a place all their own in NBA history. A win tonight against the visiting Memphis Grizzlies (10:30 ET, ESPN) gives the Warriors a 73-win season, surpassing the 72-win mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. The players on the team understand the weight of the moment ahead and while they somewhat wish they had wrapped this goal up sooner, they are nonetheless excited about tonight. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

“We have an opportunity to do something that no one has done,” Stephen Curry said. “So many great players have suited up, and for us 15 guys to say we’ve accomplished something as a group that’s never been done before, that’s remarkable.

“We earned the right to have a 48-minute game to eclipse the mark, and we have to go out and finish the job.”

Finishing the job means beating Memphis on Wednesday for what would be the Warriors’ 73rd win of the season, a mark not accomplished in NBA history and a standard that might not again be touched.

No team had won 70 games before the Bulls won 72 in 1995-96, and no team had threatened their record in the two decades since then — until this season.

“It would have been cool to take care of the games we were supposed to take care of and have it already out of the way, but the way this thing has played out, to be at home and have one shot it, it’s pretty amazing,” power forward Draymond Green said.

“It’s there for us now, so we’re going to try to get it, but the end-all, be-all for me is the championship ring,” center Andrew Bogut said. “That record, I don’t think it’s going to get broken again, but you never know. Five or 10 years down the track, that record could be broken.

“The records in 2015 and 2016 that say ‘champions’ won’t be. That’ll never change.”

The Warriors have juggled their attention between setting a seemingly immortal regular-season record and defending their championship all season. They finally decided that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Even during Tuesday’s practice, one that head coach Steve Kerr missed for a doctor’s appointment, the record was not mentioned. Instead, the Warriors watched video and drilled fundamentals.

“Our minds can’t switch strictly to that championship until this game is over,” lead assistant coach Luke Walton said.

Green has been more outspoken than anyone about his desire to chase the record.

On Monday, he decided to reward three high schoolers with the chance to witness history by giving each of them a pair of tickets to the game. He’s not worried about his gesture looking like a prediction of victory or becoming bulletin-board material.

“You can’t not talk about it at this point. The whole world is talking about it now,” Green said. “… It’s everywhere. There’s nowhere to hide from it now. …

“I’m definitely not predicting a loss.”

As for the Grizzlies, they have no intention of rolling over and taking a loss. ESPN.com has more here:

“They’re chasing history,” Memphis forward Matt Barnes said after the Grizzlies’ 110-84 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night. “We have a chance to interrupt history. Playing in Golden State, I know how alive that crowd is going to be, and I’m going to be very excited to be part of that game.”

Coach David Joerger said he expects the Grizzlies to rise to the occasion against the Warriors.

“It’s for history, baby,” Joerger said. “We’re going to give it our best shot.”

The injury-riddled Grizzlies have fought for their playoff hopes for the past two months but are in free fall, having lost nine of their past 10 games and three in a row. With Tuesday’s defeat, they dropped into a tie with the Dallas Mavericks for sixth place in the Western Conference.

“Yeah, the emotional tank is a little bit empty right now,” Joerger said.

“You also know that sitting out there 24 hours you’ve got a chance to be the answer on every Trivial Pursuit card for the next 75 years. We’ll see what we’re going to do with that tomorrow.”

***

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Analytics Art: Crawford, Barnes, Cousins among week’s worst shooters


VIDEO: Barnes leads the way for Grizzlies in win

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

As 2016 NCAA March Madness kicks off, the NBA keeps plugging along. Now with less than a month to go until postseason play for the pros, teams will continue fighting for playoff seeding or remain trapped in the league’s cellar.

Aside from teams like the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers, who have already been eliminated from the playoffs, it’s gut-check time for players and coaches alike. Slogging through ugly shooting slumps at this time of year are far from ideal.

PointAfter found the week’s coldest shooters who have done their teams few favors offensively during the stretch run.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games from March 11-17.

Guard: Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers

As the Clippers geared up for big tests this past week against the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs, they needed all hands on deck to improve their shoddy record against the league’s top teams. Instead, the Clips went 0-2 versus those elite opponents, while Jamal Crawford bricked his way to 4-for-20 shooting in those two affairs.

Crawford didn’t fair well in LA’s other two games, either — wins over the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets, respectively. Over the course of the week’s four games, “J-Crossover” shot a combined 28.6 percent. He’s been brilliant at the free-throw line (where he leads all qualified players at 91.5 percent), but his marks from the field and beyond the arc are some of his worst ever.

As it stands, the Clippers don’t appear to have an ice cube’s chance in Death Valley at beating either the Spurs or Golden State Warriors out West. It will take much more than a Crawford revival to get them on the same level as those juggernauts.

Wing: Matt Barnes, Memphis Grizzlies

The injury-ravaged Grizzlies need all the offensive help they can get with the core of Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol all sidelined. Matt Barnes started the week with aplomb on March 11, compiling his first career triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

From there, however, the 36-year-old veteran was far less effective as a scorer.

The UCLA product shot a ghastly 6-for-21 from the floor (including 1-for-7 from long range) in Wednesday’s loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves. For the week overall (five games), Barnes converted just 33.7 percent of his field goals.

Of course, it’s tough to fault Barnes for two reasons. First, the aforementioned injury woes Memphis has faced of late, and second, the brutal scheduling the Grizzlies were put through this past week.

Barnes and his teammates had to play two back-to-backs over the past seven days, which is a pretty darn good excuse for his poor shooting.

Forward/Center: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

Sacramento’s enigmatic center was suspended one game for “conduct detrimental to the team” after yelling at head coach George Karl in the huddle during the Kings’ home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 9. Cousins started his week sidelined, and he didn’t perform very well upon his return.

