Posts Tagged ‘Memphis Grizzlies’

Morning shootaround — March 29



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Beverley tears miniscus | LeBron wowed by mega-baseball contract | Not just L.A. on Love’s mind | Curry buries the Grizzlies | Wolves eye Hoiberg

No. 1: Rockets point guard out indefinitely — Houston Rockets starting point guard Patrick Beverley, the man who collided with Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook and tore his meniscus in last year’s first-round playoff series, is out indefinitely after tearing the meniscus in his right knee Thursday against Philadelphia. The Rockets will now have to make do without their top perimeter defender. Our own Fran Blinebury details how Beverley’s absence will affect Houston’s title aspirations:

For a team that has ridden the All-Star exploits of James Harden and Dwight Howard to the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference playoff race, Beverley plays a critical role.

The 25-year-old Chicago native who was drafted and cut by Heat, then toiled overseas in Russia, puts significant bite into the face of the Rockets’ defense.

Jeremy Lin can step back into the starting lineup and give the Rockets offense, but he is not the tenacious, in-your-face type defender that the Rockets will need in the playoffs to go against elite level point guards such as Westbrook, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and Mike Conley.

While Lin is flashy and creative and can fill up the basket with points when he gets on a roll, it is the just plain down-to-earth toughness of Beverley that often stands out, especially in a backcourt where Harden does not especially like to play defense.
Coach Kevin McHale said it would be 7-10 days before the Rockets would know a timetable for Beverley’s return.

Beverley has played in 53 of the Rockets’ 71 games, missing time with a hand injury. He has averaged 9.9 points in 31.3 minutes while taking over the starting role from Lin this season, but it’s that defensive bite and overall toughness that the Rockets would miss most. Sometimes it’s the littlest pieces of the puzzle that are hardest to replace.

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No. 2: LeBron would take Cabrera deal — Major League Baseball does not have a salary cap and that means some mighty contracts never even imagined in the NBA become reality. Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera was the latest example Friday when he inked a contract that will pay him $292 million over the next 10 years. It makes LeBron James‘ $19 million this season seem like charitable donation. ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst puts it into context:

“I said ‘wow,’ ” James said before the Miami Heat played the Detroit Pistons on Friday. “I wish we (the NBA) didn’t have a salary cap.”

James will earn $19 million this season with the Heat, tied with teammate Chris Bosh for the ninth-highest in the NBA as part of a six-year, $109 million deal he signed in 2010.

“He’s the best player in baseball, and the best players in each sport should be rewarded,” James said. “It’d be nice to sign a 10-year deal worth $300 million.”

James earns about $40 million per year off the floor in endorsements, most of that coming from his deal with Nike, which reportedly is worth $19 million per year.

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No. 3: Not only L.A. on Love’s mind? — If Timberwolves double-double machine Kevin Love, set to become a free agent in 2015, makes it clear to management he won’t re-sign, Minnesota president Flip Saunders might be forced to look for a trade. The former UCLA Bruin has long been rumored to be headed for the Lakers, but Los Angeles might not be the only big city suitable to arguably the game’s top stretch power forward. ESPNLA.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

After the league endured the “Dwightmare” and “Melodrama,” get ready for “Lovesick.”

The six-year veteran, only 25 years old, is the apple of just about every team set to have cap space in the summer of 2015’s eye.

Timberwolves president Flip Saunders will do everything he can to keep Love, who is fourth in the league in scoring at 26.3 points per game and third in rebounding at 12.6 per game this season. And Minnesota will have the advantage of being able to offer a five-year extension, versus a four-year deal from any other team.

But if Love makes it clear that he has no intention to re-up with the Wolves, Saunders will be forced to shop Love or risk seeing him walk for nothing in return.

Which is where the Lakers come in.

Love’s ties to L.A. are undeniable. He went to college at UCLA. His father, Stan, played for the Lakers — and coincidentally was on the 1974-75 team, a.k.a. the worst team in Lakers history up until this season, so his son could help make up for that. And Love was born in Santa Monica, to boot.

“You know, my parents live there and they had me there,” Love said of L.A., after his Wolves beat the Lakers for the third time in four tries to win the season series Friday. “It’s not my fault. So, I don’t really care about that right now. I just go out there and play and don’t think about it.”

While Love downplayed his interest, the Lakers clearly could use a player of Love’s caliber to jump-start their rebuilding process. Especially with Kobe Bryant recently putting the screws to management to turn things around as soon as possible so he can contend for another championship in the twilight of his career.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported Friday the Lakers would be willing to trade their upcoming pick in the heralded NBA draft — likely to be in the top half of the lottery — to land Love.

While Minnesota could certainly decide to go that route and hit the restart button, there is no assurance that the Lakers are truly Love’s most desired destination.

A source familiar with Love’s thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com that it’s not just L.A. that is appealing to Love; he’s enamored with the idea of being “big time in a big city,” and that list of potential places he’d seek includes New York and Chicago, as well.

Love himself told GQ in February that his situation in Minnesota might be better than L.A. could offer anyway.

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No. 4: Curry’s 33 fends off Grizzlies — The Golden State Warriors were minutes away from the No. 6 seed they’ve held for the majority of the season slipping away to the visiting and hard-charging Memphis Grizzlies. Then Stephen Curry came to the rescue yet again. The All-Star swished a 3-pointer and dropped in a scoop shot as the Warriors, playing without forward David Lee and center Andrew Bogut, who left the game in the first quarter, closed out the Grizzlies with a 14-0 run in the 109-103 win. It sent the Grizzlies from the verge of the 6-seed to No. 8. Diamond Leung of the Oakland Tribune was there:

“We’ll never quit and understand we have the weapons to pack a heavy punch at any given time,” Curry said.

Coach Mark Jackson demanded that Curry have the ball in crunch time, and the star guard delivered with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:21 left and a subsequent scoop shot to pad the lead. Memphis could not muster a response, missing its final seven shots.

Marreese Speights added 15 points and eight rebounds in his first start with the Warriors while replacing an injured David Lee (right hamstring strain). The Warriors were still able to grab a 43-33 rebounding edge without their top two rebounders for most of the game, pleasing Jackson with the way his team competed in difficult circumstances.

Bogut was injured after getting kneed and ran the court with an obvious limp before checking out of the game for good with 7:59 left in the first quarter. He did not return and was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam Saturday, according to Jackson.

Jermaine O’Neal had 10 points and six rebounds in 34 hard-fought minutes. Also off the bench, Draymond Green had 12 points and nine rebounds, hitting two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and providing strong defense on Memphis leading scorer Zach Randolph.

“There’s a guy that came into this league, and people probably said, ‘Why is he shooting threes? He should stop shooting threes,’ ” Jackson said. “And he’s winning ballgames with us, knocking down shots and making huge plays on the defensive end. The guy is a tremendous warrior.”

The Warriors would have taken a tumble down the standings with a loss but instead kept pace with the rest of the Western Conference and remained 1½ games ahead of No. 7 seed Phoenix. The win also evened up the season series 2-2 with Memphis, which dropped to No. 8 with the loss.

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No. 5: A return to the Timberwolves? — Speculation is growing that Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman will invoke his right to opt out of his contract this summer. If he does, the franchise is expected to go after one of its former executives and current Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein provides the background:

If Adelman indeed walks away this time, at 67, there are two natural courses for the Wolves to pursue.

The obvious response is [Flip] Saunders, part-owner as well as team prez, heading downstairs to reclaim his old floor seat to see if he can be the guy who finally brings a halt to the league’s longest postseason drought, which dates to the Wolves’ 2004 Western Conference finals team coached by Saunders.

But that might be too obvious.

There have been no clear-cut signals that Saunders is prepared to leave the executive suite to return to coaching.

There is also another textbook candidate out there for Minnesota to chase with long-standing Wolves ties: Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.

Widely regarded as the most NBA-ready college coach in the game, Hoiberg was a Wolves executive for four years before leaving the pros to coach the Cyclones. It should be noted that Saunders is close with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, as well, but the rumbles out of Sota are getting louder that the Wolves are going to court Hoiberg hard if they, as expected, have an opening.

An opening, rather, that Saunders declines to fill himself.

And all of that makes Friday one of the more pertinent days left on the 2013-14 calendar for long-suffering Wolves fans.

That’s because Hoiberg will be coaching Iowa State against UConn in a Sweet 16 game at Madison Square Garden … and because Saunders will be there watching.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers make (the wrong kind of) history again in epic loss … Anthony Davis leaves game in first quarter with a left ankle injuryVince Carter thinks he’s earned the right to re-sign with DallasKevin Durant scores 29 and streak creeps closer to overtaking Michael Jordan … TNT analyst Steve Kerr is the frontrunner to coach the Knicks under Phil JacksonShane Battier reiterates that he will retire after this seasonDirk Nowitzki‘s mentor and personal coach believes he has three or four high-level seasons left.