“Boogie” found his way to the charity stripe quite often, but his shooting performances — 10-for-23, 4-for-10 and 8-for-21, respectively — left a lot to be desired. Cousins didn’t shoot better than 43.5 percent in any of his three games this week, and the Kings were only able to beat the lowly Los Angeles Lakers.

As has been the case all throughout the Cousins era in Sacramento, the front office has some big decisions to make this coming offseason. Perhaps it’s time for a bigger shakeup.

Ben Leibowitz (https://twitter.com/BenLebo) is a writer for PointAfter (http://www.pointafter.com), a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network (http://www.graphiq.com). Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players (http://basketball-players.pointafter.com)NBA Historical Teams (http://nba-historical-teams.pointafter.com) and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — March 18


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs gearing up for Warriors | Okafor’s surgery delayed | Barnes, Henson get chippy at end of game | Biyombo delivers for Raptors

No. 1: Spurs handle Blazers, start prepping for Warriors — The San Antonio Spurs surged past the Portland Trail Blazers last night en route to a 118-110 win thanks in large part to a 39-point third quarter. The victory marked San Antonio’s 43rd straight at home as a showdown with the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC) looms. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com was on hand in San Antonio last night for the win and reports on how the Spurs are officially gearing up for their big showdown:

It would have been understandable for the Spurs to look past the Portland Trail Blazers, who they trounced 118-110 on Thursday, with an eye toward Saturday’s matchup against the Golden State Warriors. Even in the visiting locker room prior to Thursday’s game, a couple of Trail Blazers dressing for warm-ups figured San Antonio would overlook them in anticipation of the clash against Golden State.

No chance.

Starting with the team’s 109-101 triumph March 10 over the Chicago Bulls, a victory that kicked off its current five-game homestand, and leading into Saturday’s rematch against Golden State, the San Antonio Spurs appear to be as healthy and locked in as the unit has been this season.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made sure of it, calling back-to-back timeouts with a little more than four minutes remaining and his team up 15 points on Portland.

“Stay focused, stay focused,” said point guard Tony Parker, who finished with 18 points and 16 assists. “Pop’s always been like that. It’s a 48-minute game. He was trying to prepare us for Saturday because, on Saturday, if you rest one minute [Golden State] can go up 15-0 real quick in a minute. That’s why he was like that.”

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Spurs a 66 percent chance of beating the Warriors, based on a variety of reasons. The Spurs lead the NBA in scoring margin, which historically has been more predictive of future success than a team’s win-loss record. Coming off a full day’s rest, as there’s no practice scheduled for Friday, San Antonio will host a Warriors team fresh off an outing the night before in Dallas. The Spurs are 34-0 this season in the AT&T Center.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, meanwhile, finally have emerged as San Antonio’s top scoring threats. Popovich believes Tim Duncan’s eight-game absence — starting with the Jan. 25 meeting against the Warriors and ending on Feb. 10 — sped up the development of chemistry between Aldridge and Leonard.

They scored 22 points apiece and combined for four blocks against the Trail Blazers.

“[Aldridge] and Kawhi both, I think they were trying to fit in, trying to see where things are, and they’ve gotten to the point where they’re taking over,” Duncan said. “They understand that we’re going to ride them, and that builds their confidence.”

Chemistry also seems to be peaking between Aldridge and Parker over the past several games. Seven of Parker’s assists against the Trail Blazers flew Aldridge’s way.

“Love playing with him,” Parker said of Aldridge. “I know exactly where he’s going to be. It’s funny because even if he hits five shots in a row, they’re still staying with me, and I’m like, ‘Go to LaMarcus. Go guard him.’ They still give him that wide-open shot. He got a lot of shots tonight, and he’s been knocking them down. I feel like L.A. is feeling more comfortable with the system. He’s playing great.”

“It’s going to be a big one. Obviously, they beat us pretty bad in the first one,” Parker said. “So it’s our second time playing them. It’s going to be a good test. The whole stretch these last four games, all of them were great tests for us.

“They’re the defending champs, and they’ve been playing unbelievable this year. We’ve been playing great too. So we get another shot at it.”

Duncan initially tried to take a measured approach in expressing his thoughts about Saturday’s matchup, but excitement ultimately won out.

“We’re going to show up for the game and we’re going to play it. It’s not going to change our season or anything else,” Duncan said. “It’ll be a great matchup for us, two of the best records in the league, and they’re playing exceptionally well. So it’s a good test for us; a playoff type of atmosphere, playoff type of intensity, a good experience for us. But I’ll leave it at that.

“We’re sitting in a great position right now. On top of that, we’re healthy, which is a big part of it. But to have someone like [Golden State] to continue to put the pressure on us, it’s great. It’s great for our focus. It’s great to have games like this. It’ll be a lot of fun, and we’re excited about it.”

***

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Grizzlies aren’t what they appear to be


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Matt Barnes wins it with a half-court heave.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Memphis Grizzlies were down two with six seconds left when Matt Barnes grabbed a defensive rebound. He didn’t call timeout — the Grizzlies had three — so Dave Joerger could draw up a play to tie or win the game. And he didn’t use all of those six seconds he had.

Instead, Barnes took three dribbles and left his feet from just beyond mid-court with 3.5 seconds still on the clock. The shot went in with 1.1 seconds left, Marcus Morris missed the Pistons’ last shot, and the Grizzlies improved to 8-3 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.

At 13-10 after a 3-6 start, the Grizzlies are looking strong in the Western Conference, where the 8 seed is under .500. Among the teams in the West’s top 10, the Grizzlies have played the most games (13) against the other nine. They have a respectable 6-7 record in those games, but have had some ugly losses.

That’s the story with the Grizzlies. Nine of their 10 losses have been by double-figures and seven of those have been by 15 points or more. They have losses of 20, 30, 37 and 50 points.

In this 10-4 stretch since they traded for Mario Chalmers, the Grizzlies have been outscored by 10 points. And for the season, they’re a minus-104, the fourth worst mark in the West, worse than the 8-15 Sacramento Kings.

The Grizzlies are 13-10 with the point differential of a team that’s 7-16. A win is a win, but point differential is generally a better predictor of future success than winning percentage. And Memphis’ point differential portends some future struggles.

The Bucks and Rockets also have records that are slightly inflated, based on their point differential. Houston has won six of its last eight games, but all 11 of its wins have been by seven points or less and the Rockets have also played one of the league’s easiest schedules. So don’t be so eager to buy low on the Western Conference finalist that’s still below .500.

20151210_expw_diff

On the other end of the spectrum are the Celtics and Thunder, both with the point differential of a team with 16 wins, but only 13 real wins to show for it. The Celtics have typically won big, with 11 of their 13 victories coming by double-digits. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, is 5-7 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.

20151210_expw_diff2

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 9


VIDEO: The Fastbreak: Sunday, Nov. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe fades in what could be his final call at MSG | Drummond joins giants with another 20-20 night | Thunder embrace their true identity | Grizzlies rotation will tighten during tough times

No. 1: Kobe fades in what could be his final call at MSG — His first points in 1996. The 61 he dropped on the crowd in 2009. Some of Kobe Bryant‘s greatest memories have come on the floor at Madison Square Garden. He added 18 more in what could very well be his final time playing on that floor Sunday in a loss to the New York Knicks. Lakers coach Byron Scott admitted that he and Kobe have spoken about the fact that his 20th season could indeed be his final season in the league. If so, the farewell tour took a decided twist at MSG, where our very own Lang Whitaker was on hand to witness what could very well be Kobe’s final call at the Mecca:

Following Sunday’s game, Kobe reminisced about that first appearance at the Garden — “It was like one of those VHS tapes when someone hit the fast-forward button and the TV was moving really fast.” — as well as that ’98 All-Star game — “In the locker room, I look to my right and there’s Stockton, and I look to my left and there’s Drexler.”

“I don’t think you understand how much I watched this building growing up,” Bryant said. “I mean, Frazier and Monroe and all those teams, DeBusschere and Reed and all those guys. I was like, truly, truly a fan of watching all these games. Then the Bulls, obviously, and the Pacers battles, and all that stuff. To be able to come here and have the performances I’ve had in this building, it feels extremely, extremely fortunate.”

Accordingly, Bryant is still respected like few opponents at MSG. Even Sunday, whenever he pulled up for a jumper, there was roar of anticipation. When Bryant pump-faked on the wing with three minutes left and the game in the balance, several fans sitting behind him leapt to their feet in anticipation of a big bucket, one that never came.

These days, the riddle the Lakers find themselves trying to unravel is exactly what they want and need out of Bryant. Do they need a volume shooter who occasionally flirts with a 40-point game? Or is the best course for the franchise to focus on the future? The Lakers used a lineup in the fourth quarter on Sunday featuring Kobe playing alongside a seven-year vet (Roy Hibbert), a second-year player (Jordan Clarkson), and two guys who, for all intents and purposes, are rookies (D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle).

“I think they’re developing extremely well,” Kobe said of the younger players. “They continue to improve reading on both ends of the floor, actually. My communication with them has been very tactical. The little things.”

“All he has to do is be himself,” said Bryant’s long-time teammate Metta World Peace. “He doesn’t have to do anything extra. He don’t have to be what his fans want him to be. He don’t have to try to prove to the media that he can still jump over the rim, or he don’t have to prove to anybody that he’s not who he was a couple of years ago. All he gotta do is enjoy us, just be a part of us, and we’ll be a part of him. We’ll do it together. It’s not about any individual on the team, it’s about us. As long as we continue to have that mindset, we’ll be fine.

***

No. 2: Drummond joins giants with another 20-20 night — If you’ve overlooked a struggling Detroit Pistons team in recent years, now might be a good time to end that practice. The Pistons, 5-1 and off to their best start in eight years, look for real. They’ve got a wild card in point guard Reggie Jackson (who led the team with a career-high 40 points, 26 in the fourth quarter, in Sunday’s comeback win in Portland) and an absolute double-double monster in center Andre Drummond (29 points and 27 rebounds in the win). Drummond is averaging 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds, the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1970-71 to do so through the first six games of a season. He joins Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to record three 20-20 performances in the first six games of a season. Drummond is elevating his game, and his name, into the realm of giants with his start to this season, as Rico Beard of the Detroit News explains:

Another night with a double-double — and in the case of Sunday night’s 120-103 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, an almost-absurd 29 points and 27 rebounds. It’s becoming common for the fourth-year center, who boosted his jaw-dropping averages to 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds through the first six games.

He joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players with three games 20-20 games in the first six games of a season.

On the offensive end, he displayed a fluid jump-hook and was a menace on the offensive glass, with nine, fueling the Pistons’ double-digit comeback, for their second win on the six-game West Coast trip.

“Andre’s numbers are phenomenal. I just told somebody if he didn’t get a rebound the rest of the trip, he’d be in the top three or four in the league in rebounding — he’d be averaging over 12 a game,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “What he’s doing on the boards is phenomenal; he was just swallowing the ball down the stretch. It was an incredible turnaround.”