Morning Shootaround — March 25


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers find life at top tough | Butler delivers for OKC | Grizz shift into playoff mode | Dragic weighing national team decision | Charlotte hoping for All-Star Game bid

No. 1: Pacers finding life at the top hard — Expect to read more on this today from our Steve Aschburner, who was at last night’s Pacers-Bulls tilt from the United Center. But as Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com points out this morning, the Indiana Pacers — who are just two games ahead of the Miami Heat for No. 1 in the East — have had a rough time since about February of maintaining their torrid early-season winning pace:

Somewhere along the path to a magical season the Indiana Pacers lost their innocence. Now they’re losing their way.Monday night the Chicago Bulls beat the Pacers with one of their signature defense-based wins 89-77, avenging a loss in Indianapolis last week. It was the seventh time in the last 12 games the Pacers have gone down. Previously, they’d lost seven times over a span of 28 games. They didn’t even have their seventh loss of the season until Jan. 8.

“We started off this season so great and we were excited for the end,” Pacers star Paul George said. “But we forgot about the middle and the middle is the toughest part.”

But the Pacers have so far been slow to readjust their comfort zones. Instead, they’ve been slowly getting frustrated with each other in the classic mode of a team that is underachieving.

Several Pacers players have pointed to February when things started turning for them, a month when Larry Bird signed Andrew Bynum and traded long-tenured Danny Granger for Evan Turner in an effort to bolster the roster heading into the playoffs. The Pacers’ players, however, were stunned by both moves. Granger’s departure was treated like a mini-funeral.

“Larry is the man is charge,” Hibbert said. “He made the decisions and we have to go out on the floor and figure it out.”

Then, two weeks ago, Bird lashed out publicly at his players and his coach. Vogel has built a reputation for being positive, sometimes coming off as downright cocky. He has an air of assurance about him that he’s passed to his players, the sort of vigor that had them talking about getting the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference back in the first days of the season.

Though its defense has been a little less consistent than desired in the second half of the season, what is causing the team the most angst is its offense. In losses to the Grizzlies and Bulls in the last few days, the Pacers have failed to crack 80 points in back-to-back games for the first time in seven years.

There are slumps abounding. Over the last 15 games, Hibbert is averaging just nine points and shooting just 44 percent. After he shot 56 percent in February, David West is shooting just 46 percent in March. George is shooting just 37 percent in March and averaging 19 points, well below his season average.

It’s also not hard to miss how annoyed some Pacers are with Lance Stephenson, the young sparkplug guard who was a huge key to their early season. Stephenson has four triple-doubles this season but at times he’s been too focused on getting those stats, robbing rebounds from teammates and generating some frustration.

Other times he flat-out hogs the ball. And while this happens with many players on every team, the tolerance for the younger and rougher Stephenson is much less than for the veterans elsewhere on the roster.

On Monday, Stephenson had no assists and four turnovers in 30 minutes in the loss. When he drops his head and ignores open teammates, heads shake and shoulders slump visibly. After averaging nearly six assists a game in the season’s first three months, Stephenson is averaging only three assists over the last two months.

“We have [guys trying to be heroes] at times and we choose the wrong moment at times,” George said.


VIDEO: Pacers players discuss the team’s loss to the Bulls in Chicago

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No. 2: OKC’s bench delivers vs. Nuggets — With their All-Star tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — as well as solid contributions from Serge Ibaka — the Oklahoma City Thunder’s starting lineup never seems to be lacking in scoring punch. But once the bench crew steps into the game, how well OKC’s offense fares can be a game-by-game roller coaster ride. That instability might be nearing its end, though, especially if new addition Caron Butler puts in performances like he had last night against the Denver Nuggets. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has more on Butler’s play:

For the final month before the All-Star break, without Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant captured headlines with his fantastic play and his team’s surprising success.

But the Thunder’s impressive late January run was about far more than Durant. He was the catalyst, but the consistent roster-wide contributions helped spur the 10-game win streak and the 15-2 close to the first half.

For the first 11 games after the break – an anemic 5-6 run – that was missing. But of late, it has returned, an impressive four-game win streak culminating in a 117-96 domination of the Nuggets on Monday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Durant, predictably, was the leading scorer with 27. But on a night where he shot below 50 percent (10-of-21), his team shot above it.

Reggie Jackson had an efficient 16 points and 11 assists, needing only six shots. Steven Adams scored in double-figures for the first time since January. And even Nick Collison dropped in 10, including a corner 3-pointer that drew the loudest ovation of the night.

But Caron Butler shouldered the biggest non-Durant end of the scoring load. In 29 minutes, Butler had his best offensive performance since joining the Thunder, going for 23 points on 10-of-19 shooting.

“He’s getting more and more comfortable every single game,” Durant said of the Thunder’s newest member.

But Butler’s most important offensive contribution on this night – and the most encouraging sign moving forward – was his ability to take advantage of mismatches in the low post.

With so much length and size at rare positions, the Thunder forced the Nuggets to throw smaller defenders at Butler. He exploited it on multiple occasions, dropping in easy short range jumpers.

“He had that post-up working tonight,” Durant said. “They have that smaller guy on him, and he takes advantage. That’s what we need him to do.”

On Monday, the Thunder played with the kind of confidence, effort and balance that allowed them to not only survive, but thrive without Westbrook before the All-Star break.


VIDEO:
Reggie Jackson and others discuss OKC’s blowout win against Denver

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No. 3: Grizz getting into playoff mode? — Since the All-Star break, the Memphis Grizzlies have rolled up a 13-5 mark that has included wins over the playoff-bound Clippers, Bulls, Bobcats, Blazers and Pacers. After last night’s wire-to-wire drubbing of the faltering Minnesota Timberwolves, Memphis has amassed 10 straight wins at FedEx Forum and is looking more and more like a powerful playoff team, writes Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal:

Memphis’ 109-92 victory Monday night accounted for its 10th straight in FedExForum, and perhaps sent a message to the teams floating around them in the Western Conference standings. The Grizzlies look like a team that’s moved beyond simply trying to make the playoffs to one seeking to steal a higher seed that didn’t seem possible two months ago.

The Griz improved to 42-28, ensuring that they will finish with a winning record for a fourth consecutive season. That, however, is something the Griz expect to make a footnote in this campaign. Memphis sits a half game ahead of Phoenix in the seventh spot and remains within striking distance of the fifth and sixth seeds. The Griz are just 2½ games back from fifth place.

The Griz improved to 31-3 when leading after three quarters while the Timberwolves fell to 3-24 when they trail at the start of the fourth. Minnesota entered the game averaging 106.5 points, fourth-most in the NBA. This was the 11th straight game that the Timberwolves allowed their opponent to score 100-plus points.

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No. 4: Dragic weighing decision on national team – The Phoenix Suns are staying in the thick of the Western Conference playoff chase thanks to the play of star point guard Goran Dragic. It’s been a banner year for the Slovenian standout and while he’s hoping Phoenix can complete its playoff push, he’s still weighing whether or not to suit up for his country’s national team in the World Cup in Spain this September, writes Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic:

With the Suns enjoying a 6-1 stretch, Dragic’s results are back to the norm of his outstanding season by no coincidence. He is shooting 53.8 percent overall and 46.2 percent on 3-pointers over the past seven games with averages of 18.1 points and 4.7 assists.

The team success makes him feel emotionally better but the physical wear and tear still exists and makes him consider not playing for his Slovenian national team this September at the World Cup in Spain.

“Sometimes, it is too many games,” Dragic said. “I still have to sit down with my national team and talk with them about making a decision if I’m going to play or not. I’m thinking more toward not playing and trying to get my body some rest to be fresher for the next season.

“That is hard because, back home, all the people judge you that you have so much money and you’re a star and now you don’t want to play for the national team. That bothers me a little bit but those people don’t know how the season goes, how many games it is and being in a different hotel every night. I’m more on the plane than in my car.”

Playing for Slovenia when it hosted last summer’s European Championship helped Dragic come into the season in a good rhythm but he is feeling the effects of nine consecutive months of basketball at times as the Suns’ playing time leader and primary point guard most of the season.

“I think I feel pretty good, especially my legs are not so heavy like 15 games ago,” Dragic said. “Even if you’re tired for the last 12 games, you have to go through that and try not to think about it so much.”


VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic lead the Suns to a win in Atlanta

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No. 5: Charlotte needs arena upgrades before it can host All-Star Game — It’s been 23 years and counting since the city of Charlotte hosted the NBA All-Star Game … and it might be a few more years before it gets to host it again. Commissioner Adam Silver was at last night’s Houston Rockets-Charlotte Bobcats game at Time Warner Cable Arena and said while he’s hopeful that a basketball-mad city like Charlotte will host a future All-Star Game, some upgrades to the arena must take place first. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer has more:

First, he said, the city must upgrade Time Warner Cable Arena, which needs $41.9 million of work, according to a list of needs compiled by the Charlotte Bobcats and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

“I’d love to bring the All-Star Game back here,” Silver said before the Bobcats game with the Houston Rockets. “This is a wonderful community, a hotbed of basketball, not just pro but college as well.”

He added: “There are some upgrades to the building that are needed. I know those discussions are underway right now. It’s part of the understanding here that the building remain state-of-the-art. Nothing dramatic is needed. But certainly an upgrade to the scoreboard, some things with the suites and the lighting.”

The Bobcats’ 25-year arena lease calls for the city of Charlotte to keep Time Warner Cable Arena among the league’s most modern. After the first seven years, the lease requires the city to make improvements, so long as half of other NBA facilities have them.

The team has requested money to upgrade suites, overhaul restaurants, build a new play area for children and move the ticket office, among other improvements.

The city said it will scrutinize the list of requests to see what is required under the lease agreement.

Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon said the prospect of hosting the league’s All-Star Game shouldn’t make the city spend more money than necessary.

“The city should only be guided by what it’s obligated to do by way of the agreement,” he said.

City Manager Ron Carlee said the city must study the “business case” for possibly making additional upgrades to the arena.

“What kind of opportunity will there be (for improving the arena)?” Carlee said.

Silver said awarding the 2017 event should come in about a year. Then he reiterated his link between Charlotte’s chances and those upgrades.

“The team has time,” Silver said. “The first order of priority is making sure the building issues are dealt with.”


VIDEO: Adam Silver discusses what it would take for Charlotte to host a future All-Star Game

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tim Duncan says he’s taking it “game-by-game” about whether or not he’d retire at the end of this season … Five minor investors have been added to the Hawks’ ownership group … The New Orleans Pelicans might have found a go-to combination in the duo of Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans … Lakers guard Nick Young says close to $100,000 worth of clothing, jewelry, shoes and luggage were stolen from his house during a home game … Good little chat with Steph Curry about his golf game, the Warriors-Clippers rivalry and more … What kind of chance does Mitch Richmond have at the Hall of Fame? Our Scott Howard-Cooper examines it … Former high-flying Raptors swingman Jamario Moon is thinking about an NBA comebackBrandon Jennings is hitting his stride at long last for the Pistons …

ICYMI of the Night: Sometimes a play can personify the style of play of a team. Such is the case with this defensive sequence by the Bulls and a hustle follow-up jam by Taj Gibson


VIDEO: Taj Gibson follows up the Jimmy Butler miss with a power jam

DPOY award pits big apples vs. on-the-ball oranges

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the leading candidates for the Defensive Player of the Year

Quick, pick your winners: Range Rover or Porsche 911? Golden retriever or Jack Russell terrier? Leonardo Da Vinci painting “Mona Lisa” or Nat King Cole singing “Mona Lisa?”

It’s an apples-and-oranges world when it comes to choosing “the best” this or that, certainly when the categories are so broad – vehicle, acting performance, piece of art – as to include wildly disparate entries.

And then there are those moments when the choice might as well be kumquats vs. lug nuts. That’s the case annually when voters stare at the three blank ballot slots for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

It’s difficult enough ranking candidates by criteria that essentially requires you to prove a negative. Great individual defense is … holding an opposing star under his scoring average? Denying someone the ball? Racking up big steal totals? Blocking, contesting or even altering shots?

Defensive statistics, even in this advanced age, still trail the offensive numbers in what they can authoritatively tell us. Then there’s the whole element of team defense – it is a team sport – and a player’s contribution to that in helping, rotating, diving to the floor or otherwise claiming the so-called 50/50 balls.

And in none of the league’s major awards does it get stickier to sort out the issue of size: Big vs. small. Rim-protecter vs. perimeter defender.

“Those are mutually exclusive concepts,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said on a recent stop in Chicago. “When you think MVP, most people just look at the points , and that’s a valid entity, I guess. But with defensive players, the big guys, they usually just look at blocks.

“There are some guys who block shots but can’t play a lick of D, but get credit for blocking shots. When I look at the bigs, I look at somebody like Joakim [Noah] who can guard ones, twos, threes, fours and fives. He can switch onto people and people can’t go by him. I watched him guard LeBron [James] the other day and, my gosh, it was pretty impressive.”

Impressive enough that two days later, Houston coach Kevin McHale – who has three-time DPOY Dwight Howard at his disposal – went public with his choice of Noah for the award this season. (For the record, media folks vote for DPOY and NBA coaches select All-Defensive teams.)

And yet James, in his interview with NBA TV’s Steve Smith, admitted that the vacant space on his trophy shelf cleared for the DPOY bugs him.

The basketball world knows why Miami coach Erik Spoelstra refers to James as “1-through-5″ as a defender – he can guard everyone from point guard Chris Paul to center DeAndre Jordan, and did just that when facing the Clippers this season. But over the past five years, James has finished second twice, fourth twice and ninth.

Nearly a decade has passed since anyone other than a big man has won the award. Metta World Peace wasn’t calling himself that back in 2004 when he earned the trophy with Indiana. Gary Payton was well-established as “The Glove” when he broke up in 1996 Dikembe Mutombo‘s stranglehold of three DPOYs in four years (1995, 1997, 1998).

Kevin Garnett in 2008 was a special case. By the time he picked up his lone DPOY honor, Garnett was – if not strictly a rim defender – pretty much a paint protector. That was the role he embraced in his first year in Boston and it’s likely the award went his way because, short of the MVP (Kobe Bryant), there had to be some acknowledgement of his impact on the Celtics.

Big men have won 22 of the 31 DPOYs, led by Mutombo and Ben Wallace with four each. Howard had a three-year run in Orlando (2009-11). Mark Eaton, Alonzo Mourning and Hakeem Olajuwon won two each, while Marcus Camby, Tyson Chandler, David Robinson, Marc Gasol and Garnett each won once.

Naturally, some of the leading candidates for Defensive Player this season play center or power forward, including Noah, Jordan, Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis.

But it wasn’t always so. Seven of the first nine DPOYs went to guards or forwards. Average size: 6-foot-4, 190 pounds. Milwaukee’s Sidney Moncrief was downright spindly when he won the first two in 1983 and ’84. The Lakers’ stopper, Michael Cooper, was even skinnier (6-5, 170) as the 1987 recipient. And Dennis Rodman was undersized and frenetic when he won seven rebounding titles and the DPOY in 1990 and ’91.

Among the perimeter defenders deserving of DPOY consideration are Memphis’ Tony Allen, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Indiana’s Paul George, Boston’s Avery Bradley and James.

But they’re swimming upstream in a league where specialists such as Bruce Bowen, Raja Bell, Shane Battier, Joe Dumars and Scottie Pippen never won the award. The DPOY probably was created too late to catch the likes of Bobby Jones, Dennis Johnson or Norm Van Lier and other worthy choices in their primes.

It’s almost tempting to suggest two separate awards – one for rim protection, one for the on-the-ball guys – until you hear Popovich boil down NBA defense:

“A defender to me is somebody who can defend the ball, can rebound and can react, weak side to strong side, whether he’s small or whether he’s big.”

Size matters, but not just in physique. Everyone in the Grizzlies’ locker room, for instance, knows of Allen’s heart and defensive hunger. And Memphis is one of those teams blessed with elite versions of both types of defender.

“I would have not won that award, probably, with any other team in the NBA,” Gasol said recently. “Without having TA, without Mike Conley on my team. Having the teammates I have and the system we have allowed me to defend the way I do. As soon as I won it, I told them, [it was] Tony’s hands, Mike’s legs and kind of like my brain, that’s the way I broke it down.”

The Memphis center finished with 30 first-place votes to James’ 18, a 212-149 points spread. Gasol benefited from some advanced analytics tracked by NBA media folks, but felt he was helped more by the familiarity on the Grizzlies’ roster and in former coach Lionel Hollins‘ system.

“We’ve been playing for so long together, I’m behind them so I know their tendencies defensively so I can help,” Gasol said of teammates. “This is not boxing, where it’s only one guy. If the team benefits and feels confident with you, that’s what matters. Some days TA is gonna be the guy who shuts somebody down. Sometimes it’s gonna be Mike Conley or me.”