But even as Drummond started to get more comfortable — hitting 14-of-19 from the field, Reggie Jackson started to break out, scoring 26 of his 40 points in the final period. Van Gundy said he wanted to get the ball to Drummond more, but with Jackson on a roll, there wasn’t a need.

All season, Drummond has focused on team success rather than individual stats, but with his All-Star-caliber numbers, it’s hard to ignore.

“Whatever night we win is a great win,” he said. “Individually, I’m just doing my part to help my team win, no matter what the numbers are — 5 rebounds or 20 rebounds. As long as we win the game, it was a good night for me.”

With his third game of 25 points and 25 rebounds, Drummond leads all active players, surpassing Dwight Howard and Al Jefferson, who have two apiece.

***

No. 3: Thunder embrace their true identity — Playing to your strengths is always the best plan for a team adjusting to a new coach and a new system. And the Oklahoma City Thunder are certainly still adjusting to Billy Donovan and his system. But as long as the strength in Oklahoma City remains Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of the most explosive scorers in the game, and a lineup filled with quality scorers, there’s really no mystery as to what will make the adjustment period tolerable for a team with designs on competing for a championship this season. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman witnessed the Thunder’s offensive burst Sunday in a win over the Phoenix Suns:

Russell Westbrook entered at his customary time, early in the fourth quarter, and joined a unique but increasingly more customary lineup.

At shooting guard: Dion Waiters. At small forward: Kevin Durant. At power forward: Serge Ibaka. At center: Enes Kanter.

“Dangerous, man, dangerous,” Waiters said. “Lotta guys out there that can get buckets.”

When the group convened at the 7:56 mark of the fourth quarter, the Thunder led by 12. When the next substitution was made, at the 4:22 mark, the Thunder was up 22. In a spurt of fastbreaks and feathery jumpers, that offense-heavy five-man group sealed a much-needed 124-103 win over the Suns.

Westbrook started it with a layup off a nice Waiters assist. Then the favor was returned, with Waiters nailing a 3 set up by Westbrook.

Then it was Durant’s turn to take over. KD had 21 points at the time. He had 32 before the night was done.

Seven of those came within a 90-second span midway through the fourth, when he sandwiched a 3 and a 13-foot baseline turnaround with one of those patented Dirk Nowitzki one-legged fadeaways, uncontestable for 6-foot-1 Eric Bledsoe, who found himself stuck on Durant in the high post.

As he sauntered back down the court — his team on a 14-3 run, KD on a personal 7-0 run — Durant laughed and chirped at Bledsoe.

“E-Bled talks a lot of (stuff),” Durant said. “And I’m a (stuff)-talker myself.”

Durant followed his mini-spurt by turning from scorer to facilitator. His fourth assist of the night set up Kanter for a 12-foot jumper. Then the next possession down, the 12th of Westbrook’s 13 assists led to a Kanter dunk.

In less than four minutes, that five-man pairing rattled off a dominant 15-5 run, breaking away to a 22-point cushion. During the run, Ibaka, who had 10 himself on this night, was the only one who didn’t score.

“Everyone can score the ball crazy,” Kanter said. “Never played with a lineup like that.”

***

No. 4: Grizzlies rotation will tighten during tough times — Desperate times in Memphis require desperate measures from Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who is trying to figure out why his team cannot seem to find a rhythm this season. Joerger’s response, at this early stage of the process, will be to tighten the rotation. Something had to give and the first thing is the rotation, despite some insisting that it might be Joerger who was on the hot seat. But the Grizzlies are experiencing an identity crisis that Joerger will solve by tweaking his rotation. Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal details the looming changes:

Suddenly uncomfortable in their own skin, where do they stand?

The grit is all but gone.

The grind seems as fleeting as a gotcha moment.

Memphis (3-4) enters the final outing of a five-game trip perplexed as to how to get its mojo back. The Griz take more than a two-game losing streak into their game Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers in Staples Center.

The Griz still are experiencing an identity crisis as they try to salvage a West Coast swing, having lost three of four. Last week began with an unfathomable 50-point loss to Golden State. Memphis beat Sacramento but dropped its next game to Portland.

That Memphis fell behind Utah by 21 points before an 89-79 loss last Saturday has coach Dave Joerger on the verge of shaking up the lineup because he can no longer stand by and watch his players not compete.

“I’m going to tighten the rotation,” Joerger said without saying which players will have minutes reduced.

However, Joerger did give a clue as to which way he’s leaning, based on his substitution pattern in that Utah game.

Joerger has routinely inserted Jeff Green for Tony Allen with the first substitution. But against Utah, Matt Barnes was the first to spell Allen, and Green later came in for Courtney Lee.

Joerger has increasingly grown fond of a lineup that has Barnes and Green at the wings. In fact, that combination was on the floor most of the fourth quarter. Allen didn’t play at all and Lee played just 94 seconds in the quarter.

“I was pleased with our effort overall,” Joerger said after the Grizzlies’ latest debacle. “We can get better. We know we can get better. We will get better and will keep plugging away.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James offered some constructive criticism to Kevin Love (egos checked at the door) and it worked. … Phil Jackson wanted more emotion from Derek Fisher and got exactly that in Sunday’s win over the Lakers. … Charlotte’s Kemba Walker is a traveling man. … The Miami Heat’s second unit proves to be first rate. … The Washington Wizards have been extremely generous, but vow to end their frivolous ways with the basketball. …

***

ICYMI: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson helped lift the Pistons to their fifth win in six games with yeoman’s work Sunday in Portland …


VIDEO: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson go off for the Pistons in a comeback win over Portland

One Team, One Stat: Nothing Behind CP3


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Los Angeles Clippers

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Los Angeles Clippers, who suffered a huge drop-off when their best player sat down.

The stat

20151025_lac_on-off_diff

The context

20151025_lac_basicsThe difference between the Clippers with Chris Paul on the floor and him on the bench was mostly on offense. L.A. led the league in offensive efficiency by scoring 109.8 points per 100 possessions for the season and scored 115.1 when Paul was running the show.

But when Paul sat, the Clips scored just 95.6 points per 100 possessions, a number that was better than only that of the Philadelphia 76ers last season. And the Sixers had the worst offense of the last 12 years.

The difference was in all of the “four factors” of efficiency. The Clippers shot worse, rebounded worse, turned the ball often more often, and got to the line less often when Paul was off the floor.

20151025_lac_offense_diff

DeAndre Jordan, fourth on the list above, did most of the work on the glass. Jordan and Blake Griffin got to the line a combined 898 times.

All five of the Clippers starters were in the top 12 of on-off NetRtg differential. J.J. Redick (12.8) was eighth, Matt Barnes (12.3) was 10th, and Griffin (11.7) was 12th.

Jordan was on the floor for about 90 percent of Paul’s minutes last season. Barnes, Griffin and Redick were each on the floor for about 75 percent of Paul’s minutes. The point guard’s on-off differential was a group effort, both among the starters and among the Clippers’ awful bench.

As a result, Doc Rivers played his starters together for 1,217 minutes, 302 more than any other lineup in the league. It can certainly be argued that all those minutes played a role in the Clippers’ collapse in the conference semifinals.

The Clippers have survived without Paul in the past. In 2013-14, with the offense running through Griffin, L.A. went 12-6 and scored more than 112 points per 100 possessions during Paul’s 18-game absence in the middle of the season.

But there’s no question about who runs the show when the Clips are healthy. They were outscored by 18.4 points per 100 possessions with Jordan on the floor and Paul off it and by 5.4 points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the floor and Paul off it.

Paul has long been a great playmaker with a low turnover rate. But over the last few years, he’s also turned into one of the league’s best shooters off the dribble. Among players who attempted at least 200 pull-up jumpers, he ranked second (behind Beno Udrih) in field goal percentage and third in effective field goal percentage.

20151025_lac_pull-up_efg

The Clippers acquired Austin Rivers in January to try to help their bench. But Paul’s on-off numbers were even more extreme late in the season. After the All-Star break, the Clippers outscored their opponents by 16.4 points per 100 possessions with Paul on the floor and were outscored by 14.3 (scoring a paltry 89.2) with him on the bench.

The hope in Clipperland is that Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson can keep the Clippers’ offense from falling off a cliff when their starters sit down. But for that to happen, Stephenson in particular would have to play a lot differently than he did last season.

The Clippers still have the best floor general in the league, and they still have questions on their bench. It seems like this is a make-or-break year for the team’s core, and success may depend on whether or not Paul is again near the top of this list.

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

One Team, One Stat: Inside the Arc


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Memphis Grizzlies

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Memphis Grizzlies, who continue to buck a trend.

The stat

20151024_mem_lowest_3pa

The context

20151024_mem_basics The NBA is shooting more and more 3-pointers every season, but the Grizzlies don’t seem to care. You can improve your offense by shooting better from 3-point range or by just shooting more 3s. But the Grizzlies have ranked in the bottom 12 in 3-point percentage each of the last eight seasons and in the bottom five in percentage of shots that were 3-pointers in each of the last seven.

Last season, Memphis only had four players with at least 100 3-point attempts: Mike Conley, Vince Carter, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green. Every other team had at least five and most teams (18 of the 30) had at least seven.

And though you could put together some floor-spacing lineups with all four of those guys together, the Grizzlies had more than two of them on the floor for just 723 total minutes, less than nine per game.

The lack of shooting has given Mike Conley and the Grizzlies’ bigs less space to operate on pick-and-rolls. Though both Conley and Marc Gasol are terrific playmakers, Memphis ranked 20th in points per possession on pick-and-rolls last season, according to SportVU.

The Grizzlies’ offense has improved over the last couple of years, but it was just average last season.

20151024_mem_last7

The addition of Matt Barnes this summer gives the Grizzlies another guy who took more than 100 3s last season, as well as more flexibility at the forward positions and an ability to play small (with Barnes or Green at the four) more often.

That should make for a higher ceiling offensively. But for the Grizzlies to really join the rest of the league beyond the arc, they’d have to abandon their grit-and-grind identity embodied by Tony Allen, a shooting guard who can’t shoot, and Zach Randolph, an interior four man.

That identity has taken the Grizzlies to the league’s fifth best record over the last three seasons, and it’s likely to stay for at least another year.

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

Morning shootaround — Oct. 24


VIDEO: Top plays from Friday’s preseason action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

‘Big Thaw’ behind Popovich/Team USA pick | Rose Bullish on Hoiberg offense | Barnes calls out media ‘half truth’ | Holdout over, Thompson happy, healthy, wealthy

No. 1: ‘Big Thaw’ behind Popovich/Team USA pick — Just because Gregg Popovich was an obvious choice to take over as the next head coach of Team USA doesn’t mean he was an easy choice. Popovich’s NBA resume, built on his belief in international players and basketball as a universal language, and his global inclinations dating back to the Air Force Academy made him the logical successor to Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, as our own Fran Blinebury explained. But there was a back story to Friday’s announcement involving the San Antonio coach and Jerry Colangelo, chairman of USA Basketball, that played out over a decade before the tumblers all fell into place. Adrian Wojnarowksi of Yahoo! Sports pulled back the curtain:

Just over a year ago in Chicago, Gregg Popovich raised the question with commissioner Adam Silver at the annual NBA coaches meeting: How did the USA Basketball national coaching job turn into a lifetime appointment for a college coach?