Said Allen: “You get beat on the perimeter, Marc Gasol has it in his memory bank to know ‘I’m the last line of defense and all I have to do is either take a charge or jump up and not get the foul.’ He’s big, he’s long and he’s good at blocking shots. I’m pressuring the perimeter and digging at the same time.

“We just feed off each other defensively. We understand the court is only so big, and we play off each other.”

Given their druthers, most NBA coaches would start their defense with a towering master of verticality like Hibbert or, maybe better, a versatile, mobile big man like Noah.

“Your bigs organize your defense,” said Jeff Van Gundy, ABC/ESPN coach-turned-analyst. “They’re asked to make multiple efforts, because so much of this game now is pick-and-roll defense, not post defense. So you need a guy who is intelligent enough to recognize situations, athletic enough to defend them and has the energy to make multiple efforts. That’s why today you need a big guy who can be the captain of your defense.

“But you also need the guys who can keep the ball in front of them…”

Which puts us right back where we started, trying to rank Marlon Brando‘s Don Corleone vs. Meryl Streep‘s Sophie. Now that’s a real Sophie’s choice.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Bucks buyout Butler | Reports: Clips in lead for Granger | Report: Grizz add Udrih | Celtics resolve Rondo dispute | Pelicans’ Davis injured vs. Mavs

No. 1: Report: Bucks buyout Butler; Thunder favorites to sign him — As of yesterday, there were rumblings that the Bucks would soon be buying out the contract of veteran small forward Caron Butler as Milwaukee continues its rebuilding process. Per Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Butler has received his buyout and will soon be able to potentially sign with a playoff-bound team in a few days:

The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat have emerged as frontrunners to sign forward Caron Butler, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

After securing a contract buyout from the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday morning, Butler is expected to clear waivers and become a free agent.

San Antonio and Chicago are in pursuit and plan to make pitches for Butler too, league sources said.

The fact that Oklahoma City stopped pursuing Danny Granger has led many in the NBA to believe the Thunder are confident in their recruitment of Butler.

The acquisition of Butler could be a tremendous boost to the Thunder and Heat’s pursuit of an NBA championship. Despite initial reports that Butler was destined to sign with Miami, Oklahoma City has a strong chance to land Butler, sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Heat are competing to lure Butler back to where his career started as the 10th overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft, but the ability to fill the gap as a complementary scorer to Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook has made the Thunder an attractive destination, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

***

UPDATE, 1:19 p.m. ET: Granger is reportedly having phone conversations with several of the teams pursuing him, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports.

No. 2: Reports: Clippers favorites to add Granger — The portion of Danny Granger‘s career with the Philadelphia 76ers lasted all of roughly six days before he and the team came to an agreement on a buyout deal of his contract yesterday. As our David Aldridge reported first, several teams — including the Heat, Mavs, Clippers, Rockets and Bulls — are interested in adding the former All-Star, but it appears the Los Angeles Clippers may have pulled ahead of the pack. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski has more on L.A.’s interest:

The Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as the frontrunners to sign forward Danny Granger, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Once Granger clears waivers in the next 48 hours, the Clippers’ ability to offer him significant playing time and championship contention under coach Doc Rivers makes them the most attractive destination, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Still, the San Antonio Spurs remain a viable possibility for Granger, league sources said. The Spurs are selling Granger on a modern-day variation of the Robert Horry role in San Antonio, league sources said. Granger is expected to speak with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford in the near future, sources said.

Beyond the Clippers and Spurs, the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks have shown an inclination to pursue Granger and are expected to have conversations with him, league sources said.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelbourne report that Clippers officials met with Granger’s representatives during last night’s Clippers-Rockets game in L.A.:

The Clippers are widely regarded as the team best positioned to provide Granger the playing time and the championship contention he craves.

And they’ve stepped up their pursuit of the former All-Star, sources told ESPN.com, at least partly due to growing concern within the organization about the status of guard J.J. Redick, who has missed the past nine games and is out indefinitely with a back injury.

To potentially further increase L.A.’s need for another front-line player at the wing positions, Jamal Crawford left Wednesday’s win over the Rockets with a calf injury. Crawford has been starting in place of Redick and has played a huge part — alongside star forward Blake Griffin – in keeping the Clippers among the West’s top four teams while star guard Chris Paul was out with a separated shoulder.

The Clippers, at the behest of coach Doc Rivers, have already made multiple in-season signings, including Stephen Jackson, Hedo Turkoglu and Sasha Vujacic, to try to spruce up his perimeter rotation.

Rivers quickly confirmed his team’s interest in Granger before Wednesday’s victory, saying “Of course!” when asked if L.A. would like to sign him, but then added: “That’ll be up to Danny.”

Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that Granger, after playing in Indiana for the first nine seasons of career, is determined to hear out all of his suitors before making a commitment, with the other two teams in Texas – Houston and Dallas – also trying to wedge their way into contention alongside the Clippers and Spurs by registering bids of their own.

But sources also indicate that Granger is likely to verbally commit to a team before he formally clears waivers Friday at 5 p.m. ET and becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Sources say teams interested in Granger have been consistently told in recent days that the free agent-to-be — if he were to surrender his Bird rights by securing his release from the Sixers — would be looking for a new team that could offer not only a shot at a championship but also guaranteed playing time.


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about Danny Granger (fast-forward to the 7:40 mark)

***

No. 3: Report: Grizz pick up ex-Knicks guard Udrih — The Memphis Grizzlies suffered an injury scare to starting point guard Mike Conley before the All-Star break. Thankfully, rookie Nick Calathes stepped in admirably and kept the team afloat in Conley’s absence. Conley is now back and starting again, but Memphis made a move to further shore up their point guard corps, writes Marc Stein of ESPN.com, but adding recently waived Knicks point guard Beno Udrih:

The Memphis Grizzlies have claimed veteran point guard Beno Udrih off waivers, ESPN.com has learned.

Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that the Grizzlies put in a successful waiver claim to acquire Udrih, who was released Monday by the New York Knicks.

The Grizzlies, sources said, turned their attention to acquiring Udrih for their backcourt after attempts to strike a deal with Jimmer Fredette – who is about to secure his release from the Sacramento Kings via buyout — proved unsuccessful.

Sources say veteran forward Metta World Peace, who was also waived Monday after he and Udrih negotiated buyouts with New York, cleared waivers Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET and is now an unrestricted free agent.

***

No. 4: Celtics pass on talking with Rondo about absence — The last few days or so in Boston, the drama (if you even want to call it that) with the Celtics has been about point guard Rajon Rondo‘s unexcused absence from Boston’s game in Sacramento last week. The first response to the issue by Celtics president Danny Ainge was to say a discussion with Rondo would definitely take place. Then, yesterday, Ainge said a discussion with Rondo would take at some place in the future. Now, according to ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg, Boston has handled the matter internally and it is a dead issue:

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he’s talked with point guard Rajon Rondo about the player’s decision to not accompany the team to Sacramento last week, but said the team is handling the matter internally and Stevens stressed his goal is to simply move forward.

With the Celtics playing the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday, Rondo was not scheduled to play against the Kings as he eases his way back from ACL surgery. But rather than fly with the team, he remained in Los Angeles where the Boston Herald reported that he celebrated his 28th birthday with family and friends.

Rondo, who Stevens said informed of his decision to stay behind before the team departed, rejoined the Celtics in Utah and played in Monday’s game against the Jazz.

“We’ve sat down and talked. We did that Monday,” said Stevens. “In my mind, I’m moving forward. Then when [Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] gets back in town, they can meet and go from there.”

Stevens was asked if he thought Rondo should have accompanied the team to Sacramento.

“I think the biggest thing right now is for me to move forward and for us to move forward from that,” said Stevens. “Obviously, it’s something that is a great question to ask, something that I’ve certainly spent a lot of time thinking about. But at the end of the day, I’ve passed that point.”

For his part, Rondo downplayed the incident after Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, suggesting it was being overblown in the media.

“I haven’t really read much about it. I heard a lot of comments,” said Rondo. “Nobody knows the story, so [the media can] keep making up every story you guys possibly can.”

So what is the story?

“It’s my business,” said Rondo. “It’s my choice.”

***

No. 5: Banged-up Pelicans see All-Star Davis get injured — New Orleans’ season has hardly gone how it thought it would after an offseason roster upgrade and a nickname change. Injuries have wreaked havoc on the Pelicans with Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans all missing significant chunks of the season with injuries. Things got worse for New Orleans last night in Dallas as All-Star big man Anthony Davis hurt his shoulder and left the game. Our Jeff Caplan has more on the Pels’ injury woes:

New Orleans’ dreadful injury situation worsened Wednesday night with All-Star forward Anthony Davis spraining his left shoulder in the second quarter at Dallas, the first leg of a five-game road trip.

Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he didn’t ”know much right now” regarding the severity of Davis’ injury, but it was bad enough to keep him out of the remainder of New Orleans’ fifth consecutive loss, 108-89, to the red-hot Mavericks. When Davis left with 4:13 to go, Dallas led by one, 37-36, and had just made a run to dig out of a 28-20 hole.

Davis played just 12 minutes, 37 seconds and exited with six points, nine rebounds, two blocks and one sweet bounce pass to a streaking Eric Gordon for a layup. Davis hurt himself when he jumped straight up and extended his arms attempting to rebound his own miss against Mavs center Sam Dalembert. Even on replay it’s difficult to discern exactly how the injury occurred, but Davis quickly grabbed the upper part of his left arm, squeezing it as if trying to pinch away the pain.

He attempted to stay in the game, but less than a minute later checked out and headed to the locker room. He returned to the bench during the third quarter with his left arm appearing to be immobilized underneath his warmup jersey. He did not speak to the media after the game.

Davis’ name now moves next to point guard Jrue Holiday, sixth man Ryan Anderson and center Jason Smith on the injured list. Those are four of the Pelicans’ top six scorers. The latter three could all be done for the year. New Orleans can only hope that’s not the case for their 20-year-old face of the franchise who is having a marvelous sophomore season averaging 20.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg and leading the league as the lone player topping 3.0 bpg (3.02). Still, at 23-34 and 10 games out of the final playoff spot, the Pelicans won’t rush their star back until he’s ready.

“That’s life,” Williams said shaking his head earlier in the day as he discussed his team’s crippling injury plight that has robbed it of a playoff chase. Four months ago, that was the goal.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis suffers shoulder injury vs. Mavericks

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: ICYMI, the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili had his foot rip completely through his shoe mid-game last night … Portland’s bench came through with a big effort in last night’s win over the Nets … Might the Cavs have some interest in signing Jimmer Fredette once he gets waived by the Kings? … Diante Garrett — not the Suns’ Goran Dragic or Jazz rookie Trey Burke — was the standout point guard in last night’s Suns-Jazz game … The Magic are reportedly looking for their own NBA D-League team to run

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Two words for you — Gerald Green. Now, do your part and hit the play buttons below …


VIDEO: Gerald Green puts down a nasty open-court flush


VIDEO: Gerald Green puts up a monster reverse dunk on the Jazz

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 22




VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING
More time out for Kobe | Surprise: Rondo unhappy | Clippers lose, Paul hurt | Terry won’t join Kings

No. 1: Kobe on shelf at least three more weeks — It seems the calendar is starting to run out on Kobe Bryant’s season. Despite the Lakers star’s insistence that he intends to return to the lineup, his body may have a different opinion. Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports continued problems with the injured left knee and team doctors say it will be three more weeks before Bryant is evaluated again:

Missing three more weeks before another evaluation brings the calendar to March 14, at which point there will be only 17 games left in the regular season for the Lakers.

And even if Bryant is cleared for contact drills at that point, he would assuredly need some additional practice time before he could make a return.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni was asked if Bryant would return at all this season after the Lakers’ 101-92 win Friday night over the Celtics.

“I don’t know,” D’Antoni said. “That’s out of my hands. We’ll see. I have no answer to that one.”

Teammate Pau Gasol simply offered his support.

“I know it’s tough for him and it’s been a very tough year for him,” Gasol said. “I just hope that he gets healthy. If it takes a little longer, it takes a little longer. If that means he might not play this season, I’m sure he’ll stay positive and look ahead. So, the main thing is he’s got to be healthy.”

***

No. 2: Rondo annoyed by constant trade talk — The trade deadline came and went and Rajon Rondo is still wearing the green and white of the Celtics. But that doesn’t mean the All-Star point guard is happy with his name constantly being linked with other teams. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald says Rondo’s less than full commitment could be a problem:

“I mean, it gets annoying at times,” Rondo said. “It’s been like that the last eight years though.

“Still, like I said, this is what I do for a living. It’s not who I am. I play basketball for a living for the time being, but I’ll be 28 (today) and have a long life to live. So I have a lot of things going outside of basketball for me right now, and it’s part of what happens when you’re an NBA player.”

He is approaching the last 27 games of the Celtics season with a certain equanimity (though he will approach tonight’s game in Sacramento in street clothes, not yet ready to play in a back-to-back as he returns from a torn ACL.) He is pleased with how most of this is going, and he spoke up for his coach.

“I mean, obviously not our record, but guys like playing for Brad,” Rondo said. “He’s a very positive coach. He’s encouraging. And you want to play for a guy that’s encouraging you to do the things out on the court that’s better for yourself and for the team. Any time you have a person in your corner with a positive outlook on things, it’s a good thing.”

We cannot be sure of what goes on beyond our view, and there is evidence that Rondo is both better with his mates than we know and a little too dour at times. But you’d have to believe that if Rajon Rondo fully realized and embraced his power to effect positive change, it would be an extremely good thing for the Celtics.

And it might be enough to render moot that next round of questions in May.

***

No. 3: Same old wrong: Grizzlies top Clippers and CP3 injures hand — It is starting to get repetitive. The Clippers go into Memphis and lose another close game and now, according to Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times, Chris Paul has another injury to contend with:

To make matters worse for the Clippers, All-Star guard point Chris Paul suffered a sprained right thumb late in the fourth quarter while trying to get a rebound against Marc Gasol.

It already had been a tough night for Paul. Although he had 18 points and 14 assists, he missed nine of 13 shots. In two games since the All-Star break, Paul has gone five for 23 from the field. And the Clippers have gone 0-2.

Paul had missed 18 games because of a separated right shoulder, but came back to play in two games before the All-Star break.

Now he is struggling with his shot and has another injury to deal with.

“I can’t catch a break,” said Paul, looking down at his swollen right thumb.

***

No. 4: Kings won’t try to fit Terry into lineup this season — Don’t expect to see Jason Terry in the Sacramento line down the homestretch of the season. The Kings say they are not looking to buy out the veteran point guard, but want him to rehab at home in Dallas as they concentrate on their young players, according to Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee:

Terry, 36, instead will rehab in Dallas in preparation for next season. Terry had left knee surgery in the offseason and hasn’t felt right all season, coach Michael Malone said.

Terry was acquired along with forward Reggie Evans for Marcus Thornton on Wednesday.

Terry is averaging a career-worst 4.5 points on 36.2 percent shooting this season. Knee problems have limited Terry to 35 games this season and a career-low 16.3 minutes per games.

The Kings indicated they did not plan to buyout the remainder of Terry’s contract, which has one more season on it worth $5.45 million.

Even if Terry were with the team, playing the former NBA Sixth Man of the Year would not have been a top priority.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James and broken nose will be a game-time decision on Sunday vs. Bulls … Anthony Bennett says less thinking and just playing is making for his improvement … Teenager threatens Knicks owner James Dolan

ICYMI of The Night: Memphis’ James Johnson channels Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter with this off-the-backboard jam …

VIDEO: James Johnson does it all by himself

Blake Takes High Road On Chin Music


VIDEO: The Randolph-Griffin battle is nothing new

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – When the Clippers visit the Grizzlies tonight (8 ET, League Pass), Blake Griffin will once again tussle with old pal — nemesis, if you must – Zach Randolph.

Combined, you’re gazing at 511 pounds (listed weights) of pure power forward. When they get together, these two men of behemoth proportion often get tangled up, tied up, jostle and grapple. It’s not uncommon for it to end with the two twisted up like a giant pretzel on the hardwood.

Just search YouTube for either of last two playoff series between the Clips and Griz for video evidence.

Of course, it’s not unusual to see Griffin locked in a heated exchange or physically locked with another player. If NBA rosters were bound together like a phone book, chances are you could close your eyes, open it up and point a finger at a player that has tried to rile Griffin.

A simple Google search for “Griffin and fight” brings us, of course, Randolph, plus Serge Ibaka, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Lamar Odom and even an ornery little guy, Mario Chalmers. And that’s just the first page. Andre Miller, Tony Battie and Anderson Varejao also quickly pop up.

There’s just something about the 6-foot-10 brick wall that is Griffin that gets opponents a little on edge. Probably the part about him being 6-10 and built like a brick wall. There’s that whole dunking thing, too. Chaos can, and does, arise. Griffin tries to remain calm.

“I’ve been experiencing things like that since high school,” Griffin said during All-Star weekend. “Being a bigger guy you kind of get fouled a lot, fouled harder, and it’s something my dad always taught me and told me is just to respond with how you play because you don’t want to put your team in a bad situation by getting kicked out of the game.”

Sometimes tempers flare, stares turn into shoves, teams converge and elbows can fly and sometimes worse. Even when cooler heads seemingly prevail, ejections happen. Like when Griffin got the hook at Golden State on Christmas Day. It started when the Warriors’ Green threw an elbow at Griffin’s head and neck region, drawing a Flagrant 2 foul, which carries an automatic ejection. Griffin took exception to the play and got hit with a technical foul.

Then, early in the fourth quarter, Griffin and Bogut got into a skirmish after Bogut got his arm up around Griffin’s head. Bogut received a Flagrant 1, and Griffin, who felt he did not retaliate, got nailed with a second technical resulting in an automatic ejection. Griffin couldn’t believe it and the next day the league agreed, issuing a statement saying Griffin should not have received the second technical, and thus should not have been ejected. But the damage was done and the Clippers lost the game, 105-103.

“He’s in a great place right now,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said of Griffin’s ability to mostly keep himself in check. “He doesn’t react to all those type of things. At the end of the day he knows we want to win games.”

Getting unnecessarily bruised and battered has long been a big-man complaint. Hakeem Olajuwon to Shaquille O’Neal to Yao Ming to Griffin, they’ve all complained, and mostly rightly so, that they’re getting killed down there. The biggest of the big tend to overpower their opponents, it puts their opponent’s in a bad mood and cheap shots the referees don’t see can result.

“There’s moments definitely when you’re close to snapping, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet,” Griffin said. “When I feel like somebody is trying to hurt me, physically hurt me, that’s the point where you have to stand up for yourself.”

Old-school big guys see the effect Blake’s power and size have on opponents and three Hall of Famers of a more physical era of NBA basketball — Shaq, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone – have come out and said Blake needs to stand up for himself more often and more forcefully.

Barkley on a TNT postgame show earlier this season: “You’ve got to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to start hitting y’all back.”

Malone said he loves watching Griffin play and feels his frustration. During a recent appearance as guest analyst on a Utah Jazz game, Malone said he’d love to spend some time with Griffin: “First thing I’d do [is say], ‘Blake, the next time one guy cheap shots you, just lose your mind, I would pay your fine. Lose your mind, run roughshod.”

Griffin said he hears those guys, but taking things into his own hands is not that simple.

“The game was a little different back then,” Griffin said. “You could punch somebody in the face and they’d just get a technical and you just keep on playing, so I completely understand what they’re saying, and I completely understand the words of advice. But it’s one of those things where I’m trying to deal with it on my own terms. I don’t think anybody’s out there really trying to hurt you, I think just bigger guys — I’ve watched Dwight Howard for a lot of years take a lot of punishment because he’s so big and so strong.”

Just another angle to watch tonight as you settle in for Clippers-Grizzlies.

Blogtable: Big Movers Of Second Half

Golden State's Klay Thompson, David Lee and Steph Curry (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Golden State’s Klay Thompson, David Lee and Steph Curry (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

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


Movers and shakers | Texas throwdown | LeBron’s future


Which team will be the big mover of the second half? Why’s that?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMinnesota. Want-to doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but I can’t come up with a team that has more urgency to pick up the pace in search of a playoff spot. Convincing Kevin Love that he’ll be able to win with the Timberwolves long-term is what the next 16 months are about in the Twin Cities. That suggests a move of some sort by Thursday’s trade deadline but more so, a desperation to end the Wolves’ decade-long postseason drought. If the current No. 8 (Dallas) continues at its present pace (.582), Minnesota needs to finish 22-7 to catch up.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I don’t think there are going to be any dramatic moves made.  But assuming the Grizzlies hold onto Zach Randolph past the trade deadline, I think they’ll jump up and squeeze into the playoffs in the West.  Of course, if they do that, it could be at the expense of Golden State and then maybe Mark Jackson makes a dramatic move toward the door.

Dwyane Wade (Glenn James/NBAE)

Miami’s Dwyane Wade (Glenn James/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Paging Golden State, Paging Golden State… The Warriors better make a big move up or else… But they’re not my choice. You’d be stunned to see the Heat ratchet up the defense and go on a tear? Me either, but they’re not my choice. People, I’m talking the Washington Wizards — that’s right, the Wiz. I know they slipped before the break, but they seemed to be discovering themselves just prior and even got over .500 for the first time since, like, the moon walk. John Wall and Bradley Beal return from fun All-Star experiences in New Orleans with, I believe, a seriousness, a real sense of the job at hand. And the schedule should be advantageous. Of their next 22 games (through March) only seven are against teams with winning records and that includes Toronto (twice), Memphis and Phoenix.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I’ll stick with my preseason prediction: the Warriors are one of the better teams in the West, not a team that should be scraping by at the end to hang on for No. 7 or 8. They have definitely earned that spot so far. But a solid locker room that has the ability to focus when it matters most – or the threat of being embarrassed by a bad finish – will drive Golden State away from the danger zone.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: As long as Andrew Bogut’s shoulder issue doesn’t linger, Golden State should move back up the Western Conference standings into a 3-5 seed. Their point differential is better than their record, they have a top-five defense, and they play one of the easier schedules in the West going forward, including nine games against East teams under .500 and four against the Jazz, Kings and Lakers.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAs crazy as it sounds, I think it’s going to be the Miami Heat. They’re not going on another 27-game run like they did last year, chasing history and making a mockery of the rest of the league on their way to the best regular-season record and eventually their second straight championship. But I think they’re going to ride the wave of emotion that LeBron James is playing with, and has been since we all started talking about Kevin Durant challenging him for league supremacy. The Heat needed motivation, they needed a cause to inspire them through the 82-game marathon that will mean next to nothing if they don’t win a third straight title. They’ve found it now and it’s defending their honor and the honor of their leader and best player. Indiana’s hold on that No. 1 spot in the East is tenuous at best. It’ll be interesting to see the Heat as the hunter as opposed to the hunted the rest of this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blogMemphis. As of today they’re out of the playoffs, and they may not have placed anyone on the All-Star team, but they’ve finally got everyone healthy (well, except for Tony Allen, and by all accounts he’s just days away). They haven’t made as many headlines as when they were the Hang Time Grizzlies or the Grit N’ Grind Grizzlies, but they’ve quietly put together a 15-4 run over the last few weeks. I think they’ve got the experience and health to continue playing the way they have of late and put together a late-season push that launches them into the postseason.

Simon Legg, NBA AustraliaGolden State. They’re currently seventh in the West but this team is too good to be that low. I can see them overtaking Phoenix and Dallas, then taking aim at Portland. Surprisingly, they’re ranked 12th in offensive efficiency but their dynamic starting lineup has played only 647 minutes of their 2,559 minutes on the floor. Their offensive rating with the starting five is 112.8. Without them, it’s 104.2. Expect their starters to get more minutes as we turn to the playoffs and for the Warriors to move up the standings.

XiBin Yang, NBA ChinaThe Grizzlies have found the rhythm again, and it’s a relief that Marc Gasol’s injury was not serious. He’s still the core of this team. With Conley’s return, they could trace their winning pace last year.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: I think the Miami Heat will string off another huge winning streak to try and get the number one spot in the standings. The stakes are getting higher. They had a historical 27-game winning streak last year that started right about the same time this season and they might gun for another one in the home stretch.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron’s game-winner takes Heat into break | Wade’s All-Star status in the air | Rose not thinking about a return | Another scare for Gasol, Grizzlies | Knicks hit another low point

No. 1: LeBron’s game-winner takes Heat into break — The Miami Heat seemingly cruised through the first 50 games of the season, but as they head into the All-Star break, they’re very much in striking distance of the Indiana Pacers, thanks to Dallas’ win in Indy on Wednesday and LeBron James‘ fadeaway, 3-point game-winner in Oakland. It was one of the more incredible shots of the season so far, and it sent the Heat into the break on a high note. Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report was there:

As Andre Iguodala, defiant defender, would say after the 111-110 defeat, “There’s nothing I would change. He just made a tough shot.”

But, for the James and the rest of the Heat, so few words would not suffice. This was a shot to savor, a shot that sent them into the All-Star break on a serious sugar high, with another sweet road win against a strong Western Conference squad. This was a shot by someone who has never made one like this from this range in this circumstance since joining Miami, or at least none that he or his teammates could remember.

This was a shot — this step back 27-footer just before the buzzer — that really shouldn’t have happened, not if the Heat had held a large lead, and not if Erik Spoelstra had stuck with his plan.

***

No. 2: Wade’s All-Star status in the air — That win came without Dwyane Wade, who was a late scratch with a sore left foot. Wade was voted in as an East starter for the All-Star game, but has missed 15 games this season and wasn’t sure what was wrong or if he could play on Sunday. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo!Sports has the story:

The 10-time All-Star said he had numbness in his left leg in warm-ups before the game after “the nerve kind of shut down” and kept him from having feeling in his left foot. Wade said his injury was “drop foot,” also known as foot drop, which causes an inability to lift the front part of the foot.