“Isn’t an NBA coach good enough to coach NBA players?” is one of the queries to Silver that peers in the room remembered Pop asking of the commissioner.

Pop offered several candidates, including Doc Rivers, as deserving of a chance to coach the Olympic team. All around Pop, NBA head coaches nodded with agreement. Popovich never offered his own name, though.

Popovich had once wanted the job, but would never campaign now – and truthfully never thought it possible as long as Jerry Colangelo was running USA Basketball.

Popovich and Colangelo had a decade-long cold war that started to thaw with a telephone call in March, league sources told Yahoo Sports on Friday. Colangelo finally reached out to Popovich to measure his interest in replacing Krzyzewski as the national coach in 2017. There would be no process, no competition. Pop had earned the right, but the question he and Colangelo had to answer, as one source with knowledge of the process said, “Could they work together?”

As those around Colangelo and Popovich understood, these two men had never had the opportunity to get to know each other, and maybe that was worth exploring before fully abandoning the idea of Popovich for the job. Popovich’s relationship with Adam Silver is much stronger than his with Stern, much more trust exists there. That helped, too.

Truth be told, how could Silver and Colangelo explain passing on Popovich again? They couldn’t – and Popovich needed to come to the conversations also with an open mind.

***

No. 2: Rose bullish on Hoiberg offense — There’s no pinning down Chicago’s Derrick Rose when it comes to his injuries. Sometimes when folks, even his own team, expect him to return in a timely fashion, his rehab and recovery require more time, occasionally a lot more time. And then, when he is said to still have double vision as a result of a left orbital fracture suffered in the Bulls’ first practice of training camp, he manages to play anyway. Rose got on the court for 11 minutes against Dallas in Chicago’s preseason finale, darted to the rim for three layups and was effusive about the pace and potential of the team’s offense as coached by newcomer Fred Hoiberg. Sam Smith of Bulls.com chronicled the results from Lincoln, Neb.:

And it looks very promising for Rose to open the season where the Bulls expected him to be, at point guard leading a dynamic attack.

“I don’t want to say,” Rose said with a smile about the opener against Cleveland Tuesday. “I don’t want to jinx myself, but it’s improving every day. It looks like it’s a go for me.”
Beep, beep; get ready for the road runners.

“I felt good,” Rose said. “I just wanted to come out, get a feel for the offense. I loved the way coach designed everything, the way the offense is run. They’ve got me running down hill every time I catch the ball and I’m catching the ball with a live dribble.

“He asked me to play yesterday,” said Rose of Hoiberg. “For him to ask me it must mean he loved the way I was playing in practice. With this offense it’s a lot of openings and gaps. With the way we shoot the ball and the freedom we have to shoot the ball, it’s like you can’t help off anyone; if someone has it going we’re to keep feeding them. We’re going to play off matchups. We’ve got to do that a little bit more and get people the ball a little more, like when Jimmy [Butler] had a couple of post ups when he had [J.J.] Barea on him a couple of times and we missed him. That’s all about reading the game and reading who is out there, giving the ball to the right person.

“There are a lot more (driving) lanes,” enthused Rose. “It’s so many opportunities to drive or so many opportunities to shoot my mid range even in transition; it’s open. I’ve just got to get used to playing this way. I know that might sound crazy, but playing in a (deliberate) system for three or four years kind of got me out of my rhythm.”

***

No. 3: Barnes calls out media ‘half truth’Matt Barnes is one of the NBA’s reigning bad boys, in a league in which villains and heels are hard to find compared to 20 or 30 years ago. His dust-up with New York Knicks coach Derek Fisher out in Los Angeles – the result of Barnes’ angry reaction when Fisher visited socially Barnes’ estranged wife – generated unsavory headlines. And Barnes didn’t mince words this week when he talked with our own Shaun Powell about his departure from the L.A. Clippers, among other things. But Barnes had a right to take umbrage with a Web site, Complex.com, that spun his quotes second-hand and then spit them out in a headline more spiteful and controversial than what the veteran NBA forward actually said. So Barnes cut out the media middle men and made his case, in all its raw emotion, directly through Instagram:

matt_barnes9 I guess I shouldn’t be surprised anymore when my interviews or events in my life are taken & twisted up to make me look like an [expletive]!

So this recent article about me “hating Doc Rivers” is no different… I did say “Doc & I never saw eye to eye”,which was the truth & I also said “he couldn’t wait to get me outta there” which was the truth.. But I also said theres “No Hard Feelings” this is a BUSINESS & Doc did wat he felt was necessary to better his team! Not one time did I say “I hate Doc or the Clippers organization”..It’s actually the opposite!! I have nothing but gratitude & appreciation for the franchise that I had a “small part” in help turning around! I did say “I can’t wait to play the Clippers & Doc Rivers” because I am a competitor & even tho I love my former clip teammates, when that ball goes up Nov 9th for that next 48mins we are enemies!!

It’s just funny how EVERYTHING that comes out about me is half the truth or $h!t none of the truth..! The few people in the media that try & paint this negative picture of me you are doing a good job, “hats off to you” but my friends family & teammates know me & the truth & I guess that’ll have to do! “Just like I drove 95miles from Santa Barbra to LA” lol smh

***

No. 4: Holdout over, Thompson happy, healthy, wealthyTristan Thompson isn’t sure how fans around the NBA or even just in Cleveland will respond when they see him for the first time since his contract holdout ended Thursday. But if there are enough bankers, financial planners and professional negotiators in the stands, the Cavaliers’ backup power forward ought to hear plenty of cheering. Thompson and his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini gambled and won big, scoring a fully guaranteed, five-year contract worth $82 million, because a) Thompson performed so well in the Cavs’ playoffs crisis, stepping into the void opened by Kevin Love‘s shoulder, and b) the restricted free agent and his reps didn’t blink when the league’s artificial deadline for reaching a new deal passed on Oct. 1. Here is some info from Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com on how Thompson made a three-week holdout work for him:

His patience paid off, and it wasn’t just tested over the summer. It started about a year ago when his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini turned down a four-year, $50 million extension in October of 2014, NEOMG was told. It is believed that the figure Paul would have settled for at the time was north of that $50 million sum.

An extra year of duty in a backup capacity (behind Kevin Love) while averaging the lowest statistics since his rookie year somehow translated to Thompson locking up $32 million more.

Last year the Phoenix Suns gave the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, a four-year $52 million extension to split between the two. Markieff, the better player, collected $32 million. Thompson picked up Markieff’s entire salary in the span of 12 months.

The news of Thompson’s deal prompted Sacramento Kings star DeMarcus Cousins to Tweet out: “How much?”

You think Thompson has any reservations to the sequence of events that led to his massive contract?
“If you asked if I would do it again, I’ll tell you I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Thompson told NEOMG. “Business is business and I believed in my guys Rich and Mark and myself and that’s what I did.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Cleveland coach David Blatt apparently doesn’t doubt for a second that LeBron James will be healthy and available for the team’s season opener Tuesday in Chicago. But James hasn’t practiced for a week since receiving an anti-inflammatory injection in his lower back, his second in 10 months. … Ten weeks after beginning his own fight with cancer, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell has been given a clean bill of health. He talked about that battle with reporters and disclosed that he had spoken with Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, whose own treatment for Hodgkins lymphoma has been more difficult. … NBA commissioner Adam Silver talked after the Board of Governors meetings about the potential, at least, of a peaceful path to the owners’ next labor contract with the players and how shared business concepts might contribute to that. … When Doc Rivers calls Paul Pierce slow, he means it as a compliment. … Miami’s Gerald Green cost himself $25,000 in a matter of seconds with some unwelcome firearm pantomimes. … Meanwhile, Memphis’ Jeff Green committed the faux pas of third-person self-referencing. …

Morning shootaround — Oct. 3

 

NEWS OF THE MORNING

‘Holdout’ turns screws on Thompson, Cavs | Cuban ‘gets’ Chandler’s barbs | Greater Heat depth brings minutes challenge | Clippers still counting on Wes

No. 1: ‘Holdout’ turns screws on Thompson, Cavs — If there’d been a statue of Tristan Thompson outside of Quicken Loans Arena, it would have been lassoed and pulled to the ground as happens when banana republics undergo regime change. Instead, the Cleveland Cavaliers had to settle for scrubbing their backup power forward/center’s likeness from signage around the Q and purging any merchandise specific to Thompson from the team’s arena and online stores. Why? Thompson officially is a “holdout,” now that the deadline for him to sign either the Cavs’ one-year qualifying offer or a long-term deal passed at the end of Thursday. Thus the dicey business situation moved into a new phase Friday, as detailed by ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin:

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ message on Friday, considered the first official day that Tristan Thompson’s contract standoff with the team escalated to a “holdout” situation, was loud and clear:

If you are not going to be present for training camp, you are not going to be weighing on our minds.

“Right now, my thoughts are just about the guys that are here and how hard and how well they are working and no specific expectation otherwise,” said Cavs coach David Blatt when asked for his reaction to Thompson letting the Cavs’ one-year, $6.8 million qualifying offer for this season expire at 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday without accepting it. “Just happy to see our guys working as well as they are.”

With the qualifying offer off the table, negotiations will shift to both sides focusing on a multi-year agreement. Thompson’s agent, Rich Paul, recently vacated a five-year, $94 million max contract demand for his client in favor of a preferred three-year, $53 million deal, per league sources. The Cavs have already tendered a five-year, $80 million offer to Thompson, according to sources.

Friday was the fourth consecutive day of camp that Thompson missed, however Blatt was adamant that the big man’s absence has not caused a distraction as his team readies itself for the regular season.

“We got a veteran group,” Blatt said. “We got a very professional group of guys going about their business and going about their jobs the way that they should. The team is working and we are going to continue to do so.”

***

No. 2: Cuban ‘gets’ Chandler’s barbs — When Clippers center DeAndre Jordan reneged on his agreement to sign as a free agent with Dallas, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban chose some of his words carefully but didn’t exactly hide his displeasure. More recently, it was Tyson Chandler‘s turn to vent about the turn of events and Chandler – the former Mavs center who kind of got squeezed to Phoenix when Dallas targeted Jordan at the start of free agency this summer – came out strong in support of his fellow big man re-upping with L.A. Well, Cuban didn’t bristle at Chandler’s human, understandable reaction, writes Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com:

“He does have the right to be salty,” Cuban said during an appearance on 103.3 FM ESPN’s “Dennis and Friedo” on Friday.

Chandler, a hero during Dallas’ 2011 title run, has now twice been given second-fiddle treatment by the Mavs’ front office in free agency. The big man was blunt when asked this week about DeAndre Jordan’s decision to renege on his verbal commitment to replace Chandler as Dallas’ starting center. Chandler considers Jordan’s choice to stay with the Los Angeles Clippers a better-late-than-never, wise decision.

“I thought it was crazy,” Chandler told reporters during media day with the Phoenix Suns, his new team. “I never thought that DeAndre was going to sign with the Mavs, to be honest. I thought he was leaving a great situation back in L.A. Clearly, their roster is very talented and they have an opportunity to contend, so I didn’t understand it to begin with. Him going back on it, I actually thought that he got a good look at the picture.”