“It’s one of the most bizarre things…,” Wade said. “Hopefully, the numbness wears off more and more as it started to do throughout the game and throughout the rest of the night. By [Thursday] hopefully it subsides and we will go from there.”

Wade was still expecting to take the Heat team plane that arrives early Thursday morning in New Orleans for NBA All-Star Weekend rather than return to Miami. Wade, who described himself as day-to-day, plans on getting treatment from the team’s trainer in New Orleans in hopes of remedying the injury before Sunday.

***

No. 3: Rose not thinking about a returnDerrick Rose spoke to the media at a charity event on Wednesday. And while he didn’t say anything to absolutely rule out a return this season and Joakim Noah seemingly left the door open on Tuesday, Rose said that he’s just taking his knee rehab step by step. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune was there with the story:

Bulls’ doctors, management and confidantes of Rose ruled him out for the season following surgery to repair the meniscus he tore in his right knee on Nov. 22. But speaking for just the second time publicly since the injury, Rose again couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge that as reality.

“I haven’t even had a chance to think about it,” Rose said Wednesday night at the Bulls’ charity gala at the United Center when asked if he’s done for the season. “I’m just worrying about my next stage in this process and that’s running right now. I’m on the AlterG (an anti-gravity treadmill). Hopefully be running without it pretty soon.

“I’m not keeping (a return) open. I just said right now I’m not thinking about it. I’m not running yet. When I get off the AlterG, that’s when I’ll consider coming back or not.”

General manager Gar Forman reiterated the Bulls have no plans for Rose to return this season.

Rose did say that he’d like to play for USA Basketball this summer.

***

No. 4: Another scare for Gasol, Grizzlies — Speaking of knee injuries, Marc Gasol reinjured his left knee in Wednesday’s win in Orlando. The early feeling is that this isn’t as bad as the injury that kept Gasol out 23 games earlier in the season, but the knee will be checked out on Thursday. The Grizzlies won 14 of their last 18 games heading into the All-Star break, but are still on the outside of the playoff picture in the West. Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has the story from Orlando:

Griz center Marc Gasol left the game midway through the third quarter after aggravating a left MCL injury that cost him 23 games earlier this season. Gasol returned to the locker room after he banged knees with Magic point guard Jameer Nelson.

The 7-foot Spaniard didn’t return for the Grizzlies’ second straight victory heading into the NBA’s All-Star break. Gasol downplayed the situation after the game.

He will, however, have an MRI test during the break to determine the seriousness of his injury. There is swelling and Gasol walked with a limp.

“It’s scary when it happens, but I think we’re going to be OK,” Gasol said. “We’re going to get it checked to make sure everything is OK. But it feels a lot better than it did the first time.”

***

No. 5: Knicks hit another low point — While the Heat went into the break on a high, the New York Knicks don’t have much to celebrate. They blew a 12-point, second-half lead and lost to the Kings at home, a result that will only fuel more speculation about Mike Woodson’s job status. Peter Botte of the New York Daily News was at MSG with the story:

No one should have been surprised that the Knicks appeared to have a collective eye elsewhere for most of a game that Carmelo Anthony had declared a must-win heading into All-Star weekend.

Certainly not owner James Dolan, who sat slumped in his front-row seat along the baseline watching Mike Woodson and the Knicks suffer yet another brutal home loss on Wednesday night, falling, 106-101, in overtime to lowly Sacramento at the Garden.

The Knicks’ fifth loss in six games can’t do much to alter the perception that Woodson’s job is in serious peril — or lead anyone to believe that this team magically will be able to turn around its tumultuous season when it reconvenes Tuesday in Memphis.

“I am not thinking about that at this point,” Anthony said of Woodson’s job status. “That has been an ongoing issue, ongoing story. Every day is a new story so he is still here and that is what we are dealing with.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo details Chris Grant‘s mistakes in Cleveland … Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal has some good notes about the Cavs’ turnaround since Grant’s departureAvery Bradley suffered a second ankle sprain last week and the Celtics aren’t sure when he’ll play again … Eric Bledsoe is making progress toward a post-break returnThe Knicks still want Kenneth Faried … and Pierre the Pelican has a new look (video).

ICYMI of The Night: James Harden beat the Wizards with a Eurostep around Kevin Seraphin:


VIDEO: Harden Seals the Deal.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 9



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul set to return Sunday | Grizzlies set record | Inconsistency plagues Heat | World Peace open to trade 

No. 1: Paul set to return Sunday – The Los Angeles Clippers battled through their last 18 games without All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who suffered from a separated right shoulder sustained on Jan. 3 at Dallas. The Clippers went 12-6 over the stretch to maintain their lead at the top of the Pacific Division. Thankfully for the Clippers, Paul appears ready to return today against the Philadelphia 76ers, as reported by Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

Chris Paul walked out to the Clippers’ practice court Saturday and stretched before he put on his practice jersey to get up some shots before practice started.

After practice was over, the team announced that Paul looked “great” in practice and that the All-Star guard would play Sunday night against the Philadelphia 76ers at Staples Center.

When the media met with Clippers Coach Doc Rivers before practice, he indicated there was a “50-50″ chance that Paul would play against the 76ers.

But all that changed once Paul went through some contact drills with his teammates.

Rivers did say Paul would play in the NBA All-Star game Feb. 16 in New Orleans.

With Paul having sat out about five weeks with his injury, there could be an adjustment period having him back on the court.

“I never thought I would hear that question, actually,” Blake Griffin said before practice. “But, yeah, it’s a great problem to add in the best playmaker, perhaps in the league, back to your team.”

Paul has said on many occasions that he wanted to play in the All-Star game.

By playing against the 76ers and against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night, Paul will get in two regular-season games before the All-Star game.

“I like him playing in the All-Star game, personally,” Rivers said. “Whether he plays [Sunday] or plays the next game [Wednesday against Portland], I think this is a rare case where he’s ready to play and the All-Star game is probably the safest venue for him to play.”

Rivers said he thinks it’s going to take Paul “some time” to get adjusted to playing with his teammates again.

“I think it’s going to take Chris some time to get his rhythm back,” Rivers said. “So that’s why I’m hoping he is healthy and then we can play him Sunday, have a practice Tuesday and play him Wednesday. I think that’ll help. I think it’s going to take a couple of weeks for him to get his rhythm back. No doubt.”

***

No. 2: Grizzlies set record – The Memphis Grizzlies set an NBA record on Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks that seems like it will be difficult for another team to challenge: they shot only one free throw … and still won! That set a record for fewest free throws ever attempted in a game, besting the Cleveland Cavaliers who won a game with just two free-throw attempts against the Golden State Warriors in 1994. Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal has the report:

“In the second half, the game got physical and that’s how we want to play,” Griz guard Courtney Lee said. “It played into our favor. We got active. We competed. We turned it up defensively.”

In snapping a two-game losing streak, Memphis (27-22) held Atlanta to a season-low in points. That’s notable given how difficult points were to come by. The Griz became the first team in NBA history to attempt one free throw in a game.

“Wow. Can I say wow?” Griz forward Zach Randolph said. “Man, I should’ve shot that one.”

***

No. 3: Inconsistency plagues Heat – The Miami Heat have tried to improve their consistency over the last few weeks. At 35-14, they’ve fallen to 4.0 games behind the Indiana Pacers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and the Heat’s loss to the Utah Jazz on Saturday night certainly won’t help them catch the Pacers. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald reports:

There was a story in the local paper Friday suggesting that every victory by the Utah Jazz from here on out would actually be hurting the franchise.

That’s the team the Heat lost to 94-89 on Saturday, the maybe-it-should-just-tank Utah Jazz.

So, the inconsistency continues for the Heat this season despite coach Erik Spoelstra’s best effort to coax some sort of rhythm and consistency out of his lineup. Remember that winning streak that started after last year’s Super Bowl? Well, this year’s early February winning streak ended at three games.

“We figured it was going to be an ugly game,” Spoelstra said. “We just have to find a way when we’re not making shots the way we’re accustomed to. We never could get over that hump.”

“I thought we contested a lot of shots tonight, and they hit them like we weren’t even there,” Chris Bosh said.

Dwyane Wade missed a layup with 11 seconds left, and the Jazz began celebrating arguably its best victory of the season.

Streamers fell from the rafters at Energy Solutions Arena after the final buzzer. It was Utah’s first victory in five games.