It’s not the first indication that Chandler — who informed the Mavs that he was heading to Phoenix minutes before their July 1 meeting with Jordan started — is a bit miffed about being disrespected by Dallas. His peace sign/sun combo was an underrated tweet during the comical emoji battle that unfolded while Jordan snacked on chicken with his Clippers pals and ignored Cuban’s phone calls while waiting to officially sign his deal with L.A.

Cuban said a year ago that he had “learned his lesson” from letting Chandler leave and intended all along to keep him … until he learned that the Mavs had a legitimate shot to add an NBA rebounding leader who was just entering his prime.

“I didn’t think it would get to that point,” Cuban said of the 33-year-old Chandler’s departure from Dallas. “We actually tried to have discussions right at the start of the year about an extension and it kind of just died on the vine. His agent didn’t really take it anywhere, and I was the first to say ‘If you don’t want to take it right now, we’ll try to figure something out at the end of the year,’ because I realized that by waiting that gave Tyson an extra year.

“Then the opportunity for DeAndre came along and we were pretty straightforward. Tyson or his agent gave us the ultimatum before the decision was made. He said he wouldn’t wait. That’s his decision. It is what it is. He does have a right to be salty, because I really did suggest to him — and it’s exactly the way I thought — that he’d be here for a long time.”

 

***

No. 3: Greater Heat depth brings minutes challenge — The deeper the NBA roster, the greater its flexibility and the more varied its looks in butting heads with the league’s 29 other teams. But “deep depth” brings with it some hard math for a lot of players: Divvying up the 240 minutes of a typical game by 10 or 12 players means less playing time than a guy could expect in a tighter rotation of eight (assuming he’s one of the eight). That’s what the Miami Heat will face this season and that’s what the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson wrote about:

The upshot of adding skilled veterans Gerald Green and Amar’e Stoudemire and 10th overall draft pick Justise Winslow, along with the return of Josh McRoberts from knee surgery, means the Heat’s second unit — which could potentially include those four and Mario Chalmers — is “obviously a big upgrade from what we had last season coming off the bench,” [Dwyane] Wade said.

But Wade also cited this potentially uncomfortable flip side of adding depth: fewer minutes for players unaccustomed to that.

“Everyone talks about how excited we are about our depth, but you’ve got to understand at times the depth will get in the way of your playing time,” Wade said. “How are we going to get past that? Those are the things people don’t look at that affect teams. We’ve got to be able to get over that hump.”

Two players who stand to be most affected by that: Chris Andersen, who played in 60 of the 65 games he suited up for last season, and Udonis Haslem, who played in 46 of the 77 that he was available for.

“It takes a special person to do that,” Haslem said. “When it takes a hit on playing time, it takes a hit on your ego. My job is to walk guys through who haven’t experienced it. I can instill a positive influence, keeping guys engaged in practice.”

Erik Spoelstra said the Heat does research to make sure it doesn’t sign players who are likely to complain about playing time. Asked about the six power rotation players, Spoelstra said all are selfless.

“This type of situation might not be for every veteran player,” Spoelstra said. “We try to over-communicate that early in the process of recruitment. When we sign them, we over-communicate the role. With any great team, it’s necessary you have talent and depth.

“But you have to be willing to sacrifice to leverage all of that depth. We haven’t gotten to that point yet with [defining] roles. It’s not about minutes, it’s not about shots, it’s not about opportunities. It’s about an opportunity to come together and do something special.”

***

No. 4: Clippers still counting on Wes — Hey, there was an NBA preseason game Friday night! The Clippers led by as much as 21 points en route to beating Denver at Staples Center, with Cuban’s pal Jordan contributing 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots in 26 minutes. But much of the focus for the Clippers was on the small forward spot, where Matt Barnes is the only starter missing from last season and where veteran All-Star Paul Pierce and underachieving Wes Johnson figure to time-share. Beat writer Dan Woike of the Orange County Register stayed up late in filing this roster update:

Barnes, one of the faces on the banners last season, is now with Clippers rival Memphis, and while the team feels it has upgraded on the wing, there’s still a loss to be dealt with.

“There’s no question we’re going to miss Matt,” Chris Paul said. “Matt brought a lot to our team – leadership, toughness. I don’t know; Matt was one of a kind. Replacing Matt, it’ll be a lot of different guys.”

It was never going to be one guy; at least that wasn’t the plan for Coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers over the summer.

“I just think the guy in that spot is going to have success because those other four guys are really good, so he’s going to get shots that you don’t get on other teams because of that,” Rivers said. “One of the things I really wanted was an athlete in that spot, a guy that could make shots and finish at the rim.

“From afar, Wes (Johnson) has the ability to do that. He has not done it yet really in his career, but you know he can, or at least you believe he can. And then you want a veteran as well, and so that’s where Paul (Pierce) came in.

“We went into this with a plan.”

They had a plan for who they would sign. But who will start [in the regular season]? That’s still up in the air.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Boston’s Isaiah Thomas hasn’t been jacking up shots with his usual carefree frequency lately – but he’s quick to assure Celtics fans it’s not a permanent alteration in his game. … The Chicago Bulls still seem committed to a Twin Tower lineup using Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol in a league going smaller and smaller. … The better your team, the easier its schedule – because it doesn’t have to play itself, right? NylonCalculus.com breaks down some of the schedule disparity on tap for 2015-16. … In case you missed it, National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts gets the Q&A treatment in Cosmopolitan magazine. … LeBron James voiced his displeasure with the too-many recent shootings across the land and has his foundation working on getting kids away from the guns-and-violence culture.