LeBron James has turned in some masterful performances in Utah throughout his career, but the second game of this road trip was not one of them. James finished with just 13 points, going 4 of 13 from the field and 1 of 6 from three-point range. He settled too often for his jump shot, and that lack of energy permeated throughout the Heat’s lineup.

“We played well enough defensively to win the game,” James said. “Offensively, we didn’t shoot the ball well, like we are capable of doing. That is what it came down to.”

The Heat shot 43.3 percent from the field and 30.4 percent (7 of 23) from three-point range. It was Miami’s worst shooting percentage since Jan. 10 when it shot 42.5 percent in a loss at Brooklyn.

***

No. 4: World Peace open to trade – Metta World Peace was ecstatic to join his hometown New York Knicks this summer. But it seems World Peace is now open to a trade after he has found himself on the bench since returning from a blood-spinning procedure on Jan. 24. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports:

After spending his career wanting to be traded to the Knicks, the defensive forward, who has been in and out of the rotation since December, wouldn’t mind being traded from the Knicks.

“He didn’t sign up for this,’’ one person close to him said.

When asked about whether he wanted to get dealt at the Feb. 20 deadline, World Peace said: “That’s up to my agent. I don’t worry about it. I’m optimistic about my future. … I’m not going to complain.’’

Another source said the possibility exists that [Mike] Woodson was unhappy with World Peace after a recent practice, in which World Peace spoke up about his playing time, making a wisecrack. World Peace is a constant clown in the locker room, but Woodson took exception.

Agent Marc Cornstein said he hasn’t gotten a firm reason why World Peace has seen limited time after the Knicks gave the rest of their mid-level exception in signing the Queenbridge product in July. He has been relegated to mostly garbage time since returning from his platelet-rich plasma procedure. World Peace played the final five minutes of garbage time Friday night in the Knicks’ 117-90 rout of the Nuggets.

“I haven’t been given an answer,’’ Cornstein said. “Usually, I’ll get an answer, not always the one I want to hear. But I don’t have an answer for you on this.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ricky Rubio scored a career-high 25 points. … Goran Dragic also set a career-high with 34 points. … Ricky Davis is attempting to return to the NBA through the Development League. … Chris Kaman on a potential trade: “I don’t care.” … Golden State Warriors willing to trade anyone but Stephen Curry or Andrew Bogut. … Kevin Martin of the Minnesota Timberwolves is out indefinitely with a broken thumb.

ICYMI of the Night: It seemed like every player on the Detroit Pistons was hot last night as they scored a season-high 126 points to defeat the Denver Nuggets. The leader of their temperature rise was Brandon Jennings, who scored a season-high 35 points to go along with 12 assists. If he keeps playing like this, he may live up to the contract he signed with the Pistons this summer.


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Brandon Jennings

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 1


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Conley goes down in Grizzlies win | Pacers to sign Bynum | Bulls getting calls about Gibson | Irving taking responsibility?

No. 1: Conley goes down in Grizzlies win — The Memphis Grizzlies have won 10 of their last 11 games and have the league’s best defense since Marc Gasol’s return. But they lost starting point guard Mike Conley to a sprained ankle in Friday’s win in Minnesota. They should be OK without him against the Bucks on Saturday, but they visit Oklahoma City on Monday and have a huge game against eighth-place Dallas on Wednesday. Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has the story from Minneapolis:

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley sat in the trainer’s room rather than at a station alongside his teammates in the visitor’s locker room.

He wore a walking boot Friday night after the Grizzlies’ 94-90 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Target Center. Conley, who also had crutches near his side, hobbled home after the Griz polished off a sweep of their three-game road trip that included wins at Sacramento and Portland.

However, a trek that got Memphis to within a half-game of Dallas for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff standings hardly ended on a happy note.

Conley didn’t look or sound as if playing Saturday night against the Milwaukee Bucks in FedExForum would be an option. He might need several games off given the severity of his sprained ankle.

“I turned it pretty good,” Conley said. “It’s tough for me to put weight on it now. (Saturday) is looking real iffy. We still have a lot of games ahead of us. We obviously want to finish out these last several games before the all-star break with some momentum. We’ll see how long this will take.”

***

No. 2: Pacers to sign Bynum — It’s been over three weeks since the Chicago Bulls waived Andrew Bynum. And it looks like he finally has a new home. ESPN‘s Brian Windhorst tweeted Friday night that the Indiana Pacers plan on signing Bynum, though a deal is not yet in place. The Indianapolis Star‘s Candace Buckner first reported that Bynum and his agent were in town to talk to the Pacers:

Free agent center Andrew Bynum and his agent are in Indianapolis.

Bynum has been a free agent since being released by the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 7 after a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers. According to earlier reports, the Indiana Pacers were one of several teams to reach out to Bynum.

Bynum’s agent David Lee told The Indianapolis Star that he and Bynum were in town. According to Lee, Bynum and the Pacers have not reached a contractual agreement.

“(Bynum) has not signed as yet,” Lee said on Friday night.

Bynum, the 7-foot mercurial center, played in only 24 games this season, averaging 8.4 points on 41.9 percent shooting for the Cavaliers. Bynum missed all of the 2012-13 season with knee problems and last March underwent surgery on both knees. Besides his health, Bynum’s commitment has also been called into question.

***

No. 3: Bulls getting calls about Gibson — The trade deadline is less than three weeks away and chatter is starting to pick up. The Chicago Bulls already made a major move (sending Luol Deng to Cleveland), but would need to make another one if their ultimate goal is to add another star (like Carmelo Anthony) this summer. Shedding Taj Gibson‘s salary (and waiving Carlos Boozer via the amnesty clause in July) would give them the cap space for a max free agent. And other teams would certainly be interested in Gibson’s services. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Bulls have received calls about Gibson and what they do with him will be a clear sign of the direction they’re looking to go:

And while Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy have been churning in the trade rumor mill for more than a month, Taj Gibson’s name is the one that is picking up, and could determine how serious the Bulls are in clearing space for a max contract to land the likes of a Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James.

According to a source, the Lakers, Wizards and Bobcats have each inquired about Gibson, but they were preliminary talks in which the Bulls did not like the return.

If they do move Gibson, however, it will definitely signify how determined the Bulls are to give Derrick Rose a second superstar to play along with.

With Carlos Boozer and his 2014-15 $16.8 million contract likely amnestied this summer, moving Gibson is all but a necessity if the Bulls want to stay under the luxury tax and add a max deal. Gibson will make $8 million next season, $8.5 in the 2015-16 season, and $8.95 in his final year of the deal.

While Anthony told the Sun-Times this week that he hasn’t put any thought into joining the Bulls, there are basketball executives who think differently, as ESPN reported on Thursday.

But to land Anthony or James, it will cost the Bulls Gibson, and is a growing possibility in the next three weeks.

***

No. 4: Irving taking responsibility? — There’s been talk this week about Kyrie Irving being unhappy in Cleveland, with coach Mike Brown and with the roster the Cavs have built around the 2011 No. 1 pick. But of course, Irving’s unwillingness to play defense and lack of leadership are two of the reasons the Cavs are 16-30 right now. So it was good to hear him seemingly accept some responsibility for his team’s struggles on Friday, as Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal writes:

Kyrie Irving conceded this season has been more difficult than he imagined, he’s upset so much attention has been placed on his contract and he admitted he doesn’t always have all the answers to what is plaguing the Cavaliers this season.

“I needed this. It was more or less a wake-up call,” Irving told the Beacon Journal following practice Friday. “I got away with so much my first two years. It wasn’t a breeze, but everything came easy. This is the first year where every single night it’s going to be a challenge. That’s one of the things I’m getting used to and I’ve accepted.”

Irving came under fire throughout the week, particularly after a Beacon Journal story last Sunday questioning the progress he’s made this season, followed by an ESPN report Thursday that Irving wants out of Cleveland.

“Everybody has all these rumors and stories they’re coming out with and it’s all based on me,” Irving said. “It’s not really about me. It’s about the team and what we’re going through as a team together. Obviously, some things will be put on me and I take responsibility for that, but all that extra stuff that comes with it. … It’s the business. I understand that. But that’s one of the things I wish I could change. It’s definitely not about me, it’s about my teammates and what we can accomplish.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Nate Robinson had ACL surgery on Friday, which means that the Nuggets need to figure out what they’re doing with Andre MillerKyle Korver has declined the NBA’s invitation to the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest … Wesley Matthews would go, thoughRajon Rondo likes the idea of being a free agentKemba Walker suffered a setback in his return from a sprained ankle … and Lance Stephenson says he’s “mad” about not being selected as an All-Star.

ICYMI of The Night: Terrence Ross looks ready to defend his dunk title:


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Terrence Ross takes flight and posterizes Kenneth Faried.